We know that we need to inhale oxygen and expel carbon dioxide from our system for respiration. But did you know that the stress and natural relaxation technique of your body is regulated by one simple physiological process? That is BREATHING! This process not only helps the gaseous exchange within the lungs but also helps to regulate other chemical processes and metabolic functions of the body. In addition, it relieves stress and detoxifies the body.
However, this process may not remain the same for everybody under every circumstance. Every once in a while you might have experienced that you have been taking unusual and involuntary deep breaths, whether you are awake or sleeping. There may be several reasons behind this, not necessarily because you have a lung disease or cardiac problem.
Let’s read about the causes and situations which provoke you to take involuntary deep breaths.
Table of Content
Why Do You Take Involuntary Deep Breaths?
Normally we inhale oxygen from the environment through our nose which passes down the airway to reach the lungs. This oxygen is then absorbed in the bloodstream which circulates to the heart and then to the entire body.
During this process, a few prominent changes occur: the diaphragm descends, the chest expands and the lungs inflate because of the entry of air. Simultaneously, when we exhale, the carbon dioxide is flushed from our bodies. In this step: the diaphragm relaxes and deflates the lungs.
But sometimes when you breathe heavily, you take in more air and gradually intensify the number of breaths without even thinking. There can be multiple reasons why you take involuntary deep breaths. This may happen right after you wake up if you are having panic attacks, and even if you are in the first trimester of your pregnancy! Here are some of the most common causes.
When you feel short of breath or anxious, you tend to inhale deeper than normal. This is called hyperventilation or over-breathing. When you do that the normal range of carbon dioxide in the blood lowers and you feel sick.
Some of the conditions that can make you breathe more deeply are anxiety, stress, exercise, lung disease, panic attacks, bleeding, infection, etc. This usually happens to women who are pregnant and go away soon after the delivery of the baby. Usually, you won’t be able to realize that you are over-breathing although there are a few symptoms that will make you aware of hyperventilation, these are:
- Feeling lightheaded
- Muscle spasm
- Rapid heart beats
- Sleeping disturbances
This is the type of long deep breath when you take oxygen normally and audibly exhale air from the body. This is generally associated with conveying expressions of various moods and emotions like weariness, frustration, despair, or grief. But sighing excessively may be bad because these are signs of depression and stress.
Sighing is actually beneficial for the body because it optimizes the pressure in respiration and prevents the alveoli from collapsing. Moreover, when you get agitated and when you feel exhausted with work, people always suggest sitting back and sighing. So could you relate to why people say “sigh of relief”?
Deep Breathing in the Morning or While Sleeping
When you have sleep apnea, there is an obstruction in the upper respiratory tract, you stop breathing and it starts again repeatedly like a cycle. As you try to inhale again, you will take deep breaths, you will snort, sometimes you will wake up from your sleep with a choking sensation.
Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, noisy breathing, insomnia or restless sleeping, waking up many times at night, etc. Older people, obese and overweight persons, alcohol and tobacco consumers, patients with a thyroid problem, diabetes, allergies, and family history, are most likely to develop sleep apnea.
We all know how important morning exercises are. If you make the habit of practicing breathing exercises once you wake up, your body will become energized and you will feel better. You may as well try doing yoga with focused breathing which will also help you if you want to lose pounds and have a good physique!
Deep Breaths While Awake
This is actually pretty common. You will have heavy breathing when you walk fast or engage yourself in any mild-severe activity ( like mopping the floor or exercising). It happens because your body consumes more oxygen than normal and hence, you breathe deeply.
It gets back to the usual breathing pattern once you discontinue what you have been doing. However, this might not always be the scenario since it might be the sign of any underlying health condition. The possible causes of heavy breathing are –
The condition when the respiratory tract becomes narrow due to swollen and inflamed lungs is called asthma. It is called a condition rather than a disease because it is chronic in nature and unfortunately not entirely curable either. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath.
Pneumonia, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections caused by various bacteria or viruses can make you take deep, heavy breaths. You need to take antimicrobials and other medications for supportive treatment to get cured.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a group of lung diseases causing air obstruction which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Other symptoms of COPD that require immediate medical attention are long-term coughing, wheezing, blueness of lips and fingernail bed, production of mucus/sputum, etc.
If you have COPD then you will constantly feel difficult to take a breath and feel short of breath. That way you feel the urge to take deep breaths while doing the simplest household chores.
There are a number of causes of heart failure. It does not mean the heart has “failed”, rather the heart can’t pump as much blood it should. When the coronary artery becomes narrow due to deposition of lipid, or because of health conditions like hypertension, myocarditis, defect of the heart valves or septum, abnormal heart rhythms, etc, this may trigger heart failure.
You will be able to observe a number of symptoms if you hear anybody had a heart failure out of which shortness of breath (both during rest or activity), persistent wheezing, chest pain, rapid heartbeats are common.
The common cold is an infection affecting the mucosal surface in your nose and throat. Although considered minor and can be cured in a short time, the progressive cold may last for days leading to some complications along with breathing problems.
Sinusitis or sinus congestion can be excruciatingly irritable since air-filled spaces inside your skull (which are called sinus) are inflamed. Troubled breathing, nasal discharge, severe headache, coughing, pain in the temporal region, fatigue, etc are some possible findings if you have an infected sinus.
A blocked nose makes you feel breathless and you gasp for air. Consider yourself lucky if you haven’t experienced this yet.
This is your body’s natural response when it comes to exposure to potentially harmless substances (dust, pollen, food) The most typical symptoms when you are having allergic reactions are sneezing, watery eyes, blocked nose, breathing difficulty. If this takes a serious turn, your lips and throat may become swollen, making it tremendously hard to breathe properly. That’s when you start taking deep breaths.
