If you’re lying awake in bed, tossing and turning and finding it difficult to fall asleep, then you’re not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control, over 40 million people just in the United States suffer from chronic sleep disorders every year and in addition, around 20 million people suffer from sleep problems occasionally.
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There are many factors such as consumption of coffee, energy drinks, etc. that act as stimulants, external light, electronic, alarm clocks, etc. that interfere with our body’s natural circadian rhythm (or our natural sleep/wake cycle) making sleep deprivation a common phenomenon.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, an adult needs at least around 8 hours of restful sleep. With the digital revolution and our need to be constantly connected 24×7, it has made getting sufficient sleep very difficult. While sleep aids such as sleeping pills, eye masks, earplugs, white noise, etc. can help you fall asleep, these are often short-term solutions and are quite expensive too. And, continued sleep deprivation can interfere with your health.
Here’s some good news, you can use a few simple breathing techniques that can help you relax and sleep soundly at night. Dr. Andrew Weil, a medical doctor from Harvard is a huge advocate of breathing techniques for sleep and to combat anxiety and stress as well. Breathing exercises not only calm your nervous system, but it also helps to prepare your body for sleep and keeps away insomnia.
Breathing exercises are just like any other exercise and you can train your breath too. The more you do it, the better you will get at it and you can fall asleep easily anywhere at all. Moreover, introducing breathing exercises into your daily routine can also help you feel less stressed in the day.
Advantages of Breathing Exercises
The way you breathe can help to transform the breaths that you take and help you to feel much better instantaneously. Here are some benefits of breathing exercises.
If you suffer from COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as time progresses, your lugs are not able to completely expel the air, while the diaphragm does not bring in sufficient oxygen. So, the body starts depending on the other muscles such as chest, neck and back muscles to help you breathe.
Since the other muscles are not meant for breathing, people suffering from COPD do not get sufficient oxygen, feel fatigued and worn out all the time. Since it becomes harder to breathe, people with COPD tend to avoid activities and exercises that cause shortness of breath, which causes the body muscles to weaken further.
Many studies have revealed that breathing exercises and techniques can help to ease the symptoms of COPD and is an economical, as well as effective way to improve physical capacity and overall well-being of the patients suffering from COPD.
Lowering Blood Pressure
If you suffer from high blood pressure, breathing exercises and techniques can help to reduce blood pressure and also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, a 2013 recommendation by the AHA (American Heart Association) includes breathing exercises to control blood pressure apart from medication and diet.
A study in Japan revealed that deep breathing exercises are excellent for reducing blood pressure. Among participants, 6 rounds of breathing exercises for 30 seconds each time reduced blood pressure significantly.
Breathing exercises can be beneficial if you’re suffering from stress or anxiety disorder. A study showed that breathing exercises can help to reduce anxiety in people suffering from COPD. And in 46 men who were hospitalized due to COPD, breathing exercises helped to improve their anxiety and also the problem of shortness of breath and mobility.
Improving Sleep and Lowering Stress
If you’re unable to sleep at night, breathing exercises can help you sleep quickly. Slow and deep breathing can help your body to override the sympathetic system and allows the parasympathetic system take over which controls the ability of your body to relax. And, by practicing deep breathing, you encourage your body to relax instead of being in a state of high alert and lull you to sleep.
Even when you are stressed, resorting to breathing exercises helps the body to activate the parasympathetic system, which results in deeper breathing, slower heart rate and a sense of feeling calm and relaxed.
In this section, we will be discussing some of the best breathing exercises and techniques that can help you sleep well.
Breathing Tips to Fall Asleep Fast
You can add some or all of the breathing exercises to your routine for sound sleep at night.
Before you get into bed, you can do a spot of meditation by sitting down with your back held straight and tucking your head slightly forward. Lengthen your breaths progressively. The first time you exhale, count up to one, then the next to 2 and then 3, all the way up to 5 counts. After the 5th time you exhale, where you hold your breath for 5 counts, start again with 1 count. Keep your mind focused on your breathing pattern instead of the anxiety and then meditate for around 10 minutes.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
When we are nervous or excited, we tend to pant and breathe through the mouth which stresses the body, whereas breathing through your nose helps to keep your body in a more relaxed and steady state. The yoga breathing technique, which is known as Nadi Shodhana helps you to tune into your nasal breathing.
In this technique, you need to sit up straight and breathe through one of the nostrils, while blocking the other nostril with your finger. Release your finger while exhaling and breathe through the other nostril while you block the opposite nostril.
4-7-8 Relaxing Breathing
This breathing technique is acclaimed as one of the best to help you sleep. First, you must position your tongue such that it rests behind your upper front teeth. Keep your tongue there throughout the exercise. Exhale via your mouth, close it and inhale through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for 7 counts and then for 8 counts, release it. Repeat this exercise at least 3 times.
Since you hold your breath in for 8 counts, this forces your breathing to slow down, which helps your heart rate to slow down in turn thus helping you to relax. This breathing technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil from Harvard who claimed that by practicing this technique 2 times a day for just 2 months, you will start falling asleep in within just 1 minute.
This technique is also known as abdominal or belly breathing. You must rest one hand on your lower abdomen and the other hand on your chest your chest and take 5 deep breaths by inhaling for 3 counts through your nose and exhaling for 3 counts through your lips. Focus on the way your hand rises and falls when you inhale and exhale. The objective of this technique is to breathe through your nose and then focus on how the air fills your belly. This breathing exercise can be done when you sit up while lying down.
When you inhale, visualize the air traveling via your nose, through the entire body and out of your body when you exhale. Imagine the air traveling through your muscles, fingers, toes and other parts of the body before it comes out when you exhale. When you focus on your breathing, the parasympathetic system is activated and this encourages it to relax, calm down and lower your heart rate and this is an excellent breathing technique to fall asleep.
When you are very stressed, so is your body and it takes in more air by breathing rapidly. By exhaling longer than when you inhale, you can trick your body into a state of relaxation. Inhale up to 3 counts and then exhale for up to 6 counts. You can change the numbers; however, your exhalation must be more prolonged compared to your inhalation. This kind of breathing is called “pranayama”, breathing which helps to reset your autonomic nervous system and gets you into a relaxed state.
Humming Bee Breathing
Also known as “brahmari” or “bee” in Sanskrit, in this breathing technique, you create a bee-like buzzing sound when you breathe. You must inhale through your nose slowly and deeply and exhale very slowly as well, and when you exhale, make a humming sound from your throat. You must close your ears with the index fingers while you exhale. This helps to focus and heighten the effect of the buzzing sound.
So, if you’re struggling to fall asleep and are simply tossing and turning in your bed, you can give these breathing exercises a try. They are sure to send you off into dreamland before you count 1, 2,3…