Can the way we breathe affect our heart rate? - AF Association

AF Association

20,717 members25,399 posts

Can the way we breathe affect our heart rate?


I just finished reading a new book by James Nestor, "Breath The New Science of a Lost Art". It is a very good read. I thought I was a nose breather (which is much better for you in that it filters the air and warms and moisturizes it before entering your lungs). However as pointed out in the book, that can change at night. Snoring is caused by mouth breathing. But I find I drool on my pillow case and wake up very thirsty. Mouth breathing makes you lose 40% more water at night. I tape my lips together (about one inch square just below my nose) with painters tape. I wake up much better hydrated and last through the night without having to pee. The main conjecture of the book is that we as a species overbreathe. It also delves into the science of breathing which I found fascinating. I recently went to the doctor for a standard metabolic blood workup. I used the breathing technique before the assistant took my blood pressure. It came in at the lowest reading I have ever had without Metoprolol (113/68). For the lungs to absorb oxygen it needs to make an exchange with CO2. When we overbreathe we wash out too much CO2 while taking in more O2 than we need. By slowing our breathing down to 6 times per minute by extending the intake and exhale by almost 6 seconds each we allow the CO2 to match the amount of O2 we are taking in. The interesting thing is that it is not pulmonologists who are making this discovery, it is ear, nose, and throat doctors, dentists and oral surgeons. I got the book from my local library which just bought it. I highly suggest trying some of the breathing techniques he illustrates in the book. Some of them are pretty far out and am not interested in pursuing them.

46 Replies

Very interesting post.

How did it feel when you taped your mouth , or did you not notice and went straight to sleep? I think I may try that as I wake constantly through the night.

Only the first night did I really notice the tape. Subsequent nights no problem. You only need a small piece, you do not need to plaster your mouth shut. No more drooling on my pillow case!

I am looking forward to reading it! Just ordered it. Thank you for letting us know, I usually deep breathe before I go to sleep but have been thinking about 6 breaths a minute! 👍

How interesting David - thank you for posting.

Ectopics can be controlled or stopped by slow, deep breathing and the recommended number of breaths in a minute is six, so there is proof that something ties in with heart behaviour. and the effects of breathing on the vagus nerve.

I might try the mouth taping!

David1958 in reply to Finvola

The book I mentioned will really open your eyes to how we breathe affects your whole body. We all think breathing is so elementary. Have you ever had to think about it? So many religions around the world have chants and singing patterned around the 6 second inhale and the 6 second exhale. One of the reasons it does not get more traction in the medical community is that there is no money in it.

Doggiemomma in reply to Finvola

I've been working on the 6 breaths per minute. I was at 7 to 8 breaths for the longest time, but with practice, I can get down to 6 breaths per minute. When I don't think about deliberately doing this, of course, I go back to my normal way of breathing.

At night, usually every night, after I say my prayers, I get into a comfy position (usually on my side, which has me hoping it won't aggravate my heart) and take 5 slow deep breaths--I don't do any kind of a count at that time--and find myself relaxing into sleep most of the time.

Interesting. Makes sense. When I get anxious I breath faster, hands get clammy & heart rate increases & palpitations occur. I do practice breathing & meditation techniques, which certainly do help with the blood pressure too.

Blood pressure is intimately tied to heart rate. One of the benefits of slow breathing is that the heart rate variability reduces to a minimum.

Our son,in early 40's, has bad night breathing and found this book very useful. has also started taping his mouth at night and it has been so helpful with him not having to wake up during night with his mouth wide open and disturbing his wife .

What is interesting about the book is that it goes into all the reductions in mouth size that have occurred since the agricultural revolution. Chewing is a big deal in mouth size. If all we ever do is eat soft foods from infancy to adulthood our mouth size will suffer for it. Crooked teeth and removal of teeth are an indication that you have a small mouth as is a high palate. What is really amazing is that even at 50 to 60 to 70 year olds can increase their mouth size through chewing!

