8 Breathing Exercises To Help Fall Asleep Faster
Breathing exercises can be a powerful way to quiet your mind and ease stress and anxiety. Many people experience issues with nightime anxiety as they settle into bed and this leads to poor quality sleep and energy the next day. In this article, we will review 8 powerful breathing exercises that can help you fall asleep faster and get more restorative rest at night so you can be your best during the day!
In previous articles, we have identified 10 major causes of poor quality sleep. These relate to issues with our nutrition, light exposure, functional abnormalities like sleep apnea and hiatal hernias as well as gut infections. However, the most common cause of poor sleep is high levels of stress and this is where specific breathing exercises can really help.
If you want to go deeper into the major causes of poor sleep and what to do about those areas, read my article on bad sleep here. In the current article, I will give you 8 specific breathing techniques that have been studied and used by hundreds if not thousands of people with very good results.
Breathing and the Nervous System
The way that we breath impacts the response of our autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls the bodies automatic functions such as regulating our heart beat, breathing rhythm and digestive tract.
Short shallow breathing is associated with danger and triggers a sympathetic response to fight or flight. This is good if we really are in danger or if we are exercising at a high intensity. However, the fight or flight response is metabolically expensive and if it persists for a longer period of time than necessary, it drains our vital reserve and ability to adapt to future stressors.
Long deep breaths are associated with the parasympathetic nervous system which is the branch of the ANS associated with relaxation, sleep, digestion and healing. We should be in a state of parasympathetic dominance most of the time and especially at night when we are closing in towards bedtime.
Unfortunately, many individuals have habituated short, shallow breathing habits which are creating a state of sympathetic dominance which results in anxiety, irritability, fatigue and trouble sleeping. Bringing intentional focus to our breathing and practicing some of the strategies in this article will help to balance the ANS and help you feel better and sleep better.
Important Notes on Breathing Exercises
There are numerous breathing exercises available out there that have been practiced by thousands of people all around the world with great results. You have to remember that there are a few fundamentals that are involved in each of these exercises.
The first one is keeping your eyes closed. You can quickly feel the air coming and escaping from your body when your visual senses are shut down. Next, you should mentally compel yourself to believe that your breathing can bring healing to your system.
Don’t expect immediate results. Just like anything else, there may be a learning curve for your body to adapt. It can take a few rounds or a few days of practicing these techniques to achieve the results you are after. If you do these daily for a week, you should see improvements in peace of mind, ability to adapt to stress and better sleep quality.
To get the best benefits of using breathing exercises for improved sleep quality you should get the right sleeping amenities. Pick the best mattress to support your sleep, as this can make a profound difference in the overall restfulness of your sleep.
Breathing Exercises To Help Fall Asleep Faster
Here are some of the breathing regimens that people around the world practice to sleep faster. Some of these might be compatible with you while the others might not. Some of these have unique names that are related to yogic backgrounds. This is not a spiritual approach to breathing, but scientifically, there are benefits to these yogic breathing patterns for your mind and body.
I realize that some people may be offended by yogic references but that is not the intention here. As a Christian, I find that the stretching and breathing techniques in yoga can be used to help me grow in my relationship with Christ and ability to be mindful of my thoughts and actions. I simply focus on various scriptures and the love of Christ and it brings calmness, gratefulness and confidence in my daily walk.
The best regimen is to read through them and pick one and try it for a week. If you don’t feel like it works for you than pick a different breathing technique to try. If you stay focused, you will find a strategy that will help bring calm and relaxation to your mind and body.
Exercise #1: 4-7-8 Breathing Routine
Perhaps, the 4-7-8 exercise is the easiest among the most straightforward breathing technique out there. This one was created by Dr. Andrew Weil by integrating different practices of pranayama. The latter is said to be an old yogic art that helps the body heal by replenishing its oxygen content.
- Start by parting your lips gradually.
