6 Breathing Exercises for the Best Sleep

Having trouble sleeping? Breath yourself to sleep. Try these helpful breathing exercises for better sleep and quick relaxation. Read on to learn much more about these techniques.
6 Breathing Exercises for the Best Sleep

Last update: 13 April, 2021

Having trouble sleeping? Luckily, breathing exercises are one of the best relaxation techniques out there. In fact, one of the best ways to help yourself fall asleep is also one of the simplest… just breathe. In fact, most exercises for sleeping involve some form of slow, deep breaths. This gives you something to focus on. Therefore, it’s especially helpful for people with trouble falling asleep due to a wandering mind.

The rhythm of breathing can also help calm and relax your body. Essentially, breathing exercises are relaxation techniques. Therefore, you can use them to calm anxiety, manage stress, or prepare for sleep. Likewise, “Relaxation helps to reduce stress hormones, which block melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep,” says Claire Barker. She’s a clinical sleep specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Sleep Program. 

You’ve been here before. Lying in bed, staring at your ceiling, wondering when you’re going to fall asleep. Likewise, you feel exhausted and begging for rest. However, your mind just won’t cooperate. Well, you’re definitely not alone. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, acute insomnia affects 35 percent of adults. 

But you can fight sleeplessness just by using your breath. Most importantly, stress causes insomnia, as it leaves people up at night, overthinking, and unable to relax. Fortunately, these breathing exercises for sleep can help you drift off to dreamland in no time. Some people just can’t seem to turn their brains off when nighttime comes. 

However, practicing mindful breathing techniques will help you unwind in the evenings. In turn, you’ll sleep much better. The following six breathing exercises encourage your body and mind to relax, making sleep easier.

Abdominal breathing, one of the breathing exercises

Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, refers to deep breathing into the abdomen. In other words, people should breathe deeply into the abdomen, rather than shallow breathing in the chest. The following steps will make sure that you perfectly breathe from your diaphragm:

  • Firstly, lie down with your legs straight and slightly apart. Point your toes outward, put your arms at your side gently. Make sure your palms are facing up and close your eyes.
  • Secondly, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  • Thirdly, notice which hand rises the most as you inhale.
  • If the hand on your chest rises the most as you inhale, fill your stomach full of air before you reach the top. The easy way to do this is to try and force your abdomen to rise as you breathe. Over time, this gets much easier.

As you breathe, be sure to inhale through your nose and then exhale through your mouth. Keep your face relaxed as you do this. Breathe in and out while counting to make sure that you’re breathing slowly. Relax and focus on the sound of your breath. Keep breathing like this for about five minutes and practice the exercise once a day. 

After you’re an expert, practice it when you’re anxious or tense. In fact, according to a Perspectives in Psychiatric Care study, adults practicing abdominal breathing had lower anxiety levels. Plus, this exercise also helps reduce somatic tension, which can interfere with sleep. 

A racing heart rate or heavy breathing are also symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack. Most importantly, this type of breathing is useful as it helps to slow down many body functions.  Allowing yourself to breathe deeply will reduce your heart rate and make it easier to drift off to sleep.

Repeating a mantra, another of the breathing exercises

After you master abdominal breathing, you can add in a powerful mantra. In other words, repeat a mantra that truly helps you to focus on the relaxation aspect of your breath. Follow the easy steps below to add in a mantra while you breathe:

  • Firstly, lie down and get comfortable or sit in a relaxing position.
  • Secondly, as you breathe deeply through to your abdomen, say a phrase to yourself in your head. For instance, “Inhale relaxation”.
  • Thirdly, as you breathe out and release the air from your abdomen, say another phrase to yourself. For example, “Exhale tension”.

However, be sure to pause before you exhale and before you inhale. As you exhale, become aware of any tension in your body and let it go. In fact, you can even use your imagination to picture your body accepting relaxation and letting go of tension. 

Picture these experiences as visual events such as air moving in and out of your body. Continue doing this for five to 10 minutes until you start to feel sleepy. Believe it or not, people have been practicing this brilliant breathing exercise for a long time.

