How Mouth Breathing Can Cause Insomnia for People with Type-1 Diabetes

I didn’t last long in the same bed (or room) as my wife, Nicole, after we got married. If she wasn’t tossing and turning, she had to get up to take a midnight stroll around the room. All the while, I slept (so I have been told) like a log chained to a metal rack and wrapped tight with duct tape.

Even a year ago, it wasn’t strange to find light escaping under Nicole’s door frame at 10:30pm,  even though she had retired at 9:00pm, quite exhausted. I remember she read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in about two weeks back in 2003.

I’ve now come to believe that a big reason for this type of nocturnal restlessness among people with type-1 diabetes is mouth breathing. In his books Sleep with Buteyko and Close Your Mouth, Patrick McKeown of the Oxygen Research Institute, blames mouth breathing for:

  • snoring
  •  insomnia
  • nightmares
  • sleep apnoea
  • disrupted sleep
  • a need to urinate in the middle of the night
  • and fatigue in the morning (ever wonder why you feel tired after so much rest?)

In contrast, nasal breathing appears to reduce or eliminate all of these bedtime bothers. Why? Because it prevents excessive loss of CO2.

Nasal breathing, for example, causes exhaled CO2 to be trapped in the sinus cavity, which is then recycled back into the lungs with the next inhalation. Likewise, the nasal passage is much narrower than the mouth, which further prevents loss of CO2.

“For over 60 years carbon dioxide has been known as a calming, soothing and even an addictive substances,” says an English translation of a Dr. K. P. Buteyko’s 1969 Moscow State University Lecture. “Therefore, a reduction of carbon dioxide in the nervous cells excites them. Those who learn deep breathing experience the following symptoms: insomnia, irritability, memory impairment and right up to spasms of an epileptic nature.”

The problem, as I understand it, is that when you’re sleeping you really don’t need to breathe all that much. You’re just not burning much oxygen while you snooze. Likewise, you’re not making much CO2. And if you’re mouth is open, then it’s pretty hard not to over-breathe. So your CO2 levels drop too low.

In Dr. Artour Rakhimov’s book, Breathing Slower and Less, he cites a study by the American Journal of Medicine published in 1974. Researchers were studying death in a large intensive care unit. They found that if a patient had 2.1% or less CO2 in the blood there was a 88% chance that they would die. Since low CO2 is common among people with type-1 diabetes, it’s no wonder their weary bodies don’t want to rest at night. Sleep has become a poison.

Thus, not only does low CO2 levels excite cells and tense muscles. The other reason for all this restless sleep is survival. There are only a few ways to raise CO2 in the blood: a) breathe less b) move muscles c) produce body heat or d) sweat. Since low CO2 mean death, the body resorts to muscle movements and/or sweating to raise CO2 levels. Sadly, gymnastics and rest aren’t compatible.

Nasal breathing, in turn, forces one to breathe less, raising CO2 levels while lying still. Since switching to nasal breathing at night, Nicole now goes to bed around 9:30pm and stays there until the morning. She’s not sleeping perfectly, but she’s not reading War and Peace either.

But how do you force your body to breathe only through the nose at night? After all, you’re asleep. Next post, I show you what we use. It’s simple, effective and so out-of-the-box it just might change your life.

Thinking outside the type-1 matrix,
–John C. A. Manley

P.S. On the subject of sleep you may want to read about this simple insulin injection strategy: How to Keep Type-1 Blood Sugars Stable During the Night

P.P..S. For more on how  breathing and sleep you can read Sleep with Buteyko: Stop Snoring, Sleep Apnoea and Insomnia. Suitable for Children and Adults by Patrick McKeown. It’s available at amazon.com, amazon.ca and amazon.co.uk.

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