Struggling with Insomnia? Try This Breathing Exercise for a Good Night’s Sleep

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder. But these breathing exercises might do the trick for you to get a good night’s rest.

A woman sleeping comfortably under a comforter as she hugs her pillow tight

It is becoming increasingly common for people to struggle with insomnia during the ‘new normal’, where movement restrictions have made it difficult to get work done on time whilst juggling the responsibilities of family life. Fortunately, a breathing exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of insomnia and ensure restful sleep every night.  

Here are a few different diaphragmatic breathing techniques you can practise to achieve better sleep. 

The Qi Gong Method

Qi Gong is an ancient Chinese practice that combines various postures and breathing techniques with mental focus to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit – enable a free flow of qi (energy) throughout the body, prevent disease and regulate the sleep-wake cycle. 

To alleviate insomnia through Qi Gong, lay on your back with feet slightly apart, hands by your sides, and palms turned downward. Next, focus your vision between the eyebrows as you slowly look downwards to your nose, then to your lower abdomen.

As you close your eyes and mouth, raise your tongue against the hard palate as you take deep breaths through your nose. While exhaling, imagine that your lower abdomen is being filled with qi. Do this deep breathing cycle 24 times.

The 4-7-8 Method

The breathing exercise, known as ‘4-7-8’, is an advanced version of abdominal breathing, which is the foundation of all deep breathing exercises. The first step of this exercise is to exhale completely through your mouth while making a ‘whoosh’ sound. 

Next, take a deep breath and stop after a 4-count. Hold the breath for 7 seconds before breathing out completely to an 8-count. Repeat these steps for three more repetitions. 

Unlike tranquilising medication, which wanes over time, this deep breathing exercise is a natural nervous system tranquiliser that becomes increasingly effective with every repetition. It is an effective tool for reacting smarter to stressors and help you sleep better. 

You can also consume a herbal drink at night to promote better sleep quality. This formulation contains spine dates and walnut membrane, which have demonstrated the ability to induce mind and body relaxation.

young couple practicing yoga
It is important to keep your shoulders relaxed and spine straight during the practice of Kapalbhati pranayama breathing.

The practice of this pranayama technique can help you achieve a sense of balance, declutter your thoughts and alleviate your stress, thus allowing your body to feel relaxed and ready for bed. 

To perform the Kapalbhati, you need to sit in vajrasana (kneeling yoga pose) or sukhasana (seated, cross-legged pose) whilst keeping your spine straight, shoulders relaxed, and neck unstrained. 

Next, press gently on your right nostril as you exhale through the left nostril forcefully. Repeat on the other side. Then, take a deep breath before exhaling with force as you suck in your stomach. Repeat approximately 100 times before going to bed every night.

The Buteyko Breathing Method

The belief behind this exercise is that taking 6 breaths a minute is essential for doing away with sleep pattern disorders. In addition, this type of diaphragmatic breathing can promote optimum oxygenation of the cells and muscles in your body. 

By mastering the simple breathing exercises which make up the Buteyko technique, you will learn how to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose and improve your breathing pattern and sleep quality. 

To perform this technique: 

  1. Sit in bed with your mouth gently closed as you breathe naturally through your nose for approximately 30 seconds. 
  2. Breathe forcefully in and out through your nose once. 
  3. Gently pinch your nose with your thumb and forefinger until you feel the need to take a breath. 

With your mouth still closed, take another deep breath through your nostrils again. 

Alternatively, you can consume a calming traditional Chinese remedy that contains the extracts of several fruits and herbaceous plants daily to replenish your health, improve skin complexion and encourage restful sleep.

The Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Breathing Method

Also known as an alternate nostril breathing exercise, Nadi Shodhana is exceptionally effective at inducing relaxation and calming the nervous system, lowering blood pressure and quieting the mind. The combination of these benefits makes this method one of the best ways to relieve stress and do away with health disorders such as depression and insomnia

A woman pressing her forehead with her forefinger and closing her right nostril with her thumb as she closes her eyes
The Nadi Shodhana breathing exercise requires you to focus on your physical being and bodily sensations to induce relaxation.

Start by sitting up straight with your eyes closed. Put your right index and middle fingers on your forehead while your right thumb is over your right nostril. Breathe deeply through the left nostril for 4 counts. Then place your right ring and pinky fingers over the left nostril and hold your breath for 2 counts. Remove your thumb from the right nostril while keeping the left nostril blocked. Then breathe deeply through the right nostril for 4 counts. Do this for approximately 2-10 minutes. If you’re a beginner, you can start with 2 minutes. 

You can also enhance the effects of this breathing exercise by consuming blackberry-flavoured jelly gummies containing 3 milligrams of melatonin and chamomile, lemon balm, and L-theanine amino acid that promotes calm and relaxation.

Try out each technique to determine the breathing exercise that is suitable for you. In time, consistent practice will help you breathe more naturally and improve your overall sleep quality.

References

  1. Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. 4 -7- 8 Breath Relaxation Exercise. [Accessed 18 June 2021] 
  2. Wakefit. 2019. Sleep easy with Kapalbhati Pranayama.  [Accessed 18 June 2021] 
  3. Buteyko Clinic International. Reducing Insomnia with Buteyko Breathing. [Accessed 18 June 2021] 
  4. Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Yoga and Ayurveda for Insomnia. [Accessed 18 June 2021] 

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