Close to 70 percent of Americans have difficulty sleeping at least once a week, but breathing exercises for sleep can be a simple and safe way to deal with the frustration of not getting enough rest.
Have you ever spent hours staring up at the ceiling in the middle of the night when you should be sleeping? If you have, you know how draining it can be. Many people struggling with sleeplessness turn to drugs or high-tech gadgets to help them with insomnia. When they don’t work or cause harmful side effects, it just adds to the frustration. What you should know the next time you have a hard time drifting off is that breathing exercises can calm your nervous system and prepare your body for sleep.
Breathing Exercises for Sleep
Training your breath is much like any other form of exercise. The nice part about breathing exercises for sleep is that there are multiple techniques, so if one exercise isn’t effective, you can try a different one.
Here are some of the best deep breathing exercises for sleep:
- Nose Breathing: This exercise involves taking deep breaths using your nose for inhaling and your mouth for exhaling. Breathing through the nose can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and allow for relaxation.
- Breathing & Relaxing: Also referred to as PMR, with this breathing exercise, you contract and relax different muscle groups beginning with your feet and moving up to your head. This can relieve tension and is best performed while lying on your back.
- Breathing Visualization: While lying on your back with your arms relaxed by your sides, take one full inhale through your nose, hold it for three seconds, and slowly release your breath through your mouth. As you release, try to imagine the pull of gravity increasing and allow your body to sink into the bed.
- Meditative Breath: With this exercise, sit down with your back straight and head tucked slightly forward. For the first exhale, count to one. Then count to two, then three, and up to five. After five, start over again at one. This is considered one of the best breathing exercises for sleep anxiety.
- Alternating Nostril Breath: Sitting up, breathe in through one nostril while gently blocking the other by pressing your finger against it. When you exhale, release your finger and breathe through the other nostril, blocking the opposite nostril.
- Diaphragmatic Breath: Rest one hand on your lower abdomen and the other on your chest, then take five deep breaths and count to three and exhale for a count of three. Notice how your hand rises and falls along with inhaling and exhaling.
- Lengthened Breath: The lengthened breath tricks the body into relaxation when you tend to breathe faster due to stress. You inhale for a count of three and then exhale for a count of six.
- Humming Bee Breath: During this exercise, you make a buzzing sound like a bee. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly using your throat to make a humming sound. When you exhale, you should close off your ears with your index fingers to try to heighten the humming sound.
- Stimulating Breath: Also called the Bellows Breath, this breathing technique involves inhaling and exhaling quickly through your nose. Three in and out breath cycles per second produces a rapid movement of the diaphragm that is much like a bellows. After each cycle, breathe normally.
4-7-8 Breathing Exercise for Sleep
Relaxation practices like breathing are said to help bring the body back into proper balance. The 4-7-8 exercises for sleep actually force the mind and body to concentrate on regulating breath as opposed to thinking about random thoughts and worries. Some people call it a “natural tranquilizer.” Many people who suffer from anxiety, stress, and sleep disturbances find 4-7-8 breathing helpful. From the lungs outward, this breathing exercise can give organs and tissues an oxygen boost.
Here’s how 4-7-8 breathing works:
- Find a place to lie down
- Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth
- Let your lips part and make a whooshing sound, exhaling through your mouth
- Close your lips, inhaling quietly through your nose as you count to four in your head.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds
- Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
- When you exhale again, you start a new cycle of breath
- Practice this pattern for four full breaths when starting out and gradually work your way up to eight full breaths
With 4-7-8 breathing, you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. Exhaling takes twice as long as inhaling, but the time you spend in each phase isn’t the important part, the ratio of 4-7-8 is. What makes this a wonderful exercise is that it is simple, doesn’t require any equipment or gadgets, and takes very little time.
Precautions to Consider While Performing Breathing Exercises for Sleep
Relaxation exercises are usually safe, so many people don’t even consider the idea of something going wrong, but in some situations, these breathing techniques can cause problems. For example, anyone with a history of psychiatric conditions, abuse, trauma, or epilepsy is advised to discuss breathing exercises with a doctor before performing them because in some cases, the exercises can make symptoms worse.
It is important to also keep in mind that breathing techniques are not a substitute for professional medical care. You should continue to follow up with your doctor no matter what your condition might be.
We experience an overwhelming amount of external stimuli. This overstimulation, as well as daily stress, can keep us awake at night. It’s nice to know that something as simple as controlled breathing exercises can help us get the rest our bodies need so we can approach each day feeling rejuvenated and awake.
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