Hectic schedules, chronic stress, and multiple tech-distractions culminate into one thing: insomnia. Continued insomnia disrupts the much-needed nightly repair process, resulting in negative health impacts like reduced productivity and concentration problems, to physical issues like cardiovascular disease and dementia in the long-term. However, for those who are unaffected by standard sleep aids, here are 7 breathing techniques to overcome insomnia and help you sleep:
Based on the ancient Indian practice of ‘pranayama’, meaning ‘regulation of breath’, and developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 breathing technique promotes relaxation and calmness by expelling excess carbon dioxide and maintaining bodily pH balance.
How To:Lie straight on your back or sit against a wall, rest the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth behind the upper front teeth, and slightly purse your lips. Without moving your tongue, exhale deeply through your mouth while making a ‘whoosh’ sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose while mentally counting to 4. Now exhale again through your mouth with a whoosh to a mental count of 8. Inhale again and repeat the entire cycle 3-4 times.
The 2-to-1 exercise helps relieve body-wide stress by increasing exhalation time compared to inhalation time, hence slowing heart rate and tricking the body into a relaxed state.
How To: Sit in a chair with your back straight or lie flat on the bed with arms at the sides and palms facing upwards. Inhale through your nose for 4-5 seconds, or as long as you’re comfortable. Now exhale for half that count while contracting your abdominal muscles to expel maximum air. Make sure to count without whispering instead of mental counting to avoid distraction and breathing irregularities.
3-Alternate Nostril Breathing:
This is a yogic breathing technique known as ‘nadi shodhana’, which defines mouth breathing as stress fuel, and nasal breathing as a body-wide relaxant that quiets down ‘brain banter’ and combats insomnia.
How To: With your right thumb over your right nostril, inhale deeply through the left nostril, pause for 2-3 seconds and remove your thumb. Now place your right ring finger over your left nostril and exhale slowly. This is one cycle. Repeat the exercise for several cycles until you feel relaxed and slightly sleepy or drowsy.
For those who get easily distracted during breathing exercises, face-focused breathing helps redirect one’s focus from their thoughts to the present by gently touching parts of one’s face.
How To: Close your eyes, inhale for 7-10 seconds, gently place your right index finger over your right eye, and exhale. Inhale again for 7-10 seconds, move your finger to the left eye, and exhale. Repeat the process while gradually moving to your nose and mouth with each step. Repeat 2-3 times for the entire face, or do multiple repetitions over each feature.
The buzzing sounds created during this exercise, known as ‘brahmari’ in Sanskrit, help refocus the mind into a more relaxed state.
How To: While making humming sounds with your throat, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Now place your index fingers over your ears to close them off to external sounds and heighten the buzzing effect, and exhale just as deeply and slowly. Repeat for a few cycles.
This exercise uses visual cues to help engage the mind away from racing thoughts and focus on the present.
How To: Close your eyes and imagine your favorite color as you inhale. Visualize this color moving through your body, relaxing everything it passes. Now exhale slowly and imagine it moving back up and out. Try concentrating on each body part with every breath for increased focus, and avoid forceful inhalation, or holding your breath for too long.
Like visualized breathing, this exercise also helps induce a relaxive state using sounds to increase focus on breathing.
How To: Turn on relaxing sounds (white noise), like ocean waves, leaves rustling in the wind, light rain, or a fan, and comfortably lie down on your back. Inhale and exhale normally for a few cycles while concentrating on the sounds. Now inhale, close your eyes, and exhale as you feel your body pressing down into the bed. Focus on the sounds’ rhythm, and count backwards from 10 (each inhalation/exhalation represents one number). Continue for 3 repetitions.
Note: All of the above exercises require regular practice for maximum effectiveness.
While sleep meditation is highly effective for combating insomnia, lack of sleep may also be due to medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea. Consult with your doctor if you experience frequent, chronic or debilitating insomnia that does not respond to any of the above exercises.
You can also book an appointment with a top ENT Specialist in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your sleep-related concerns.
About the Writer:
Yashfa Marrium is a freelance writer and health enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected]