Breathing techniques for sleep

6 min read

Have you ever used breathing techniques to get to sleep? They can be very effective and come highly recommended by medical professionals. In this blog, we’ll be looking at some different methods you can try out to get to sleep and some other general advice for those nights when sleep is hard to come by.

What are breathing techniques and how do they work?

Dr. Andrew Weil, Clinical Professor of Medicine and renowned expert in integrative medicine, is a key promoter of breathing techniques to aid sleep. He believes that they help by circulating oxygen around the body which does a world of good for the organs and also helps to ‘reset’ the body if it is in an anxious or tense state.

One of the key struggles when dealing with anxiety and stress in life is the feeling that you are out of control. Weil believes that by using this technique, you can regain control and change the outcome of your behavior. If you are experiencing the “fight or flight” response, this practice can help to restore order in your body so you can regain the state of calm needed for sleep.

Weil has said that breathing techniques help with:

  • reducing anxiety
  • helping a person get to sleep
  • managing cravings
  • controlling or reducing anger responses

They act as a reset button and help to stop stress and anxiety responses while letting us get our bodies back to neutral, thus preparing us to fall asleep.

What is the 4-7-8 Technique?

The 4-7-8 Technique is a way of slowing down our breathing and holding in the breath for a longer than usual period of time, meaning that our bodies can make the most of that oxygen. It can help to bypass anxious thoughts and put the body into a relaxed state, by focusing on the external goal of controlling our breathing.

How do I practise the 4-7-8 Technique?

Make sure you are lying down and ready for sleep.

Prepare for the practice by resting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth. Try to keep your tongue in place throughout the practice. It will take a bit of practice to keep from moving your tongue when you exhale. Exhaling during 4-7-8 breathing can be easier for some people when they purse their lips.

The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:

First, open your lips slightly. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.

Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.

Then, hold your breath for seven seconds.

Finally, make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.

You can find out more about Dr. Weil’s breathing techniques here. and you can find a video tutorial of the 4-7-8 technique here

Photo by Aperture Vintage on Unsplash.

What else can I do to get to sleep?

There are other methods to aid your sleep as well as breathing techniques. Here is a quick rundown of some ideas.

  1. Make sure you get in 30 minutes of exercise every day.
  2. Have a routine before bed. Find whatever helps you to wind down and try to repeat this each night before sleep. It may be as simple as reading in bed but sticking to a routine helps to signal to your body that it’s time for bed. It also helps to have a set bedtime and try to stick to that. A similar effect is reported with scents so if you use a lavender-scented pillow, your brain will automatically associate the scent with relaxation and sleep and routine is all about strengthening this association.
  3. Try to avoid blue light for an hour before bedtime – this is artificial light from TVs, laptops and phones. Blue light signals to your brain that it is daytime and can hinder sleep.
  4. Avoid caffeine for 4-6 hours before going to sleep. It can linger in your system for longer than you think and will interrupt your sleep patterns.

If you are still struggling to sleep, try one of the soothing playlists on the Glorify App to melt away your worries and stresses.

What else can I use breathing techniques for?

As well as breathing techniques for sleep, you can use breathing techniques to rid yourself of anxiety and to give yourself a burst of energy. Check out Dr. Weil’s website for more information on this.

What does the Bible say about sleep?

As Christians, we believe that God is intimately involved with our lives and cares deeply about them. Luke 12 reminds us:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

Sleephealth.org claims that 50-70 million Americans are affected by sleep-related disorders, but how often do we come to God in the night instead of tossing and turning? We can be sure that He will have compassion on us when we ask for His help.

Psalm 127:2 says:

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for He grants sleep to those He loves.”

This verse reminds us that we are God’s children and He is our Jehovah Jireh. He sees our needs and provides for them. We don’t need to strive all the time. It can be hard to separate this from our modern-day lifestyle – which is always ‘on’ – but maybe this anxiety is at the root of it. Can we trust God that He sees our needs and provides for them? Do we trust that He is our Father and will grant us sleep and rest? He doesn’t love us for our productivity.  We are precious to Him as we are – because we are His children.

See this blog for a fuller explanation of the meaning of Jehovah-Jireh.

Why are sleep disorders increasing?

As our lives have become increasingly digitalized, we are on screens more and more. This is coupled with the fact that many people are now working from home and the lines between our personal and professional lives are becoming increasingly blurred. We are more likely to work into the evenings and this is coupled with the constant desire to achieve more: whether it be success, wealth or just to meet that next deadline.

Maybe we have undervalued sleep for too long. We may even consider it a weakness to need sleep, but to function well and to avoid illness, the period of sleep is essential. We may fool ourselves into thinking that we can keep running on empty, but really, it’s not true. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that sleep deprivation has been linked to several chronic conditions, so by making every effort to preserve your sleep, you are also protecting your future health.

We hope this blog has been useful in outlining some ways in which you can use breathing techniques to help you get to sleep as well as reminding you how important getting a good night’s rest really is.

Sweet dreams!

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