Sleeping well is essential to having a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Unfortunately, sometimes people tend to lie in bed, thinking about the problems they had during their day or the challenges they will face in the day after.
Nearly one in three Americans reports having difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. For some this is just a temporary inconvenience brought about by stresses in life, physical discomfort, or children that need our attention. For others, chronic insomnia is robbing us of our time, our energy, and even our health.
The consequences of sleep may seem small at first, but over time our sleep deficit grows, and we find ourselves with mental, emotional, and physical afflictions that can compromise almost every other aspect of our lives. What can be done to restore some much needed rest and give us back our daytime energy and vitality?
Breathing: The Key to Better Sleep?
A common complaint for many when dealing with sleepless nights is that “they just can’t turn off their mind”. There is scientific evidence behind the fact that if brainwave activity is too fast, we are physically unable to achieve the state of rest that our bodies need to recover and repair themselves overnight. Fortunately, there is a way to turn the mind off and calm yourself mind and body to achieve a state of perfect sleep. Try these simple and effective tips for a beautiful night’s sleep, and look forward to beautiful dreams from the very first night you implement them:
1. Slow It Down
Many of us take shallow, incomplete breaths as we go throughout the day—and we extend this ineffective practice well into the night. Few of us know how to employ the use of our lungs AND diaphragm, taking it all in and then holding it for a detoxifying release. The simple act of slowing down our breath also slows down our brain wave activity, making it easier to fall asleep. Slower breathing allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take over, allowing your body to enter a rest/digest state of being. Improving the function of the parasympathetic nervous system improves all aspects of health, particularly the digestive system. Those of us with leaky gut can rejoice, as employing breathing techniques is a very simple remedy for reducing digestive complications. Your entire body is repaired and restored as you attain a deep, satisfying sleep.
2. Employ the 4-7-8 Technique
According to the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, the 4-7-8 technique is just as effective as meditation for turning off the mind and allowing you to live in the present moment. Sit upright and cross-legged on your bed with your mouth closed and the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Breathe in deeply for a count of 4, then hold in for 7 counts. Finally, exhale through your mouth slowly for a count of 8. Repeat for at least four breath cycles and see how much better you feel and sleep!
What is the 4-7-8 breathing exercise?
Pranayama (literally translated “regulation of breath”) is an old Indian technique to reduce stress and increase relaxation. It is also mostly used in yoga and pilates.
One of the most popular interpretations of this technique is the 4-7-8 breathing method, which is a breathing pattern that is developed and popularised by Dr. Adrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor with a focus on holistic health.
How to do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise?
The 7 simple steps to falling asleep fast using the breathing exercise:
1. Take a comfortable position.
2. Place the tip of your tongue against the backside of your upper teeth.
3. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘shhhhh’ sound.
4. Inhale quietly through your nose for 4 seconds, with your mouth closed.
5. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
6. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘shhhhh’ sound for 8 seconds
7. Repeat this breathing process for around 4 times, making you complete 4 breathing cycles.
In this video Dr. Andrew Weil describes how to do the exercise.
Some people may find it hard to keep their breath in for 7 seconds, and make you feel light-headed. A small note is that you can do this exercise with a smaller amount of counts, within the same ratio.
You could use a 3 5 6 breathing pattern, or a 2 3,5 4 for example. This will give you about the same effect.
Small tips when doing this exercise:
- Keep the tongue on your upper teeth while breathing out.
- Breath in with abdominal breathing to optimize oxygen intake.
- Do this exercise around 2 to 3 times a day, to maximize the chances of this technique working.
3. Use Traditional, Meditative Breaths
One of the first and most vital components of meditation and mindfulness is breathing. Training yourself to breathe as you would in meditation does wonders for turning off the mind and helping you to live in the present moment. With your eyes closed, focus on slow, deep breaths, paying attention to where it rises and falls within the body. Practice this technique for 10-15 minutes daily and reap the benefits from the very first session.
4. Channel your Inner Yogi
Kapalbhati breathing, known as “blowing”, is a technique that clears stagnant breath from the body; it is also symbolic for cleansing the mind of toxic and unwanted thoughts and emotions. It also helps you to cleanse the body by stimulating the lungs and digestive system as you apply forceful pressure when blowing the breath. Take in a breath through your nose and deliver it in short, powerful bursts out through your mouth; envision yourself letting go of anything that may be holding you back from achieving your perfect, restful sleep.
5. Practice alternate nostril breathing
Mouth breathing subconsciously tells the body that you are anxious and stressed; conversely, nostril breathing is an indicator that the body is balanced and moving toward a state of homeostasis. Sit on your bed cross legged, holding the right nostril closed with one finger while you breathe in through the left. Switch sides and hold the left nostril down while you exhale through your right nostril. Repeat several times, switching the order in which you inhale and exhale through each side of your nose.
6. Double down on your exhale
Most yogis know that it’s all about the exhale. Making your exhale last twice as long as your inhale does wonders for calming both mind and body. The process of counting the length of your inhales vs. exhales is a very effective substitute for the traditional counting of sheep. Sit or lie comfortably in your bed and, with eyes closed, breathe in for a count of 3-4; exhale through your mouth for twice as long as your inhale. Repeat several cycles to experience a zen-like, calm effect on both mind and body.
It is possible to achieve a beautiful state of relaxed, deep sleep. Practicing these tried and true tips to improve your breathing will calm your mind, relax the body, and bring you to dreamland faster than you’ve ever imagined. Sweet dreams!
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