Oxygen is necessary for several vital functions within the body. In fact, without oxygen we die. But even low oxygen levels—hypoxia or hypoxemia—can cause problems, while high levels can improve our health.
Getting enough oxygen during sleep can be particularly difficult as our breathing patterns change while we are sleeping and we aren’t conscious of it. We may also sleep in positions that compress the lungs, have breathing problems that don’t present during the day, or suffer from underlying medical conditions.
Thankfully, there are ways and means to increase our oxygen levels while sleeping. And even if you don’t currently suffer from low oxygen levels, there’s something to be said for prevention. For example, sleep apnea and snoring, which are common causes for low oxygen levels during sleep, can often be prevented.
Read on to find plenty of helpful tips for increasing your oxygen levels during sleep, as well as to find out more about the causes and symptoms of low oxygen levels.
Improve Blood Oxygen Levels During Sleep: 12 Things To Do
There are many things you can do to improve your lungs’ abilities and thereby increase your oxygen levels.
1. Eat Well
Make sure you don’t get anemia—which can cause low oxygen levels—by eating well and taking a multivitamin a couple of times a week. Iron-rich foods include red meat, shellfish, lentils, dark chocolate (no kidding!), and dark green leafy vegetables.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to blood oxygen levels, so ensure you get enough vitamin D by consuming egg yolks, fatty fish and red meat. Spending time outdoors is also incredibly important for your vitamin D levels, as vitamin D is formed when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
As an added benefit, by eating a balanced diet consisting of whole foods, you’re less likely to become obese which can lead to asthma and impaired breathing, as well as snoring and sleep apnea.
Exercise helps improve lung and heart functioning. The heart is important as it’s what pumps blood and, therefore, oxygen around your body.
Exercise will also help you maintain your ideal weight.
3. Get Fresh Air
During the day, try to get in at least one walk (or jog) in a place with great air quality, such as a nearby park or the beach. If you live in the city you might also consider going for a long country walk, or hike, once a week. That way you combine cardio with fresh air and you can top up on vitamin D by getting sun exposure (and yes, that works on a cloudy day too)!
4. Improve the Air Quality in Your Home
At night, keep your window open if you live in an area with good air quality, or use an air purifier that is proven to work. You can, of course, do this during the day as well!
You can also keep houseplants in your bedroom that are known to help produce oxygen (and remove toxins!), something NASA discovered back in the day.
Great plants include the peace lily (Spathiphyllum), Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), chrysanthemums when they are flowering and only then (Chrysanthemum morifolium), golden pothos a.k.a. money plant or devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum), dracaenas of which the snake plant is particularly well-known and ferns (Polypodiophyta).
Singing can improve lung capacity and appears to improve the health of people suffering from lung disease. It can also help improve, or prevent, sleep apnea, as it can strengthen your throat and larynx. It can also improve, or prevent, snoring if this is due to lax muscles.
6. Sleep on Your Side
If you sleep on your back, your breathing can become restricted as your lungs are pressed down.
To improve your breathing during the night, simply sleep on your side.
7. Deal With Your Sinus Problems
If you are having problems breathing due to nasal congestion, which in turn is causing you to snore, try using a neti pot to clean your sinuses with saline solution first thing in the morning and just before bed. This can help rinse out allergens, as well as bacteria so as to prevent sinus infections.
If suddenly exposed to allergens, you can also use a neti pot to rinse your nose out (such as after walking through a field in summer). Note that you shouldn’t use it more than three times a day though.
Other remedies may help your sinuses too — ranging from over the counter allergy meds and nasal sprays, to anti-inflammatory medication and an anti-inflammatory diet. You may also want to try to eliminate allergens in your sleeping area.
8. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol will relax the muscles in your throat, which in turn can cause snoring and/or sleep apnea.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Being overtired can also cause your throat muscles to relax more than normal when sleeping and cause sleep apnea and/or snoring. Therefore, try to sleep on regular hours and get enough sleep that you are energized during the day.
Tip: Natural ways of improving sleep include meditation and drinking herbal teas that contain valerian, chamomile, linden, passion flowers (not from the passion fruit!), lemon balm, mint, lavender and hemp.
You can also try turning down your lights an hour prior to sleep and having something hot to drink or a hot bath just before bedtime.
Lastly, making sure you’re physically active during the day and going to bed around the same time every day will help ensure you get tired come nightfall!
10. Quit Smoking
If you are smoking, chances are your lungs are already working at a reduced capacity and you’re a lot more prone to various lung diseases.
11. Drink Water
Drinking water (or cold pressed-juices, herbal teas without caffeine, coconut water, etc.) will help keep you hydrated. And just like the rest of your body, your lungs need to be hydrated to function well.
12. Do Breathing Exercises
Breathing is such an unconscious thing it can be strange to even consider there’s a “right way” of breathing, but there is! And it can help you get more oxygen. Usually, this involves slowing down your breathing, as we tend to breathe too fast.
One of the easiest breathing exercises there are consists of slowly breathing in through your nose until your entire belly expands (diaphragmatic breathing), and then just as slowly breathing out through your mouth.
Back in the 1950s, the Buteyko method of breathing was developed by Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko—a scientist. It was created to help people with asthma and has over the years helped many people.
The Buteyko method is incredibly easy to master. All you do is slowly breathe in through your nose and then slowly breathe out through your nose until you’re compelled to breathe in again. Practice this for a few minutes here and there throughout the day.
Several other breathing exercises can easily be found online, but the two above are a great starting point and very effective.
One way that’s been touted as a miracle cure for falling asleep fast according to Dr. Abhijit Shinde is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. Thankfully, it also helps improve your breathing.
13. Use Breathing Aids
If you can’t naturally increase your oxygen supply, then breathing aids such as a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine for sleep apnea, or an oxygen concentrator to supply you with more oxygen might be necessary. It might also be necessary if you currently have low blood oxygen levels and will need support while you’re making lifestyle changes.
Physical exercise, breathing exercises, eating well, etc. are all great ways to improve your oxygen levels, but they won’t improve your oxygen levels overnight.
Before you decide to sleep with oxygen, or get a CPAP machine, consult a doctor. Too much oxygen can lead to oxygen toxicity, so you will want expert help to get your dosage right.