TOP 4 Breathing techniques for better sleep!

October 7, 2015


Let’s face it: many of us have very poor sleep hygiene. What should be a very natural and effortless process has become a struggle. Before the invention of the light bulb (just 136 short years ago) our ancestors were going to sleep with the setting of the sun for hundreds of thousands of years. Now we live in cities and towns that never go dark and are constantly stimulated with bright lights, amplified noise and the buzz of television sets. This light pollution disrupts the natural flow of melatonin (the sleep hormone that is released at night when the sky turns dark). This, compounded with the rise of mobile devices and the constant barrage of information flooding in at all hours via text message, email and social media means the brain just doesn’t get a clear signal that it’s time to stop working.

As a light and restless sleeper myself, I feel like quite the authority on effective techniques that promote the conditions in which sleep is most likely to occur. Outside of keeping the lights low at night time, turning OFF all mobile devices and setting your body clock to a natural bed time; there are also some very easy breathing techniques that can help calm the nervous system and create the ideal atmosphere for that wonderful sleepy melatonin production. The key is; the more simple the technique; the more effective for inducing a restful state. I find difficult or complicated breathing practices can actually keep the mind busy. Here are my top four breathing techniques to help prepare the body and mind for a delicious slumber. Best yet, they can all be done in bed!

Like I mentioned… these techniques are not rocket science. When I’m having trouble falling asleep my favorite breathing technique is simply counting backwards from 20! This is best done while you’re lying in bed in corpse pose (savasana) where you are on your back with the legs and arms open away from the centerline of the body. Take a very deep inhale and on the exhale relax your muscles and let the weight of your body fall downwards into your bed and say in your mind ‘20’. Then repeat. Take a very deep inhale and on the exhale relax your muscles and let the weight of your body fall downwards into your bed and say in your mind ‘19’. Do this all the way down to 0 with each exhale relaxing your body more and more and surrendering any muscular effort. If you find you get all the way to 0 and you’re still anxious about being awake, repeat the process. It’s magical.

Another technique is to make the Exhale slightly longer than the Inhale. The Exhale is slightly parasympathetic stimulating, which is the branch of your nervous system that is responsible for resting and digesting. The Inhale is slightly sympathetic dominant, which is the stimulating part of your nervous system. Exhaling is also a good way to release tension and to let go of stress. Either sit in a chair with your feet parallel on the ground and arms resting on your lap or lie down in corpse pose (savasana), eyes lightly closed and attention resting on each breath. Take anywhere from 6 to 20 breathes allowing the Exhale to be slightly longer than the Inhale. Then return to your natural breath.

Imagine your breath was like a continuous wave moving in and out of your body. In my mind I picture the breath as a figure 8 where the inhale flows seamlessly into the exhale, and the exhale flows seamlessly into the inhale without pausing. Pay particular attention to the moment where the breath changes direction. This breathing exercise can be done sitting on a chair, or crossed legged on the ground or even lying down. Take anywhere from 6 to 20 breaths allowing each breath to seamlessly merge into the next. Then return to your natural breath.

In yoga philosophy the left side of your body represents the moon channel; which is the more feminine, cooling and introverted aspects of ourselves. The right side is the sun channel; which reveals the more masculine, heating and extroverted characteristics. So in this technique lie in the fetal position on your right side, and with your right hand block your right nostril so that you are only breathing out of your left side. As you breath in and out of your left nostril imagine this current cooling and calming your body. This is very effective done for at least 3-5 minutes. Then return to your natural breath.

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