BREATHE YOURSELF TO SLEEP: HOW BREATHING CAN HELP YOU FALL ASLEEP
Breathing is a miraculous body function. Just think about: breathing happens by itself without you even thinking of it, and at the same time you can consciously control it. Breathing can also be one of the easiest ways to help you fall asleep if you breathe correctly.
Deep slow breathing decreases your heartbeat and hence puts your nervous system into a rest and digest mode.
You need to have 55 heartbeats per minute and below to be able to fall asleep.
You won’t achieve this effect by breathing shallow in your chest. It is important to breathe deeply into your belly as if your belly is inflating like a balloon. When you do that, it means you are breathing with your diaphragm, the muscle that separates your chest and abdominal cavities. The diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle and so often forgotten!
It is also very important to breathe through your nose. The pathway of nose breathing is longer than if you breathe through your mouth. Besides, nose works like a filter: it keeps the dust and other particles. away from entering your body.
Most adults tend to breathe shallowly in their chest chronically. This is a natural response to navigating higher levels of activity and stress in life. However, people still chest breathe even when they’re not facing significant stressors, making their recovery from life’s challenges slower, or even absent.
Babies are great examples of breathing well, maybe that’s why they can sleep so much! Have you ever seen a newborn baby breathe? Infants do not yet have the ability to breathe shallowly in their chests because they lack tone in their accessory breathing muscles (the muscles of your chest, neck and back). Thus, babies breathe entirely using their diaphragm.
Why is it important to breathe with a diaphragm?
Diaphragmatic breathing is not only beneficial for sleeping but overall great for your health. Main advantages of using the diaphragm are:
- Diaphragmatic breathing rebalances your nervous system, reducing heart rate and breathing rate and changing from fight or flight to calm and relax, making it easy to fall asleep.
- Efficient gas exchange – the bottom third of the lungs is where about two-thirds of the gas exchange occurs, so oxygenation is more efficient when you use the diaphragm.
- Less tension and tightness in the neck and shoulders as the muscles here can relax.
- Diaphragmatic breathing gently “massages” or moves the abdominal organs, aiding digestion and helping lymphatic drainage; much of the lymphatic system is located just below the diaphragm.
- The diaphragm contributes to good posture and core muscle strength, so needs to work properly. In fact, overdeveloped abs and sucking the stomach can hinder the diaphragm’s proper movement and promote upper chest breathing.
Various techniques can help you learn to breathe with your diaphragm. One of the easiest is coherent breathing.
What is a coherent breathing technique?
Coherent breathing takes advantage of the fact that we can positively affect our body by controlling our breath. The purpose behind coherent breath is to slow down your breaths as much as possible so that you can calm down your nervous system. When you slow down your breathing, you massage and activate your vagus nerve, the primary nerve that helps you get into rest & digest mode. Vagus nerve goes through your heart and when being activated, vagus slows down the heart rate. Remember, your heart rate should be below 55 beats to fall asleep, not higher!
How to practice coherent breathing
Best time to practice coherent breathing is right before sleeping.
- Start by finding a comfortable position in your bed.
- Place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on the chest – your heart area.
- Start to notice the flow of your breath. Notice how your belly rises when you inhale and falls inwards on an exhale. Continue to follow your breath flow for 3-5 cycles of breaths.
- Then we will start the practice of coherent breathing. You will inhale on the count of four, hold the breath for four, and exhale for six. If this too long or too fast, count for yourself. You can keep for as much as possible for you.
- Continue for at least 10 complete rounds.
During this whole process, keep your hand on your stomach. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm.
You might feel as though you need to take a deep breath or that you can’t stop your thoughts from wandering. That’s okay! Just bring yourself back to focusing on your breathing and counting your breaths’ length in your head.
If you find that you feel comfortable taking even longer breaths, feel free. Breaths as long as 10 seconds may feel right for some people. It’s also okay to have a longer exhale than inhale.
Practice this coherent breathing as long as you need to feel relaxed and sleepy.
Let’s practice together!
I have recorded a 5-minute video in which I explain the coherent breathing technique. You can find the video in the guide How to Fall Asleep in 10 Minutes on page 6.
In this guide, I also teach two other proven relaxation techniques that you can do right before going to sleep or whenever you wake up during the night. Download the guide below.