- Breathing exercises can help you fall asleep quickly by relaxing your body and mind.
- To fall asleep, the best exercises involve 4-7-8 breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and body scanning.
- Here’s how to do these breathing exercises and sleep better.
- This article was reviewed by physician Alex Dimitriu, a psychiatrist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine.
One of the best ways to sleep better is also one of the simplest: just breathe.
Most breathing exercises for sleep involve some kind of slow, deep breathing. That way you have something to focus on, which is especially useful if you can’t fall asleep because your mind wanders too much.
The rhythm of your breathing can also help relax your body. Fundamentally, breathing activities are unwinding procedures and can be utilized to quiet tension, oversee pressure, or plan for rest.
“Unwinding adds to the decrease of pressure hormones, which block melatonin, the rest advancing hormone,” says Claire Barker RPSGT (Registered Polysomnographic Technologist), CCSH (Certification in Clinical Sleep Help), a rest medication specialist at the Sleep Program of the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Here are three breathing exercises that can help promote sleep.
Your diaphragm is a large muscle found at the base of the lungs, which is essentially responsible for breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing creates negative pressure in your pleural cavity, the space inside the lining of your lungs. When this pressure is negative, blood circulation in the heart increases, slowing the heartbeat and making you feel calm and relaxed.
- Focus on the abdomen. To initiate diaphragmatic breathing, focus on breathing inside the abdomen, rather than the chest. It may be helpful to place a hand on the abdomen to feel it rise and fall. You can do this lying down or sitting down.
- Inhale deeply and hold your breath for a few seconds before exhaling. Imagine the air filling your abdomen and travelling through your airways, repeatedly.
- Repeat slowly. Keep doing this for 5-10 minutes, or for the time it takes to feel ready for sleep.
Barker says this exercise is also helpful in reducing body tension – the physical symptoms of anxiety – which can interfere with sleep. This can include high heart rate, shortness of breath or feelings of tension – some of the symptoms associated with a panic attack or anxiety attack.
In a randomized controlled study published in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, adults who had diaphragmatic breathing for 8 weeks, twice a day, for at least 10 minutes, reported lower anxiety levels, as measured by a classic test called the Beck Anxiety Inventory.
The body scan or body scan is a mindfulness practice that has been shown to improve sleep. The strategy joins fixation on breathing and muscle unwinding.
Here is a step by step guide.
- Get in position. If you want to sleep, we recommend that you lie down on the bed. However, there are many different postures for meditation, so choose the one that is most comfortable for you.
- Scan your body, noting how it feels. Usually, the body scan starts from the head and goes down to the toes, or vice versa.
- When you notice an area of tension, bring your breath to that point. See if you can feel the tension go away and the part of your body relax. If you get distracted, once you notice it, bring your attention back to the sensation of your body.
Researchers have found that body scanning can reduce stress, promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. For example, a 2020 study of 54 teens being treated for insomnia found that scanning their bodies for 20 minutes before bed helped them sleep longer and wake less at night.
Some medical experts attest to the benefits of relaxation with 4-7-8 breathing, a technique that involves inhaling for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds.
In fact, Dr Andrew Weil, founder of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona has called this breathing a ” natural tranquillizer.” The method is also cited by organizations such as the Alaska Sleep Clinic and the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) as aiding sleep.
Here’s how to do it.
- Breathe through your nose for a count of four. Weil suggests holding the tongue against the sense of taste, simply behind the upper incisors.
- Then, hold your breath for a count of seven. If seven seconds seems like too much, you can cut it in half, just keep the 4: 7: 8 ratio. You can inhale for two discounts, hold your breath for three and a half seconds and exhale for four seconds.
- Finally, exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. When you exhale, let out a good sigh.
4-7-8 breathing is a type of pranayama, a term that stands for slow, controlled and deep breathing, taught in yoga and other Eastern traditions. The Pranayama technique can help lower both blood pressure and heart rate, promoting relaxation and helping you fall asleep.
In an investigation distributed in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 39 grown-ups were approached to play out a pranayama strategy like 4-7-8 relaxing. While seated, they were to inhale through the nose for four seconds and then exhale slowly for six seconds, all for a total of five minutes. Blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, dropped sharply, and heart rate dropped slightly.
Slow, deep breathing calms the body and the mind, promoting fall asleep and sleep. These breathing exercises are a good way to start.
You can do them just before going to bed, or if you wake up during the night. You can also do them during the day to help you relax and calm down. Additionally, you may want to try one of the many types of meditation to further promote relaxation throughout the day.
Lowering your stress levels throughout the day, through breathing exercises and through meditation, will lower your cortisol levels and help you sleep.