But before you give up, thinking you need to spend decades in a 'master yogi meditating position' to achieve that balanced state of mind and body, hear this. You can easily achieve instant stress relief, quality sleep, and more mental and physical resistance to challenges, just by learning to breathe correctly.

How is breathing connected to our stress and sleep management?

‍They are regulated by the same 'control room' where everything related to stress, sleep, and breathing are managed - our autonomic nervous system (ANS).

So, let's look under the hood of the ANS to discover how all these things work together.


You know how movies show the inside of the human body, moving through a complex network of nerves and cells, looking like branches that intertwine? That's precisely what the ANS looks like.

Regulated by the hypothalamus and the brain stem, the ANS controls and impacts the many physiological processes in the body, like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiration, digestion, and hormonal release. It regulates everything from breathing and heart rate to emotions.

The ANS has four branches: the sympathetic, the parasympathetic, the visceral sensory, and the enteric nervous systems. However, the following two parts are essential to stress and sleep regulation:

• The sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
• The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)

Fight or flight

Have you ever given a public speech? Or had to meet unrealistic project deadlines? In each of those situations, your sympathetic nervous system was turned on. Things that trigger the SNS can include physical or emotional stress, being overwhelmed at work, preparation for a big match, intense sports training, or even something as simple as being stuck in traffic. Basically, anything that your mind and body perceive as danger or excitement.

The SNS is responsible for the body's "fight or flight" response, activated when the body senses a threat. It aims to prepare the body for potential action-taking by increasing blood pressure and heart and respiration rates.

That is sensed as a racing heart, sweaty palms, and rapid breathing, typically helping the body develop fast reactions to threatening events.

Rest and digest

Now, let's picture an entirely opposite situation: you're at the beach, relaxing on a sunbed, sipping a cocktail. Or you're sitting comfortably with your eyes closed, deeply present in the moment, practicing some mindfulness technique. You're guessing it right: the PNS is in charge now.

The PNS is responsible for the body's "rest and digest" response, activated when the body is in a state of relaxation and rest. There are no threats, dangers, or alarms, and there’s nothing to worry about. Your mind and body feel calm, muscles are relaxed, and you have an overwhelming feeling of serenity.

The PNS slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and promotes digestion and rest. As a result, the body turns on its 'recovery mode' and can regenerate from the effects of past stressful situations.

Also Read: Unlocking Restful Sleep: Avoiding Hidden Sleep Offenders for Better Health

The problem with modern society

Now that you know how SNS and PNS work, let us ask: When was the last time you felt calm and serene? Do you have a regular, everyday practice where you wind down and rest properly? Scrolling social media or watching Netflix don’t count; screens don’t provide that much-needed break.

If you're like most people today, you probably don't remember having that many restful moments. The pace of life today doesn't support it. And that's the problem – today, we don't have our PNS activated as much as we should.

In contrast, we have the SNS activated too long and too often. That can negatively affect our health through an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, and sleep problems.

Scientific research in this area can tell you more.

Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of developing a major disease and is linked to the six leading causes of death in the United States [1], such as:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Accidental injuries
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Mental disorders leading to suicide
  • Respiratory disorders

‍We can significantly reduce the adverse effects of stress with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, and meditation, as proved by a number of studies [2, 3, 4].

Researchers find that participants who practice breathing relaxation techniques are able to lower cortisol and stress hormone levels as well as decrease blood pressure and heart rate [3, 4, 5].

Also Read: Fight Insomnia with Breathing Techniques: Natural Sleep Improvement

Activate your PNS by breathing in resonance with Oxa

With all that in mind, it's not difficult to conclude that regular activation of the parasympathetic nervous system using relaxation techniques can help us preserve and improve our health and fight deadly diseases more effectively.

One of the most efficient techniques surpassing typical relaxation benefits is resonance breathing. Try this breathing exercises with our innovative Oxa breathing trainer to manage sleep and stress, improve overall well-being, and even train your body to become resilient to the stressful pace of modern life.

[1] Salleh, Mohd Razali. "Life event, stress and illness." The Malaysian journal of medical sciences: MJMS 15.4 (2008): 9.

[2] Streeter, Chris C., et al. "Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder." Medical hypotheses 78.5 (2012): 571-579.

[3] Cappo, Bruce M., and David S. Holmes. "The utility of prolonged respiratory exhalation for reducing physiological and psychological arousal in non-threatening and threatening situations." Journal of psychosomatic research 28.4 (1984): 265-273.

[4] Fonkoue, Ida T., et al. "Acute effects of device-guided slow breathing on sympathetic nerve activity and baroreflex sensitivity in posttraumatic stress disorder." American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology 315.1 (2018): H141-H149.

[5] Wehrwein, Erica A., et al. "A single, acute bout of yogic breathing reduces arterial catecholamines and cortisol." (2012): 893-16.

Angelina Sarycheva
May 28, 2024

MA, CPT accredited by The International Sports Science Association, is a health writer and Content Lead at Oxa Life. With over five years in the health and wellness industry, her expertise, rooted in hands-on experience with leading wellness brands, is to deliver impactful health content to a global audience.

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Get the Oxa Sensor and your choice of garment - lounge-wear shirt, bra, or adjustable chest strap. Your purchase includes access to the Oxa app which gives personalized data summaries and insights, as well as access to breathing exercises to teach you how to harness the power of your own breath.