Have you ever thought about the optimal way to breathe? Strange question, right? Maybe because it is instinctual for living creatures. However, the answer is simple — breathe through your nose. That's why we have that thing attached to our faces. Jokes aside — breathing through your mouth is simply ineffective.
Breathing through your nose is healthier and more efficient, and it helps to alleviate snoring and sleep apnea.
BOLT is a blood oxygen level test which shows how much oxygen your blood absorbs when you breathe.
The higher the BOLT score, the less you breathe through your mouth at night and, thus, the deeper you sleep.
You can train and condition your body to hold your breath longer by doing some simple exercises to increase your BOLT score.
If you're an athlete, you know that when you or your opponent starts to breathe through their mouth, it signals they are tired. So let's dive into the details of breathing first.
Your lungs and carbon dioxide
When we breathe, oxygen enters our bloodstream, and the body dumps a waste product, carbon dioxide (CO2), out of the bloodstream. Simply put, we all know that we breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2 — our body's waste. So we assume that our bodies know reflexively how much air we need — but this is only the case sometimes. It's similar to not feeling thirsty, even when your body is dehydrated.
This might seem counterintuitive, but the harder and faster you breathe, the less CO2 and fewer blood cells are exposed and do not give off oxygen. When this happens, your brain starts panicking, and you might begin breathing even faster. So when we find ourselves gasping for air, what we need most likely is for our bodies to stop exhaling too much carbon dioxide.
Though our bodies need to get rid of carbon dioxide because it's a simple waste product, it is also vital for determining how much oxygen our bloodstream needs. So how much carbon dioxide do our bodies need? The lungs need around 5% of CO2. If for any reason, we start breathing heavily, CO2 is removed from the lungs, blood, and kidneys. However, if a large amount of CO2 leaves our lungs, oxygen sticks to hemoglobin, which means our bodies can't absorb the oxygen.
Blood oxygen level test (BOLT)
A blood oxygen level test (BOLT) shows how much oxygen your blood absorbs when you breathe. The higher the bolt score, the less you breathe through your mouth at night and, thus, the deeper you sleep. As a result, the higher the score, the lower the chances of snoring or having sleep apnea. Don't worry if your BOLT score is too low. You can train and condition your body to hold your breath longer by doing some simple exercises.
For example, try mini breath holds (5-15 seconds) throughout the day. These are most effective while focusing on light belly breathing. Another exercise involves holding your breath while walking — count steps to monitor your progress. You may be surprised at how quickly you see improvement. Increasing your BOLT score by only a few seconds can have you feeling less out of breath in no time! Also, it will improve your sleep quality and breathing efficiency.
Slow down your breathing
We have already covered that when you breathe deeply, you reduce the amount of CO2 in your body. However, your body needs to increase CO2 levels to reduce pH and allow hemoglobin to release oxygen from red cells. The average person takes 10-12 breaths per minute, which translates to between 0.5 and 0.6 liters of air. However, people who have asthma take an average of 15-20 breaths per minute. Therefore, they may need to try harder to reduce the number of breaths they take, but they should do so by maximizing the number of nose breaths.
So what’s the optimal number of breaths? Scientists believe that taking 6-8 breaths per minute is ideal. Studies show that slow respiration at six breaths per minute is optimal for improving alveolar ventilation and reducing dead space. It also increased arterial oxygen saturation and relief, and sustainability in terms of respiratory measures. Follow-up of patients with chronic heart failure who practiced slow breathing displayed increased training performance and motivation.
How to improve your breathing
It stands to reason that the longer you can hold your breath, the longer you can participate in aerobic activities. So, let's take at other things you can focus on your BOLT score and, thus, your athletic stamina.
- Invisible breathing. Like a super silent ninja, breathing should be very quiet — your shoulders and chest shouldn’t move much. This is the best way to breathe;
- Breathing through your nose. Nasal breathing increases circulating blood oxygen and CO2 levels, slowing the breathing rate and improving overall lung volumes;
- Pause your breathing. Stop breathing from time to time until you "hunger" for another breath. Air hunger increases CO2 and helps unblock a stuffy nose facilitating a better quality sleep;
- Mouth taping. Literally taping your mouth shut forces you to breathe through your nose, which helps to alleviate snoring and sleep apnea. Though it may feel uncomfortable at first, once you relax, you will notice that you're breathing slower — but more efficiently.
So if you have sleeping problems try slowing down your breathing during the day and improving your BOLT score; keep reminding yourself to breathe through your nose or try mouth taping - it can increase deep sleep, reduce the number of times you wake up, and minimize snoring.