Between busy workdays, financial stress, and emotional stress, it can be difficult to turn off your mind when it’s time to fall asleep. In fact, 70% of American adults experience insufficient sleep at least once a month.
We surveyed Americans on their sleep habits and found that adults who struggle to fall asleep would do a lot for a decent forty winks.
Think we’re kidding? Thirty-two percent of respondents say they’d give up social media for a week for one good night of sleep. Twenty-seven percent would give up TV for a week, and 24% would give up their smartphone—all for some decent Zzzs.
Many people lose hours of sleep each night trying to fall asleep. So what do you do when you’ve tried nighttime tea, already downloaded a mindfulness app, and even dropped caffeine all in a bid to hit the hay faster?
Try focusing on your breath. Although integral to falling (and staying) asleep, people often overlook breathing as a key factor in getting some shut-eye.
Here are three breathing techniques you can use tonight to help you fall asleep faster, calm your mind, and get a better night’s sleep.
1. Try the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
If you’ve ever Googled breathing techniques, you’ve likely seen the 4-7-8 breathing method. The breathing technique consists of inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for seven, then exhaling for eight long counts.
The technique, which is a variation of the yoga breathing technique, pranayama, boosts the amount of oxygen in your body. When we hold our breath for extended periods, it allows our body to replenish oxygen quicker.
Holding our breath also helps our bodies level out and find balance, instead of going into a flight-or-fight mode (which we do when we feel stressed!).
If you tend to have a busy mind while you lay in bed at night, the 4-7-8 technique can be particularly useful in getting out of your head. When we focus on our breath, it pulls us away from our minds and forces us to focus on the present.
Here’s how to apply the 4-7-8 breathing technique:
- Begin to breathe as normal with your lips parted.
- Take a deep exhale. As you exhale, make a whoosh sound with your breath.
- Close your lips and inhale through only your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale through your mouth and make the same whoosh sound again.
- Repeat the entire cycle four times.
2. Give Nasal Breathing a Shot
Although many of us fail to realize it, we overbreathe every day. Different from hyperventilating, overbreathing involves excessive exhaling, which results in a below-average C02 blood level. And when our oxygen levels are compromised, it increases our body’s overall stress level — which affects our sleep.
Most of the time, we overbreathe because we breathe too much through the mouth. One way to counter this, is to focus on breathing through only your nose. Nasal breathing is more difficult than open mouth breathing, since it presents more obstructions and resistance.
But the better able we can control our oxygen intake, the better able we can regulate our bodies and achieve restorative sleep.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to nasal breathing:
- Sit crossed-legged (can be on your bed if you’re about to fall asleep).
- Place on hand on your knee and one hand on your nose.
- Exhale and close your right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril.
- Open your right nostril and exhale as you close your left nostril.
- Alternate between nostrils for five minutes.
3. Lean into Belly Breathing
When we breathe, our chest rises with the cadence in which we’re breathing. One trick to help people fall into a deeper state of relaxation faster is to focus on taking deep breaths through the belly, rather than shallow breathing in the chest.
To start, lie down in bed. Point your toes, flip your palms up towards the ceiling, and get into a comfortable position.
Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. This will help you gauge which hand rises higher than the other—the hand on your belly should rise higher than the hand on your chest.
Begin by taking deep inhales through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. As you breathe, it should feel as though your belly is filling up. When you exhale, imagine as if you’re pushing the air out of your stomach.
Breathing through your belly helps slow down your heart rate and blood pressure, plus it reduces the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, you have in your body. Deep breathing also slows down your heart rate, which will help you fall into a deeper sleep than if you have a high heart rate.
Breathing affects multiple facets of our health: it improves athletic performance, combats panic attacks, and keeps us alive. Many religions even believe that breathing purifies both the body and mind.
Like mindfulness, breathing calms the nervous system, which relieves our anxiety and helps us fall asleep faster. Plus, if you frequently wake up in the middle of the night, you can use these same breathing techniques to help yourself fall back asleep too.
It’s National Sleep Awareness Week. To celebrate, we’re giving away a Purple Sleep Suite valued at $5,000, with a Purple mattress, two Purple Pillows, two Plush Pillows, one set of Purple sheets, a duvet, a mattress protector, and the accordion bed frame. Enter to win at www.purple.com/giveaways.