Can You Improve Your Breathing Rate While You Sleep?

by | Mar 11, 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When you’re not sleeping well, does anything else matter? There’s nothing more frustrating than lying awake at night watching the clock. 

One secret to achieving more restful slumber? Focus on achieving a healthy breathing rate while you sleep. 

Most of us don’t spend too much time wondering whether our vital signs are in the normal range, but if you’re struggling to get quality sleep, it’s time to take a look. Our vital signs include measurements of health like blood pressure, pulse rate, and breathing rate (also known as your respiratory rate). Your breathing rate refers to how many times you breathe in a minute.

When your breathing rate during sleep becomes too fast or too slow, you may find that it’s hard to stay asleep. You might also wake up feeling tired. 

Why? Because our breathing is closely linked with our sleep quality.[*] To start getting more restorative sleep, take a deep breath and read on. 

For anyone looking to improve their sleep, Somnox 2 is your science-backed sleep companion that guides you towards slow-paced breathing that helps you fall asleep faster, worry less and wake up rested. 70% of our users improved their sleep quality within 4 weeks. Interested?


How We Breathe During Sleep

A number of changes take place in our bodies when we sleep, including how we breathe. First, our breathing rate tends to slow down and become more constant during periods of rest and sleep. This is because our metabolic rate decreases during sleep, and a slower metabolic rate leads to slower breathing. Our other vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure go down during sleep as well.[*

Our muscles also relax during sleep, including our respiratory muscles. The result is a slower breathing rate because the muscles around the lungs are not working as hard as they normally do when we are awake.[*

The stage of sleep also affects our breathing rate during sleep. Most of us experience fragmented sleep with different phases and awakenings throughout the night. There are 4 stages of sleep, and our breathing changes as we enter each one. 

Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep is divided into 3 stages, and the breathing rate is typically constant. During stages 1 and 2, our bodies are in a state of light sleep, and the heart rate begins to decrease. As we enter NREM stage 3, our bodies relax more fully, and breathing starts to slow down. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, our brains become more active, and breathing tends to be more irregular. The average breathing rate during REM sleep is usually a bit lower than in NREM sleep or wakefulness.[*


What’s a Good Breathing Rate During Sleep?

Healthy vital signs like your respiratory rate during sleep vary with age and health. For adults, a good breathing rate at rest is 12 to 20 breaths per minute.[*

A 2016 study found that the average breathing rate for adults without a respiratory condition was about 15 to 16 breaths per minute. This was true in all phases of sleep including both REM and NREM. In this study, the breathing rate during sleep was only slightly slower than the average awake breathing rate of 17 breaths per minute.[*]


How to Measure Breathing Rate During Sleep

You may be curious about your own breathing rate during sleep. How can you know if you’re in the healthy range? There are a few different ways for adults to measure respiration during sleep, including:

  • Manual counting: One way to measure your breathing rate during sleep is for your partner or friend to watch you while you rest (sounds creepy but it works). By counting how many times your chest rises and falls in a minute, they can measure your respiration rate. 
  • Wearable devices: Smartphones, smartwatches, and other wearable devices can be worn at night to measure your breathing rate during sleep and notify you of any irregularities.[*
  • Smart Breathing technology: The Somnox 2 monitors your breathing rate overnight and responds to your breathing in real-time, actively slowing down your breathing rate and helping you to calm down.


Conditions that Lead to Abnormal Respiration 

Several chronic health conditions can affect your breathing rate during sleep. It’s important to know the warning signs.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This type of disordered breathing occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep. 
  • Central sleep apnea: Individuals with central sleep apnea experience paused breathing during sleep because their brains do not send the message to the respiratory muscles that it is time to breathe. 
  • Cardiovascular disease: Research shows that individuals who have or are at risk of cardiovascular disease are more likely to experience disordered breathing during sleep.[*]
  • Asthma: When individuals with asthma lie flat on their backs during sleep, their lung capacity goes down significantly. This makes it difficult for the body to sustain a normal breathing rate during sleep.[*]
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): COPD refers to a group of chronic lung conditions that block airflow to the lungs. 
  • High body mass index (BMI): Having a high BMI has been linked to a higher risk of sleep apnea.[*]
  • Mental health: Irregular breathing during sleep has been linked with mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. A 2015 study found that sleep apnea may raise the risk of developing a panic disorder.[*]
  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes the air sacs in the lungs to become inflamed. This makes breathing more difficult and lowers one’s lung capacity.[*]
  • Narcotic use or abuse: Narcotic medications cause our respiratory rate to slow down and become more shallow. This is especially true during sleep.[*]


When Should I Talk to My Doctor?

Good sleep is vital to your health and quality of life. If you experience any of the following  symptoms during or after sleep, consider discussing them with yourdoctor:[*]

  • Snoring every night
  • Restless sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trouble remembering or thinking clearly throughout the day


Tips for Healthy Respiration During Sleep

A healthy breathing rate is essential to getting restorative sleep. Fortunately, there are simple steps that you can start taking tonight to improve your quality of sleep (and life!).

To improve your breathing rate while you sleep, try incorporating one or more of the following tips:

  • Sleeping position: Sleeping on your side can increase your lung capacity and improve your breathing pattern.[*]
  • Avoid allergens: To improve the air quality in your bedroom, consider investing in an air purifier to remove bacteria and allergens from your environment.[*]
  • Breathing support: To deepen and improve your breathing rate during sleep, try the Somnox 2 (it breathes with you!).

For anyone looking to improve their sleep, Somnox 2 is your science-backed sleep companion that guides you towards slow-paced breathing that helps you fall asleep faster, worry less and wake up rested. 70% of our users improved their sleep quality within 4 weeks.

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