Breathing exercises to improve 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.

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.

Related post: Lights out for better sleep

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.

So I also found an app to help me! It’s called Breathe2Relax and is available (free!) for both Android and iPhone. The app is designed to reduce stressbreathing exercises through guided deep breathing.

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.


Frugal Nurse

Related reading/viewing:

sleep soundly

yoga for stress relief




Breathing exercises to improve sleep — 2 Comments

  1. I should probably try this. I have severe circadian disorder and RLS. Left to my own devices I can go to sleep at 6-8 am and sleep 7-8 hours and wake up perfectly refreshed. Unfortunately I have a career requiring an 8 am start time. After years of trial and error I have an extremely strict regimen that gives me an average of almost 6 hours per night. I use blue light in the mornings, blue light blocking glasses as soon as I am home from work, no TV movies or going out to eat, I stagger melatonin and 10 mg Ambien, and if I can’t stand the RLS I take 10 cyclobenzaprine at 11:30, and I read books I have already read. If everything goes well, I can sometimes get to sleep as early as midnight but usually it is closer to 1 am.

    Basically I’ll try almost anything. I was even considering Belsomra, but the somnias I already have are more than enough.

  2. I’ve also found the meditation helps with sleep, among other things. I generally do it twice a day for 20 minutes each. It’s not the sort of meditation that focuses on breathing, but that could work, too. Since I’ve been back at it, the quality of my sleep has improved.