- Next, exhale fully, ensuring that you can release all the air in your lungs. Exhale with force and imagine that you are releasing all the tension in your body.
- After that, press your lips together. While doing so, inhale silently by your nose. Inhale for a good four seconds.
- Don’t exhale yet. Try to hold the breath that you have gathered for a count of seven seconds.
- Now, you can release the air by exhaling for a count of eight seconds. If you can hear a “whooshing” effect when you are exhaling, you are doing the task correctly.
- For beginners, this exercise can be repeated four times. Once you can get used to it, you can escalate the repetition to eight times. By then, you will be able to experience improvement in your sleep and overall health in general.
Exercise #2: Three-Part Breathing Routine
If you feel that the 4-7-8 breathing technique is quite tricky, you can just move on to this next option. Specifically, the three-part breathing exercise is designed for beginners. You can also execute it wherever you are. This method is great for individuals who are feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of life. With every exhale, visualize yourself releasing the tension and weight you have been experiencing.
- The first thing that you need to do is to sit down and clear your mind. At this point, basic knowledge about mindfulness can give you significant leverage . You can easily attain a peaceful mind (1).
- Next, try to do a long and deep inhale. Do it gradually so that you can feel the air gushing in your system. Try to feel how your body reacts with it.
- When exhaling, make it slower than the inhaling process. Make sure that your exhales are twice longer than your inhales.
- Repeat this routine for as many times as you want.
Exercise #3: Bhramari Pranayama Routine
There have been various clinical studies that suggest the efficiency of the Bhramari pranayama in relaxing your mind and body. This technique is great for your cardiovascular system and has been shown to slow the heart rate, breath rate and blood pressure. This results in a calm and relaxed state of being. Here’s a basic routine that you can try.
- Start by closing your eyes. Next, inhale and exhale as deeply as possible.
- After that, you need to cover your ears with the use of your hands. Let your index fingers touch the area above your eyebrows. Meanwhile, the rest of your fingers will be placed above your eyes.
- Once you have positioned your hands properly, you should apply a weak pressure to the side portions of your nose. Specifically, you need to focus on the area where the air blows.
- Don’t open your mouth yet. Gradually breathe through your nose until such time you can create a humming sound. Try to hold for as long as you can.
- You can repeat this routine for five times. However, you can extend the repetition even further if you are sensing a lot of stress in your body.
In one study published in the NCBI PubMed, the effects of Bhramari pranayama on the cardiovascular system has been further discussed (3). I personally like to focus on inhaling joy and love and exhaling tension and worry. So you are bringing in the good and releasing the distractions and worries of life.
Exercise #4: Buteyko Breathing Routine
Some people don’t realize that they are breathing heavily while they are sleeping. This can be due to sinus congestion, allergies and issues like sleep apnea or COPD. Hyperventilation can be a regular occurrence in some cases, but it can be harmful when it comes to sleep, especially if you have asthma (4).
If you can’t regulate or normalize your breathing, you will have difficulty in sleeping. The Buteyko is a type of breathing exercise that helps people control the pace of their breaths. Through this technique, you will be able to relax. Learn how to do it here.
- To do this breathing exercise, one should sit on the bed. You have to close your mouth, but your lips should not be locked. After that, start breathing through your nose normally for thirty seconds to one minute.
- Next, try to breathe in your nose intentionally–as if you are controlling the pace. Do this step only once.
- Pinch your nose gently with the use of your forefinger and thumb. Make sure that your mouth is still closed. Do not let them go until such time you feel that you need to breathe again.
- While your mouth is still closed, breathe in your nose again. Breathe deeply and gently until such time you feel the air is soothing you.
Exercise #5: Diaphragm Breathing Routine
This particular breathing exercise is simple as well. Most people have experienced a form of “belly breathing” where you fill your lungs to the point that they push the diaphragm down. If you have experience doing music lessons, you have probably encountered the concept diaphragm breathing to alter and improve vocal quality.
