If only falling sleep in five minutes flat worked so effortlessly for everybody. Getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night probably wouldn’t be as big of a struggle if some of us occasionally wired and insomnia-prone folk didn’t have to count for the excessive amounts of time it takes to actually relax, get comfortable, shut off our minds and finally drift off to sleep.
Believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to help yourself fall asleep faster is to use a deep breathing technique. Deep breathing works its magic on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for triggering the body’s relaxation response. When done right, your body enters a deep state of rest–characterized by physical changes like a decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure, relaxed muscles and improved mental clarity.
Simple Meditative Breathing
A mind that’s running wild with thoughts can benefit from some basic mindfulness meditation with a focus on slightly deeper and longer than normal breathing. No need to count how long you inhale or exhale here–just sit or lay comfortably while placing your awareness on the breath that flows deeply in and out through your airway with the rise and fall of your abdomen.
A simple focused breathing exercise like this can help take your mind off of other things you may be anxious about and naturally encourages you to release tension through every breath. Try it for at least 5 to 10 minutes to help calm your mind and body.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Based off the Nadi Shodhana technique, breathing through each nostril separately helps to relieve stress and anxiety by neutralizing both sides of the brain. Sitting up comfortably, bring one hand up to your face with your index finger and middle finger curled down (toward your mouth) so you can use your fourth finger and thumb to easily switch between pressing each nostril closed.
Start by closing the left nostril while inhaling for about four counts through the right nostril. Then close off the right nostril while you hold it in for another four counts. Release the closed off left nostril as you exhale for four more counts. Follow the exact same steps for the right nostril and repeat as many cycles as you like.
The 4-7-8 Technique
The 4-7-8 breathing technique from Harvard medical professional Dr. Weil has been a trendy one that’s been talked about a lot lately, mainly for its ability to help anyone fall asleep in as little as one minute. The best part about it is that it’s extremely simple to do. You’re supposed to start by placing the tip of your tongue on the gum line right above your top row of teeth and leave it there throughout the whole breathing exercise.
Once you’ve got the tongue placement figured out, start by exhaling through your mouth while making a “whoosh” sound. Next, inhale through your nose for four counts, hold your breath at the top for seven counts and then exhale once again for eight counts. Complete three more cycles for a total of four.
Any of these three techniques are perfect to use before going to sleep, but you could use them practically anywhere or anytime you need to relax and relieve stress. Try it out for yourself to see just how powerful an activity as natural as breathing can be when you take a more conscious approach to it.
Is it ok to have just four or five hours or must you get a solid eight or nine hours every night? Find out how much sleep you need, here,