If you’re having trouble getting adequate rest at night, then breathing techniques for sleep is an option you might consider.
Over 40 million Americans suffer from continuous long-term sleep issues, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sleep problems can arise as a result of stress and outside distractions, but one of the worst culprits is the use of electronic devices with bright screens too close to bedtime.
This is a terrible idea, because the light emitted from electronic displays disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm. For those folks, getting some help falling asleep is critical.
There are many sleep aid options available, including sleeping masks, soothing pillow sprays, white noise machines, and ergonomically correct pillows filled with gel and water and special fibers.
However, if you’re experiencing bouts of sleeplessness, you may not necessarily need these things to help you fall asleep, though having some tricks on hand—such as breathing techniques—may help fall asleep faster and more peacefully. According to the National Sleep Foundation, getting eight hours of good quality sleep a night is the rule of thumb.
The Best Breathing Techniques and Exercises for Sleep
The inability to slip into a peaceful slumber without much thought and anxiety is an issue many people struggle with. When sleeplessness like this takes over, it’s best to get out of bed and distract the mind for about 15 minutes, and then return to bed a little bit refreshed and with a new mindset to sleep. Whether you’re in bed from the start or ready to try again, the following breathing and exercise sleep techniques can help you drift off into sleep quickly and calmly.
1. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Dr. Andrew Weil, an Arizona-based, Harvard-trained doctor, developed the 4-7-8 breathing technique that puts the body and mind to rest by controlling the intake and outtake of breath. Breathing properly and calmly has a direct link to the nervous system, and this exercise will deliver more oxygen to the brain than normal breathing.
Start the breathing exercise when you are already lying down in bed. Get yourself centered and calm, breathing naturally for a minute, and then begin. Hold the tip your tongue to the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. Breathe in quietly through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then breathe out audibly for eight seconds, making a “whoosh” sound.
Repeat four times, but if you feel lightheaded after two, stop, and then build up to four over the course of a month. Try to do it twice a day over a period of two months before determining if it doesn’t work. It will take some practice, but if you give it a chance, you may find that the breathing techniques for sleep 4-7-8 do work.
2. The Stimulating Breath
Another breathing technique to fall asleep that Dr. Weil developed (based on yogic breathing techniques) and teaches to his patients is the Stimulating Breath (or Bellows Breath), which is meant to increase vital energy and make you more alert.
The practice here is to breathe in and out of your nose as rapidly as you can, while keeping your mouth closed. It’s not a quiet exercise. The ins and outs need to be the same length but short and rapid. For every second, you should be able to do three or four in-and-out breaths, creating a quick movement in the diaphragm, like a bellows (hence the name). For the first few times, don’t go beyond 15 seconds. Build up towards one minute over a period of about two weeks.
3. Breath Counting
This exercise can also teach you how to breathe to fall asleep. Though it seems simple, this Zen technique is actually quite tricky to master, but with practice and focus it can be achieved. Sit on the floor or a cushion with your legs crossed, your spine straight, and your head titled slightly forward. Close your eyes and take a gentle but deep breath, and breathe naturally and normally for a minute or so.
When you’re ready to begin, count one as you exhale, then two on the next exhale, up to five. Do not count higher than five. If you do, then you know your mind has wandered. It’s really a form of meditation; try to do it for 10 minutes and then you should feel calm and relaxed.
Breathing techniques for sleep apnea include certain ways to fall asleep such as an exercise called the Tongue Hold. In this exercise, press as much of your tongue as you can to the roof of your mouth, hold it in place, and slowly breathe in and out from the nose in a controlled manner. This exercise simulates how you breathe at night, so it can help train your body to breathe better when you have sleep apnea.
Breathing techniques for sleep paralysis involve the same kinds of techniques used when suffering from an anxiety attack, which makes sense because sleep paralysis can be utterly terrifying. The best approach when in the middle of a sleep paralysis attack is to focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe in and then exhale out through the mouth or nose with intention, so you hear it. Do this until you completely wake up or feel calmer.
Do Breathing Techniques Really Work?
The simple act of breathing is something that escapes many people, because as strange as it may sound, a good many people around you miss a breath now and again. As automatic as it is, breathing does sometimes need to be controlled and managed. Stop for a moment and pay attention to the normal fluctuation of your breath going in and out. Do that five times. It wouldn’t be surprising if you suddenly felt calmer.
Breathing techniques do work because they can add oxygen, slow down the nervous system, or induce a meditative state, depending on the exercise. So it isn’t necessarily the act of breathing in a certain way alone that produces the calming effect, it’s also the act of meditating without knowing it.
Try the exercises above and see which of them might work for you. Give them a fair chance and if they fail, then simply find a quiet space somewhere (even if it’s just lying down in bed) and pay attention the natural rhythm of your breath. This alone will bring a sense of calm and help you sleep better.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“A Life Hack for Sleep: The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise Will Supposedly Put You to Sleep in Just 60 Seconds,” Medical Daily web site; http://www.medicaldaily.com/life-hack-sleep-4-7-8-breathing-exercise-will-supposedly-put-you-sleep-just-60-332122, last accessed March 17, 2016.
“Can’t Sleep? Try the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique That Claims to Help You Nod Off in 60 Seconds,” Mail Online web site; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3067526/Can-t-sleep-4-7-8-breathing-technique-claims-help-nod-60-SECONDS.html, last accessed March 17, 2016.
“Three Breathing Exercises,” Dr. Weil web site; http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html, last accessed March 17, 2016.
“Do Breathing Exercises Work?,” Healthline web site; http://www.healthline.com/health-blogs/fitness-fixer/do-breathing-exercises-work, last accessed March 17, 2016.
“Breathing Exercises for Sleep Apnea,” Livestrong web site; http://www.livestrong.com/article/342717-breathing-exercises-for-sleep-apnea/, last accessed March 17, 2016.