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What happens to the brain when we catch our breath

Что происходит с мозгом, когда мы задерживаем дыхание

How long can a man hold the breath, what happens with the brain benefits of meditation and holotropic breathing is dangerous, “the Attic,” said Patricia Ratmanov, leading researcher of the Department of higher nervous activity of biological faculty of Moscow state University, and Irina Zelenkova, senior specialist Innovation centre of Russian Olympic Committee.

The idea of the study, the results of which are published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, was born out of the practical work of Irina, the trainer in freediving — diving without scuba gear. Athletes-divers dive in the pool or in the sea. At competitions, holding my breath, they lay quietly, swim as far or as deep as you can dive.

“The world record is fantastic — a breath more than 11 minutes alone, 200 meters in length in the pool and 217 meters deep. But what is happening at this time in the body, not yet fully understood, long-term effects also do not understand”, — said Irina.

The longer the breath, the more accumulates in the blood carbon dioxide and oxygen content decreases. The researchers suggested that in such circumstances, the brain can change: will decrease reaction speed and thought processes, impair attention.

How long can you not breathe

The study compared the results of two groups of subjects: 13 professional freedivers and nine people without special training. For the longest time I took a breath one of the professional freedriver — 5 minutes 45 seconds.

It is believed that an ordinary person may not breathe for about a minute, but during the study it became clear that it is not. If in advance to explain to the participant what awaits him and what feelings he will experience, the breath hold time can be increased by clearing the psychological barrier. Due to this, in the control group the best result was 4 minutes, 23 seconds.

Что происходит с мозгом, когда мы задерживаем дыханиеFreediver training in pool. Photo: Elina Manninen/Shutterstock

“If you know what happens to the body during a breath hold, what to be afraid of, and what is not, you can calmly accept unpleasant feelings and increase the breath to 2-3 minutes. Until the start of the involuntary contractions of the diaphragm — the reflex urge to breathe, there is nothing to fear,” said Patricia Ratmanov.

What happens during prolonged breath-hold

In order to evaluate the performance of the brain and the condition of the body during breath hold, the researchers recorded the electroencephalogram, the electrocardiogram, blood pressure, oxygen levels in the blood and tissues of the brain and other indicators. Immediately after breath holding, the subjects were given a test of attention and hand-eye coordination — trial correction. Volunteers received a sheet with rows of letters printed in random order. Their task was to review the letters and look for those that have been named by researchers. One of the letters they had to emphasize the other — to cross out.

“We expected that the brain will deteriorate, and everything was completely wrong. Brain activity has not changed, the attention is not reduced, no negative change we have not found, even with long delays of breathing,” — said Patricia.

Scientists have suggested that in humans, like marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals) runs the so-called “diving reflex”. It aims is to protect the brain and heart from lack of oxygen.

Что происходит с мозгом, когда мы задерживаем дыханиеThe subject of the control group during research in the laboratory of physiology of muscular activity of the Institute of biomedical problems of RAS. Photo courtesy of Patricia Ratmanova

During the “diving reflex” on the periphery of the body constricts blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to the muscles and oxygen consumption, increases blood pressure and slows the heart rate. As a result, the blood is mainly supplied to the heart and brain. In the brain vessels, on the contrary, dilate, increased blood flow to the cells supply of oxygen to the brain. As a result, the work of the brain during breath holding does not suffer.

Meditation and holotropic breathing

However, breathing exercises can affect the brain, sometimes this influence is positive, sometimes — dangerous.

“Techniques that are used in meditation, usually associated with slow respiratory rate or with a short delay of breath. Their main task is to help the person to concentrate on the sensations of his own body, to escape from external stimuli. The harm from these breathing exercises there,” explained Patricia.

Threat can be hyperventilation, which, for example, is the basis of holotropic breathing.

“When we breathe deeply and rhythmically, we have from the blood is washed out carbon dioxide. The body responds to this reflex vasoconstriction. As a result, in spite of deep breathing, a so-called cerebral hypoxia — lack of oxygen in the brain,” said the researcher.

In some people it can trigger an epilepsy attack. “There are those who are predisposed to epilepsy and not even know about it. Such people can go your whole life without a single attack if not provoked by hyperventilation. And after epilepsy manifest for the first time, seizures can be repeated,” warned the scientist.

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