We spoke to a certified sleep coach for insight into the best breathwork techniques for better, quality sleep.
If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning in an attempt to fall back asleep, you’re not alone. According to the American Sleep Association, about 30 percent of American adults reported suffering from insomnia, while 10 percent struggled with chronic insomnia. And with more than a third of American adults not getting enough sleep, the risk of mental distress and other health-related issues only increases. Luckily, there’s a convenient and calming activity that can give your body the sense of zen it needs to doze off: breathwork
“One reason why folks aren’t able to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep is because their cortisol levels are high,” says Kelly Murray, a certified adult sleep coach and founder of Kelly Murray Sleep Consulting. “They’re in a constant state of fight or flight because of the daily stressors.”
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These stressors can include anxiety, depression, and emotional distress that comes with everyday life. According to Murray, if you don’t effectively down-regulate your cortisol levels — an essential hormone for daily overall health and well-being — then the levels will increase at night and negatively affect your ability to sleep. “So the nice thing with breathwork is that you can do it throughout the day — anywhere you are in order lower your cortisol level,” says Murray.
Here are a few techniques to try for better sleep:
For Murray, simple breathwork techniques are better to incorporate into your routine — they’re easy to do after stressful meetings or conversations. One exercise, called box breathing, helps to regulate the air in and out of your lungs. To start, breathe in for a couple of counts, pause, hold your breath for a couple of counts, then breathe out for a couple of counts before pausing again. Then, repeat.
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“If you feel relaxed after your breathwork, then that’s a really good indication that it’s working,” says Murray. “If you’re doing breathwork in order to sleep better and you see improvement in your sleep, you know that you’re on the right track.”
Incorporating mantras into your breathwork is another way to create a calm atmosphere in your mind. Mantra meditation helps to clear the mind, allowing your body’s natural sleep hormone, melatonin, to increase.
“I think one of the most important things when it comes to implementing a breathwork process is to really focus on breathing from your abdomen,” says Murray. Typically, when we breathe throughout the day, we breathe through our diaphragm, an issue Murray says signals to our body that we’re in danger and that we should be in “fight or flight” mode.
This simple breathwork technique is great for easing tension in your chest or neck area. For this routine, you can sit, stand, or lay down. First, take a nice, deep, slow breath in, before letting it go with an audible sigh.
“You can be quiet with your sigh or loud with your sigh and just find what breath gives you the most relief,” explains Murray. For the most effective results, she recommends repeating three to seven times.
Most of these techniques will work for kids. However, Murray believes the more fun the technique, the easier it is for your children to connect and stay engaged. One routine that works is to have your kids pretend they’re trying to cool a cup of hot chocolate. Have them visualize they’re holding the warm cup of liquid as they take deep in and out breaths.
“You want to keep it fun,” says Murray. “It’s hard to get them to be serious when they’re feeling very emotional so if you make it fun you can snap them out of their bad mood.”