Very few things are as frustrating as not being able to sleep. You know you’ve got a busy day ahead, and you feel tired, but sleep still isn’t happening. Frustration can soon turn to distress if you are unable to sleep several nights in a row. Your mental and physical performance will take a dive, and your mood will become dark and gloomy. Insomnia is no fun at all.
The good news is that studies suggest that relaxation and breathing exercises can help you sleep better. In fact, scientists have concluded that these strategies are just as effective as sleep-inducing medications and hypnosis, but considerably safer.
Here are five of the best relaxation and breathing exercises around. Try them the next time you are unable to get to sleep.
1. Equal breathing
Equal breathing is actually a yoga exercise called Sama Vritti in Sanskrit. It’s very simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. This breathing exercise gives you something to think about and distracts you from whatever thoughts are rushing around your brain and keeping you awake.
Lie down in a comfortable position with the lights off and dressed and ready for bed. Get under the covers so that you won’t have to wake yourself up as you feel sleep begin to descend. Then, inhale for a slow count of four and exhale for a slow count of four. Focus your mind on the rhythm of your breath. Continue breathing this way for as long as it takes to start feeling drowsy.
If your mind wanders, just gently steer it back to your breathing. Once you feel comfortable with four-count breathing, try 6-8 counts. Deeper breaths are more relaxing.
2. Abdominal breathing
When you are stressed and anxious, you tend to breathe into your chest. This perpetuates those feelings of stress and can stop you from falling asleep. In contrast, breathing into your abdomen is relaxing and can help lower your stress levels. Also, it gives your mind something else to think about other than not being able to sleep.
Lie on your back with one hand gently resting on your chest, and the other hand resting on your abdomen. Breathe normally and notice which hand rises the most. It’ll probably be the one resting on your chest.
Shift your breath to your abdomen so that only your lower hand moves. This means you are using your diaphragm and not your chest muscles to breathe. Breathe slowly and deeply, but don’t force it. You can also combine this exercise with number one.
3. 4-7-8 breathing
This popular sleep-inducing breathing exercise is a little more complicated than some of the others in this article. Still, it’s also thought of as one of the most effective. It takes a little practice, but many users report that it helps them fall asleep, both reliably and quickly.
Lie in a comfortable position. Inhale through your nose for a slow count of four, hold your breath for seven counts, and then exhale fully for eight counts. Keep running through this cycle until you start to feel drowsy.
4. Progressive muscle relaxation
Tense muscles can cause insomnia every bit as much as an overactive or anxious mind. This exercise eases muscle tension so that you can relax and sleep. There are lots of ways to relax your muscles, and it really doesn’t matter which method you choose. So long as you ease the tension from your muscles, your brain should follow your body, and sleep will soon follow.
However, here is a progressive muscle relaxation routine to follow.
- Take a minute to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Take a deep breath and tense your toes and feet for 5-10 seconds.
- Slowly exhale and relax your toes and feet again. Feel the tension drop away from your muscles.
- Take another deep breath and tighten your lower leg muscles. Hold for 5-10 seconds, and then relax, exhaling as you do so.
- Breathe in and tense your upper legs. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then relax.
- Breathe in and tense your abdomen and lower back. Hold the tension for 5-10 seconds and then relax.
- Repeat with your chest and upper back.
- Repeat with your hands, lower arms, then upper arms, shoulders, and neck.
- Tense your face, tightly closing your eyes, and scrunching up your face. Hold the tension for 5-10 seconds and then relax.
- Finally, tense your whole body at the same time. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then exhale and relax your entire body.
With no tension in your body, you should feel warm and relaxed, and your limbs should feel heavy and comfortable. If you still aren’t ready to sleep, follow this routine with one of the breathing exercises detailed elsewhere in this article.
5. Guided meditation
Mediation can help you sleep, but it can also be a hard skill to master. If you find that your mind wanders when you try and control your thoughts or empty your mind, guided meditation can help. In guided meditation, you follow a recording of instructions so that your practice has direction and structure. Guided meditations can help lower your stress levels, increase confidence or creativity, and also help you sleep. You just need to follow the right one.
There are lots of “guided meditations for sleep” on YouTube, and you’ll also find them on music platforms like Spotify, Deezer, and I-tunes. Just listen and let the narrator’s voice guide you toward a good night’s sleep.
There is no need to take insomnia lying down! There are several ways to increase your chances of falling asleep, including breathing and relaxation exercises. In many cases, these exercises have been proven to be every bit as effective as sleep-inducing medication. And, best of all, they’re free and won’t cause side effects like dependency or daytime drowsiness.
1. PubMed: Self-Regulation of Breathing as an Adjunctive Treatment of Insomnia