9 Breathing Techniques for Sleep
Having trouble falling asleep has become one of the main concerns in our busy and fast-paced life. And even though people feel exhausted and stressed, they only end up staring at their screens or the ceiling for most of the night. According to a breathwork specialist and author of ‘How to Breathe’, Ashley Neese, this has something to do with breathing.
Besides, breathing is a vital force of life. And according to research, relaxation and breathing exercises for sleep is directly and inversely proportional to the stress response. And practising some breathing exercises helps to calm the mind and body for a person to fall asleep.
And it’s worth experimenting with the deep breathing exercises to see what does the trick. So, here are some of the breathing exercises for sleep and relaxation.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
The 4-7-8 technique is known as “relaxing breath” and is one of the easiest exercises to fall asleep. Here’s how it is done:
- Start by parting the lips slightly.
- Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth.
- Exhale all the air through the mouth with a ‘whoosh’.
- Press the lips tight and inhale silently through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.
- Now, hold your breath and count till 7.
- Lastly, exhale through the mouth (don’t misplace the tongue) for a count of 8 seconds.
This pattern of breathing reduces the heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar level. However, the 4-7-8 technique for breathing to fall asleep may not be the best option for people who find holding their breath uncomfortable. But, if a person wants to try to hold their breath, just count faster since the ratio of 4-7-8 is important.
Bhramari Pranayama Breathing Exercise
Bhramari is a type of pranayama that focuses on slow breathing, which is better for a nighttime yoga routine. It is a simple and relatively easy practice of yoga breathing for sleep and can be practised by everyone irrespective of their age or gender. Following are the steps on how to practise Bhramari Pranayama for sleep.
- Start by sitting comfortable with folded legs, eyes closed, or gazing downwards.
- Gently press the cartilage of the ears with the thumbs, index finger over the closed eyes, and middle finger beside the nose (don’t block the nostrils or hold the breath). Or simply close the ears using the index finger.
- Relax the jaws and keep the lips tightly closed.
- Now inhale deeply and slowly through the nose.
- Without waiting, or holding your breath, exhale slowly through the nose. Keep the lips shut, and make a bee humming (hmmmmm) sound when exhaling.
- Practice for 5-10 minutes or six more breath cycles for better results.
According to the studies, Bhramari Pranayama lowers the heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, and irritability. It is also effective for correcting hormonal imbalance conditions.
Three-Part Breathing Exercise
Three-part breathing is also known as Dirga Pranayama, where a person actively breathes into three parts of their abdomen. And here’s how it is performed.
- Lie down comfortably, and relax the face, jaw, and body. Or, if preferred, sit straight with relaxed shoulders and cross legs.
- Now, focus on the natural breathing pattern through the nose.
- Start to take deep breaths, inhale and exhale, and focus on inhaling into the belly, expanding it with each breath.
- Keep breathing through the nose, and focus equally on pulling the stomach back in during the exhale.
- Repeat the breathing into the stomach for five cycles to complete part one.
- Keep the same position as before and focus on inhaling till the stomach expands, breathe in more, and feel the rib cage expand too.
- Now slowly exhale, relax the rib cage first, then let out the air from the stomach pulling it back in.
- Repeat breathing up to the ribs for five cycles to complete part two.
- After the fifth cycle of part two, inhale and fill up the stomach and rib cage, breathe a little more into the chest, filling it to the collarbone.
- Now slowly exhale and let go of the breath first from the chest, then the rib cage, and finally from the stomach.
- Repeat the ten cycles of breaths to complete the final part of Dirga Pranayama at your own pace.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises before bed relaxes and relieves stress. It also strengthens the diaphragm and impacts positively on cognitive health. The following are the steps to exercise Diaphragmatic deep breathing for sleep.
- Find a comfortable position. It can be either sitting with cross legs or sleeping.
- Place one hand on the chest, and the other right below the rib cage, on the stomach.
- Now breathe slowly through the nose, and concentrate on the stomach as it rises and falls with each breath. Keep the chest still.