Great! Will take a look.

My AF anxiety was dramatically lessened by breathing techniques taught by a psychologist who practises hypnotherapy. She taught me about slowing breaths by counting 7 for the in and 11 for the out. That would tie in with what you say about balancing CO2.

Recently I have been waking up with slow AF, dry mouth, blocked nose. Not sure if taping my mouth shut will help that, but I will now work on the blocked nose. Hayfever from mushroom spores in the autumn which I have been trying to ignore!

Good to know some doctors may now be taking this on board.

David1958 in reply to Coco51

Nose blockages are certainly not helpful when trying to engage slow breathing. There is some speculation that mouth breathing begets thinks like hay fever (allergies) because mouth breathing is unfiltered air with every pathogen and irritant gaining entry through the mouth. Your immune system is constantly under assault which is vastly reduced by nose breathing. As pointed out in the book, you may have to start small with nose breathing. As they say, use or lose it. The more you use your nose to breath the clearer it will get. Deviated septums depending on how severe they are may need attention if it impacts your ability to breathe through your nose. Other obstructions need similar attention. Good luck with your nose breathing!

Coco51 in reply to David1958

Thanks! Good thoughts.

secondtry in reply to Coco51

Having read the book and mouth taped for 10 weeks now, interestingly I find I go to sleep with a partially blocked nose and wake up with my nose clear. Hope it works the same for you.

Coco51 in reply to secondtry

I'll give it a try thank you.

David1958 in reply to secondtry

I have found that to be true also. Like everything else to do with the body, use it or lose it. The less you breathe through the nose, the more clogged it gets. The more you breathe through your nose the clearer it gets.


The slow deep breathing (less than 6 a minute) is well advocated here for stopping ectopics and I recently found it mentioned for use by aircrew on carriers to facilitate rapid falling asleep on a very noisy carrier during flight operations. I do sometimes find it helps me go to sleep if I am stressed.

Finvola in reply to BobD

Interesting Bob - I've been using it in the last couple of weeks when the pain of my back wakes me up. It has calmed my response to the pain and helped me get back to sleep. Such power in a simple technique.

irene75359 in reply to Finvola

Finvola, sorry to hear your back is still giving you so much pain - do the painkillers help at all?

Finvola in reply to irene75359

Sorry I didn't see your reply earlier irene - my notifications haven't been working for a few days.

Thank you for your sympathy - need to wallow in it!! Painkillers are of minimal help unfortunately, chiropractic has helped with the worst of it - twisted hip and trapped nerve and I use heat and ice on the pulled muscles. A slow business.

irene75359 in reply to Finvola

Back pain is so debilitating, my father suffered most of his adult life and as children we used to walk on his back to try and give him some relief. Take great care and get some strapping young lads to do the hard labour next time! xx

David1958 in reply to BobD

I found that by focusing on my slow breathing, I was able to stay alert and respond to radio calls from Air Traffic Control much easier without resorting to any reading material. My copilot was not too talkative and made this easier to do. I too use the slow breathing to fall asleep.

Secondtry has posted several informative posts on this topic quite recently.

David1958 in reply to Peddling

The more the merrier. I did not do a search before posting this. I had never heard of slow breathing from any doctor I have ever seen. By chance, a podcast was included in my news feed and I decided to click on it. The author of the book was being interviewed by the host and that interview was fascinating. It also mentioned the book and I went and put a hold on it at my local library. Even the ancients knew about this technique which has been discovered and lost and rediscovered over and over again. This is folklore, alternative medicine and pulmonauts as James Nestor calls lay people who go on to investigate the benefits of slow breathing and other techniques. I posted it here in the hopes that it would help some people with AF. Any tool in the tool box that does not cost anything and has no deleterious side effects is a good one in my book.

