3 breathing exercises that help you sleep

10 (3 reviews) Rate this page

Trainee Herbalist, Reflexologist, Yoga Teacher, Writer & Product Trainer

02 July 2020

External factors, like stress, affect how we breathe. When we are stressed, several things are happening in our body at the same time. When our sympathetic nervous system is triggered it's as if someone has pressed heavily on the car accelerator. It gives us a burst of energy (increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate) to help us face the danger or stress in front of us.

After the threat is gone, the body returns to normal with the help of the nervous system. Unfortunately today, the threats we face are becoming more and more constant. In simpler times; a bear comes thundering towards me in the woods; it catches me or I escape. The threat is gone after a short while and my nervous system has a chance to regulate so I can de-stress.

The threats we face today are more ongoing, we get stuck in traffic, miss a call from our boss, run a red light and loose our parking space. That's all before entering the office or checking the daily news! Hence, chronic stress is becoming more and more of a problem for more and more people. We see this in the numbers of people with anxiety, depression, insomnia and stress related illnesses. Two thirds (67%) of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep. While 1 in 6 English people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.

There are many ways that we can counter the effects stress has on our bodies and minds. Herbal remedies are one way of helping our nervous system regulate, breathing is another. It's one of the simplest things in the world, we barely give it a second thought but don't let the simplicity fool you. It is a powerful tool. Breathing more deeply allows for more carbon dioxide to enter your blood, which quiets down parts of the brain, like the amygdala, that handle your anxiety response. More carbon dioxide also helps synchronize your heartbeat and breathing. Deep breathing (sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing) can also help you improve your attention span and lower pain levels.

There are many breathing techniques that can calm you down and send you to sleep but don't wait until bed time to de-stress. Our daily life is full of stressful situations. The best way to deal with them is little by little throughout the day. So that, by the time you get to bed, stress is minimal and sleep comes easy. One way to do this is to make sure you are breathing correctly throughout the day.

When we get stressed our breath becomes shorter and shallower. Because we don't notice, we keep breathing this way and becoming more and more stressed. That's why it's a good idea to check if you are breathing properly at various points throughout the day.

So what is the correct way to breathe?

Although breathing is a natural process, there is a right and a wrong way to breathe. The American Lung Association (ALA) provide the following advice on how to breathe correctly.

  • Use the nose - Breathing through the nose can slow the breath and make the lungs work more efficiently. It also facilitates the intake of nitric oxide, which helps with oxygen transportation throughout the body. Breathing through the nose also allows the nostrils to filter toxins from the air and regulate cold or warm air that is too cold or dry.
  • Use the belly - The most efficient way to breathe is by bringing the air down toward the belly. As the diaphragm contracts, the belly expands to fill the lungs with air.
  • Do not overthink it - Although it is useful to know how to breathe correctly, it is important not to overthink breathing. In some people, this could lead to anxiety and shortness of breath.

My Self-Care Tip: Daily Breath Check-in

Checking in with your breath throughout the day is a simple way to make sure you are breathing properly. When you breathe properly you are better able to keep calm throughout the day, which helps you to sleep better at night. Watch my self-care video tip to learn how to easily check that you are breathing properly.

I recommend checking in with your breath at several intervals throughout the day. I tag this activity on to things I do daily so that I remember. When I sit at my desk to start work, as I wait for my laptop to load up I check in with my breath. I do it again, while I wait for the kettle to boil on my tea break. Identify 3 or 4 daily routines that you could tag this breath check on to.

For more tips on sleeping better, sign up to our 6 day personalised sleep program now:

Want a better night's sleep? Get your FREE 6-day personalised sleep programme now

Simply answer 2 quick questions to receive personalised sleep tips straight to your email inbox.

Join Now

Breathing exercises

Once you are breathing properly you can begin to add some techniques to lengthen and deepen your breath. These work well at any time of day but they are really helpful if you are having trouble sleeping.

Remember, these techniques are just signposts to lead you to fuller, deeper breathing and relaxation. If any of them don't feel helpful or they make you more stressed, then you can just repeat the breath check in that I shared in my self-care video instead. The wonderful thing is, even if all you do is notice your breath and nothing else, it will naturally deepen and lengthen so there is no need to over think it.

1. Deep belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing

  • Place both hands on the abdomen, feeling the rise and fall of each breath.
  • Close the mouth and take a slow breath in through the nose, while feeling the abdomen rise and inflate like a balloon.
  • Breathe out slowly through pursed lips, as if blowing bubbles, with each expiratory breath taking about two to three times as long as each inhalation.
  • Repeat these steps for 5–10 minutes. Keep the hands on the abdomen to help improve awareness of the correct breathing technique.

2. Pursed lip breathing

  • Sit down in a chair and relax the neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Breathe in slowly through the nose while keeping the mouth closed. Inhale for 2 seconds.
  • Pucker or purse the lips, as if whistling or blowing out a candle. Exhale slowly for 4 seconds.
  • Repeat the above steps.

3. 4-7-8 breathing

  • Allow your lips to gently part.
  • Exhale completely, making a breathy whoosh sound as you do.
  • Press your lips together as you silently inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale again for a full 8 seconds, making a whooshing sound throughout.
  • Repeat 4 times when you first start. Eventually work up to 8 repetitions.

It can take some time to become more aware of how you are breathing and use it as a tool to destress. If you need extra help while you develop this new skill, I recommend using a herbal remedy designed for calming you down. My favourites are:

My Top Tip:

Prepared using a combination of Valerian and Hops, our Dormeasan tincture is best taken 30 minutes before going to bed to help relax your nervous system and allow you to drift into a deep, untroubled sleep.

"Has really helped me to sleep especially with the advice on the site as to how best to take it for the best results."

Read more customer reviews



Dormeasan® Valerian & Hops

Herbal sleep remedy containing organically grown valerian root and hops. Fresh herb tincture.
More info

What's being asked

I have had a very disturbed sleep pattern lately, but now want to get back in to a good sleep regime. How can I do this?

Observe sleep hygiene tips, and try Dormeasan® Valerian & Hops until your sleep pattern has ...
Read more >

I keep waking at 3 - 4 am with my heart racing and struggle to get back to sleep. What can I do?

Make sure that you are drinking plenty of plain water during the day. A minimum of 1.5 litres is a ...
Read more >

I currently take pain medication long term but I am having problems sleeping. Is there or can you suggest any products that could be used alongside the medication.

If the sleeping problems are due to the pain or the side effects of the medication then you will ...
Read more >

How well are you sleeping?

Answer 5 simple questions in our sleep test for a brief evaluation and some advice.

Take the sleep test

Here's what I recommend

As the A. Vogel Sleep advisor, I recommend Dormeasan®, a natural sleep remedy made from fresh extracts of Valerian root and Hops.

Learn more

Did you know?

The wrong sleep position can not only negatively impact the quality of your sleep, it can also have an impact your posture, your joints, your digestion and even your face by making wrinkles worse!

Find your perfect sleep position

Healthy & nutritious dinner ideas

Get new recipes in your inbox every week. Sign up now

Red, itchy eyes caused by hayfever? Try NEW Pollinosan Hayfever Eye drops

     Receive healthy recipes from A.Vogel      every month.


Receive healthy recipes from A.Vogel every month

Sign up now