Problem falling asleep? Attempt these 5 respiratory strategies


Sleep is elusive even after you’ve parked your phone, done your bedtime yoga session, and took a hot bath filled with magnesium salts?

If so, you know that you are nowhere near alone: ​​According to the South African Society of Sleep Medicine (SASSM), insomnia affects around 30-40% of adults. When work, family and pandemic and political pressures collide, it’s no wonder.

One thing worth trying? Breathing Techniques for Sleep.

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One person who encourages working with the breath to get more Zeds is Michael Townsend Williams, a yoga and mindfulness teacher, author of Do Breathe (R199,, and co-founder of the BreatheSync app, which will help you Breathing synchronously with your heart to relieve stress and improve concentration.

“Sleep problems are often caused by our inability to turn off our minds and relax our bodies, where breathing can help,” he told WH. “Slow, controlled breathing triggers the body’s natural relaxation response. Your heart rate slows down, your muscles relax, and your mind calms down so that you are better prepared mentally and physically to fall asleep more easily. ‘

So instead of rummaging through your to-do list or analyzing the day’s conversations while you try to snooze, why not instead focus your attention on your breathing, learn how to use it as a relaxation technique and some of Williams’ suggestions below.

5 breathing techniques for sleep to try out

1. Best breathing technique for anxiety

When you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and can’t stop worrying, simply counting your breaths can slow your mental chatter, prevent worries from escalating, and help you reach a calm, centered place.

Dealing with fear can be as simple as breathing exercises. Michael recommends:

  • Count down your breaths from 40.
  • First, count your exhalations and inhalations from 40 to 20.
  • Then count only your exhalations from 20 to 0.
  • After that, continue to breathe normally, but watch your breath.

If this is difficult for you, it’s okay to start the technique with lower numbers. The most important thing is that you train your mind to focus on where you want it to be, and not on endless worries. If you still feel anxious, try writing down your concerns and then repeating the breathing exercise.

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2. Best breathing technique against stress

While anxiety often encompasses a general and far-reaching feeling of concern, stress is usually related to a specific event or area of ​​life, such as a work assignment or an upcoming speech.

While managing stress is important, Michael points out that experiencing it isn’t always bad. “If you are stressed because you are facing a new challenge at work or you are leaving your comfort zone, don’t worry. It is normal to feel pressure in such situations. But to perform at your best, you need to feel calm and energetic, and that won’t happen if you don’t sleep well. “

One technique that might help is simply alternate nasal breathing. As?

  • Close the right nostril and inhale through the left.
  • Then close the left one and exhale through the right one.
  • Inhale properly. Exhale on the left.
  • Keep breathing slowly and deeply from side to side.

Hopefully this should make you feel calm and focused. Close your eyes, imagine yourself successfully completing any challenge that is stressing you out, and then let yourself go to sleep.

3. Best breathing technique for thought

We’ve all done it – getting in an exalted state before bed by watching intense drama on TV or scrolling for hours on smartphones. This type of activity gets the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system running high. As a result, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in your blood make it difficult for you to shut down your over-excited mind and tense body, and sleep is difficult.

In this case, Michael recommends breathing from your stomach. Try:

  • Inhale for four seconds and exhale for six seconds, both through your nose.
  • This corresponds to six full breaths per minute. Research has shown that rhythm is the best rhythm to effectively improve your physiology.

A longer exhalation like this triggers the relaxation response. In a short time your body will be cleared of adrenaline and cortisol and you will feel much better.

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4. Best breathing technique for insomnia

It is very irritating when you wake up in the middle of the night and can no longer sleep (we have all landed in the Google hole “How to sleep better”). To counteract this, Michael recommends an exercise from his mindfulness course in which you imagine yourself slowly drawing a line around your body.


  • Start at the top of your head.
  • Go down the right side of your body to your arms and legs.
  • Then go back up on the left side of your body and land where you started.
  • Keep your mind occupied with this “body trail” while you breathe slowly and deeply from your stomach.

Another option is to simply notice the gaps between your breaths. Notice how your mind naturally becomes still when your breath stops for a moment. Sometimes these little breaks are enough to learn how to sleep well.

5. Best breathing technique for energy

While many people have difficulty falling asleep, others have the opposite problem, even feeling sleepy in the morning or during the day when they need to be awake.

In this case Michael recommends a classic yoga exercise. Kapalabhati (literally: shining skull) are rhythmic exhalations with a pumping effect that flush air out of the lungs, stimulate the nervous system and relieve tension.

In preparation, take three deep breaths in and out. Then:

  • Draw in your stomach sharply as you exhale. Repeat this once every second so you get into a rhythm.
  • Remember not to hold your breath; You will breathe in between exhalations, but not consciously. Just concentrate on the sharp exhalation.
  • If this is difficult for you, try placing your hand on your stomach and squeezing gently with each exhale. It can take time for your abs to respond quickly enough.
  • Repeat this with 20 pumps first, then take a deep breath before holding your breath for 30 seconds if possible.

That’s one round done – you want to repeat three rounds. You can build the repetitions from 20-30 to 40-60. You can also learn to hold your breath longer. However, don’t be overly competitive – slow, steady progress is best.

With these breathing techniques for sleep, you should be asleep in no time!

This article was originally published on Women’s Health UK

READ MORE ON: Meditation sleep stress

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