My daughter has trained in Transformational breathing and has helped people with many problems. There are practictitioners all over the country but mainly in the south and run individual and group courses. She is just starting one in Newbury. As ex military her specialisation is veterans with PTSD and has set up a charity to help.

David1958 in reply to Patasquith

That is fantastic! I can only hope this idea takes off. Modern medicine is all about making money off of people's ailments (USA). I can only imagine how well Transformational breathing can help people suffering from PTSD.

Thanks for your post. I followed the Wim Hof technique throughout the summer and felt great doing it. I’ve struggled for time lately, which is a shocking excuse as it takes about five minutes but you may enjoy that one. I also came across this podcast with Nestor which discusses everything mentioned in your post

David1958 in reply to Safc1983

Thanks. When I first started this slow breathing exercise, I accidently got into the Wim Hof technique and noticed that I had gotten quite toasty. As I was driving the car at the time, I stopped doing that immediately. So it definitely works. I noticed it was a different kind of hot. No sweating, just a blast of inner heat.

Bennera513 in reply to Safc1983

I started Wim Hof breathing last year. After 2 weeks I was able to hold my breath during the exercise for 3 minutes. Also after 2 weeks I had my first ever PAF episode. It was later in the afternoon while quietly working at my computer. But, I was shaken enough to stop the breathing and (knock on wood) have not been back in AF in 13 months. Plenty of ectopics however (which is what led me to Wim Hof in the first place). My Integrative doctor suggested if I felt adventurous I could pick it up again to determine if it was or wasn't a trigger. I'm okay not knowing...:) Though I can say that the exercise would immediately clear my brain fog and settle any anxiety. Which is interesting since the exercise can initially be a frightful thing, given the intensity of the forced breathing and the sensation of passing out that comes with the breath holds. But you learn to crave these sensations after about a week. So relaxing.

Hi David, like you I am fascinated by this book (read it twice now). The breathing exercises and the mouth tape at night have helped my sleep and may have stopped my mild sleep apnea & reduced anxiety. Taking an overview on AF, I think the best response is to keep building a myriad of small lifestyle improvements- I would encourage anyone (unless you have a serious condition) to try this one.

David1958 in reply to secondtry

Thanks Secontry. It really is a fascinating subject. Last night I took my recumbent trike out for a 15 mile spin nose breathing the whole time. I did not push as hard as I usually do, about 85% of my usual effort. I found it was doable although I struggled to get the elongation of inhale and exhale to 6 seconds. I think I got both into a 6 second window, so 10 breaths per minute instead of 6. I will keep trying to elongate them more on each subsequent ride.

secondtry in reply to David1958

Let us know how it progresses. I have had some beneficial changes already but it is early days and of course it is difficult attributing any improvements to a particular action. I am hoping I can report back here with some definite positives next year.

David1958 in reply to secondtry

I agree that dealing with AF requires many lifestyle adjustments. The ones that do not cost you anything are the best of all.

I read the book "The Oxygen Advantage". However I think there are ups and downs with nasal breathing. On the one hand it has cleared my stuffy nose. On the other, I find that when I start falling asleep on my favoured side, I get a strange almost snoring sensation from the back of my throat which instantly wakes me. Consequently it's affected my sleeping over the last 3 months. I'll probably end up seeing an ENT consultant.

David1958 in reply to MarkS

This is the first I have heard of that kind of problem. Do you tape your lips at night? How we breathe at night is hard to control. I found my mouth very dry in the morning and with drool on my pillow case. By taping my lips (a small piece about 1inch by 1/2inch centered under my nose). No more drool, and no dry mouth in the morning. My older brother has been using a CPAP machine for years. I have always wondered if I was prone to sleep apnea, but I never wake up tired. So I tried the tape and am pleased with the results.

intomusic in reply to David1958

Ah, I kept waiting for some commentator to discuss this in light of sleep apnea. I've been ordered by my EP to have a sleep study to see if I have sleep apnea. I sleep on my side/stomach, do not snore to my knowledge (no one else is near me to verify), and do not feel tired or fall asleep during the day etc. Yet, one test I had, done at home, had diagnosed me with moderate/severe OSA. I actually rejected that result, as I believe they got the test results switched-- so went to a different Sleep specialist (ENT)--and will receive the results of my in-home study on Thursday (am in USA-Chicago area). So-- I'm wondering if the practice of slower breathing, and the mouth taping, will help me with whatever apnea I may have. Awaiting test results -- as I really would like to avoid the CPAP routine.