- Purse the lips and exhale as if whistling.
- Repeat the breathing cycle for 5-10 minutes.
Alternate Nasal Breathing Exercise
Alternate nasal breathing is another yoga breathing for sleep, known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. It reduces stress and helps calm the mind for sleep. Following are the steps to practise alternate nasal breathing to help sleep.
- Sit with cross legs, left hand on the lap or the belly, and right thumb beside the right nostril (don’t close the nostril).
- Exhale completely.
- Press close the right nostril with the thumb, and inhale with the left nostril.
- Now close the left nostril with the little finger, and exhale through the right nostril.
- Again, inhale through the right nostril.
- And exhale through the left nostril.
- Repeat the above cycle of breathing for 5 minutes. And remember to always finish on the left nostril.
Buteyko’s Breathing technique has gained considerable attention when it comes to breathing exercises to fall asleep. It is a breathing therapy that is often recommended to asthma patients since it helps reset the normal breathing pattern. Here are the steps to practise the Buteyko breathing exercises before bed.
- Sit straight with cross legs. Keep both hands on the lap (and close the eyes if preferred).
- For the starter, breathe normally through the nose for 30 seconds and gently keep the mouth shut.
- After a relaxed exhale, plug the nose using the thumb and forefinger.
- Hold the breaths until the feeling of breathing surfaces again.
- Release the nose and breathe deeply through the nose (do not breathe through the mouth, keep it gently shut).
The Papworth Method
The Papworth method is integrated breathing and relaxation training that improves respiratory symptoms, dysfunctional breathing, and adverse mood. It focuses on the diaphragm breathing naturally. To practise the Papworth method of breathing to fall asleep,
- Sit on the bed or lie down.
- Inhale through the nose or mouth for a count of 4.
- Exhale through the nose for the count of 4.
- Focus on the abdomen as it rises and falls with each breath.
Kapalbhati Breathing Exercise
Kapalbhati pranayama is an advanced yogic breathing technique known as automatic inhalation. It helps purify blood and tone abdominal muscles, but if a person feels dizzy or light-headed, it is advised to discontinue the practising.
- Sit straight, relax the shoulders and spine straight. The legs can be crossed; the practitioner can sit on the chair with feet flat against the floor; or in Virasana Pose.
- Inhale deeply.
- During the exhale, concentrate on the belly as it contracts in focus on exhaling longer than inhaling.
- The air flows back into the lungs automatically as the abdomen is released. Therefore, keep the focus on exhaling.
- Take 20 breaths to complete one cycle of kapalbhati pranayama.
- Repeat two more rounds of the kapalbhati breathing cycle to complete the practice.
Box breathing is also known as “resetting of breath” or “four-square breathing.” This technique is easy and effective for people in stressful situations that can be done anywhere.
- Sit comfortably or lie down. Inhale and exhale completely once.
- Now, inhale till the count of four.
- Hold the breath till the count of four.
- Then exhale till the count of four, and again hold your breath till the count of four.
- Repeat until the mind calms down.
Relaxation Exercises to Help Fall Asleep
Relaxation exercises such as yoga, visualisation, progressive relaxation, or deep breathing to fall asleep helps bring a “relaxing response,” which is the opposite of a stress response. Unlike complex Cognitive behavioural therapy, a type of psychological treatment, relaxation exercises produce a similar result.
Breathwork for sleep is known to lower the heart rate and blood pressure; it slows down and deepens the breathing, promoting better sleep and sleep hygiene. And though there are countless ways to activate relaxation in the body, it is important to find an exercise that works best for oneself rather than looking for the most effective one.
Visualisation is one of the relaxation exercises that engage with the body’s natural relaxation response. This technique relies on the guided imagery of objects, scenes, or events associated with relaxation or calmness, which attempt to produce a similar feeling in the body.
The body scan is a meditation that surveys slow and focused attention to different body parts and acknowledges how each part feels. Following are steps to practise a relaxing body scan.
- Start by lying down on the back comfortably. Arms at the side, eyes opened or closed.
