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Breathing techniques for sleep: 3 powerful strategies to help you sleep better

March 15, 2024
4 minutes
Lifestyle Health & Wellness
Sleep wellness strategies

If you're struggling to fall asleep at night, you're not alone. Studies show that many people around the world struggle to fall and stay asleep at night. Women are more likely to have trouble sleeping than men, younger adults are more likely to have trouble sleeping than older adults.

No matter what your demographic, prioritizing sleep is a key for good health. Here, we'll explore why sleep is so important, breathing techniques you can use to make it easier to get the rest you need, and some habits you can put into place to set yourself up for sleep success.

Why sleep matters

Failure to get enough sleep doesn't just leave you feeling tired the following day—it can also endanger your physical health. Poor sleep can weaken the immune system, increase the risk of developing diabetes, lower the libido, and increase the risk of heart disease.

Mental and emotional health can also be affected by failing to get enough sleep. People who don't get enough sleep may struggle to cope with changes, find that it's difficult to control their emotions and behaviors, and struggle to make decisions. Research has also shown that sleep deficiency is linked to an increase in risk-taking behavior, depression, and suicide.

Effective breathing techniques for sleep

Using simple breathing techniques can make it easier for you to fall and stay asleep by initiating your body's relaxation response. You may also find these techniques helpful for stress management during your waking hours.

Taking just a few moments to practice the following breathing exercises before bed can decrease your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and help your brain and body understand that it's time to rest.

1. Belly breathing

Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing requires the perfect amount of focus—just enough to calm your mind, but not enough to stop you from nodding off.

Give it a try:

  • Lie comfortably on your back with your head resting on a pillow.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  • Slowly breathe in, working to expand your abdomen as you fill your diaphragm with air. Focus on keeping your chest still as you work to expand your belly.
  • Fully exhale, feeling your abdomen lower.
  • Continue the practice for two to five minutes, or until you fall asleep.

You may want to pair belly breathing with meditation, positive affirmations, or quiet, calming music.

2. 4-7-8 breathing

4-7-8 breathing takes a bit more focus than belly breathing, but many people find that the additional focus is especially helpful if they're dealing with worries or a stressful situation that's making it difficult to rest.

Give it a try:

  • Find a position that feels comfortable.
  • Inhale for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath while you count to 7.
  • Exhale slowly for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat for up to 5 minutes.

This practice doesn't just help your mind focus—it also works to decrease your heart rate and blood pressure while activating your body's parasympathetic nervous system and supporting your brain's production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

3. Alternate nostril breathing

This yoga technique can help to calm the mind and body when you're winding down at the end of the day.

Give it a try:

  • Use your finger to gently close one nostril.
  • Inhale through the open nostril.
  • Close the opposite nostril and exhale through the nostril that was originally closed.
  • Inhale on the now-open side of your nose, and continue alternating nostrils and breaths for up to 5 minutes.

Additional healthy sleep practices

While using breathing exercises can help make it easier to fall asleep, there's more that you can do to get high-quality rest. Try adding these techniques to your nighttime routine.

Relaxation and stress reduction techniques

Using relaxation tools just before bed can help set your mind and body up for sleep success. You can also use these practices throughout the day to manage stress and clear your mind long before it's time for your head to hit the pillow.

Try these practices to calm the nervous system:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Journaling
  • Physical exercise (if exercise tends to energize you, be sure to finish your workout no less than two hours before bed)
  • Spending time with family (pets count!)
  • Reading a favorite book

Create a comfortable sleep environment

Entering your bedroom should tell your brain that it's time to get some rest. There are a few changes you can make to help make your sleep environment as relaxing as possible, including:

  • Temperature: Research shows that the ideal temperature for sleep falls between 60 and 68 degrees for most people.
  • Clutter: When your bedroom is used as a catch-all for the clutter of the day, it can be tough for your mind to realize that it's time to rest. Keeping your bedroom clear of work, laundry, and other task-oriented items can help your brain enter the sleep zone.
  • Shutting off screens: The blue light that comes from your phone, computer, or TV can keep your brain active after you've turned off the lights for the evening. Stopping the use of screens an hour or two before bed can go a long way toward helping you get the rest necessary to wake up rested.

Keep consistent sleep hygiene habits

Keeping a sleep schedule that works for you is an important part of maintaining great sleep hygiene. Whenever possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This can help your brain begin to wind down. It's also a good idea to form a bedtime routine, as performing the same actions at the same time each day can also help to signal to your brain that you're preparing to rest.

Evidation: Here to help you feel your best

Evidation provides you with activity tracking, stress monitoring, and other valuable information that can complement your efforts to get the rest you need. Click here to learn more and download the Evidation app today.

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