Insomnia is a serious sleep disorder which can have a huge impact on our physical and mental health. People suffering from insomnia either experience difficulty sleeping or staying asleep. The worst thing about insomnia is that it is almost always followed by functional impairment while awake. There are several causes of insomnia, including stress, anxiety, heart disease, and other medical conditions. In order to function well, one needs at least 6-8 hours of sleep every night. Breathing exercises have been scientifically proven to improve quality of sleep. So in this article, we’ll examine three simple breathing exercises which can help cure insomnia.
As people suffering from insomnia would know, falling asleep isn’t simple. Yet, Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained medical doctor, thinks falling asleep is as simple as breathing in and breathing out. The technique that he recommends is the first technique we’ll explore in this article – the 4-7-8 breathing exercise. The other two techniques are simple Pranayama techniques which can aid relaxation and help us sleep better. According to a medical study in 2013, the participants who practiced Yoga and Pranayama breathing techniques regularly had better sleep quality and less sleep disturbances. Though Pranayama breathing exercises are better performed while sitting in sukhasana (cross legged position) or vajrasana (diamond pose), we can follow the basic principles of Pranayama breathing to aid our sleep.
3 Simple Breathing Exercises to Cure Insomnia
1) The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Here are the steps of the breathing exercise recommended by Dr Andrew Weil. Dr Weil also recommends this breathing technique to reduce symptoms of stress-related health problems ranging from anxiety attacks to digestive problems.
- Exhale completely through the mouth, making a ‘whoosh’ sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose. Make a mental count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale completely through the mounth, making the ‘whoosh’ sound for a count of 8.
- This completes one round. Now inhale once again and repeat the steps 3 more times for a total of 4 rounds.
2) Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodana Pranayama)
Nadi Shodana Pranayama is an extremely relaxing Pranayama technique which can help calm the mind and induce blissful sleep. Nadi Shodana translates to ‘cleansing of the blocked energy channels in our body’. In the book Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar, the renowned yoga master lists Nadi Shodana Pranayama as one of the breathing techniques to cure insomnia.
- Close the right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. Inhale into the belly, not the chest. Inhale for 4 seconds.
- After inhaling, hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Exhale through your right nostril while closing the left with the ring and little finger of your right hand. Exhale completely – for 6 seconds.
- Repeat steps 2-4, but this time start by inhaling through the right nostril while closing the left nostril with your ring and little finger).
- This completes one round. Do a total of 6-8 rounds.
3) The Bellows Breath (Bhastrika Pranayama)
The Bellows Breath, when practiced regularly, is known to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and improve digestion. Like Nadi Shodana Pranayama, Bhastrika is also one of the breathing techniques recommended for insomnia by BKS Iyengar in his book Light on Yoga.
- Take a few deep breaths and keep your mind focused on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath.
- Now Breath in by inhaling deeply, filling your lungs with air. Once you inhale fully, exhale with great force making hissing sounds.
- Do one round which consists of 30 exhalations.
- Complete 8-10 rounds of Bhastrika.
Further reading: Bhastrika Pranayama: The Complete Guide
Along with these breathing techniques, it is advisable to develop healthy eating habits which can help improve our sleep quality. Avoid having caffeine post 5 PM and have your dinner by 8 PM. Also, avoid afternoon naps unless they are quick 15-20 minutes power naps. You can follow these simple Ayurvedic guidelines to sleep better. Improving our quality of sleep is crucial to our physical and mental wellbeing. Don’t underestimate the health benefits of good sleep and try to get at least 6 hours of quality sleep every day consistently.