QUESTION: A thought about breathing. Why do you sometimes inhale a lot of air, a deep breath, completely automatically? Does the body suddenly need more oxygen or what is the reason? I can wake up at night for this very reason.
ANSWER: The reason you need to take a big breath and breathe in a lot of air is probably because you have held your breath and, thus, increased the levels of carbon dioxide in your body.
When we breathe the intended way, that is breathing in way that corresponds to the body’s needs, we maintain a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide.
We take in oxygen from the outside as we breathe in, while carbon dioxide is constantly produced in the body and leaves the body on exhalation.
When our breathing is impaired — shallow, rapid, large, arrhythmic, noisy, strained and through the mouth — there is an imbalance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. Shallow, fast, large (which some call deep) breathing provides too much oxygen and too little carbon dioxide, while holding the breath provides the reverse: too little oxygen and too much carbon dioxide. Arrhythmic breathing alternates between the two.
It is the level of carbon dioxide in the body (the carbon dioxide pressure) that controls the breathing. As carbon dioxide levels rise, the respiratory center is triggered, which stimulates the phrenic nerve, which, in turn, stimulates the diaphragm, which moves downward, and we inhale.
On the subsequent exhalation, we exhale carbon dioxide. When enough carbon dioxide has been built up in the body, the respiratory center is triggered once more, and a new breathing cycle begins.
When you need to take a big breath, you have probably held your breath, or breathed too little, so that too much carbon dioxide has been built up. The big breath is, after all, accompanied by an equally big exhalation, and then the body gets rid of the excess of carbon dioxide.
The need to take big breaths and to sigh also increases if you have the bad habit to breathe quickly, shallowly and/or big as this over time increases the outflow of carbon dioxide. This type of breathing reduces the carbon dioxide pressure in the body, which makes the breathing center more sensitive, i.e. we develop a lower tolerance for carbon dioxide, and the need to suck or take big breaths increases.
Conscious Breathing involves exercising and improving your breathing so that it more and more often becomes slower, lower, smaller and more rhythmic to ensure an optimal balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide and, thus, optimal oxygenation.
Here is an article that further explains the role of carbon dioxide in the body: “Carbon dioxide pressure more important than blood pressure“.