Sleep deprivation due to poor nasal breathing

Sleep DeprivationHave you ever noticed that when you lie down to go to sleep with a blocked nose that it can become even more difficult to breathe?

As described earlier, when we go to sleep the muscles in the airways become more relaxed. This, combined with the increased airflow resistance due to lying down to sleep, reduces the diameter of these passages. This results in restriction of the flow of air to the lungs, which may already be compromised due to various possible factors.

See more in our Nasal Breathing Impairment article

Studies have shown that nasal obstruction can significantly increase the frequency of disturbed sleep. An ongoing impediment to sleep patterns may result in what is known clinically as hypopnea (from the Greek hypo meaning ‘low’ and pnoe meaning ‘breathing’). In hypopnea, an excessive reduction of airflow can lead to continual arousals or waking from sleep.

The natural phenomenon of the nasal cycle, where nasal patency switches from one side to another can also contribute to waking at night. It may be a one-sided mechanical nasal blockage, or simply a habit of sleeping on one side that may trigger night time arousal or waking when there is a switch in nasal cycle.

In order to improve their sleep, people with restricted nasal breathing may have to modify their sleeping position to allow them to breathe comfortably. For example, sleeping with the head and upper body elevated on pillows. Although it may improve the capacity to breathe in the short term, an inability to lie flat to sleep can be difficult to maintain, not to mention becoming a cause of discomfort and difficulty sleeping in itself.

For short term restricted breathing conditions, such as colds, flus, and sinus problems aggravated by allergies and sensitivities, there can be difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep while experiencing these symptoms. For those with more chronic breathing conditions, this can affect the sufferer’s sleep and overall health in the long term.

Unfortunately, chronic disturbed sleep may also cause further deteriorations in health to occur. Research indicates that nasal obstruction and related sleep disordered breathing pathologies can lead to chronic excessive daytime sleepiness, non restorative sleep, and reduced quality of life.

Furthermore, there may be detrimental effects to the cardiovascular system, neurological system, immunity, metabolism, and mental health. Ongoing sleep deprivation due to poor nasal breathing can bring any of the associated symptoms of lowered health and reduced well being on the affected individual depending on their personal health history.

To promote a better sleep while affected by temporary symptoms or where a condition may be more long term, it can be very helpful to improve airflow and enjoy an improved ability to sleep using a get-to-sleep aid such as the Nose Vole and Nasal Actuator.

Fiona Morris MA BSc Hons MNIMH is a Medical Herbalist with a special interest in sleep and the respiratory system. She runs consultations for individuals with a wide range of respiratory and breathing conditions, offering herbal prescriptions, alongside lifestyle and nutritional advice. She is the formulator of Breathing Solutions’ Sinus Balm and Sleep Balm. For more information visit


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Article by: Fiona Morris,  medical herbalist MA Bsc(hon)MNIMH