Breathing Exercises for Sleep
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Have you ever woken up from an average night’s sleep and wondered why you are still tired? Or, like many people, maybe you wonder why you can’t seem to get any quality sleep at all. Unfortunately, if you can relate, you aren’t alone. The fact of the matter is that one in three adults do not get enough sleep. A study done by the CDC found that over 30% of adults do not get the recommended daily allowance of 7 hours of deep-sleep per night. We all know that sleep is important to our health and we have to find a way to get more quality rest. In this article, I will describe the importance of sleep, why people do not get enough, and how breathing exercises for sleep can help you have more energy throughout your day.
Importance of Sleep
In addition to the amount of sleep we get each night being important, it is also important that we are getting quality sleep. More specifically, we need to get deep sleep. In short, the body goes through different stages of a sleep cycle while you rest. These stages are characterized by slower or faster wave frequencies in your brain. During deep sleep, your brain waves slow down to allow your body to get proper rest. Feeling well rested when you wake up in the morning is all about allowing your body to fully cycle through these stages without interruption.
If you are anything like me I am sure you can admit to walking around slightly fatigued on a regular basis. It seems, as a society, we have come to accept a groggy existence. This is a problem. One or two days of feeling tired every once in awhile is not the end of the world. However, when drowsiness becomes your normal state of being, life begins to lose some of its color. Things just aren’t as fun when your tired.
Additionally, sleep is also an important ingredient in productivity and mental performance. Without adequate sleep the mind does not function at optimal levels. More specifically, when you don’t get enough sleep, you are at risk for mood changes, poor decision making, and difficulty retaining information. For details on the mental effects of inadequate sleep, follow the link below to see what Harvard Medical School has to say:
So, if we remain constantly tired, our judgement and happiness is at risk but these are not the only concerns. Lack of sleep can also have negative effects on your physical health. In the link above, the CDC states that getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night can put you at a higher risk of developing diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Why don’t we get enough Sleep?
Without question, sleep is important but what is stopping us from getting enough quality sleep? For many people I am sure their answer to this question is: “there is not enough time”. By the time you get home from a late night at the office, clean the house, make dinner, work out, and spend time with your family it is already 11:00pm. You have to get up the next day at 6am. This means that you only have the opportunity to get 7 hours of sleep. This is the recommended daily amount. However, it takes the average person about 20 minutes to fall asleep once their head hits the pillow. Therefore, most people do not have enough time to meet their daily recommendations.
Furthermore, if your mind is not ready to slow down its activity and allow you to drift off, your sleep quality will suffer. I am sure we can all admit to spending those last few minutes before bed checking our email or watching Netflix. This type of activity actually tells your mind that it is time to stay active. Therefore, if you spend those last few minutes in bed playing on your phone or checking your email then you aren’t allowing your mind to begin its sleep cycle. Unfortunately, this is what most people do before bed. As a result, we do not get enough sleep because we do not make room for it in our busy schedules and because we do not slow our mind down properly before bed.
There must be a solution, right?
Why Should we do Breathing Exercises for Sleep?
Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to organize our time and make our lives more efficient, the hours we need just aren’t available. In this case, it is important to make the most of the time that we do have.
Part of utilizing this time effectively is timing your sleep schedule to allow your body to fully cycle through its sleep stages. Everyone’s sleep cycle can be slightly different but generally the mind takes 90 minutes to complete an entire cycle. In order to get the full benefits of deep sleep, you must slow your mind down before bed and wake up at the end of a cycle so as not to interrupt your body’s pattern. For more information on timing your sleep cycles, see the link below.
The other important part of securing a restful night’s sleep is making sure to create the proper conditions for your mind to slow down. This means, refraining from electronics before bed. It also means learning to calm the mind. One great way to calm the mind before bed is by performing one of these deep breathing exercises for sleep before you lay down.
3 Breathing Exercises for Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep begins with a calm mind and body. Many nights we go to bed worrying about the stresses of tomorrow. This excites the mind and body making it hard to fall asleep. One way to calm the mind down is by doing a body scan. There are many different forms of body scans practiced in yoga and meditation. In particular, the body scan that I am going to describe is a great breathing exercise for sleep.
Start by laying on your back. Allow your body to sink in to your bed. Take 3 deep breaths. Then, this will sound a bit unusual, but tighten the muscles in different areas of your body one at a time. Starting with your feet, clench the muscles for 5 seconds and then release. Next, you will start to move up your body and do the same tightening routine with your lower legs (your calf muscles). Follow this same pattern by flexing your upper legs, abdomen, chest, arms, hands, and finally your face muscles.
After you have finished tightening your muscles you are now going to intentionally relax them. So, still in the same position, focus on relaxing your feet. Allow them to fall wherever they are. Try to concentrate on not moving your feet at all. If there is a tense spot in one of your foot muscles, focus on that tension and it will likely dissipate. Do this until you feel that your feet are fully relaxed. Once you are ready to move on, perform the same intentional relaxation on your lower legs. Gradually move up the body until you have completely relaxed all of your muscles.
After doing this exercise, I like to lay back and enjoy the feeling that it brings. However, often times it is hard not to fall asleep at the end.
Another, simpler way to relax your mind and body before bed is by doing what I call belly breathing. Like the body scan technique, many practices encourage belly breathing as a way to get the most out of your breath. As a breathing exercise for sleep, you can try belly breathing by lying on your back. Place both hands on you stomach around your belly button. Then, breath in-to your lower abdomen. Inhale by expanding your abdomen. Exhale by contracting your abdomen. It may sound funny but try to keep your mind on your navel. In other words, focus your attention on the rise and fall of your belly button. As you do this more and more you will find that your breathing slows down and it is easier to relax before bed.
Qigong Breathing for sleep
Qigong is an Eastern art form that has many health benefits. One of those benefits happens to be helping you rest before bed. Rather than describing this entire Qigong routine, I think it is better to just watch a video that walks you through each step. Please see the video below:
White Noise Breathing Exercises for Sleep
Have you ever heard of using white noise as a way to calm your mind? The thinking behind this concept is that white noise creates an even frequency for your brain to focus on. When we get stressed and anxious before bed, our mental activity tends to be very inconsistent and volatile. Therefore, using white noise can gradually focus the mind on something consistent and bring you back to an even mental state. Fortunately, you do not have to buy a white noise machine to take advantage of white noise. You can simply imagine a consistent sound while breathing. Try this breathing exercise for sleep: close your eyes and breath in and out normally. When you breathe in say “saaaaaaaaaaaa” in your head (not out loud). When you breathe out say “ommmmmmm” in your head. Do this until you fall asleep. See the video below for a more detailed description. This is one of the most effective breathing exercises for sleep.
Sleep is a vital part of living a healthy life. Additionally, sleep makes life more enjoyable. Overall, the average adult does not get enough sleep. This is because of busy schedules, unhealthy pre-sleep habits, and stress. If you want to get better sleep, you must find the time, plan your sleep schedule, limit screen time before bed, and take the proper steps to prepare your mind and body for sleep. Breathing exercises for sleep are a great way to improve your sleep quality. I hope this post gave you some helpful information about how to get better sleep each night. Please feel free to comment below about your experiences with these techniques.
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