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Nose breathing improves memory

Updated: Feb 18, 2019


It is often said in jest that God created nose for breathing and smelling, not for poking into others’ business. Interestingly, man turned it all topsy-turvy so now we use our nose more to poke into others’ business than smell or breathe, since mouth breathing is becoming increasingly common nowadays that too without our knowledge due to various factors in our lifestyle, side-stepping the nose and denying its natural function. So much so that if somebody asks you to breathe through the nose, you would simply laugh it away. But don’t. There is more to nose breathing than meets the eye…er, nose.


Researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden headed by Dr Arshamian report in The Journal of Neuroscience, 22 October 2018, that the way we breathe affects how well our memories are consolidated and reinforced. “We remember smells better if we breathe through the nose when the memory is being consolidated -- the process that takes place between learning and memory retrieval. This is the first time someone has demonstrated this phenomenon”.


A structure called olfactory bulb controls the sense of smell, which is intricately connected with overall brain function. Dogs are extremely sharp in recognizing and following smells and they are also highly intelligent. Receptors in the olfactory bulb detect not only smells but also variations in the airflow itself. In the different phases of inhalation and exhalation, different parts of the brain are activated. But how the synchronisation of breathing and brain activity happens and how it affects the brain and therefore our behaviour is still unknown.

Traditional medicine has often, however, stressed the importance of breathing through the nose. Pranayam along with yoga is known to sharpen memory and brain function. "The idea that breathing affects our behaviour is actually not new," says Dr Arshamian. "In fact, the knowledge has been around for thousands of years in such areas as meditation. But no one has managed to prove scientifically what actually goes on in the brain. We now have tools that can reveal new clinical knowledge."

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