Every day in my practice I see patients who cannot sleep and I’d like to share just a few suggestions I make after my initial consultation, just to get them started on helping themselves. They are simple to remember, but not always easy in practice.
- Make sure your nose is clear
- Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth
- Keep your mouth closed
1. Make Sure Your Nose Is Clear (breathe through your nose and not your mouth)
Nose breathing is healthy breathing. However, many people, especially during sleep, have a habit of breathing through their mouths. Our noses have nose-hair to filter dust and other particles as we breathe air into our bodies. Our nose and sinus membranes also produce nitric oxide gas that can kill bacteria and viruses. Nitric oxide also helps warm the air to enter our lungs and helps increase the uptake of oxygen into our body. Mouth breathing provides no protection to the body and no benefits. It just gives you a dry mouth and bad breath is associated with snoring and obstructive sleep apnea and could be contributing to enlarged tonsils. There are actually more dire consequences of chronic mouth-breathing, but suffice it to say, that you should learn to breathe through your nose!
Many people do not even realize they are not breathing well through their nose. Before you go to bed, there are a few things you can do to ensure you have clear nasal passages. Nasal decongestants such as Afrin or Mucinex will clear up your nose almost immediately. However, I do not recommend the long-term use of these products and suggest using more natural things like peppermint oil. You can place a few drops of peppermint oil in your palms and cup your hands around your face and breathe the peppermint inwards to clear your nose very effectively.
You can also use nasal saline rinse irrigators or neti pots. When I am congested, I love the neti pot which basically uses gravity to flush water from one nostril out the other, but my husband cannot stand it and prefers a bottle type irrigator. Everyone has their preference, but if you have never irrigated your sinuses, it is worth trying there is no better way of clearing out mucous.
There are also many other over the counter products often used for snoring that help open up your nose as well. I have tried many of them and am impressed that they seem to work. First, are the nasal strips (like Breathe Easy nasal strips) that are basically strong stickers that you put over the bridge of your nose that hold the soft tissue taut to open up your nose. Second, are cage-like nose cones that you place in your nostrils that hold the soft tissue of your nose open. You can google either of these and/or buy them on Amazon or any drug store.
2. Place Your Tongue On The Roof Of Your Mouth
While it may seem odd to even mention the tongue, it’s position when you are asleep can be the difference of a good or bad night’s rest. The tongue’s home is the roof of the mouth, ideally with the tip just behind your two front teeth. This position is called the “N-spot” because when you say the letter “N” that is where the tongue ends up. Ideally, most of the body of the tongue should be flat up against the roof or palate of your mouth.
When your tongue is in this position (roof of the mouth), you are forced to breathe through your nose and you simply cannot breathe your mouth.
The tongue’s position also has an effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the branch of the nervous system responsible for calming us down and stimulating the basic (homeostatic) bodily functions we take for granted such as breathing. In many Eastern practices such as Tai Chi and Yoga, the tongue is always placed in this same position. The next time you wake up from a great dream, think about where your tongue is and it will most likely at the “N” spot.
3. Keep Your Mouth Closed
When you go to bed, try to make sure your lips are gently sealed. Closed lips will force you to breathe through your nose. Softly taking air in an out of your nose while you lie in bed can be meditative and help you sleep. Keeping your mouth closed may seem fairly straight forward; however, it may not be easy for everyone and may require many nights of practice to be able to do this. If you find it impossible then, you may need to get help. Some practitioners, including Patrick McKeown, of the Buteyko Breathing Clinic, even recommend taping your mouth closed with a small piece of medical tape.