4-7-8 routine

You can surely count on the 4-7-8 breathing technique (based on yogic breathing) to help you sleep. Try it out. This breathing exercise is another way to relax so that you can fall asleep. Follow the simple steps below to practice this amazing breathing exercise:

  • Firstly, sit with your back straight.
  • Secondly, place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth and keep it there.
  • Exhale through your mouth and make a “whooshing” sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to a count of four.
  • Hold this breath and count to seven.
  • Next, exhale out through your mouth while making the same “whoosh” sound and count to eight.
  • Lastly, if you complete this cycle, you’ve done one breath. Now go back and do this again three more times. This way, you can complete the cycle for four breaths in total.

It’s important to note that when you breathe like this, you should inhale quietly. But exhale while making a nose. Keep your tongue in the same spot throughout the whole exercise. And make sure to keep the ratio of time for inhale-holding-exhale, as it’s vital.

Want to do everything faster the first few times you do this? Find holding your breath for this long too difficult? If so, feel free to modify the time and work your way up as you get used to the exercise.

Practice breathing like this twice a day (again, only do four breaths at a time). For instance, do this consistently for one month. As you grow more confident you can work your way up to eight breaths. Therefore, when you find yourself unable to sleep, practice 4-7-8, one of the best breathing exercises.

Body scan

Have you heard of the body scan technique to help you relax and fall asleep? It’s a type of mindfulness meditation that has been proved to improve sleep. The technique combines focusing on your breath with relaxing your muscles. Likewise, it involves scanning your body for signs of tension so that you can overcome them and fall asleep. Follow the steps below to practice this technique:

  • Firstly, lie down in bed and focus on relaxing as you exhale.
  • Secondly, feel the bed underneath you and how it’s supporting you as you continue to exhale and relax.
  • Visualize each part of your body, starting at your head and moving down. In fact, the idea is to look for spots that feel tense. As you move through your body, exhale and focus on relaxing tense muscles.
  • Lastly, when you notice an area of tension, direct your breath to that spot. See if you can feel the tension leave and the body part relax. After you finish looking for tension throughout your body, focus on your exhales. 

Follow this technique so both your mind and body start to relax. Before you know it, you’ll be drifting off to sleep. According to another study, body scans can reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality. 

For example, according to a 2020 study of 54 teenagers treated for insomnia, scans were helpful. A quick body scan before bed helped them sleep longer, and wake less frequently during the night.

Counting while breathing

Did you know that counting could help you fall asleep? Follow the clever advice below to help you count your way to a better night’s sleep:

  • Firstly, lie down in bed, focus on exhaling your breath, and try your best to relax.
  • Secondly, feel the bed supporting you underneath as you exhale and relax.
  • Count from one to 10 and then backward from 10 to one. But pair the counts with your exhales.
  • Lastly, keep repeating this sequence until you fall asleep.

There are many variations on this counting breaths theme. For example, you could count backward from 99 to help you fall asleep. See what works best for you and practice it until you feel sleepy. Plus, this breathing exercise is an excellent way to keep your mind off stressful things. 

Commonly used in meditation, it’ll help you relax. The technique will also keep your mind utterly focused. Therefore, try it either sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight or while lying in bed. 

Visualization to release energy

Trying to fall asleep? You can practice breathing exercises that help to relax both your mind and your body. This is a way to expel energy and prepare for sleep. Likewise, building upon the breathing imagery, you can add in more visualization to help you relax. Therefore, to practice this technique, follow the steps below:

  • Firstly, imagine that the worry, stress, or anxiety inside of you is a colorful gas that fills every corner of your body.
  • Secondly, visualize that, as you exhale, you expel a colorful gas from every part of your body. So, as it leaves, you start to relax. Imagine it moving from your body via your torso, gathering in a ball ready for you to expel it.
  • Now imagine that your head is pulling the same energy down into the ball of energy. Secondly, feel that calm enters all areas where that energy has left.
  • Next, imagine that the ball of energy contains all of your negative energy like your anxiety and fear. Visualize it shooting out of the top of your head and up into the atmosphere like a shooting star.
  • Lastly, notice how you feel relaxed, calm, and ready to sleep.

In short, the next time you find it hard to fall asleep, practice these breathing exercises for better sleep. Slow, deep breaths calm down your body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep. Are you still struggling to get some rest? Visit your doctor to see if there’s an underlying cause of your insomnia or poor sleep. Lastly, they’ll help you explore other options for your best night’s sleep.

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  • Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., … Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
  • Jerath, R., Beveridge, C., & Barnes, V. A. (2019). Self-Regulation of Breathing as an Adjunctive Treatment of Insomnia. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 780. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00780