In a perfect world, sleep comes easy. But with the countless distractions and sources of stimulation available today, getting deep and restful sleep is challenging for many.
If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep on time or achieving consistent sleep quality, it may be linked to stress levels or other issues. One of the best ways to tackle this issue is with breathing exercises, which steady the nervous system and promote general wellness.
In this article, we’ll explain the links between breathing and sleep and offer some practical deep breathing exercises to get you in the zone for quality rest. With these tips in hand, you’ll reap the benefits of breathwork, enjoy better sleep, and discover other physical and mental health benefits as well.
What is the science behind breathing and sleep?
Understanding the science of sleep starts with knowing the nature of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is also known as the fight-or-flight response to stressful situations or emotions. It increases the heart rate, increases blood pressure, releases adrenaline, and primes the body to leap into action when needed.
On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system soothes and relaxes the body for quieter moments like eating, sleeping, and recuperating. Each system has its time and place, but many of us suffer the consequences of an overactive sympathetic nervous system. This results in a chronic sense of uneasiness and discomfort, which impacts all areas of life, including sleep quality.
When falling asleep at night, the parasympathetic nervous system should be in control, slowing the heart rate and promoting recovery and repair mechanisms throughout the body. With breathing techniques and general sleep hygiene, you can shift gears deliberately and get your body and mind in the right space for sleep. This helps you stay in control and get to bed when you need to, rather than waiting restlessly until sleep arrives.
What are the benefits of breathing exercises for sleep quality?
The right breathing techniques not only help you fall asleep in a shorter time frame, but they also promote sleep quality and rejuvenation. This is done by counteracting the stress response and reducing the role of the sympathetic nervous system.
By tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system, you create the ideal conditions for deep sleep (non-REM) and REM sleep—both of which are key for restoration and repair. You are more likely to stay asleep for longer and enjoy undisturbed rest.
The benefits of quality sleep are undeniable, including muscle repair, memory consolidation, and improved mental health. You’ll wake up the next day feeling refreshed instead of groggy, ready to take on the challenges that lay before you.
Which breathing exercises can help with sleep?
Now that we know the benefits of deep sleep for health and well-being, it’s time to talk about practical tips. These aren’t just theoretical concepts reserved for clinical trials—you can adopt these actual methods when you crawl into bed any night of the week.
By practicing these methods and incorporating other proven sleep hygiene habits, you’ll have a major advantage when it comes time to fall asleep each night. Here are some of the best breathing exercises to help you enjoy sweet dreams.
Diaphragmatic breathing technique
Before you jump into specific breathing patterns and exercises, we suggest practicing the diaphragmatic breathing technique. This isn’t a set of strict rules, but rather a matter of tapping into your own mind-body connection and the ability to facilitate deep, effective breathing. Take this moment to explore diaphragmatic breathing and see what you find.
Start in a comfortable position and relax your body, releasing tension from your shoulders, neck, face, and lower back. Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your lungs to expand fully and your abdomen to push out naturally.
When you exhale, aim to push every last bit of air out of your lungs, letting your diaphragm relax and your abdomen “deflate.” It should feel like there is no air left to be let out. Restart the cycle and work into a sustainable rhythm of slow, deep breathing. Let go of all expectations, focus on each breath, and find your way to a steady state of relaxation and calm.
Box breathing technique
With diaphragmatic breathing mastered, you’ve already made significant progress. Now, it’s time to talk about some breathing patterns you can follow as a framework to help you fall asleep.
The first and easiest technique to try is known as box breathing. This involves counting “beats” as you inhale, hold your breath, exhale, and hold with empty lungs.
Start by inhaling for four beats until you reach the “top” of your breath. Hold your breath for another four beats, maintaining full lungs and abdomen expanded. Then, exhale all your air over four beats until you reach the “bottom” of your breath. Hold your breath once again at the bottom for four beats until beginning the cycle once again.
The box breathing technique is easy, effective, and naturally relaxes the body. It’s a great way to bring yourself into balance and set the stage for deep sleep.
Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is derived from an ancient pranayama yoga technique, used to balance the flow of energy throughout the body with the breath.
Whether seated or lying down in bed, start by using your thumb to press your right nostril, only allow air to flow through the opposite side. Switch sides by closing the left nostril, allowing on the right one to breathe. As you hold your breath at the top and bottom, you can close both nostrils at once.
You can perform this method to increase airflow through both nostrils and bring yourself to the present moment with an intentional technique. Aim to keep a slow and steady pattern with controlled breaths and smooth timing.
It’s common to experience better airflow in one nostril compared to the other. Try to avoid the feeling of frustration and work with the current level of airflow available. This technique will teach patience and hopefully improve the balance of air intake through the nostrils over time.
4-7-8 breathing technique
The 4-7-8 technique is another breathing pattern that can bring you to the present and promote a relaxed state of being. It was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil to help patients relax and achieve inner calm in any situation.
Start with a strong inhalation through the nose lasting four beats, followed by holding your breath at the top for seven. Exhale for eight beats to allow for the full depletion of air from your lungs. As you exhale, make an audible whooshing sound to help expel the air and calm the mind and body.
This technique promotes concentration, relaxation, and has the added benefit of counting as you exhaust your mind for sleep. With a few rounds of 4-7-8 breathing, you’ll be ready to drift off into a good night of sleep.
How can you incorporate breathing exercises into your bedtime routine?
With these breathing methods in your arsenal, you are better equipped to fall asleep no matter what you mental state may be. However, breathing is just one aspect of sleep hygiene, so it’s wise to incorporate other relaxation techniques into your evening routine.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another proven method that goes hand-in-hand with deep breathing. This involves intentionally relaxing various parts of the body to encourage the release of tension and slowly bring the body into the parasympathetic state. It is useful to visualize a wave of relaxation washing over each limb, your shoulders, neck, and torso, one at a time.
Additionally, you can implement supplementation in the form of CBD or CBN to further promote a state of calm. These products work by bringing balance to the endocannabinoid system, interacting with receptors throughout the body and reducing tension, while priming the brain for deep sleep.*
Sunmed’s sleep products are rich in CBN, which is known as the “sleepy cannabinoid” derived from hemp plants. We’ve made it the central focus of our rest collection of gummies and tinctures.*
Our products also feature a range of other cannabinoids and terpenes that encourage the entourage effect and keep your system in balance. When morning comes, use our Neuro Water Soluble with CBG extract to kickstart your day the right way.*
Between deep breathing, relaxation techniques, and premium CBD, you can finally master the art and science of sleep. It’s time to take control of your sleep hygiene and enjoy consistent, rejuvenating rest at last.