7 Breathing Techniques to Help You Sleep Like a Baby

7 Breathing Techniques to Help You Sleep Like a Baby

You may not need pills, drinks, or weighted blankets to help you get the sleep you need. You may not even need to spend a cent — simply harness the power of your breath. Certain breathing techniques for sleep may help you get a good night’s rest.

Research shows that deep, slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system — the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system — and reduces activity of the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system. This has several sleep benefits.

“When we regulate our breath, we turn our attention to our breath and bodies, which helps us release outside distractions and find a calmer state,” says yoga instructor Jamie King, E-RYT 500, founder of Flex & Flow. It also helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase levels of melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Ready to give it a shot? Try these breathing techniques for sleep as part of your bedtime routine, King recommends.

Reduce stress, tension, and anxiety — all while falling asleep quicker — with Openfit’s Sound Meditation. Try it here today!

 

1. 4-7-8 Technique

4-7-8 technique -- breathing techniques for sleep

“When your exhale is longer than your inhale, you reduce the activation of your stress state and encourage your body to move into a thrive state,” King says. Here’s how to do the 4-7-8 technique:

  • Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down.
  • Inhale through your nose as you slowly count to four.
  • Pause when your lungs are full, and hold the breath as you slowly count to seven.
  • Slowly exhale through your nose as you slowly count to eight.
  • Repeat these steps for several rounds or minutes.

If 4-7-8 feels too long, begin with a 3-4-5 pattern and work up from there, King says.

 

2. 4×4 Technique

Also called box breathing, the 4×4 technique “quiets the mind with a task,” says yoga teacher and reiki practitioner Ariele Lanning, E-RYT 200, while also shifting you toward a parasympathetic state. Here’s how to do it:

  • Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down.
  • Inhale through your nose as you slowly count to four.
  • Pause when your lungs are full and hold the breath as you slowly count to four.
  • Slowly exhale through your nose as you slowly count to four.
  • Pause when your lungs are empty and hold the exhale as you slowly count to four.
  • Repeat these steps for several rounds or a few minutes.

 

3. Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breath)

man meditating while in seated position on bed -- breathing techniques for sleeping

In a 2021 study, practicing bhramari pranayama (also called humming bee breath) for six weeks improved sleep quality and reduced stress in students. Here’s how to do this:

  • Find a comfortable seated position.
  • Take four slow, deep breaths to ground yourself.
  • Inhale and, on the exhale, make a low-pitched tone (like a bumble bee buzzing). Note how the sound resonates throughout your body as you do this.
  • Repeat for about five to 10 breaths.
  • Finish the practice by taking four slow, deep breaths.

 

4. Diaphragmatic Breathing

This breathing technique for sleep lowers cortisol, reduces anxiety, and, according to a 2021 study of 140 nurses, improves sleep quality. Lanning explains how to do it:

  • Lie down on your back and place your hands on your lower abdomen.
  • Inhale, slowly drawing your breath into the lower belly, feeling it press into your hands — your chest should barely move.
  • Exhale slowly, feeling your stomach fall away from your hands.
  • Continue this deep diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes.

 

5. Three-Part Method

Once you feel comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing, you can take it to the next step with this practice, Lanning says.

  • Lie down on your back and place your hands on your lower abdomen.
  • Start with three diaphragmatic breaths.
  • On the next breath, inhale deeply and slowly. Aim to fill your diaphragm one-third of the way into the breath. On the same inhale, begin filling your rib cage on the next third of the breath. On the final third of the inhale, fill your chest.
  • Let the exhale happen just as slowly, releasing in the opposite direction: First your chest, then your rib cage, then your belly.
  • Repeat this slow inhale and exhale for several rounds or minutes.

 

6. Alternate-Nostril Breathing

This breathing technique lowers heart rate and may reduce anxiety. “Alternate-nostril breathing helps you focus on breathing through the nose, which helps to bring our body to a more relaxed state and prepare for sleep,” King says. Here’s how to do it:

  • Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down.
  • With your right hand, bend your index and middle fingers or rest them gently on your forehead. Then place your right thumb and ring finger on either side of your nose.
  • Take a few regular breaths.
  • Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril.
  • Close your left nostril with your ring finger and open your right nostril to exhale. Then inhale through just the right nostril.
  • Close your right nostril and open your left nostril to exhale. Then inhale through just the left nostril.
  • Continue repeating this pattern for several rounds or minutes.
  • Complete the practice with a few deep breaths.

 

7. Sound Meditation

woman listening to guided meditation -- breathing techniques for sleep

You might also want to consider sleep meditation. These practices help quiet your mind so it’s easier to doze off. Openfit’s Sound Meditation, led by international sound meditation facilitator and musician Scarlett de la Torre, uses various instruments to create a “sound bath” that promotes relaxation.

brittany risher

About

Brittany Risher Englert is an accomplished content strategist, editor, and writer specializing in health, mental health, and mindfulness content. After earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University, she worked at Men's Health, Prevention, Women's Health, Shape, and Greatist before going freelance three years ago. Today she works with brands and publications, helping them create content that engages their audience and builds brand loyalty. Considered a "Swiss Army knife for content," Brittany helps with all things content, from editorial strategy and project management to editing and writing. Her clients include Sonima, Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, Elemental, ZocDoc, Yoga Journal, Everyday Health, My Fitness Pal, and Centennial Media. Follow her on Twitter.

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