You’re probably familiar with having a sleepless night of tossing and turning after a long and stressful day. In fact, some of us experience these nights more than once a week. Research has shown that one-third of adults suffer from chronic insomnia while approximately 30% of adults suffer from acute insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep, it is mostly rooted in stress and anxiety.
If there’s a lot on your mind and you’re not relaxed before bed, there’s no guarantee that you’ll stay asleep or get any quality sleep, which is much needed to be productive the next day. Your body and mind need to be in a peaceful state before sleeping so you’d get the best sleep possible. But how can you achieve inner peace when you’re stressed?
Breathing exercises are techniques that have been used for centuries to control anxiety and stress and as a way to center oneself. They’re used to help clear your mind and can be used to avoid panic attacks. Breathing techniques are especially helpful for those who suffer from ADHD, PTSD, or other generalized disorders. Additionally, they are not just for adults. Children also use them, especially hyperactive children, as part of their relaxation techniques.
They are for anyone who wants to improve their mental health and achieve more relaxation in their life. However, they’re mostly handy when promoting relaxation for sleep. When you’re stressed at night, your heart rates are accelerated and energy levels are high - making it hard to fall asleep. The Health Science Journal stated that deep breathing is a stress-management technique with multiple health benefits that include:
It is important to note that breathing exercises for sleep won’t work properly without proper sleep hygiene. Make sure you’re in an optimized and comfortable sleep environment that encourages relaxation. Your bedroom should be quiet, at a cool temperature, and consider dimming the lights to create a peaceful atmosphere.
The following 5 breathing exercises are supported by research to reduce stress levels and promote peace of mind before bedtime for better sleep.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as stomach or belly breathing sometimes. It mainly focuses on the diaphragm, which is a muscle at the bottom of your lungs and above your stomach. This technique promotes deep breathing through your stomach and tries to eliminate shallow breathing through your chest while keeping the chest still.
You can do it lying on your back or sitting up. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach or abdomen. Then breathe in through your nose and fill your stomach with air, you’ll feel your hand pushing against your stomach.
You should try to keep your chest as still as possible. Then tighten your stomach muscles and slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat this process a few times for better results. Breathing through your diaphragm can be difficult at first since you’re not used to it, but with practice, it’ll become easier.
This deep breathing technique will help strengthen your diaphragm and improve its functionality. It also slows your breathing, making you feel relaxed.
The 4-7-8 technique is a deep breathing exercise that includes rhythmic breathing and focuses on regulating your breathing to promote sleep. This method gained popularity after it was strongly advocated by Dr. Andrew Weil, an American celebrity doctor that founded the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Weil stated that the 4-7-8 technique is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.
It is well-known to reduce stress and anxiety, promote concentration, manage cravings, and help you fall asleep faster. This practice involves holding your breath, so if you’re uncomfortable with that, you can lessen the time but still maintain the 4-7-8 ratio.
To do this exercise, you need to completely exhale and empty the air from your lungs - making a whoosh sound as you do. Then gently inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds, making a whoosh sound again. Repeat this exercise 3 times. You may feel lightheaded after the first few times, so it is best to do it sitting or lying down. Dr. Weil recommends doing this exercise twice a day to get its full benefits.
Box breathing is also known as square breathing or the 4-4-4 breathing technique. It is known in many relaxation techniques and is commonly used in stressful jobs, like doctors, medics, or firefighters. It encourages relaxation, mental focus, and clarity.
The exercise is easy and can be done in a few minutes. Start by exhaling the air from your lungs, then slowly inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. Repeat this process until you feel calmer.
This exercise is a popular meditation technique that is also known as progressive muscle relaxation. It targets releasing tension from your muscles, which can be affected by stress or anxiety. You can do any one of the breathing techniques with this exercise. It encourages you to focus on different body parts and notice any tension or discomfort. Its goal is to get your body to be relaxed as well as your mind.
You need to methodically go through each body part from head to toe or the other way around. For example, start with your feet, take note of any tension there and visually imagine the tension leaving your body. Then you can move on to your calves and so on. In the end, your body should be tranquil and rested.
Heavy mouth breathing automatically increases your blood pressure, which will result in heightening your stress levels. It activates your fight-or-flight response, which can be alarming when you’re trying to sleep. If you have a cold, blocked sinuses, or allergies - this exercise may not be for you.
Focusing on your breathing patterns, you need to block one of your nostrils with your finger and inhale through the other, then do the same thing with the opposite nostril. So block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril, then block your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Switch between nostrils for 3 to 5 minutes to put your body in a relaxed state.
The 4-7-8 technique is a very popular breathing exercise that promotes better and longer sleep. You start this exercise by emptying the air from your lungs. Then inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this a few times for the best results.
It may seem impossible to fall asleep in 5 minutes when there’s a lot on your mind and you're stressed but breathing exercises make it easier. Some of the most popular exercises include diaphragmatic breathing, body scan, box breathing, and the 4-7-8 technique.
If you suffer from allergies, sinus problems, sleep apnea, or asthma - it may be hard to breathe evenly when you go to sleep. It is recommended to sleep on your side to avoid adding any pressure on your airways and ease breathing. You can also do a few deep breathing exercises, like belly breathing or box breathing before sleeping.
Breathing exercises aren’t just great to help you fall asleep faster, they’re useful throughout the day as well. Whether you’re having trouble at work or in a relationship, take a few minutes every day to focus on deep breathing and center yourself.
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All of these breathing techniques are easy to do - you can do them anywhere, at any time. With practice, you can reap the various health and psychological benefits of deep breathing!