Article

Your Normal Respiratory Rate

Your nighttime respiratory rate is a primary vital sign and a key indicator of your health. An elevated respiratory rate usually means that something is challenging your system.

Learn more about your respiratory rate and how monitoring changes can alert you to changes in your physical fitness, health, or hormone cycle.

Your Normal Respiratory Rate

Respiratory rate, or breathing rate, is the number of breaths you take per minute. A typical respiratory rate for healthy adults is 12–20 breaths per minute. Your respiratory rate is highly individualized and may change over time, so be sure to compare your rate to your own averages and avoid comparisons to those around you.

Your respiratory rate can be affected by:

  • illness
  • age
  • gender
  • intense exercise
  • anxiety

Things to Keep in Mind

Tracking your respiratory rate trends over time allows you to spot an abnormally high or low rate. Typically, changes in your average respiratory rates are quite small (within 1–2 breaths per minute).

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Age: Average respiratory rates vary by age. Young children have higher rates while the rates of adults lower with age.
  • Hormones: Women have more variability in their respiratory rates, as respiratory rate trends correlate with menstrual cycles. Respiration is slower at the beginning of the cycle (follicular phase) and speeds up towards the end (luteal phase).
  • Anxiety: Rapid and irregular breathing patterns are associated with increased anxiety.
  • Intense exercise: Your respiratory rate may stay high for some hours after intense exercise.
  • Illness: In case of illness, your respiratory rates may be higher than normal. Moreover, they may stay relatively high for some time after symptoms have subsided, a sign that your body is still recovering.

Your respiratory rate is closely tied to your heart rate variability (HRV). Your heart rate increases when you inhale and decreases when you exhale, allowing your body to prioritize passing blood through the lungs when they are full of oxygen.

Monitoring your long-term respiratory rate can reveal insights about your recovery tendencies and help you develop a better understanding of your overall health.

All articles