According to the American Sleep Association, 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder. Whether it be thoughts of some difficult times, that new job, or visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, lack of sleep is one of the most common challenges adults are facing today.
While a tired body and mind can put a strain on every aspect of your life, conscious breathing is one of the most powerful ways to relax your mind and body.
4 Breathing Exercises to Help You Sleep Better
1. 4-7-8 Breathing
Breathing patterns like 4-7-8 work by holding your breath for a period to give your organs and tissues an extra boost of oxygen.
They also help to relax and replenish the body, making them a great option for those hoping to unwind the mind and ease anxious thoughts.
Essentially, with this technique, our breath is becoming a distraction from our worries. It’s a great option for those experiencing minor sleep disturbances and becomes more effective with consistency.
With the goal to sleep better in mind, make yourself comfortable in bed. Laying flat on your back is a good place to start.
Inhale for 4 seconds through your nose, drawing in a nice, full breath from your diaphragm.
Pause for 7 seconds, holding your breath in. Try to bring your attention to your third eye at the center of your forehead. You may feel a slight sensation of lightness.
Exhale for 8 seconds. Allow your exhalation to be long, metered, and complete. Imagine that you are a balloon and there is a tiny hole with air escaping from your mouth. It’s important this breath be smooth and even for the full 8 counts
You may repeat this cycle 4-8 times to help your fall asleep. The 4-7-8 technique can also help manage food cravings and control emotional responses like anger.
2. Ujjayi Breath
Ujjayi is one of the most widely-practiced pranayama breathing techniques. It is performed by inhaling and exhaling slowly with a slight constriction of the throat.
In addition to getting to sleep better, practicing this breathing every evening can serve a long-term impact on your health as well.
Come into a comfortable seated meditation pose. Whatever is comfortable for you, just make sure your spine is erect. Take a few moments to notice your natural breath
When you’re ready, allow your throat to constrict slightly as you inhale and exhale. Continue to breathe in and out through the nose, with the constriction in the throat creating a very slight resistance to your breath.
This resistance allows you to gain deeper control over the breath. It should be an audible sound. Maybe that of peaceful ocean waves, or even Darth Vader! The constriction should be just slight enough to anchor your breath and enable you to add sound and intensity. Be careful not to force your throat closed.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing (also known as Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit) is a very powerful breathing technique that can help calm the mind and access intuitive guidance. It is known to help connect you with your third-eye chakra and improve relaxation during sleep.
a. Sit up
Sit up on the side of the bed with your soles of the feet on the floor.
b. Place your right hand over your face
Place your right hand over your face, stretching your index and middle fingers up towards your forehead, pressing lightly against your third-eye center. Meanwhile, hold the thumb and ring finger on either side of your nose.
c. Begin with a sharp exhale from each nostril,
You may want to begin with a sharp exhale from each nostril, clearing them nostrils of any excess mucus to achieve a soft, easy inhalation and exhalation as you move through the practice.
d. Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril.
Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril. You want to press hard enough to stop air from entering this nostril, but not so hard that your cartilage is against the bone in the center of your nose.
e. At the top of your inhale
At the top of your inhale, close the left nostril with your ring and exhale out through the right nostril.
f. Exhale all the air from your body and repeat
Exhale all the air from your body and repeat, inhaling through the left nostril when closing the right and exhaling through the right nostril when closing the left.
g. Repeat for several minutes
Repeat this process for several minutes, always changing your fingers at the top of the breath to switch the nostril you use after each inhale.
h. Take a long breath
When you are ready, take a long breath in through both nostrils and exhale fully. Allow your breath to return to a soft, easy pace.
4. Box Breathing
Box Breathing is a simple way to practice calming the mind before sleep. In fact, Navy SEALS have credited Box Breathing as a great de-stressor to tool for optimal health and performance. You can practice this technique following the 4-step outline below.
a. Inhale deeply
Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four
Pause (with all the air in) for a count of four, keeping your lungs full.
Exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
Rest with empty lungs for a count of four.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all breathing technique for everyone. Explore these 4, though, and you’re likely to find one that works best for you.
Sleep better from now on and sweet dreams!