Breathing Exercises to Help You Sleep

Are you having trouble sleeping? Breathing exercises can help. Read on to learn more about some of these techniques.
Breathing Exercises to Help You Sleep

Last update: 10 January, 2022

There are many circumstances that can affect your sleep and rest habits. In fact, according to the American Sleep Association, insomnia is the most common sleep disorder and is suffered by a considerable percentage of the population. For this reason, breathing exercises have established themselves as one of the most effective tools in order to sleep better.

Your life is rushed. It’s filled with chores, commitments, parenting duties, long work hours, and financial issues. For this reason, you tend to end up on the brink of exhaustion most days. Understandably, these situations, accumulated over time, can cause quite a few problems when it comes to falling asleep.

Undoubtedly you’ve experienced the feeling of being tired, but being unable to sleep. At these times, breathing exercises can be both simple and helpful. In fact, they can often replace medications that tend to stop working over time or have some kind of side effect. Therefore, you just need to learn a few breathing techniques and start putting them into practice.

Woman having a detox sleep.

Abdominal breathing

This refers to deep breathing from the abdomen to replace the more common shallow chest breathing. It means breathing from your diaphragm. To do this, you lie on your back, with your legs stretched out and slightly apart. Your arms rest alongside your body and you place the palms of your hands facing upward.

You close your eyes and place one of your hands on your abdomen and the other on your thorax. You inhale deeply, slowly, and observe which of your two hands is the one that rises the most. The hand that should go up the most is the one on your abdomen, and you should concentrate on bringing the air there.

You inhale and exhale through your nose, very slowly. That’s because rapid breathing can make you hyperventilate. Practice it until your hand placed on your abdomen rises higher than your thorax. This is easily accomplished after a little practice. Just relax and focus on the sound of your breathing.

This is a type of breathing that some yoga teachers consider a true natural anxiolytic. In fact, it helps relax muscle tension and reduces heart rate and anxiety. Indeed, it’s perfect for falling asleep.

Repeating a mantra

Once you’ve mastered abdominal breathing, you can combine it with a mantra to help you focus on your relaxation through breathing. Again, lying on your back and practicing abdominal breathing, you add a mantra that you repeat when inhaling. For example “I’m inhaling calmness”.

As you exhale the air from your abdomen, you complete the mantra. For instance, “I’m exhaling tension”. At the moment of exhalation, you should try to become aware of any tension in your body and let it go. This exercise can also be done as a visualization practice, where you mentally see the tension leaving as you exhale and the calm coming in as you inhale.

The four-seven-eight routine

This is another breathing technique that helps you fall asleep. In this case, you sit, with your back straight. The tip of your tongue should be behind your upper front teeth. You inhale deeply through your nose while counting to four.

You hold your breath like this while you count to seven and exhale through your mouth making a whistling sound for as long as you need to mentally count to eight.

This is one complete cycle. You must carry it out three more times, making a total of four. Your tongue should remain behind your front teeth throughout the exercise. The most important thing about this breathing technique is to keep the four-seven-eight routine. However, if you find that you can’t hold your breath for that long you can reduce the time. You should carry out this practice twice a day, on the cycle of four breaths.

Counting

Counting can help you fall asleep. Furthermore, if you combine it with breathing exercises, you’ll find it to be an excellent technique for avoiding insomnia. Lying on your back, you must try to relax as much as possible. Notice the bed up against your back and the force it exerts to support you.

Breathe in for a count of ten and breathe out counting backward from ten to one. You can adjust the timings if you want, but it’s important that you maintain counting forward when inhaling and backward when exhaling.

A sleeping woman.

Visualization to release energy

Once you’ve mastered the breathing techniques, you can start adding visualization exercises to them. One possibility is to imagine that all your worries, anxiety, and stress are making up a gas that’s inside you. It’s colored and fills every inch of your body.

Imagine that, each time you exhale, the colored gas moves to your thorax. Continue moving it there from every part of your body that you visualize. Start at the lower part of your body and move toward the upper part. Imagine the colored gas accumulating in a ball in your torso, ready to be expelled. Continue the same visualization, now starting at the top of your head and descending to your torso where all that negative energy remains.

Focus on the ball of gas in your torso and imagine it moving from your thorax to your head. From there, it shoots out of your body and is lost in infinity. Notice how relaxed you are and how you feel ready to sleep.

Therefore, the next time you’re having difficulty staying asleep, aren’t getting enough rest, or notice that your sleep is shallow and not very restful, start using these breathing techniques. Focusing on them will reduce your muscle tension, lower your heart rate, and prepare your body for a restful 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