How to Reduce High Altitude Periodic Breathing

Healthy sleeping patterns have numerous health benefits, from stress reduction to overall lowered risk for serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease. One of the many advantages of mountain living is that it offers a serene environment where you can enjoy the endless opportunities for restful sleep and relaxation. However, many visitors, and even mountain residents, find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep because of the thin mountain air. And for many others, these reduced oxygen levels can trigger instability in their breathing patterns while they sleep, which can be more serious. This is called periodic breathing. In this blog, we answer the question: What is periodic breathing? We’ll also share how to reduce periodic breathing to enjoy a good night’s sleep.

What is Periodic Breathing?

Periodic breathing, also known as Cheyne-stoke respiration, is an abnormal breathing pattern characterized by a pattern of breaths followed by apnea (no breathing) or near-apnea intervals. On average, this means cycles that alternate between 20 seconds of normal breathing followed by at least three seconds of no breathing. And although it is relatively prevalent in people with sleep apnea, periodic breathing can also occur in those that don’t have apnea, especially in altitudes exceeding 6,000 feet above sea level, referred to as high altitude periodic breathing. 

What are the Symptoms of Periodic Breathing?

Just like sleep apnea, periodic breathing also manifests symptoms commonly associated with the lack of a good night’s sleep and other physiological signs. These include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Inability to fall and/or stay asleep
  • Morning headaches
  • A sudden feeling of breathlessness or suffocation
  • Shortness of breath when lying down
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Chest pains

Periodic Breathing Causes

Scientists haven’t fully understood the physiological processes linked to the development of periodic breathing in patients. But they have identified close associations with patients suffering from neurological conditions and congestive heart failure, which leads to the identification of the following potential periodic breathing causes:

Unstable Respiratory Feedback. Delayed responses in patients with neurological disorders often lead to unstable feedback in the respiratory system. As the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide fluctuate in the bloodstream, the body has to compensate to regulate these levels, causing the cycles of apnea and hyperventilation.

Delayed Circulation. For patients with congestive heart failure, an increase in circulation time means delays in blood circulation, which causes oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream to remain stagnant for a time. This hasn’t been identified as a significant cause of periodic breathing. However, it does contribute to the length of the abnormal breathing cycles.

Reduced Blood Gas Buffering Capacity. The bicarbonate buffer system in the blood maintains the body’s pH by expelling carbon dioxide through exhalation. When its buffering capacity is reduced, hyperventilation occurs to eliminate the accumulated carbon dioxide in the blood.

Oxygen Deprivation. A severe decrease in the amount of oxygen available means there’s less oxygen available for the body to achieve homeostasis. This leads to a condition called hypoxia. When this happens, the body has to make up for the lack of oxygen by hyperventilating to increase its oxygen intake. 

How to Reduce Periodic Breathing

If you frequently feel the effects of periodic breathing while traveling to high-altitude areas, then getting treatment may be the best solution for relief. Periodic breathing treatment involves treating the underlying condition associated with it. The following are periodic breathing treatment recommendations:

Congestive Heart Failure Treatment. Treating congestive heart failure enables the heart to pump blood normally, causing blood gas levels to remain stable. Treatment options include:

  • Taking of heart medication
  • Installation of pacemakers and other devices
  • Heart transplant
  • Cardiac valve surgery

Providing Supplemental Oxygen. Since many problems involving periodic breathing involve regulating blood gas levels, experts recommend oxygen supplementation to ease its effects. In addition, many studies offer evidence that supplementing patients with oxygen through night oxygen therapy and other ways can reduce their symptoms, improve their heart function, and increase their quality of life.

How to Prevent Periodic Breathing

In order to prevent periodic breathing at high altitudes, it’s advisable to adopt healthy habits so as to avoid developing diseases and medical conditions that lead to periodic breathing. These include heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.

Living a healthy lifestyle and eating a balanced diet is your first step. If you already have one of these conditions and are considering a mountain stay, have them treated to manage your symptoms.

If you’re traveling to high-altitude places, make sure to gradually increase your elevation to acclimate your body to the oxygen levels.

Regulate Oxygen Levels with Altitude Simulation

Adding supplemental oxygen to your bedroom is one of the most effective ways to prevent altitude sickness and the symptoms associated with it, which also includes periodic breathing. You can install in-home altitude simulation systems created by Altitude Control Technology to supply more oxygen inside your home. These systems simulate environments at sea level, controlling air quality, oxygen levels, and barometric pressure to eliminate altitude-related medical issues and ultimately, prevent periodic breathing.