Sleep Health

How yoga can improve breathing and sleep


Think of a moment in your life of heightened pressure or anticipation. Let’s say you’re going for a job interview. Before you leave the house, your loved one tells you ‘Just breathe, you’ve got this’. You take a deep breath and instantly feel calmer.

Little do we realise that the long-lost art of breathing could hold the key to not only relaxation but our health.1

Yet for many of us, undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a silent barrier, blocking proper breathing during sleep.2

In this article, we will explore the benefits of breathing, it’s connection to sleep, and how yoga may enhance this relationship.

Why good breathing is important to sleep

Breathing is how our body gets the oxygen it needs to function. It also helps us remove the waste product, carbon dioxide.6 But when you're not breathing enough air while sleeping, the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide can get disrupted.

When you have an apnea (a pause in breathing), your blood's oxygen level drop and carbon dioxide rises.7 This can make your heart work harder and increase your blood pressure and heart rate.7

Long breathing pauses in your sleep indicate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which happens when the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep.7 These pauses, known as apneas, last for at least 10 seconds and can occur many times throughout the night.7

During an apnea, the brain detects a drop in oxygen levels and responds by briefly arousing you from your sleep to restart breathing.

As a result, your sleep becomes fragmented, leading to constant fatigue and daytime drowsiness.7

The impact of sleep apnea on your health

Have you ever had an experience so awe-inspiring that it takes your breath away?

Let’s face it. We all want to bask in life’s breathtaking moments. But when sleep apnea takes your literal breath away, you’re often left feeling tired and struggling to focus all day.2

Sleep apnea has also been linked to a range of complications including, poor memory and mood changes, including irritability.2

If you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea, seeking professional medical help and undergoing a sleep study can be life-changing.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help restore peaceful sleep, improve breathing patterns, and prevent potential long-term health complications.

The journey towards better health starts with recognising the importance of our breathing. By embracing deep-breathing techniques, we can unlock the relaxation benefits to your well-being.

Equally, understanding the impact of poor breathing helps us grasp the critical role of breathing in restorative rest. And by addressing your sleeping problems, you can help ensure that you can breathe easy with the energy to soak up life’s breathtaking moments.

So, let us not overlook the transformative power of breath. It’s not simply a sustainer of life but the catalyst for improved health and a blissful night's sleep. Now let’s delve into how yoga may help you breathe better, enhancing your sleep quality and overall health. 

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a low-impact mental and physical practice which originated in ancient India, consisting of deep breathing while positioning the body in a series of poses. Today, it’s a popular exercise activity practiced by people of all ages, from children in school, all the way to the elderly.

1. Yoga is great for the physical body

A typical yoga session lasts for about an hour, and as you move through the yoga poses (or asanas), your body must exert strength to keep you stable. All you have to do is spend a minute in downward dog or warrior pose to see how much strength and muscle control yoga actually requires! Over time, yoga’s isometric exercise helps improve your flexibility, posture, muscle tone and core strength.1

It also has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness and circulation as well as musculoskeletal mobility, as your joints are moved through a wide range of motion.1

2. Yoga reduces stress

In addition to the physical benefits, yoga may help to reduce daily stress by lowering the production of the “stress hormone” cortisol2, through focus, mindfulness and deep breathing.3

If you’ve spent a few restless nights tossing and turning in bed feeling anxious, yoga may be what you need to calm your thoughts before you get under the covers.

3. Yoga promotes sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to adopting good habits prior to going to bed to ensure quality sleep at night and more alertness during the day. One such habit is creating a consistent sleeping routine to regulate your body’s biological clock which determines your patterns of sleepiness and wakefulness each day4. Yoga can empower you to listen to how your body feels and create a routine at night or in the morning (or both) which centres around your own sleeping patterns.

4. Yoga improves the quality of your sleep

Besides reducing stress and adopting good sleeping habits, yoga can have a direct impact on sleep quality too. It has been shown to help people sleep for longer, fall asleep faster, and return to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night5. This benefit has been seen in many situations where people have trouble sleeping. Many have discovered the positive influence yoga has had on their quality of sleep5

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Muzet, A. (2007) Environmental Noise, Sleep and Health, Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11(2), 135–142.

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