Sometimes it takes a national emergency to illuminate what people instinctively already know, namely that sleep and breathing are important.
A new book called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art may have garnered limited attention in a different era, but the COVID crisis has cast a spotlight on respiratory functions.
A report on National Public Radio explored many facets of the book by journalist James Nestor, particularly Nestor’s experiment in which he could only breathe through his mouth for 10 days. Equipped with nose plugs that made nasal breathing impossible, the physical maladies began to pile up.
"I went from snoring a couple minutes a night to, within three days, I was snoring four hours a night," Nestor told NPR in describing his forced mouth breathing. "I developed sleep apnea. My stress levels were off the charts. My nervous system was a mess...I felt awful.”
If left unchecked, Nestor’s experiment could have spiraled further. This is essentially the case for millions of Americans with sleep apnea who fail to address their sleep apnea. Toss in a global pandemic, and tenuous sleep patterns become even more erratic.
“When confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, though, sleep becomes even more essential because of its wide-ranging benefits for physical and mental health,” write officials at the Sleep Foundation. “Solid nightly rest strengthens our body’s defenses, and studies have even found that lack of sleep can make some vaccines less effective...Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention during the coronavirus pandemic.”