If you experience hindered sleep quality, insomnia, sleep snoring or sleep apnea, a conscious breathing practice can help to significantly reduce symptoms.
Below, is a simple breath practice to implement for 15 minutes before bed.
It’s also effective if you do manage to fall asleep & may sleep for several hours, but then wake in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Then the anxiety can creep in, “you’ve got to be awake at 6am and have a huge day planned and need to get back to sleep to feel fresh when you wake up!” - which, if you’ve experienced this, you will know that line of thinking only exacerbates the insomnia!
It's worth noting too, if there is any kind of breathing dysfunction occurring during the day (and to be honest, due to the current pace, stress and state of society, some level of breathing dysfunction is incredibly common for most of us), this will likely continue into the night while you sleep, until you make it conscious with a regular breath practice and slowly improve the biomechanical & biochemical processes of breathing within the bodymind.
Breathing dysfunction may be indicated by a shallowness of breath, more from the chest than from the diaphragm, a high rate of breaths per minute (broadly, we are aiming for 6 bpm for a rest state. Most of us are breathing anywhere between 12 - 24 bpm).
I’ve experienced insomnia in years past. Both trouble falling asleep, or I would finally get to sleep but then wake in the middle of the night. Back then, I was living in London, significant unhealed trauma held in bodymind, contributing to a nervous system being in a chronic stress/sympathetic tone, much lower resilience to stress and navigating crippling anxiety as a result. I wish I knew this information back then!
And more recently, not so much insomnia, but certainly disturbed sleep as a mother to a beautiful newborn. During that period of time, after I had settled bub back to sleep, I was often using conscious breathing in the middle of the night to trigger the parasympathetic tone of the nervous system, to facilitate falling back into a deeper rest/sleep - which was so needed!
*Please note: in addition to the practice listed below, there are many & varied practices to assist alleviation of symptoms of insomnia. If you navigate sleep apnea, snoring, higher upper airway resistance (HUAR), there are more tailored & specific practices that can also assist.
Practice for 15 minutes (or more) before bed, or if awake in middle of night
Breathing in & out through your nose (nasal breathing is a key aspect of this practice)
Bring your focus to the sensation of cool air entering the nose & warm air leaving the nose
Feel your body resting heavily against your seat or bed. Feel how supported you are by your seat or bed.
Now, focus on bringing the breath down into your belly. Feel your belly and your lower ribs expanding beautifully with each inhale & contracting with each exhale
And slooooowly exhaling. Extending your exhale for longer each time
Add a gentle hum on the exhale - this stimulates the vagus nerve, which is the 10th cranial nerve connecting gut and brain.
Your mind may wonder during this practice. That’s ok, gently return the focus to the breath, over and over.
The aim to is to shift the focus from mind to breath/body, to gently slow the rate of breathing right down (when in a stress state, we can typically be over breathing & breathing much shallower from the chest), to extend the exhale, longer than the inhale, and to breathe into the diaphragm.
The breathing is light/gentle, slow and deep.
No breath counts necessary. Keeping it nice and simple as you, hopefully, float off into a blissful rest.
You may feel the want to suck in more air, that’s a natural & desired reaction to this practice and is called air hunger. This is a result of building up CO2 in the blood, which actually helps to stimulate the vagus nerve & increase tolerance to CO2, which also contributes to greater overall function of breathing.
If you fall asleep but wake again in middle of night, do this again and again. Over time, you will slowly bring the bodymind into balance, down regulating the stress response, to facilitate longer term healing.
When engaging a practice like this, also consider good sleep hygiene practices too. Like, ensuring your bedroom is dark, quiet & a comfortable temperature. Removing all electronic devices from your bedroom. Trying not overstimulate yourself before bed with a strenuous physical workout, stressful work task or phone call. Avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed, and so on.
The outcome of the above (or any conscious) breath practice:
We are stimulating vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic tone of the nervous system (rest, digest & heal) and allowing bodymind to slip into deep rest, among other miraculous biochemical processes unfolding to help bring you into a rest state.
A regular practice like this can help to improve overall function of breathing, increase resilience to stress, improve mental health, reduce inflammation, release tension, increase circulation, move the lymphatic system, facilitate detoxification processes in the bodymind, improve posture, increase vitality, improve immune function and more!
Holly is a functional breath coach, having studied various ancient and modern teachings over the past 3.5 years.
A functional breath coach focuses on restoring function of breathing via simple & tailored breath practices (very different to a Wim Hof or holotropic style of practice, also brilliant for many reasons), which in turn has myriad and far reaching health benefits for the bodymind and spirit.
Reach out if you would like to book a functional breath work session with Holly. Sessions are currently offered via Zoom, from the comfort of your own home or office.