Sleep, Insomnia, Brain Oxygen Levels and Breathing
About 10% of
Western people suffer from chronic insomnia (Roth T, Roehrs, 2003;
Pigeon, 2010) and many more have mild sleeping problems. What are the causes?
Over 90% of modern
normal people are heavy breathers (see the Homepage with dozens of studies).
Sick people breathe even more, as over 50 medical studies testify. This relates
to people with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, COPD, and many other
As a result,
abnormal or ineffective breathing is a key factor that causes insomnia and long sleep since
hyperventilation reduces brain O2 and CO2 contents.
Breathing patterns and sleep quality
Clinical observations of Russian MDs resulted in this Table that
links body and brain oxygen levels with sleep quality and duration.
||Often >10 hours
||Often very poor
||Often >9 hours
How can we improve sleep quality and stop insomnia? First
let us consider this question: Why do we need sleep? Common sense tells us that we need it to provide rest for
the brain and muscles. We know that deep breathing makes the brain
CO2 is a natural sedative of nerve cells)
and muscles tense (since carbon dioxide is a
relaxant of muscles). For example, neurological research suggests that
hyperventilation "leads to spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cortical
neurons" (Huttunen et al, 1999). Do you need any spontaneous and
asynchronous signals or thoughts when you go to sleep?
Hence, CO2 deficiency should affect the quality
of our sleep due to these effects. In addition, brain hypocapnia naturally
causes brain hypoxia (reduced oxygen content in brain cells). Here are some general practical
observations about unconscious breathing patterns and the quality of sleep.
Healthy people have normal breathing at rest (see medical studies from the web
page Breathing in healthy).
person with normal breathing (10-12 breaths per minute at rest, 4-6 L/min for
minute ventilation, and with about 40-60 s for the
body oxygen level):
- falls asleep in less than 1 minute;
- sleeps for about 4-5 hours, with very quiet, light and peaceful
breathing, and he or she can stay in the same sleep position the whole
- does not remember dreams and does not have nightmares;
- awakes feeling refreshed and full of energy and vigor with a morning
CP of about 60 or more seconds.
Modern people breathe about 12 L/min and have less CO2 and O2 in body cells.
Their body oxygen level is about 15-25 s and breathing frequency at rest is up
to 18-25 breaths per minute. Such a person:
- may need more time to fall asleep (up to 5-30 minutes or more);
- can sleep up to 7-9 hours and in different positions;
- can remember dreams and may have nightmares;
- wakes up feeling tired, often with about 10 seconds CP due to morning
Why? During the previous day and night, this individual has had
chronically low tissue stores of O2 and CO2 due to an ineffective
breathing pattern. The muscles were tense, instead of naturally
relaxed, and the brain hypoxic and over-excited, instead of calm. Even
during sleep, the brain, due to hyperventilation, remained abnormally
excited (remember “spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cortical
neurons”?) and hypoxic. Hence, most people will suffer from some degree
of insomnia and cannot sleep less than 7-8 hours due to their ineffective
Consider severely sick, terminally ill or hospitalized patients with
a typical CP of about 5-10 s or even less. These people:
- may need even more time to fall asleep (up to 30 minutes or more);
- can sleep up to 12-15 hours tossing and turning in bed;
- can remember many dreams and often have nightmares;
- awaken feeling tired and sluggish.
Their quality of sleep is often miserable. Why? It is because these
people, due to severe chronic hyperventilation, have critically low
oxygenation and CO2 values due to their
heavy breathing pattern. They are
chronically very tense and over-excited. Their muscles and brain need much more
time to rest and relax, and these people often suffer from severe sleeping
problems or insomnia. However, relaxing is
difficult or impossible, since O2 and CO2 stores are critically low
during the night as well. (In fact, severely sick patients are most likely to
die during ... sleep. See Sleep Heavy Breathing
Effect medical research summary.)
Ideal breathing causes ideal sleep
people (Dr. KP Buteyko, some
Russian Buteyko doctors, Western Buteyko practitioners and students,
and hatha yoga masters) have/had very light or ideal breathing (about 2-3 L/min
for ventilation) with 2-3 minutes for the CP (body oxygen level). Such people naturally need only a very short sleep during the night. They simply cannot
sleep longer even if they try. Why? High CO2 concentrations keep the
muscles relaxed and the brain calm throughout the day and night.
Normally these people do not need much sleep at all, since they are
resting even while they work! (See the picture on the left.) You can reveal the exact number of hours for sleep right below here as your bonus content. You will be amazed!
Note that there are people who may have only 5-10 s CP and have no
problems or complaints about sleep. Occasionally, some people may have
30-35 s CP and still be concerned or unhappy about their quality of
sleep. However, all these cases are exceptions rather than the rule. It
can be of important practical and scientific value to find out the
exact biochemical, neurological and psychological links between
breathing and quality of sleep. Why do most people have problems with
sleep when they breathe more? Why are some people less affected?
Now we know the answer to the question "How to sleep less
naturally?" We should retrain our automatic breathing so that
we breathe less and have more oxygen in body cells.
Be observant. If you know the CPs of your friends and
relatives, investigate, if possible, whether this general correlation
between the CP and quality of sleep is correct for them. Also, check,
if it works for you on different days (your CP and sleep quality can
vary from day to day due to diseases, infections, exercise, stress,
Warning. Remember that CP measurements are done until the first
desire to breathe. Your health and quality of sleep would not be better
if you push yourself to get higher numbers. In fact, if you later gasp
for air, your breathing can become even worse. It is how you breathe
twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week that matter.
Click on the picture (on the right side) to watch the video clip
"How to Sleep Less and
Better Naturally (Prevent Insomnia and Sleep Problems)
The video discusses the link between basal breathing patterns and the duration of sleep
(how to sleep less naturally).
Conclusion: You can sleep less and better, if you change your
unconscious (basal) breathing pattern so as to have more oxygen and CO2
in the body. Learn Buteyko Breathing Exercises.
Related web pages:
How to fall asleep
fast: Solution for insomnia and sleeplessness, try this simple breathing
How to sleep less: What is the link between
breathing rates and duration of sleep?
Huttunen J, Tolvanen H, Heinonen E, Voipio J, Wikstrom H, Ilmoniemi RJ, Hari R, Kaila K,
Effects of voluntary hyperventilation on cortical sensory responses.
Electroencephalographic and magnetoencephalographic studies, Exp Brain Res
1999, 125(3): p. 248-254.
Pigeon WR, Diagnosis, prevalence, pathways, consequences &
treatment of insomnia, Indian J Med Res. 2010 Feb;131:321-32.
Roth T, Roehrs T, Insomnia: epidemiology, characteristics, and
consequences, Clin Cornerstone, 2003;5(3):5-15.
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