The respiratory system reacts instantaneously to intrinsic and extrinsic inputs. This adaptability results in significant fluctuations in breathing parameters, such as respiratory rate, tidal volume, and inspiratory flow profiles. Breathing variability is influenced by several conditions, including sleep, various pulmonary diseases, hypoxia, and anxiety disorders. Recent studies have suggested that weaning failure during mechanical ventilation may be predicted by low respiratory variability. This review describes methods for quantifying breathing variability, summarises the conditions and comorbidities that affect breathing variability, and discusses the potential implications of breathing variability for anaesthesia and intensive care.