Written by Jennifer Hines Alaska Sleep Education Center

Sometimes falling asleep is difficult. It’s hard to unwind from a long day of work, chores, kids, and other responsibilities. We lie in bed awake thinking of what we have to do tomorrow, toss and turn in our beds trying to get comfortable, and when we do finally manage to fall asleep, we have stress dreams about the next day’s activities and responsibilities. It’s a dangerous, exhausting cycle that pushes many to invest in sleep masks, earplugs, and over the counter medicine to help us fall asleep, all of which lose their effectiveness over time.

One of the keys to getting into a state in which your body can prepare for sleep is to simply relax. However, much easier said than done. Some of us just don’t feel programmed to relax, or have way too much going on in our lives to truly ever feel relaxed. This blog post won’t necessarily help cross off items on your To Do list, but it will help you find ways to quickly get your body into a preferable relaxed state.

Yoga breathing exercises are an excellent way to calm your body and achieve a relaxed state. You can start by doing the alternate nostril breathing technique. To perform this exercise, sit up in your bed in a comfortable position and rest your left hand on your leg. Your right hand will be used to close your nostrils.

The idea is to take a deep breath through your mouth and exhale through your nose, alternating between your left and right nostril. Start with constricting the flow of air through your right nostril first, and then your left. Make sure to follow the four second rule for each phase of this exercise. Inhale for a count of four, pause for a count of four, and then exhale through alternating nostrils for a count of four. Repeat as many rounds as needed, making sure to complete both right and left nostrils each round.

Dr. Andrew Weil offers a holistic approach that you can perform anytime, anywhere. Dr. Weil, a Harvard University Medical School grad, is a physician and spokesperson for holistic health and integrative medicine practices. He teaches that 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, also called the Relaxing Breath, serves as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. And unlike sleep aids which lose their effectiveness over time, those practicing the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise experience notable effectiveness with practice.

To perform the 4-7-8 method, Dr. Weil recommends that while learning the exercise that you sit with your back straight. However, once you are familiar with these steps, this can certainty be used lying down in your bed as well.

To begin, place and keep the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth for the duration of the exercise. Next, perform these steps:

  • Completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Next, hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Then Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.

These steps consist of one breath. Repeat this process three more times for a total count of four breaths. Dr. Weil iterates that the exact time you spend on each step is not as important as the ratio of 4-7-8, or simply put, if the count of four in your head is really two or three seconds real time, no big deal as long as the count to 7 and 8 are done at the same pace.

With enough practice, you’ll be able to perform this exercise whenever necessary. However, Dr. Weil cautions not to perform this exercise unless you really want to put yourself into a relaxed state. It is not recommended to perform this exercise while driving or performing any other task or activity that requires attentiveness.

If all the counting and steps seems too complex and you’re looking for something easier, deep breathing exercises are also very helpful. A very simple way to perform this technique is to lie down on your bed facing the ceiling with your legs extended and arms at your side. Next, take a very deep breath and imagine that your lungs are balloons and you’re filling them to capacity. Then exhale, completely deflating the balloon. Repeat as often as needed.

The best advice for finding ways to enhance your sleep method and get your body in a more relaxed state is to visit us here at Alaska Sleep Clinic. If you live in the Anchorage area, click on the link below to schedule an appointment to visit with sleep professionals.

Keywords: sleep, yoga breathing, relaxation