David1958 in reply to intomusic

Sleep apnea is an important subject. My older brother went the CPAP route several years ago. I sleep on my side mostly. I know I snored because it used to wake me up. I also drooled on the pillow case. I would wake up with a dry mouth and be very thirsty. One of my triggers for AF is dehydration, so waking up thirsty with a dry mouth was very concerning. Once I read James Nestor's book "Breath", I immediately tried taping my lips before going to bed. I no longer wake up with a dry mouth or very thirsty. No drool on the pillow case. It took only a short time to get used to taped lips (small piece 1 inch square) .

intomusic in reply to intomusic

Just reporting the results of that 2nd "in home" sleep apnea test. My results are NORMAL!! which is what I had expected (hoped for). So, my Sleep Dr. specialist did not recommend a CPAP for me at this point--and those recommendations and test results are going to my cardiologist/Electrophysiologisst (EP) --who is in charge of my Afib condition. Still, learning more about best breathing techniques cannot hurt. Thank you for sharing your experiences -- and replying to mine.

secondtry in reply to MarkS

Hi Mark, that does sound odd and maybe one for the ENT consultant. Before that I would read James Nestor's book 'Breath' as it covers a lot of ground in that area including a caveat on going 'under the surgeon's knife'.

I did another 15 mile ride around our community again at 85% effort using nose breathing. Some progress was made with elongating the inhale/exhale cycle. 10 breaths/minute was the easiest to do. I was able to do some 4in/4out cycles and some 5in/5out cycles before resorting to 3in/3out to make up for demand. This is going to be a long process training my body to accept the 6in/6out cycle indefinitely.

I have been sleeping with my lips taped for many nights now. I am sleeping better (which I did not expect) in addition to no dry mouth or thirst upon waking. I do not wake up in the middle of the night like I used to. Now, when I wake up and peek at my watch, I might have 15 to 30 minutes to go before I want to really wake up. Progress!

In regards to anxiety, I find myself with a lot of anxiety around my medical certification that enables me to fly for the airlines. The FAA is absolutely anal about blood pressure. Whenever I go to have the physical, I work myself up into a tizzy and the BP goes through the roof. This time I was armed with my slow breathing technique. The first reading was 155 over something and the second one was 135 over something. I was not brave enough to ask for a third reading. I was slow breathing the entire time. The interesting thing was that during the EKG, my heart rate was 57bpm. A few other parameters were elongated as well. Bottom line is that I know anxiety is hard to crack. I am still new to this slow breathing and hoping that it will eventually crack that nut.

Very good and thanks for the reminder. I will try the slow breathing in the morning when I have an appointment with my oncologist as I now have white coat syndrome and blood pressure is high when in any doctor’s office.

David1958 in reply to Sunny-fl

I do not have that problem with doctors in general. At my primary care physician I do not get that anxiety. Nor at my cardiologists. I can avoid getting the EKG done at the FAA physical, but I cannot avoid get my BP read.

Some might enjoy trying out these excercises for OSA I found. I have tried them a couple of nights and not sure if they work but thought them worth a try.

I wear a O2 ring which buzzs if I drop below a cetain number as I have just discovered my problem along with afib and change sleep positions. It also records your heartrate and O2 levels throgh the night. I will try the tape as i always have a dry mouth and get up during the a night.

David1958 in reply to Newtoit

The tape has helped me sleep through the night without having to get up to pee. That has been a blessing.

You may also like...