The Best Breathing Exercises for Sleep

Learn how you can use your breath to help you sleep better.

By Katie Dyal

Did you know that regulating your breath once in bed can help you fall asleep quicker and offer a more relaxed sleeping experience? Breathing exercises are proven to provide a number of health benefits, including a better night’s sleep.

Deep Breathing As a Natural Remedy to Sleep

It may seem ludicrous, but controlled breathing exercises may be all it takes to stave off insomnia. Deep breathing, also referred to as diaphramic breathing, abdominal breathing, and belly breathing, has been clinically proven to lower heart rate and calm the nervous system, both of which are required for sleeping. In fact, deep breathing exercises help to promote a relaxation response in the body.

Why is the Relaxation Response important for sleep?

High blood pressure, anxiety, stress, and energy levels, all have an impact on a person’s ease and ability to fall asleep. Training your body to undergo the relaxation response naturally calms you down, releases blood flow to the brain, and relieves muscle tension. Although it’s a psychological process, there are a plethora of physical benefits to the relaxation response, one of which is better sleep.

Three Breathing Exercises to Try Before Bed

Now that you understand what the relaxation response is, why it’s important for sleep, and that deep breathing can help induce this calming response, here are three breathing techniques to help aid in sleep.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, also known as Nadi shodhana, is a breathing technique practiced in yoga and involves breathing in through your nose in a transitional matter between the right and left nostril. Here are six steps to practice alternate nostril breathing:

  • Sit up straight in your bed so that your spine is aligned.
  • Cover your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril.
  • Pause before exhaling.
  • Release the pressure on your right nostril and exhale through your left nostril.
  • Once you are done exhaling, cover your left nostril and repeat.
  • Repeat up to 5-10 times before lying down for restful sleep.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a combination of deep breathing and touch. Feeling your belly rise and fall with each breath is very powerful for promoting relaxation by bringing conscious awareness to each inhale and exhale. Deep breathing helps remind yourself that you are in control of your body and mind. Here are five steps for practicing diaphragmatic breathing:

  • Lie down or sit up straight with the spine aligned. Whatever makes you feel most relaxed.
  • Rest one hand on your lower abdomen and the other hand on your upper chest.
  • Take five deep, slow breaths—counting to three for each inhale and exhale.
  • While taking these breaths, focus on the rhythm you are feeling through your hands.
  • Repeat process for 10 minutes.

4-7-8 Breathing

The 4-7-8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil is based on an ancient yoga practice known as pranayama. In addition to acting as a sleep aid, this method of breathing is also great to practice throughout the day if you experience anxiety or intense emotions. Here are six steps to the 4-7-8 breathing method below:

  • Sit up straight with your spine aligned.
  • Place the tip of your tongue needs behind your upper front teeth. Keep this tension throughout the entire process. Pursed lips help keep this form.
  • Exhale through the mouth, while making a whooshing sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale softly through the nose while counting to 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Once you count to 7, exhale slowly, making the same whooshing sound while counting to 8.
  • Repeat this cycle 3-4 times.

Don’t hesitate to close your eyes as you practice each of these breathing techniques. This will help you relax, as well as ignore external distractions. Incorporating controlled breathing into your wind down routine may just be the remedy you need for finding a good night’s sleep.

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