Frequently Asked Questions
This ‘frequently asked questions’ section explains what causes snoring and sleep apnoea and nasal problems and how breathing retraining helps. It is adapted from ‘Frequently asked questions” – p 215 of Relief from Snoring and Sleep Apnoea.
Q: How could breathing retraining in the day work when snoring and apnoea are night-time problems?
A: The way you breathe during sleep is a reflection of the way you breathe when awake. People who snore and have sleep apnoea invariably breathe incorrectly during the day as well as night. They have faulty breathing habits, and those habits can be changed. While breathing is automatic, you can also consciously vary it – you can practise breathing at the correct rate, rhythm and volume during the day, which resets the ‘drive to breathe’ centre in your brain, to deliver quieter, softer, more regular breathing at night. Sometimes on the first night!
Q: Is breathing retraining any use when my nose is nearly always blocked?
A: Yes. Noses are often ‘blocked’ as a result of irritation, dehydration, and inflammation – all side-effects of chronic over-breathing, the faulty breathing habit most often seen in snorers. When you learn to breathe correctly, airway irritation reduces. In twenty years of breathing retraining, I have rarely seen a nose that won’t, at least partially, clear within the first five minutes of changing a poor breathing pattern – not even smashed-up footballers’ noses.
Q: I get panicky when I shut my mouth – is breathing retraining even possible for me?
A: Many people cannot tolerate ‘forcing’ nose-breathing by simply trying to keep their mouth closed, or through wearing a chin strap, as they become claustrophobic or feel as though they are suffocating. Breathing retraining gradually ‘reconditions’ you, so you can achieve comfortable nose-breathing at your own pace.
Q: I have been told I have a deviated septum/floppy soft palate/large tongue/small jaw and I need surgery. How could breathing exercises help?
A: Consider this: unless you have had facial injuries, you likely have had the same anatomy – the same shaped nose and upper palate and the same sized jaw and tongue – all your adult life. If you are 45 now and chronically snore, but did not at age 28, it is more likely the way you breathe has changed over the years than your tongue has grown larger or your septum more deviated. Likely you breathe faster or heavier now than you used to. If so, there is a very good chance that breathing retraining exercises will help. That’s not to say that having a bent or narrow nose and a receded jaw does not put you at greater risk of snoring and apnoea. It’s just that the way you breathe is a critical element in determining how much trouble they will cause you (see Chapter 6).
Q: How can breathing retraining help me when the problem is my throat collapsing?
A: Your throat doesn’t just collapse through bad luck, bad genes or because you are overweight. There is always a component of dysfunctional breathing present and it’s highly likely that it is contributing. Those great big breaths that get sucked in fast during a bout of heavy snoring can create a suction force sufficient to bring the walls of the throat closer together. Breathing retraining can help restore a stable, even breathing pattern and reset a ‘breathing over-drive’.
Q: Can breathing retraining help me? I can’t tolerate CPAP and I am desperate to get a good night’s sleep.
A: Breathing retraining offers welcome relief to those who cannot tolerate sleeping with a face mask and a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. While CPAP is generally very effective, research indicates that over 50 per cent of people suffering from sleep apnoea are non-compliant with the recommended therapy. Thankfully breathing can be retrained – you can learn to breathe correctly again.
Q: If breathing retraining is so good, why did my doctor only recommend surgery/dental splints/CPAP machines to me?
A: There is a general lack of knowledge and interest in breathing pattern dysfunction. Most doctors are not well informed about the principles of breathing retraining, and observation and assessment of a patient’s habitual breathing pattern is not part of standard medical diagnosis. The extent of ‘dysfunctional’ breathing in the population is grossly underestimated. Most doctors have simply not considered breathing retraining as an option for their patients.
Breathing retraining is a logical, scientific and conservative approach to the management of breathing disorders. Your doctor should be no more reluctant to suggest you improve your breathing habits than to recommend other self-help approaches such as stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol, losing weight, getting fit and sleeping on your side with your mouth closed. Not only is addressing disordered breathing patterns common sense, it also makes economic sense.
Q: How long does it take to feel a difference with breathing retraining?
A: People usually notice less nasal congestion and quieter and easier breathing within hours (or even just minutes). Better sleep is often reported right from the first night. ‘The best sleep in decades’ is a frequent comment.
Q: I learnt breathing exercises before and felt dizzy/breathless/tired after them. Why would breathing retraining exercises be any different?
A: If the breathing exercises you learnt involved big, deep in-breaths with full exhales, particularly if by mouth, then likely you caused a shortfall in carbon dioxide in your blood. This can result in some blood vessels narrowing and reducing the amount of oxygen that gets through to your brain and muscle cells. Thus dizziness, breathlessness and fatigue may occur. The difference with a breathing retraining program as described in this book is that you are taught to breathe normally – at the correct rate and volume – so that you keep your blood gases in balance. This is essential in allowing the oxygen in your blood to actually get to the cells where it is needed. This is vastly different from a focus on getting as much oxygen into your lungs as possible.
Q: Does it take a lot of time? I don’t have time to do breathing exercises.
A: Why not? You are breathing all the time aren’t you? You can make changes in your breathing any time in the day – while you watch television, walk to the car, sit on a plane or a train. This is one of the advantages for busy people of breathing retraining over other exercise programs.
Q: Do I have to stop other treatments?
A: No, you can practise breathing correctly while you continue to use medications, machines, appliances, and so on. In fact, improving your breathing can make it easier to tolerate an oral splint or a face mask and CPAP machine. Ultimately though, if you can return your breathing to how it was when you did not snore – that is, get your breathing softer, slower, quieter and more regular again – your requirement for these corrective treatments may change and then you can discuss your situation with your doctor. See Chapter 25 – Working with your doctor.