We’ve all been there. You’re totally exhausted and can’t wait to lay down on your soft, comfortable bed. But once you turn out the lights, snuggle under your blankets, and close your eyes, sleep escapes you.
This phenomenon is so common that drug companies are making bank on prescription and over-the-counter medications. Although there’s no shame in turning to medicine if you have a severe sleep problem, with practice, many people are able to catch some Zzzs by tweaking their pre-bedtime routine.
One thing you can easily tweak with no money and in no time is your breath.
Why “just breathing” works
Because it’s all about the breath.
"I'm a big advocate for deeper, slower breathing at night, as it is a fast way to reduce anxiety and tension," says Ashley Neese, breathwork specialist. "This type of breathing sets you up for a better night's rest."
The following night-time breathwork tips are from people who have been there, and who know what works.
Tavi Hawn, LCSW-C at Hawn Therapy and Consulting, suggests the three following breath and visualization exercises for a quicker, calmer bedtime:
1. Lie quietly and start to slow your breath. Imagine your mind as a blank, white movie screen. When a thought moves onto the screen, erase it and the screen is blank again. After some minutes of this practice, you can easily drift off.
2. Start at the top of your head and imagine all tension draining out of that area. Focus on releasing the muscles in that area. Next, move to your forehead, jaw, and neck. Continue down, inch by inch, until you’ve released all tension from head to toe, breathing deeply throughout.
3. Choose two words to help escort you into dreamland. When you inhale, think of one of those words. When you exhale, think of the other. You also can visualize a color that represents each word.
Another simple, tried-and-true breathing exercise is based on an inhale-exhale technique. Dr. Elizabeth Trattner explains that she learned the followingbreathworkk exercise from Dr. Andrew Weil.
“Inhale through the nose for a count of 4, hold for 7, and make a whooshing noise out for the count of 8,” says Trattner. “This breathing technique resets the body, and lowers both stress and anxiety.”
Other sleep inducing ideas
Many of the experts we consulted about breathwork also suggest other things that could help quicken a person’s sleep sesh, too.
Starting a relaxing, pre-bedtime ritual, such as yoga or a warm shower is effective, says Dr. Neil Kline, D.O., DABSM, of the American Sleep Association. Kline also suggests that a person create a bedroom that’s conducive to sleep and free from distractions. “[Also,] follow good sleep hygiene: keep the same bedtime/wake-time, avoid alcohol and caffeine in the hours prior to bedtime, and don’t watch television in bed,” adds Kline.
Trattner also suggests getting into bed by 10 p.m. (the sleep between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. is some of the most restorative), and going to bed at the same time every day. She adds that ritualized self-care can help, too.
“Keep a pot of sweet-smelling, thickly-textured moisturizing cream by your bed, and before you turn off the light, give your feet a good three-minute massage,” adds Trattner. “This stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that helps us relax and lowers cortisol, the fight or flight hormone.”
And if sleep just isn’t happening, don’t be afraid to get out of bed and try again later.
“If your mind is racing and you feel awake after 20 minutes or more, get out of bed do some relaxing breathing methods or stretching before trying to fall back asleep,” says Keith Cushner, general manager of Tuck.
Editorial note: Abbie Stutzer has written for Tuck.
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