The same thought applies to this breathing technique. But this time, it is for stress reduction and improved sleep quality. (5).
- There are various positions you can try in executing this exercise. The first one is by lying on your back while bending your knees. The second one is sitting up straight in a chair.
- Use your one of your hands and place it flat on your chest. Meanwhile, the remaining hand should be put on your stomach.
- Next, breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Do not remove your hands on their placements. While doing this, you will feel the rising and falling of the hand that you placed on your stomach.
- After that, you should start breathing in your lips. Make sure that it is pursed.
- Your long-term goal here is for you to breathe properly without any movements in your chest. It is a type of control that can help you feel relaxed and comfortable, especially before bedtime.
Exercise #6: Papworth Breathing Routine
The Papworth method is a breathing technique developed in Papworth hospital over 50 years ago to regulate disordered breathing. A study looking at 85 individuals with asthma who were placed in a treatment group with Papworth method and a control group showed significant improvements in subjective measurements in breathing ease and improved mood (6).
Papworth method has also been shown to improve the symptoms of excessive yawning. While yawning when we are tired is normal, excessive yawning is thought to be a pattern of disordered breathing Science tells us that we yawn because our brain is needing more oxygen. When we tire, we often slow our breathing, creating a mild hypoxic state in the brain which triggers the respiratory system to activate a yawn.
The Papworth method is a form of diaphragmatic breathing that helps you breathe through the nose and becoming more mindful of
- Do this by sitting upright. Ideally, it should be on the bed or mattress where you usually sleep.
- Once seated, you should make regular breathing patterns. Your inhales should have a four-count interval. Inhale and exhale only through your nose.
- While breathing, try to pay your attention to the rising and falling of your abdomen. Listen to the sounds of your breaths that are coming from your stomach. Doing this can improve the stillness of your mind.
- Repeat this routine for 5-10 minutes or until such time you can feel relaxed and comfortable.
Exercise #7: Nasal Breathing Routine
Nasal breathing is one of the most effective regimens that you can do to relieve stress. It does this by impacting the limbic system which controls our emotional reactions to stress. In addition, it supports the development of mindfulness which helps you to better control your thought processes.
As the name implies, this exercise has you breath out of one nostril at a time and alternate between them.
- Start by sitting on a mattress or a comfortable platform. Have your legs crossed.
- Position your left hand against your knee. Meanwhile, the thumb of your right hand should be pressed against your nose. While in this position, exhale fully.
- After exhaling, close your right nostril. Next, inhale in the left nostril of your nose. Once done, exhale through your right nostril while making sure that the left nostril is closed.
- This process is pretty repetitive. You can repeat the rotation for five to ten minutes until such time you feel better already. Always remember that the last part of the routine should be exhaling in the left nostril of your nose.
Exercise #8: Pursed Lip Breathing Routine
This routine was developed to help those individuals who struggle to breath such as with COPD and sleep apnea. It helps to improve lung capacity and the ability to exhale and release carbon dioxide.
Shortness of breath can cause sleepless nights. Most of the time, this predicament is an associated symptom of sleep apnea which is a serious issue and needs to be addressed. This exercise may help you reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea.
- Breathe through your nose deeply.
- Next, purse your lips.
- While your lips are in a pursed position, start exhaling. When you are exhaling, make sure that it is slower than when you are inhaling.
- This routine can help you fall asleep. Just continue until such time your mind and body will succumb to a relaxed state.
The pursed-lip breathing can also help athletes who are looking to improve their aerobic capacity.
These are some of the breathing exercises that can help you sleep faster and sounder. They can give you the relief that you need whenever you are feeling stressed, tired, or agitated.
Practicing them consistently can also regulate your bodily processes. They can help you correct your circadian rhythm, which in turn, will ensure that you can sleep on time without any problems. If you are having trouble sleeping, be sure to check out the article on the causes of poor sleep to better understand what is going on and be sure to practice one of these breathing exercises.