Wellness Hub

5 Breathing Exercises for Sleep

Some nights go like this: you return home from work, cook dinner, watch TV, perhaps do some reading, start to unwind, and then find yourself under the doona, struggling to fall asleep. Our minds are no longer engaged and we start to overthink. When nights like these occur, you can try to develop techniques that work for you. A personal favourite for us here at The Sleep Boss, is the 5 breathing exercises for a deep sleep that coerce you into a truly deep sleep. Below we’ve included a list of 5 breathing exercises for a deep sleep that will help you sleep and fully relax. Remember, each one has different benefits, so try to find the one that works best for you.

Our choice of 5 Breathing Exercises for Sleep

4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Designed to replenish the oxygen circulating through your body and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), the 4-7-8 technique is simple and easy to follow. It involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhaling for 8 seconds. A key affect of this technique is that the breath hold and slow exhale prompts the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart rate, allowing your body to enter a more relaxed and sleepy state.

Light-headedness may occur, and if so, shorten the length of the breath cycles to something more manageable. This could mean you breathe in for two seconds, hold it for three and breathe out for four seconds.  Ensure you are also lying down or sitting for this exercise.

Step by Step:

  1. Empty your lungs, making a whoosh sound if you can.
  2. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for a total of 7 seconds.
  4. Exhale forcefully through your mouth for a count of 8 seconds, trying to purse your lips as you do to make a whoosh sound again.
  5. Repeat these motions for a total of 4 sets, eventually aiming for 8 repetitions in the future.

Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breathing):

Bhramari Pranayama is most effective for calming the mind and helps with reducing anxiety, frustration and anger, as well as improving concentration, confidence and memory (Art of Living, 2020). Perfect for when sleep evades you and frustrations are at a high. Most participants in this exercise sit up straight, however you can do this lying down on your back (if so, only make the humming noise and forgo the index finger on the ear).

Step by Step:

  1. Sit up straight (or lie down) with your eyes closed and lightly smile.
  2. Keep your eyes closed and begin to notice the sensations in the body and the quiet.
  3. Place your index fingers on your ears, where the cartilage is between cheek and ear. Don’t press too hard or put your fingers inside your ears.
  4. Take a breath in, and while you breathe out gently press on the cartilage. You can remain lightly pressed against the cartilage or press in and out, while making a loud humming sound.
  5. Aim for a more high-pitched sound over low, as this generates greater results.
  6. Breathe in again and repeat this same exercise three-four times. Don’t exceed this amount.

Three Part Breathing:

The most simplistic and regularly used breathing exercise, Three Part Breathing is a basic yoga tool that helps reduce stress, lower your heart rate and pull you into a meditative state. The main goal is to breathe with your belly, diaphragm and upper chest, and focus on expanding and exhaling to empty the lungs as much as possible each time.

Step by Step:

  1. Take a long inhale through the nose, allowing your lower abdomen to expand fully inwards and then outwards on the slow exhale. Place your hands on your belly during this first breath.
  2. Inhale again, but focus on breathing through the belly and then the diaphragm (rib cage). While breathing out, reverse this motion by releasing the air from your diaphragm first, then your belly. Focus on how your body feels while you complete these actions and move your hands so that one remains on the belly and the other is now over your diaphragm.
  3. Engage all three areas now by inhaling with your belly, then diaphragm and upper chest. Fill completely and on the exhale, reverse again and contract each area. Releasing air from your upper chest to your diaphragm and finally emptying your belly. Bring your hand from your diaphragm to your upper chest too. Complete this action a few times, and eventually focus on slowing down your exhale so that it is twice as long as your inhale. This enables greater circulation of oxygen.

Buteyko Breathing:

An exercise that minimises hyperventilating, helps with anxiety and positively impacts sleep, snoring, sleep apnoea, nasal congestion and hayfever. Overall, it resets your body to a normal breathing rhythm.

Step by Step:

  1. Sit in bed with a closed mouth and inhale/exhale through your nose at a normal pace for up to 30 seconds.
  2. Take a small breath in, then out through your nose once.
  3. Bring your thumb and forefinger to your nose and close it gently while your mouth also remains closed.
  4. Count your seconds while holding the breath and once you begin to feel hungry for air, release your fingers.
  5. Take a deep breath in and then out of your nose, with your mouth still closed. You can repeat this 1-4 times.

The Papworth Method:

The Papworth Method is one that focuses more on breathing from your diaphragm to result in more controlled breathing patterns. It helps greatly with those suffering from asthma, reduces negative breathing patterns and improves anxiety and depression symptoms. It also helps break the habits of yawning and sighing – which we all do a lot before bed. The relaxing elements included in this exercise also generate a calm mood, helping you enter an ideal state for sleep. Remember, focus on breathing through your nose.

Step by Step:

  1. Sit up straight (even if you’re in bed).
  2. Take deep, intentional breaths in and out through your nose, counting to 4 with each inhale and then exhale.
  3. Focus on that diaphragm, noticing how your abdomen rises and falls with each breath coming from your stomach. 

Yawn. I mean, deep breath in and then out. It seems even just talking about 5 breathing exercises for a deep sleep has us entering a dreamy, sleepy state. Remember that each exercise has different benefits for every person, and that there are also plenty more exercises out there. Focus on trying to find what’s best for you and begin to sleep deep and sleep well, while maintaining a new healthy breathing routine.

References:

Art of Living. 2020. Bhramari Pranayama – Humming Bee Breathing. [online] artofliving.org. Read Full Article [Accessed 10 May 2020].

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