If you find it difficult to fall asleep, you’re not alone. But did you know breathing exercises can be helpful to reduce stress and anxiety and help you relax at bedtime? When we take a purposefully slow inhale through the nose and a big, long exhale through the mouth, we signal to the mind and body that it’s okay to calm down. So, if you’re one of the many people struggling to relax and get some rest, you can slow down your thoughts, relax the body, and improve your chances of sleeping better, breath by breath. And we’ll show you how.
The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you suffer from insomnia or other sleep-related medical conditions, please consult your physician.
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is one way to relax so that you can fall asleep. Try it out:
- Start by sitting with your back straight.
- Place the tip of your tongue on the tissue just behind your upper front teeth. Keep your tongue there throughout the exercise.
- Breathe out through your mouth.
- Close your mouth. Breathe in through your nose while counting to 4.
- Hold your breath and count to 7.
- Breathe out through your mouth and count to 8.
When you complete all these steps, that is one cycle, and to feel the complete benefits, you want to do this at least 4 times twice a day.
Pro tip: If you find holding your breath for so long is difficult, feel free to modify the time and work your way up each cycle as you get accustomed to the exercise.
Diaphragmatic Breathing/Abdominal breathing
Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing refers to deep abdominal breathing rather than shallow chest breathing. Allowing yourself to do this type of deep breathing will slow your heart rate and make it easier to drift off to sleep. It’s also great for when you have an important meeting in the morning and you’re feeling anxious or tense. The instructions below will ensure that you are breathing via your diaphragm.
- Lie down with your legs straight and slightly apart or with a pillow under your knees.
- Place one hand flat against your chest and the other on your stomach just below your rib cage.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose. Focus on breathing and filling your stomach (bottom of your lungs) with air before reaching the top. The hand on your stomach will rise with your breath.
- Then exhale through your mouth
To feel the benefits, you’ll want to do this 3 to 4 times a day for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. You can gradually increase the amount of time you devote to this if you find it helpful.
This method involves mentally scanning your body for indicators of stress in order to overcome them and fall asleep.
To practice this method, follow these steps:
- Lie down in bed.
- Take slow, deep breaths, scanning your body from head to toe in search of points of tension. Notice if they feel relaxed or tense, comfortable or uncomfortable, energetic or tired.
- If you sense tension, don’t struggle. Instead, breathe deep into that part of the body.
- Then exhale slowly and visualize the tension leaving your body with your breath.
- Repeat this practice all the way up the body until you feel your body relaxing.
Box breathing is a technique for regaining a natural breathing rhythm and reducing stress. Box breathing could especially help people with high-stress jobs stay present and concentrate better. Or for those who are starting to experience the effects of burnout.
- Sit upright with your back straight or lie down in bed.
- Slowly inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Exhale completely through your mouth for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Repeat this cycle as needed to feel calm.
A rule of thumb to remember during box breathing is to focus intently on the oxygen you’re bringing in and pushing out.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Lastly, alternate nostril breathing is a technique that prepares your body for sleep by bringing it into a more relaxed state. If you are sick or have blocked sinuses, this practice may not be for you as you may not get enough air. Otherwise, if you are breathing healthy, try this:
- Sit upright in a chair or on the floor with legs crossed.
- Relax your left hand in your lap.
- Raise your right hand in front of your face.
- Let your index and middle fingers rest between your eyebrows. You’ll be actively using your thumb and ring finger.
- Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
- Use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
- Breath in slowly through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril with your ring finger. Both nostrils are now held close. Hold your breath briefly.
- Open your right nostril. Breathe out slowly through your right nostril. Pause at the end of the exhale.
- Inhale slowly through the right nostril.
- Hold both nostrils closed.
- Open your left nostril. Breathe out slowly. Pause briefly at the end of your exhale.
As long as you can handle it, you should do this practice anywhere from 3 to 10 times a day.
Ready to Get Great Sleep?
When we practice breathing exercises for sleep before bed, we give ourselves the best chance to wind down at night. You can even do breathing exercises throughout the day to improve your techniques. Try one of the above breathing exercises for improved sleep the next time you have trouble falling asleep.
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