Relief from Snoring and Sleep Apnoea
By Tess Graham
Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books
We have had a flurry of books about sleep dysfunction lately. There must be a lot of people out there who can’t sleep. The books I have reviewed recently approach the problem from different angles. I mentioned in the previous review that we have forgotten many things in our modern culture, including how to eat, how to sit, how to stand, and how to sleep. This book adds another to the list. We’ve forgotten how to breathe.
There are many people who have no airway obstruction, no deviated septum, nor any other impediment to breathing but they still snore. Why? Tess Graham educates us on the physiological details of what goes on when we breathe. Some of those details might surprise you. You probably know that part of what you breathe out is carbon dioxide. What you might not know is that carbon dioxide is not just a waste product. Most of the carbon dioxide your body generates stays in your system and serves important functions. It regulates breathing and assists with oxygen transport. When you breathe too fast or too deeply, you dump carbon dioxide and lower internal CO2 to inadequate levels. By breathing too much you can end up with too little oxygen.
Sleep is not an aerobic exercise; at least it shouldn’t be if you are doing it right. Some people, however, breathe while they sleep as if it is. Drawing in such large amounts of air tends to pull in the sides of the airway which, of course, leads to snoring. Those who do this also tend to breathe too hard when they are awake. They don’t snore but they over-breathe—a kind of low-level hyperventilation. This can lead to irritated, inflamed air passages. Graham has found that if such a person is retrained to breathe correctly when awake, that will translate into improvements when sleeping as well. The book includes a lot of information on how to do that. Optimal breathing should be inaudible and invisible.
There are numerous other pointers and two in particular struck me. One concerns how to correctly blow your nose, if you must. We all know someone (maybe you) who honks like a goose (or a truck) when they blow their nose. That can have the same effect as snoring and can cause inflammation and irritation. No honking!
The other point I find very interesting is how important it is to keep your mouth shut. There can be many good reasons to keep your mouth shut but one very good reason is to get more oxygen into your system. This makes a big difference and mouth-breathing just doesn’t work nearly as well. Graham illustrates this with an interesting story about the Tarahumara runners of northern Mexico. They live in a hot climate in rugged terrain and can run up to 120 km (about 75 miles) per day. They have been observed by scientists when running a regular marathon (only 42 km). At the end of the marathon, their breathing was calm and effortless and their blood pressure was lower than when they started the race. They also had little need for water. The key was they never opened their mouths.
Diet is also important and is covered in a later chapter. Controversial things like the importance of saturated fat and the dangers of soy are correctly explained so that information is on the up and up. To wrap up, my thumb is UP and now I will shut up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2013.