Between the pandemic, political and social upheaval, and now a bona fide recession, there’s an understandable increase in anxiety and fear…and sleep disturbances. If you’ve been sleeping poorly, you’re not alone!
The good news is that we can use our breathing as a tool to regulate and calm our nervous system, and rest easier.
Here’s a list of breathing best practices to follow when sleeplessness hits.
- As bedtime nears, take your breathing intensity down a notch or two. Breathe more and more gently. Our body’s need for oxygen (to metabolize digested food into energy) is directly related to our activity level, and sleep requires only about 75% as much energy as just sitting around. So sliding into bedtime breathing lighter will match the slumber state better.
- Along the same lines, after exercise at any time of the day, decrease your high-octane breathing to a pattern more appropriate for your next destination, which is often a sedentary state in the car, at home or the office. A practical approach is to take your pulse before and after movement, and make sure it returns to the pre-activity level through soft breathing soon after the workout. That will keep your mood and attitude more even-keel all day and allow for easier relaxation at bedtime.
- A specific breathing hack that down-regulates the nervous system is to exhale longer than you inhale. Do that right before bed, or even in bed. (And if you run out of coffee in the morning, a tried-and-true way to build energy is the opposite — to inhale longer than you exhale.)
- Recognize that we humans have a 24/7 breathing pattern — not separate wakeful and sleep breathing patterns. So if you recognize a breathing-related bad habit at night, like mouth breathing, be attentive to how and when that happens during the day and seek to stop or reduce it when you have conscious control. Also, consider wearing a chin strap to keep the mouth mechanically closed at night! Mouth breathing also contributes to snoring, as does heavy breathing. So if you snore, you can also experiment with breathing more gently during the day and see if that makes a difference
- Consider raising the head of your bed with blocks or bricks or books so it’s higher than your feet. When we lay down, the chest and lungs naturally experience extra pressure. Lying flat can also exacerbate nasal drip for some people, and for those with acid reflux, it can allow more acid to creep up into the throat. When we sleep, it’s simply easier to breathe — especially with our noses — if our head is slightly elevated.
- Experiment with sleeping on your left side in the fetal position.After years of research, the late Professor Konstantin Buteyko, a medical doctor and breathing researcher in the old Soviet Union, promoted this.The reason relates to the discrepancy in lung size: the lung which is closest to the bed performs most of the work and, as the left lung is smaller than the right, the volume of air brought through the lungs is reduced, which is optimal since so many people hyperventilate due to stress.
- Eat dinner early! Extra oxygen is needed to digest food, so our breathing is naturally heavier after meals. Don’t eat as the evening moves toward a close.
Thorax Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC459437/# Respiration During Sleep In Normal Man.