It's going to be a restless night. You realize that as soon as you hit the bed.
You try not to think about anything. Zone out. Nothing changes.
You begin counting numbers slowly. You get up to try and read or listen to a dreary podcast.
Not helping either.
We yearn for a good night's sleep.
But on nights like these, everything seems to work against getting your body to relax. Thankfully, there is a (natural) way out.
The solution may be right under your nose (literally) and is as simple as taking a deep breath. Yep, no sleeping pills or playing Sudoku puzzles on your phone. The power of deep breathing can unlock those pearly gates to a cozy night's sleep and cure recurrent sleep disorders like insomnia.
Of course, we're not suggesting you’ll be immediately cured, but if you're looking to reclaim the sleep you deserve and improve sleep time, we've got just the guide for you.
Why is sleep so important?
A good night's sleep is necessary for overall well-being and to return to full functioning the next day. Quality sleep supports physical and mental functions—from thinking clearly to performing rationally.
Sleep aids in memory retention, hormonal balance, regulating mood, and even improves cognitive function on word tasks. Sleep not only brings with it better decision-making skills, but also enhances overall productivity.
If you've found yourself without a proper appetite and having trouble maintaining weight, it's possible it’s related to a lack of adequate sleep. Sound physical, mental, and emotional well-being begins with sound sleep.
The link between sleep, breathing, and the nervous system
Studies show deep breathing and relaxation activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals the brain to reduce anxiety or stress.
Deep breathing sends more oxygen to the brain, reducing stress and promoting relaxation conducive to better sleep. Research shows that with regular breathing exercises in your bedtime routine experience, you:
- Sleep sooner (fall asleep faster)
- Experience more prolonged spells of undisturbed sleep
- Experience an overall improvement in sleep quality
Begin with breathing exercises to wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized. Then, in our next section, you'll learn practical steps to breathe your way to sound sleep.
Proper sleep is vital to our well-being, refreshing our minds and restoring our spirits.
Yet, sometimes, our fast-paced life deprives us of tranquility and keeps us longing for the peaceful serenity of restful nights—especially with the overabundance of tech.
With correct breathing techniques, you can calm your mind, release the tension in the body and bring more restful sleep.
1. Buteyko Breathing
The Buteyko Breathing technique gets its name from Dr. Konstantin Buteyko. The method is about retraining breathing patterns by reducing the air volume breathed in and out.
Follow the steps for the Buteyko technique:
- Start by relaxing, close your eyes, and take a few gentle breaths through your nose
- Exhale and pause before taking your next breath. Increase the pauses gradually.
- Aim to breathe gently and softly through your nose, using your diaphragm during inhalation. Allow your abdomen to rise with each inhalation and fall with each exhalation.
- Breathe in a calm and controlled manner and continue.
2. 4-7-8 breathing technique
If you're having trouble sleeping, try this breathing technique. Compared to other methods, it is easier to start and follow. Here's how you can perform the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Take a deep breath, fill your belly, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Transition to inhaling through your nose, counting to four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven. Release the breath through your mouth, counting to eight and creating a gentle sound. This marks one complete breath cycle. Inhale again and continue the cycle for three additional breaths, totaling four.
Initially, you may start the same steps with the counts of 3-5-6 or 2-4-6.
3. Body scan
The body scan is a lengthier breathing meditation technique and takes a while to perfect. This comprehensive breathing process involves directing your attention to different body parts, starting from your toes and gradually moving upward.
Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Then, with a few deep breaths through your nose, you can exhale through your mouth, promoting a sense of calmness in both your body and mind.
Shift your attention to each part of your body, starting from your feet and moving upwards. Notice any sensations, tension, or discomfort without judgment or the need to alter them.
With each breath, visualize soothing waves of relaxation and warmth flowing toward the specific body part you're focusing on. Then, as you exhale, let go of any tension or tightness in that area.
Gradually progress through every part of your body, including your feet, calves, thighs, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and head. Spend a few moments on each region, allowing complete relaxation.
Now you can rest and take notice of the body sensations in your body and mind's calmness. Use the body scan breathing technique before bedtime to quieten the mind, and prepare your body for a good night's rest.
4. Box Breathing
Similar to the other, box breathing focuses on calm and deep breaths. Equal periods of actions -inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and pausing - represents a box. The visual image of the box breathing technique helps make the breathing process easier to follow.
Integrating Breathing Exercises into Your Bedtime Routine
With these breathing techniques, you're acquainted with breathing techniques, signaling your mind and body to relax. But, like every habit or a new routine, it will require practice and experimenting to more appropriately acclimate.
Prepare a pre-sleep routine
Toward the end of your day, begin by giving your body signs that you're about to prepare to sleep. Reading a book or a warm bath are a few such activities.
Repeating this pre-sleep routine daily will prepare your body to relax much before you begin the breathing exercises.
Establishing a relaxing pre-bedtime or nighttime routine can ease the transition from wakefulness to sleep.
Which breathing exercise should you follow?
There is no ideal breathing technique that suits everyone. Remember, breathing exercises become more effective with practice.
Tips for implementing breathing exercises for better sleep
Persistence is key.
While you create a working system that helps you incorporate breathing exercises into your routine, there will be occasional hiccups. However, even with a few fumbles or weeks of diminishing returns, if you're determined, you can still get better sleep with regular breathing exercises.
Here are some more tips to make the most of nighttime breathwork:
Shaky starts: Remember you're establishing a new habit. In the initial days, the control of breathing will be challenging. Going to bed is easier than going through the breathing routine. Don't aim for perfection in breathing techniques. Gradually things will ease out.
Start small and gradually build: Even with proper breathing techniques, you may still have trouble sleeping soundly. Begin with shorter sessions, such as 5-10 minutes, and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable. Start small and build up your practice over time to avoid feeling overwhelmed or tired.
Set the surroundings to make it easier:
- Create a calm and quiet environment to focus on breathing exercises without distractions.
- Find a comfortable spot in your home, away from noise and interruptions, where you can sit or lie down in a relaxed position.
- If the bed isn't where you are at your calmest, try the couch or the patio.
Everyday, same time: Set a fixed time in your evening routine dedicated to practicing breathing exercises. It can be just before bed or during a wind-down period. Consistency will help signal to your body that it's time to relax and prepare for sleep.
Sleep deprivation can weaken our immune system, making us more vulnerable to infections and illnesses. Sufficient and adequate sleep is associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Be patient with yourself when you approach the breathing exercises with a sense of curiosity and openness. Don't force or strain your breath; let it flow naturally and comfortably. Prioritizing and ensuring a restful night's sleep is essential for promoting overall health and well-being.