The 9 Best Breathing Techniques for Sleep

Posted by LiLeah on


If you find it difficult to fall asleep, you’re not alone.

According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. About 30 percent of American adults report short-term problems, and 10 percent experience chronic trouble falling or staying asleep.

Our busy and fast-paced society, filled with homework, long work days, financial strains, parenting burnout, or other emotionally exhausting situations, can make it difficult to unwind, calm down, and get restful sleep.

When it’s hard to sleep, focusing on your breath may help.

Let’s take a look at some breathing exercises to calm your mind and body to help you fall asleep.

Although there are a number of breathing exercises you can try to relax and fall asleep, a few basic principles apply to all of them.

It’s always a good idea to close your eyes, which may help you shut out distractions. Focus on your breathing and think about the healing power of your breath.

Each of these nine different exercises has slightly different benefits. Try them and see which one is the best match for you.

Soon you’ll be sleeping like a baby.


1. 4-7-8 breathing technique

Here’s how to practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique:

  1. Allow your lips to gently part.
  2. Exhale completely, making a breathy whoosh sound as you do.
  3. Press your lips together as you silently inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  5. Exhale again for a full 8 seconds, making a whooshing sound throughout.
  6. Repeat 4 times when you first start. Eventually work up to 8 repetitions.

Dr. Andrew Weil developed this technique as a variation of pranayama, an ancient yogic technique that helps people relax as it replenishes oxygen in the body.


2. Bhramari pranayama breathing exercise

These steps will help you perform the original Bhramari pranayama breathing exercise:

  1. Close your eyes and breathe deeply in and out.
  2. Cover your ears with your hands.
  3. Place your index fingers one each above your eyebrows and the rest of your fingers over your eyes.
  4. Next, put gentle pressure to the sides of your nose and focus on your brow area.
  5. Keep your mouth closed and breathe out slowly through your nose, making the humming “Om” sound.
  6. Repeat the process 5 times.

In clinical studiesTrusted Source, Bhramari pranayama has been shown to quickly reduce breathing and heart rate. This tends to be very calming and can prepare your body for sleep.


3. Three-part breathing exercise

To practice the three-part breathing exercise, follow these three steps:

  1. Take a long, deep inhale.
  2. Exhale fully while focusing intently on your body and how it feels.
  3. After doing this a few times, slow down your exhale so that it’s twice as long as your inhale.

Some people prefer this technique over others because of its sheer simplicity.


4. Diaphragmatic breathing exercise

To do diaphragmatic breathing exercises:

  1. Lie on your back and either bend your knees over a pillow or sit in a chair.
  2. Place one hand flat against your chest and the other on your stomach.
  3. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, keeping the hand on your chest still as the hand on your stomach rises and falls with your breaths.
  4. Next, breath slowly through pursed lips.
  5. Eventually, you want to be able to breath in and out without your chest moving.

This technique slows your breathing and decreases your oxygen needs as it strengthens your diaphragm.


5. Alternate nasal breathing exercise

Here are the steps for the alternate nasal or alternate nostril breathing exercise, also called nadi shodhana pranayama:

  1. Sit with your legs crossed.
  2. Place your left hand on your knee and your right thumb against your nose.
  3. Exhale fully and then close the right nostril.
  4. Inhale through your left nostril.
  5. Open your right nostril and exhale through it, while closing the left.
  6. Continue this rotation for 5 minutes, finishing by exhaling through your left nostril.

A 2013 study reported that people who tried nasal breathing exercises felt less stressed afterward.


6. Buteyko breathing

To practice buteyko breathing for sleep:

  1. Sit in bed with your mouth gently closed (not pursed) and breathe through your nose at a natural pace for about 30 seconds.
  2. Breathe a bit more intentionally in and out through your nose once.
  3. Gently pinch your nose closed with your thumb and forefinger, keeping your mouth closed as well, until you feel that you need to take a breath again.
  4. With your mouth still closed, take a deep breath in and out through your nose again.

Many people don’t realize that they are hyperventilating. This exercise helps you to reset to a normal breathing rhythm.


7. The Papworth method

In the Papworth method, you focus on your diaphragm to breathe more naturally:

  1. Sit up straight, perhaps in bed if using this to fall asleep.
  2. Take deep, methodical breaths in and out, counting to 4 with each inhale — through your mouth or nose — and each exhale, which should be through your nose.
  3. Focus on your abdomen rising and falling, and listen for your breath sounds to come from your stomach.

This relaxing method is helpful for reducing habits of yawning and sighing.


8. Kapalbhati breathing exercise

Kapalbhati breathing involves a series and inhaling and exhaling exercises, involving these steps, as outlined by the Art of Living:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Place your hands on your knees, palms facing the sky. You may choose to sit cross-legged on the floor, on a chair with feet flat on the floor, or in Virasana Pose (sitting on your heals with knees bent and shins tucked beneath the thighs).
  2. Take a deep breath in.
  3. As you exhale, contract your belly, forcing the breath out in a short burst. You may keep a hand on your stomach to feel your abdominal muscles contract.
  4. As you quickly release your abdomen, your breath should flow into your lungs automatically.
  5. Take 20 such breaths to complete one round of Kapalbhati pranayama.
  6. After completing one round, relax with your eyes closed and observe the sensations in your body.
  7. Do two more rounds to complete your practice.

Kapalbhati breathing has been reported as helping open the sinuses and improving concentration. It’s considered an advanced breathing technique. It’s advisable to master other techniques, such as Bhramari pranayama, before attempting this one.


9. Box breathing

During box breathing, you want to focus intently on the oxygen you’re bringing in and pushing out:

  1. Sit with your back straight, breathe in, and then try to push all the air out of your lungs as you exhale.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose and count to 4 in your head, filling your lungs with more air with each number.
  3. Hold your breath and count to 4 in your head.
  4. Slowly exhale through your mouth, focusing on getting all the oxygen out of your lungs.

Box breathing is a common technique during meditation, a very popular method of finding mental focus and relaxing. Meditation has a variety of known benefits for your overall health.


The takeaway

No matter which type of breathing exercise you prefer, the evidence is clear that breathing exercises can help you:

  • relax
  • sleep
  • breathe more naturally and effectively

With so many varieties to choose from, you may find yourself fast asleep before you know it.


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