Deep Breaths After Surgery
Surgical procedures mostly take place under anesthesia. You will feel uncomfortable, a little sore after the surgery. Taking deep breaths will become difficult but adjusting your breathing is a vital part of the whole recovery. All you need to do is practice breathing exercises.
Take normal breaths then gradually take slow deep breaths and hold them for a few seconds. Then you need to let the air out from your mouth as if it takes the shape “O”. Follow the instructions given by your health care provider and doctor.
It is common for mucus secretions to accumulate in the airway and you may have pain when you try to breathe after surgery. So, you naturally feel the urge to take deep breaths after the effects of anesthesia wear out.
Although it might sound a little unfamiliar, coughing after surgery is painful yet indispensable as it helps to keep the lung clear from secretions that could gather because of intubation and artificial ventilation. It may also prevent the entry of any unwanted foreign particle. This way, the lung is expanded and you may also prevent complications like pneumonia.
Yet, there are a few points you need to keep in mind if you have had any recent surgery, especially in the chest and abdominal region. While taking deep breaths and coughing, make sure you don’t force yourself since this may stress the area of incision and add the chance of complications, like dehiscence ( a surgical consequence where the area of open incision separates and comes out from its surface).
Place your hand or a piece of cloth and give firm pressure so that there is an added external support on the incised surface. This also eases the breathing process temporarily because your body will be too sore from the surgery.
Involuntary Breaths During Pregnancy
An expectant woman goes through tons of different changes in her body, as well as her breathing pattern. The diaphragm starts rising gradually during the first trimester because of the development of the fetus inside the growing uterus.
The heart has to pump more blood to the body due to the increased demand for blood to the body of the woman and the placenta. This increased demand can make them feel like they are running short of breaths. In this stage, the level of progesterone increases causing you to take deep breaths and occasionally making you feel breathless in a short time.
Practicing breathing techniques and maintaining good posture during pregnancy will help the fetus grow and will allow the uterus to move further away from the diaphragm. Sleeping with a pillow supporting the back and belly will provide support so that the blood circulation remains accurate without making a pregnant woman feel suffocated.
There is nothing to be worried about unless the breathing worsens and associates with pain, coughing, palpitation, and other related symptoms. Talk to your doctor for recommendations.
Anxiety Deep Breaths
There is an association between anxiety attacks and deep breathing. When you are having episodes of anxiety attacks or panic attacks, you will feel short of breaths, sometimes gasping sensation while inhaling oxygen.
This is one typical symptom for people with anxiety although it may vary from person to person. Studies say that changes in normal breathing can trigger anxiety attacks. During this phase, the “flight or fight response” is stimulated as the body attempts to take in air but fails since the person is unable to breathe properly.
There are many methods of controlled breathing that can help to cope up in these critical situations. Abdominal breathing can relieve stress and anxiety. Ever wondered why? It happens because increased oxygen supply to the body stimulates the nervous system and induces a relaxing and calming effect in the brain.
Deviations From Normal Deep Breathing
If you think that taking deep breaths is usually physiological, excluding some of the exceptions, then you might be on the wrong side. Here are some of the essential terms related to breathing and some deviations from the natural respiratory process.
What is Agonal breathing?
This is an abnormal breathing pattern characterized by gasping, labored breaths when a person isn’t able to get enough air to inhale. The possible causes are hypoxia (insufficient oxygen supply to tissue level), Cardiogenic shock, ischemia, cardiac arrest, stroke, etc. This is one of the major signs showing that a person is developing shock and on the verge of death.
What is Paradoxical Breathing?
Paradoxical breathing refers to the alteration in the mechanism which is opposite to the normal respiratory processes. Instead of moving out while taking a breath, the chest wall moves in. It causes your chest to contract during inspiration and expand during expiration which is the opposite of the respiratory process.
Some of the most common causes of paradoxical breathing are:
- Neurological disorders
- Trauma in chest wall, lungs or surrounding areas
- Sleep apnea
- Upper airway obstruction due to allergies and infections
- Metabolic disturbances for severe dehydration, malnutrition
However, paradoxical breathing may be found among infants since their lungs are not fully developed before they reach the age of 3.
How to Stop Involuntary Breathing?
If you want to control or stop yourself from breathing involuntarily, either due to anxiety, discomfort, or pain, you need to get adapted to daily practices of breathing exercise. This is what you can do:
- Sit comfortably somewhere and close your eyes.
- Inhale through the nose for 5 seconds to fill your abdomen and chest.
- Hold your breath for 2-3 seconds and then release it slowly through your mouth.
- Repeat this for a few times.
We breathe at a rate of 12-20 times a minute summing up to 20000 times in a day. Breathing effectively is necessary because they don’t only initiate a gaseous exchange, rather they contribute to numerous bodily functions including stress management. As you can see from this article, there are different explanations for why we take involuntary deep breaths.
In case you have doubts, do not hesitate to visit a doctor if you feel your breathing pattern isn’t conventional. Try to control your involuntary breathing through exercises that have been proved to be productive not only for the body but your mind too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I keep taking involuntary deep breaths?
You keep taking deep breaths when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen supply or when you feel stressed.
What causes an involuntary intake of breaths?
Sleep apnea, anxiety attacks, over-breathing, post-surgical conditions, lung diseases, etc can cause involuntary breaths.
Why do I randomly gasp for air?
You randomly gasp for air when your heart isn’t supplied with adequate oxygenated blood and if there is any deviation in the activity of the lung. It often gives the hint that your body may collapse or have organ failures.
Why do I keep yawning and taking deep breaths?
You usually yawn when you get tired or bored. It happens when the brain functions are slowing down and causes the temperature to drop. This is essential because it wakes the body up. Studies have said that deep breathing from the nose decreases yawning.