deep breathing can be bad for you, viz. buteyko breathing, having to pee all the time, sleep apnea, etc.

[Edit: If you are thirsty/peeing all the time, also get tested for diabetes.]

Poorly written brain dump between low and moderately good quality; I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice, etc.:

Normal breathing is actually triggered by buildup of CO2 in the blood. (I am fairly sure gasping and abdominal spasms are triggered by very high CO2 buildup. And, a particular kind of rapid breathing is triggered by chronic low oxygen. Mountain climbers do this thing where they involuntarily alternate in cycles of fast and shallow breathing because both CO2 and oxygen are weird up high. People who hyperventilate in order to hold their breath underwater are at risk of passing out from lack of oxygen—oxygen runs out before CO2 buildup demands taking a breath.)

Low blood CO2 stimulates the nervous system, high CO2 depresses the nervous system. CO2 levels regulate a bunch of stuff—it shouldn’t get too low. If blood CO2 gets too low, you automatically pass out so your body can take over breathing again.

Chronic low blood CO2 does all sorts of weird stuff to your kidneys, immune system, muscle tone, and presumably a bunch of other stuff. Chronic low CO2 is one cause of sleep apnea: if breathing is too deep or fast, too much CO2 leaves the lungs and then blood CO2 falls. Breathing doesn’t trigger for a while and oxygen levels fall. Also, throat muscle tone collapses causing an obstructed airway. Then gasping and waking ensues and the cycle repeats.

If you have dreams where you’re underwater, can’t breath, or your throat has closed, or you wake up gasping, or if you wake up breathing rapidly with a fast, noticeable heartbeat, this is you. If you can’t sleep on your back, not as strong evidence that this is you.

Slightly less bad, low CO2 tolerance causes head turning behavior and twitching. (CO2 buildup is one of the reasons some meditators have weird body movements.) This is mostly harmless, except at night, because that head-turning behavior can wake you up over and over again, preventing you from reaching deep sleep and staying there.

A bunch of kidney functions are partially regulated by blood gas levels. If you have to pee all the time, during the day or at night, or if water goes right through you, or if you’re always thirsty, you have low CO2 tolerance.

Mouth breathing versus nose-breathing, and nasal congestion, are regulated by blood CO2 levels. If you find yourself mouth-breathing a lot or can’t breath through your nose or you mouth doesn’t stay closed automatically, with tongue lightly touching the roof of your mouth, then you have low CO2 tolerance. Also, the thickness or thinness or real-time mucous production, as well as nasal turbinate size are regulated by CO2 levels.

People who sit for long periods of time, people who sing, people who have a job where they’re talking all the time (teacher), people who are chronically stressed, people who have learned to chronically “deep breath” because of meditation or qigong are all at risk for reduced CO2 tolerance.

Re chronically stressed, when you get emotional, your breathing rate and depth increase in preparation for physical activity. If you get emotional without getting physically active, and you do this all the time, your body improperly adapts to regulating blood CO2 to be too low.

You can see what high blood CO2 feels like by “breathing as shallow and quiet as a mouse.” Carefully maintain a VERY SLIGHT air hunger and don’t yawn, gasp, or sigh. At between three and five minutes you’ll feel weird and glassy-eyed. Stop. You’ve entered a high CO2 state. (Midway through, you’ll typically also find that one or both nostrils feel open and you can breath easily through your nose. So that’s a great trick.)

Human CO2 tolerance (with respect to breathing rate and depth) is highly adaptable. The procedure above, done very gently over months, can retrain your CO2 tolerance to be higher. Overall sleep will improve. This process is long and finicky and can cause very unpleasant symptoms. Less is more; barely knowing whether you’re doing anything is best. You can also trigger panic attacks or asthma attacks if you’re susceptible.

What I find even more effective is high-intensity interval training (elliptical, bike, sprinting, jump rope, etc.. I used to do Buteyko breathing (a variant is described above), combined with high-intensity interval training. I think they were important to synergize, at first. Now I just do high-intensity interval training. If I don’t do HIIT at least once every five-seven days, a few of the symptoms described above, personally experienced, start to return. HIIT spikes CO2 levels in a way that the body is prepared to deal with, and positive adaptations occur over months to years.

My suspicion is that high-intensity interval training might or might not protect against poor room ventilation somewhat (or a lot).

Re HIIT or Buteyko breathing, the body has a rapid response and slower response (kidneys, over about three days). The first few days are jerky and unpleasant, with symptoms potentially dramatically coming and going, as regulatory systems up regulate, down regulate and hand off smoothly, or not. (E.g. sleep deeply and then wake up horribly gasping.) Ditto at different points during the process. FIN

Oh yeah also, CO2 causes vasodilation, so if you have high blood pressure then the sort of stuff above will be very useful, too. FINFIN

Oh yeah, so panic attacks: CO2 gets a little higher than normal, poor tolerance triggers alarm, start breathing faster in order to escape the caveman cave that has the “bad air,” vigilance and interoception and general searching for danger increase, reduced CO2 in blood causes tingling extremities and other physical sensations, those sensations get interpreted as something terrible happening inside body, start breathing faster, get lightheaded because body wants you to cut it the fuck out, get even more scared, experience DOOM [more stuff and connections here], eventually calm down, repeat, etc.

So the stuff above will reduce incidence of anxiety and panic attacks, too, though will potentially trigger them at first, too. FINFINFIN


4 thoughts on “deep breathing can be bad for you, viz. buteyko breathing, having to pee all the time, sleep apnea, etc.

  1. “You can see what high blood CO2 feels like by “breathing as shallow and quiet as a mouse.”… At between three and five minutes you’ll feel weird and glassy-eyed”

    Interesting that it sounds a bit like some instructions for Jhana, or what can happen when you are getting into Jhana states – the breathing gets very fine, quiet and shallow.

    • yeah some people say their breathing seems to *stop* in certain jhanic states, which of course must simply mean it’s imperceptible–slow, smooth, and shallow. I suspect meditators in traditions that don’t emphasize special breathing come to have very high CO2 tolerance (if they don’t already have maladaptive breathing patterns).

      I also suspect that the depressive effects of CO2 on the nervous system are utilized by meditators to facilitate certain states, whether they realize it or not.

  2. Could you elaborate re: CO2 and immune system? Looking at what’s going on with me, I have a hunch that low CO2 (chronically and/or acutely?) stimulates the immune system. I was unable to source this to my satisfaction. The Buteyko people don’t have a mechanism or even—AFAIK—a coherent claim of what dysfunction to expect; the only other thing I could find was a study showing that elevated CO2 is immunosuppressive in flies (I guess that’s sort of on the right track).

    Ultimately I’ll probably have to try HIIT or Buteyko stuff and falsify it that way, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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