Breathe your way to better sleep
I just ran across this video of Andrew Weil, MD, explaining how to do yoga breathing exercises, specifically the 4-7-8 breathing technique. It’s based on the yoga practice of pranayama.
I’ve always had trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, and I want to give these breathing exercises a try as they are an inexpensive and drug-free approach to hopefully improving my quantity and quality of sleep.
The steps of the 4-7-8 technique are simple:
- Exhale completely through your mouth while making a ‘whoosh’ sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making another whoosh sound, for eight seconds.
- Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
The key is to practice every day, at least twice a day. Dr. Weil advises only doing four cycles of breaths at a time.
Controlled breathing decreases stress and anxiety, too
In the short term, this can be done while lying in bed trying to get to sleep. Controlled deep breathing works on your parasympathetic nervous system to slow your heart rate and relax your brain, making sleep more likely.
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However, the best results come after 4-6 weeks of daily practice. Reducing stress in your body not only helps you sleep better at night, it lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, improves digestion and enhances concentration.
I’ve done deep breathing exercises many times over the years, but have never been disciplined enough to do them every day.
It’s not based on the 4-7-8 technique, but you can set the inhale and exhale lengths, and pause in between.
You can also keep track of your stress levels through the day, before and after the breathing exercises.
If you need help getting to sleep, or want a technique to diffuse life’s stressful moments, or just want to feel more relaxed overall, give these simple breathing exercises a try.