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Breathing Techniques and Strategies For Better Sleep

Sleep is vital to sustaining energy, balancing emotions, work and fitness performance, as well as your overall health. Many people struggle with sleep issues by either not getting enough sleep, not sleeping restfully, or a combination of both. 

If you find it difficult to fall asleep, you are not alone. According to the American Sleep Association, insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. About 30% of American adults report short term problems, and 10% experience chronic trouble falling asleep (onset insomnia) or staying asleep (maintenance insomnia).

Our busy and fast paced society, filled with homework, long workdays, financial strains, parenting burnout, emotionally exhausting situations, and COVID-19, can make it difficult to unwind, calm down, and get restful sleep. 

When it is hard to sleep, focusing on your breath may help. Breathing techniques are designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation. Specific strategies that involve holding the breath for a period of time allow your body to replenish its oxygen. Breathing practices also help bring the body into balance and regulate the fight or flight response we feel when we are stressed. This is particularly helpful if you are experiencing sleeplessness due to anxiety or worries about what happened today, or what might happen tomorrow. Swirling thoughts and concerns can keep us from being able to rest well. 

Although there are several breathing techniques you can try to relax and fall asleep, a few basic principles apply to them all. It is always a good idea to close your eyes, which may help you shut out distractions. Try to refrain from looking at screens for at least one hour before bedtime. Unless you are responsible for America’s nuclear launch codes, all those “critical” emails aren’t emergencies, and can wait until tomorrow.  Also, set up your bed just as you like it, make sure the room temperature is best for you, power off your smart phones, laptops, and tablets. 

Each of these different techniques have slightly different benefits. Try them and see which one is the best fit for you. 

4 – 7 – 8   BREATHING TECHNIQUE

  1. Allow your lips to gently part. 
  2. Exhale completely, making a breathy whooshing sound as you do.
  3. Press your lips together as you silently inhale through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. 
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds.
  5. Exhale again for a full 8 seconds, making a whooshing sound throughout. 
  6. Repeat 4 times when you first start. Eventually work up to 8 repetitions. 
  7. This technique was developed as a variation of an ancient yoga technique that helps people relax as it replenishes oxygen in the body.

DIAPHRAMATIC BREATHING STRATEGY 

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees over a pillow.
  2. Place one hand flat against your chest and the other on your stomach. 
  3. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, keeping the hand on your chest still as the hand on your stomach rises and falls with your breaths. 
  4. Next, breathe slowly through pursed lips. 
  5. Eventually, you want to be able to breathe in and out without your chest moving.

This technique slows your breathing and decreases your oxygen needs as it strengthens your diaphragm. 

ALTERNATE NASAL BREATHING TECHNIQUE

  1. Sit with your legs crossed 
  2. Place your left hand on your knee and your right thumb against your nose. 
  3. Exhale fully and then closed the right nostril. 
  4. Inhale through your left nostril. 
  5. Open your right nostril and exhale through it, while closing the left. 
  6. Continue this rotation for five minutes, finishing by X hailing through your left nostril.

A 2013 study reported that people who practiced nasal breathing exercises felt less stressed and better able to fall asleep. 

BOX BREATHING STRATEGY

  1. During box breathing, you want to focus intently on the oxygen you’re bringing in and pushing out. 
  2. Sit with your back straight, breathe in, and then try to push all the air out of your lungs as you exhale. 
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose and count to 4 in your head, filling your lungs with more air with each number. 
  4. Hold your breath and count to 4 in your head. 
  5. Slowly exhale through your mouth, focusing on getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. 
  6. Box breathing, also referred to as combat breathing, is a meditation technique for finding mental focus and relaxation, used in Navy SEAL training. 

BUTEYKO BREATHING TECHNIQUE

  1. Sit in bed with your mouth gently closed (not pursed) and breathe through your nose add a natural pace for about 30 seconds. 
  2. Breathe a bit more intentionally in and out through your nose once. 
  3. Gently pinch your nose closed with your thumb and forefinger, keeping your mouth closed as well, until you feel that you need to take a breath again. 
  4. With your mouth still closed, take a deep breath in and out through your nose again. 

Many people don’t realize that they are hyperventilating. This exercise helps you to reset to a normal breathing rhythm. 

THREE PART BREATHING TECHNIQUE

  1. Take a long, deep inhale. 
  2. Exhale fully well focusing intently on your body and how it feels. 
  3. After doing this a few times, slow down your exhale so that it’s twice as long is your inhale. 

Some people prefer this technique over others because of its sheer simplicity. 

OTHER TECHNIQUES TO HELP YOU SLEEP

If you are experiencing sleeplessness due to anxiety or stress these 5 strategies could help you get the rest you’ve been missing. However, if the techniques are not enough on your own, it might be combined effectively with other interventions, such as:

  1. a sleeping mask 
  2. a white noise machine 
  3. ear plugs 
  4. relaxation music 
  5. diffusing essential oils like lavender 
  6. reducing caffeine intake 
  7. limiting alcohol consumption
  8. bedtime yoga  
  9. mindfulness meditation
  10. guided imagery

In some cases, insomnia is more severe and requires medical intervention. If you experience frequent, chronic, or debilitating insomnia, contact your primary care physician. They can give you a referral to a sleep specialist who will perform a sleep study in order to diagnose the cause of your insomnia. From there, they can work with you to find the right treatment.