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Best breathing exercises for sleep

By Amelia Willson | 3 Minute Read

If you’ve ever found yourself lying awake in bed, frustrated that you can’t sleep, good news! The answer may be as simple as a few breathing exercises.

Breathing exercises calm your nervous system, staving off insomnia and preparing your body for sleep. Even better, training your breath is just like any sort of exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at it. You’ll fall asleep faster at night. You’ll be able to sleep in a noisy hotel room or plane. You’ll get less stressed during the day.

Armed with these breathing exercises, you’ll breathe better all day long, and peacefully drift off to sleep each night.

7 breathing exercises to help you fall asleep faster

Add one (or all) of these breathing exercises to your nightly bedtime routine for sound sleep.

Except for the first two, all of these exercises can be performed lying down on your back in bed, with your eyes closed.

1. Meditative breath

For a short meditation before you get into bed, sit down with your back straight and your head tucked slightly forward.

Progressively lengthen your breaths. For the first exhale, count to one. Then count to two, then three, up to five. After your fifth exhale, held for a count of five, start over again at one. By keeping to this pattern you keep your mind focused on your breath instead of anxiety.

Meditate for 10 minutes.

2. Alternating nostril breath

There’s a reason we pant when we get excited or nervous. Mouth breathing stresses your body, while nasal breathing keeps your body in a steady, more relaxed state.

Tune in to your nasal breathing with this yoga breathing control technique known as nadi shodhana. Sitting up, breathe in through one nostril while you gently block the other one by pressing your finger against it. When you exhale, release your finger and breathe through the other nostril, blocking the opposite nostril.

3. Diaphragmatic breath

With one hand resting on your lower abdomen and the other on your chest, take five deep breaths, inhaling for a count of three, then exhaling for a count of three.

Clear your mind by focusing on the way your hand rises and falls according to your inhales and exhales.

4. Visualizing breath

As you inhale, envision the air traveling into your nose, through your entire body, and back out again. Imagine it traveling through all your muscles, all the way to your toes and fingers, before it comes back out again during your exhale.

Focusing on your breathing activates your parasympathetic system, encouraging it to calm down, relax, and lower your heart rate in preparation for sleep.

5. 4-7-8 Relaxing breath

First, position your tongue so the tip is resting against that ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth. Keep it there throughout the exercise.

Exhale through your mouth fully, making a whoosh sound as you do so. Then close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth, again making a whoosh sound, but this time do it for a count of eight. Repeat this three more times. If you can’t hold your breath for the entire time at first, that’s okay. What’s important is the ratio, so count faster until you can work your way up to slower breaths.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained doctor and the originator of the technique, if you diligently practice this twice a day for two months, you’ll start falling asleep within a minute!

6. Lengthened breath

When your body is stressed, it breathes faster to take in more air. Trick it into a state of relaxation by breathing out longer than you breathe in.

Inhale for a count of three, then exhale for a count of six. Feel free to change up the numbers you count, but the idea is to have a prolonged exhale in comparison to your inhale. Slow, deep breathing like this, known as pranayamic breathing, resets your autonomic nervous system.

7. Humming bee breath

Known by yogis as “brahmari,” the Sanskrit word for bee, you create a buzzing sound during this breathing exercise.

Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, then exhale just as slowly, using your throat to make a humming sound as you do. As you exhale, close off your ears with your index fingers to really heighten the effect and focus on the buzz.

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