Ironically, resting can be the most difficult thing you do all day. Sometimes our bodies are tired but our minds are not, which means falling asleep is a challenge. Our brains run through scenarios of the day before and what we could have done differently, or they run through what might happen the next day. We may even just lie awake staring at the ceiling, with nothing going through our minds, but we are still unable to fall asleep. Whatever your reason for a sleepless night is, breathing exercises for sleep may be able to help you. Below are some breathing techniques based on yoga practices that can help you rest easy.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
This technique is based on the ancient practice of pranayama, which is breathing to gain control over your life force. Pranayama is usually incorporated with yoga poses, which is known as the difficult practice of vinyasa. We aren’t talking about working out, however, so how can the 4-7-8 breathing technique help you (https://www.healthline.com/health/4-7-8-breathing#1)? First, we’ll talk about how you do it. Lie down comfortably, just like you would if you are trying to fall asleep. Then, rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. It may feel odd at first, but this step is vital to practicing this breathing technique properly, and eventually it will feel natural. Don’t move your tongue while you exhale.
Now comes the breathing part. Part your lips, without moving your tongue, and make a whooshing sound, letting all the air out of your lungs. Inhale through your nose, counting to four. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale through your mouth again, making a whooshing noise, for eight seconds. Repeat this cycle for four full breaths. Once you’ve gotten used to the cycle and you aren’t struggling to keep your tongue in place you can try eight full breaths.
This technique sounds simple enough, but it can bring the body into a state of deep relaxation. Breathing in a specific, controlled pattern gives your body a much-needed oxygen boost. This boost regulates the fight-or-flight response we all experience when we’re stressed, whether we know it or not. Breathing techniques are like an advanced version of counting sheep. The idea is that when you’re counting sheep, you’re focused on something repetitive and mundane to help you drift off. Breathing exercises for sleep do the same thing, but with science backing it up.
Left Nostril Breath
We figured since the 4-7-8 technique is so effective, why not look further into what it’s based on? The Left Nostril Breath technique is the easiest pranayama practice you can do before bed (https://www.doyouyoga.com/4-pranayamas-you-can-do-before-bed/). This also calms and soothes the nerves, all by covering up the right nostril while you breathe. Practice with your eyes closed and try to breathe as slowly as possible. Left Nostril Breath can calm you and help lower your blood pressure (https://kundaliniwomen.org/yoga_pages/yogic_breathing.html).
Why does this strange technique work? In the ancient practice of yoga, it was believed that the Ida energy (moon energy) was on the left side. Ida is reflective, calm, and soothing. The right side, Pingala (sun energy), is bright, fiery, and awake. For those who don’t buy into ancient practices, Western science calls these sides sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Ida is the parasympathetic nervous system that calms you down after your fight-or-flight response. Breathing in a 4-4-4 rhythm may be an even better way to calm yourself and fall asleep (https://www.grdhealth.com/articles/left-nostril-breathing-calming).
Humming Bee Breath
This technique is most useful for distracting from anxious thoughts. Most of us have a hard time falling asleep if we are freaking out over what might happen tomorrow, or the next day, or even something far off in the future. Humming Bee Breath involves breathing in and out through the nose, but you make a humming sound on the exhale. When you breathe in, close your eyes and do it as slowly as possible. When you exhale, plug your ears with your fingers, keep your eyes closed, and hum. It feels awkward at first, but it will become easier the most you practice. This technique calms and soothes you before sleep, because it is kind of hard to drift off with your fingers in your ears (https://www.doyouyoga.com/4-pranayamas-you-can-do-before-bed/).
Covering your ears and making a soft sound in your throat helps you internalize your thoughts. This technique borders on the less scientific, more spiritual side of things, but it is still effective. Think about it, if you are anxious about external things like a math exam, a presentation at work, or even something that may seem trivial to others, you can do yourself a lot of good by focusing internally. The noise from your throat blocks out distractions and clears your mind to allow you to do what you need to do: fall asleep. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
7-2-11 Relaxing Breath
Just like 4-7-8, the numbers represent the timing of your breath. Breathing in for only two seconds may seem like you will get lightheaded during this practice, but remember you are only doing four full breaths, just like the first breathing technique we mentioned. These types of timing techniques are more useful in small doses, while other techniques like the Left Nostril Breath and the Humming Bee Breath are easier because you can do them until you are comfortable. Getting the hang of timing can be more difficult, but in the long run the results can be more beneficial (https://www.doyouyoga.com/4-pranayamas-you-can-do-before-bed/).
Finding the Right Breathing Exercises for Sleep
There are many different pranayamas and breathing techniques designed to help you sleep. Some may be too difficult or unnatural for you to get used to, but if you are struggling with sleeplessness, they are all worth a try. Start out with something simple, like the Left Nostril Breath, and then move on to the more awkward ones as you feel comfortable. In the end it is important to remember that falling asleep is essential to your health, so whatever you do to help you get there is only crazy if it doesn’t work.