Influence of a 30-Day Slow-Paced Breathing Intervention Compared to Social Media Use on Subjective Sleep Quality and Cardiac Vagal Activity

J Clin Med. 2019 Feb 6;8(2):193. doi: 10.3390/jcm8020193.


Breathing techniques are part of traditional relaxation methods; however, their influence on psychophysiological variables related to sleep is still unclear. Consequently, the aim of this paper was to investigate the influence of a 30-day slow-paced breathing intervention compared to social media use on subjective sleep quality and cardiac vagal activity (CVA, operationalized via high-frequency heart rate variability). Healthy participants (n = 64, 33 male, 31 female, M = 22.11, SD = 3.12) were randomly allocated to an experimental or control group. In the experimental group, they had to perform slow-paced breathing for 15 min each evening across a 30-day period. This was administered through a smartphone application. The control group used social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp) for the same duration. The night before and after the intervention, their CVA was assessed via a light portable Electrocardiogram (ECG) device, and they had to fill out the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index questionnaire. Results showed that in comparison to the use of social media, the slow-paced breathing technique improved subjective sleep quality and increased overnight CVA, while a tendency was observed for morning awakening CVA. Slow-paced breathing appears a promising cost-effective technique to improve subjective sleep quality and cardiovascular function during sleep in young healthy individuals.

Keywords: cardiac coherence; cardiac vagal tone; deep breathing; high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV); neurovisceral integration model; parasympathetic nervous system; respiratory sinus arrhythmia; slow breathing; vagal tank theory; vagus nerve.