Breathing Exercises for Sleep
It’s not hard to find a number of Breathing Exercises for Sleep on the internet. But do they really work? What are they? Is there any science to back the claims up that they work?
We’ll examine a few techniques, and you be the judge of if they work or not.
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise.
This breathing exercise claims to put people to sleep in 60 seconds once mastered! They say not to expect to be able to go to sleep in 60 seconds right away but instead it may take about 2 months to get to where you are able to fall asleep in 60 seconds.
Of course, not too many people will follow through with working on their breathing technique for two months. Hmm….
Basically, the 4-7-8 technique involves;
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
If you have a tough time holding the breath, you can shorten things up, just keep the ratios of time equal.
Bellows breath is another breathing exercise for sleep and general relaxation. It’s widely used as a part of Yoga and Pranayama. Keep in mind, this isn’t an exercise you’ll probably want to do right before bed, as it’s designed to heighten alertness.
However it can make you more relaxed and focused during the day, which could help you sleep at night.
- Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise.
- Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle.
- Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.
Also known as ‘belly breathing’, diaphragmatic breathing can help strengthen the diaphragm which can;
- Decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate.
- Decrease oxygen demand.
- Use less effort and energy to breathe.
It’s something you can perform while sitting in a chair:
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips (see “Pursed Lip Breathing Technique”). The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
Whatever technique you choose, consciously working on your breathing has long been proven to help people relax. When we’re more relaxed, we sleep better.
The Science Behind Breathing Exercises
Do breathing exercises for sleep really work?
Yes – there is overwhelming evidence and many studies that support the numerous positive effects of practicing purposeful breathing exercises.
What is going on in your body during each phase of the exercise?
“Your body contains two opposing peripheral nervous systems that act as a sort of gas and brake, speeding up and slowing down various functions of the body (heart rate, digestion, etc.). The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is the brake in this analogy while the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the gas.
For reasons beyond the scope of this article, your heart rate is primarily modified by the PSNS/”Brake” through the vagus nerve. This fact will become important in a little bit, for the time being, let’s proceed.
Your body is constantly trying to maintain equilibrium. When you inhale, blood is drawn from your heart into the vasculature of your lungs. This creates a relative deficit of blood for the rest of your body. Your heart compensates by increasing the heart rate and pushing more blood to your body. The increase in heart rate is made possible by decreased PSNS/”Brake” drive.” – Psychology Today
So, you’ve got your breathing ‘down’. It’s also important to consider other factors that could be important for sleep. Like, you know – a great mattress? Check out our various models of fantastic mattresses!