- Take deep breaths (can also use the aforementioned breathing exercises for sleep to relax).
- Once relaxed, focus on the feet, and notice the sensation in the toes or tension in this part of the body.
- If there’s any discomfort or tension, acknowledge it and focus on breathing. Imagine these breaths flowing to the toes; visualise the tension leaving.
- Next, switch the attention to the calves, and notice any sensation or discomfort. Acknowledge the feeling and focus on relieving the tension.
- Similarly, move the attention methodically to each body part, one by one.
Autogenic training is a series of mental exercises that involves relaxation techniques and self-suggested ideas, which helps the mind focus on the body’s experience of relaxation. It has similar steps to the body scan that focuses on the individual body part, and here is how it goes:
- Start with a few breathing exercises (you can also use the aforementioned breathing exercises for sleep to relax).
- Once in a relaxed state, focus on the feet and slowly repeat six times, “my feet feel heavy,” and “I’m completely calm.”
- Refocus the attention on the feet and slowly repeat six times, “my feet are warm,” and “I’m completely calm.”
- Repeat the process to each part of the body. And state the feelings such as heaviness, warmness, or calmness for the body parts.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a two-step process of actively contracting different muscle groups to create tension and progressively releasing it. The practice of this exercise alleviates stress and has a positive impact on depression and anxiety.
Furthermore, before starting with the exercise, note all the 16 muscle groups (hands, wrists and forearms, biceps, shoulders, forehead, around the eyes and nose, cheeks and jaw, around the mouth, back of the neck, front of the neck, chest, back, stomach, hips and buttocks, thighs, and lower legs) that need to be contracted and relaxed. This will allow a person to move methodically without missing out on any of the muscle groups.
- Start by lying down on the bed comfortably.
- Next, inhale and contract the first muscle group for 5-10 seconds.
- Then exhale and immediately relax the muscles.
- Remain relaxed for 10-20 seconds before moving on to the next muscle group.
- Repeat the process with the other 15 muscle groups, and focus on keeping the muscles relaxed.
Self-hypnosis is similar to meditation which involves entering into a calm and relaxed state by practising PMR. In this programme, people produce a relaxation response by self-promoting a phrase or non-verbal cue (suggestions), like “I am relaxed and calm,” or just simply “relax.”
- Start by getting comfortable on the bed.
- Now to move into a hypnotic stage by using Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
- Once relaxed, introduce the suggestion or preferred phrase.
6 Tips to Get Better Sleep
Besides knowing how to breathe when sleeping, other measures ensure a good night’s sleep. Here are the six essential tips to get better sleep.
- Be consistent with time. Get to bed at the fixed time to get up on time.
- Make sure the room is dark enough and quiet.
- Ensure the room has a comfortable temperature.
- As the evening goes by, limit the use of electronic gadgets like computers, laptops, and phones, to limit the exposure to blue lights.
- Avoid overeating, or heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
- Avoid any drastic physical activity before going to bed.
While the above tips and breathing exercises for sleep might prove to be helpful; however, repetitive or consistent practice of the exercises is more effective than one-time or short-term practice. And though these exercises are safe for most people, others may benefit from consulting a doctor before practising any exercises.
What is the 4-7-8 breathing method for sleep?
4-7-8 is a breathing technique that allows one to fall asleep faster. It also reduces blood pressure, sugar levels and heart rate. The technique goes like this: Press the lips tight and inhale silently through the nose for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath and count till 7 and finally, exhale through the mouth for a count of 8 seconds.
How can I fall asleep in 10 seconds?
Lie down relaxed, loosen your body and clear your mind. Tell yourself not to think about anything for 10 seconds. You should fall asleep in 10 seconds or so.
What is the 4 4 4 breathing technique?
Spend 4 seconds not breathing in or out. Exhale for four seconds slowly. Now repeat these steps at least three times, ideally for four minutes, or until calmness returns.
What is the 4 4 8 breathing technique?
Sit comfortably and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, and take the breath in your stomach. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Exhale through your mouth with a whooshing sound for 8 seconds.
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