Long, high-quality sleep not only makes us feel refreshed, revitalized and more energised, it is also arguably the most essential ingredient in living a long healthy life. Numerous studies show that consistent good sleep (around 8 hours, deep and uninterrupted) is directly correlated to a longer life span, less disease and better mental and physical health. If these are things you want, make quality sleep a priority.
There are many ways to do this. Good “sleep hygiene”, or lifestyle choices that help you sleep better, is important. These include going to sleep and waking at the same times (ideally before 10pm to sleep and about 6am to rise) each day, including weekends, to balance your circadian rhythm and maintain good sleep longer term. Limiting adrenalizing substances (caffeine, sugar) and activities (work, screens) in the hours before sleep has also proven efficacy, as does optimizing your sleep environment to be cool, dark, quiet and device-free.
Though these steps are certainly helpful, there is a less talked about tool that can get you asleep faster than a pill and achieve the quality sleep that you need to feel, think and function your best. It is your breath.
How you breathe in the hours before you go to bed determines how easily you fall asleep, and the length and quality of the sleep you get. This is because your breath pattern directly determines your heart rate and blood pressure, and this determines whether you feel adrenazied or relaxed. Ideally, as you move into the final chapter of your active day, your breathing would naturally slow down, become lower in your body, and lighter in rhythm and volume – this way of breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which settles you into rest and relaxation, the perfect state for a long, quality sleep.
Unfortunately, our modern world and habits mean that most of us arrive to bed breathing in an adrenalized form – rapid, irregular, upper-chest breathing with a tight abdomen. This creates tension in your body and mind, which holds you back from unwinding into the releasing, relaxed state essential for an optimal night of rest.
You probably aren’t aware of your breathing through your day and evening. It might be interesting to explore it more. Regardless of what you find, the following pre-bed breathing steps will shift you towards a state of cellular calm that allows your body and mind to drift into and through a night of deeply satisfying and restoring sleep.
So here’s what to do:
1 hour before bed
- Become aware of your body. Where are you tight, where are you tense? Consciously release those areas – drop your shoulders, release your buttocks, relax your jaw, soften your face.
- Next become aware of your breathing. Release tension from your breath by taking one hand to your belly, one hand to your chest – breathe more into your belly hand, less into your chest hand. Feel your belly expand outwards as you inhale and return inwards as you exhale.
- Slow your breathing and try to stay lightly aware of it as you move slowly through your pre-bed motions.
- Lie on your back with the lights off, ready to go straight to sleep. Again, release tension in your body wherever you feel it.
- Resting both hands on your lower belly with your elbows supported on your bed’s surface, feel your belly rise slowly as you breathe in through your nose, and then feel your belly sink back in as you slowly breathe out through your nose. Slow your breathing down as you focus on the gentle expanding of your inhale, and the gentle releasing of your exhale.
- After a few minutes, explore your exhale more – feel your body dropping down into the softness of your bed as you breathe out slowly. Gently lengthen your exhale, and feel your body releasing more. Internally, say to yourself “down, down, down….” as you breathe out. Continue for a few minutes or until you drift off into sleep.
This practice creates a mind-body-breath connection that releases the tension that holds you back from proper, restoring rest. You need and deserve those eight quality hours each night. Use your breath to get them.
For guided breathing techniques for sleep, stress-management, relaxation, energy, emotional balance and general wellbeing, download The Breath Method app from AppStore or GooglePlay or schedule a session to go deeper into optimising your breathing at [email protected]
Caroline Gamble, Thrive’s Breathing Coach and Founder of The Breath Method
Caroline Gamble is a Yoga Master, Body Worker and Therapist. She is the founder of The Breath Method app, clinic and education centre for optimal breathing techniques and transformation. As Thrive Global’s Breathing Coach, Caroline runs webinars, workshops and corporate training, teaching people how to harness the power of functional breathing.
“The most powerful, immediate and accessible tool for any health journey, is our breath. Whatever the goal, the first step should always be breath-optimisation.”