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Breathing Exercises to Help Prep for Bedtime


As someone who has suffered from anxiety, night terrors, and insomnia throughout the majority of my life I have had to learn everything there is to know about the dos and don’ts of preparing yourself for bedtime. It seems as though for a lot of people no matter how hard they wish to sleep, how many of the pre sleeping “rules” that they follow; sometimes the brain simply just has different ideas. It is important to be aware of the things you can do and steps you are able to take to help combat the thoughts that like to actively take up space in your mind before you sleep. In this article we will discuss different breathing exercises to try, why they help, and when to try them.

Why are breathing exercises before bed important for me?

Breathing exercises can be used as a method to calm the mind and trick the body into a restful state. According to Sari Chait, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and owner of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Newton, Massachusetts. Breathing exercises can help you fall asleep faster through two main processes: “First, they calm the central nervous system,”  “The slow, deep breathing lets your brain know that it’s time to calm down, and this leads to an all-over slowing.”

Sleep is crucial to our daily ability to function. If you are someone who naturally has a hard time disconnecting and getting the amount you require, you may need to consider trying several different methods until you find the correct method to best help you relax. Breathing exercises are key to breaking down the roadblocks that stand in your way of a good night’s sleep.

What are some good breathing techniques to try?

MMC Coast Guard Technique

This technique originated from the book Relax and Win: Championship Performance which was originally published in 1981 but this technique has been passed along and used by many different branches of the military as it provides a “foolproof solution to falling asleep quickly” and has proven to be crucial for soldiers when deployed and in need. I have personally tried this, and while I sometimes struggle to visually imagine myself in the types of scenarios listed, I had great success trying the final method of the fourth step. Like anything else, you will find what works best for you.

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply, relaxing the muscles in your face. Release any tension in your forehead, jaw, and around your eyes.
  1. Relax your body. Start with your shoulders, dropping them as low as possible. Then loosen your upper and lower arm on one side and then the other.
  1. While breathing in deeply and exhaling slowly, relax your upper body and then release any tension in your legs, from your thighs to your lower legs.
  1. After your entire body has been relaxed for 10 seconds, you have to clear your mind. *To clear your mind try thinking about one of the following: Imagine yourself lying in a tranquil field surrounded by flowers and the sounds of nature or somewhere very peaceful. Imagine a swaying hammock under the night sky, or being wrapped in the coziest soft blanket (if you aren’t already) You can think of anything that brings you immediate joy and peace.

If this does not work repeat the words “don't think, don't think, don't think” over and over again for 10 seconds. It sounds a little odd to read out loud or think about saying but it truly words. It helps by keeping your mind just occupied enough to get bored but not to wander.

4-7-8 Technique

If you are looking for something solely more instructional, the next option for a breathing exercise may be one for you. I have tried this one several times. This method was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. It focuses on breathing completely and is incredibly simple to execute and remember. You just follow 4, 7, and 8.

               4: Close your mouth and inhale through your nose, count of four.

               7: Hold your breath for seven counts.

               8: Exhale slowly out of your mouth over eight counts.

Check out this guided version.

Box Breathing

Another similar method is known as Box Breathing. Box breathing which is often also referred to as square breathing has been used in many forms of meditation. It also works wonders on my anxiety. To preform box breathing you will do the following:

  1. Inhale through your nose, do this for 4 counts.
  2. Hold your breath, do this for 4 counts.
  3. Exhale out of your mouth, do this for 4 counts.
  4. Hold your breath, do this for 4 counts.

Repeat these steps as many times as needed. To see this in action, click here.

Other Breathing Exercises

Through practicing the use of breathing exercises and trying different ones, you will start to gain a greater sense of what works for your mind, body, and specific patterns.  I like a lot of guided meditations and practices similar to yoga. There is a great guided breathing exercise that you can view here. Whatever it is that you find through your pre-bedtime trial and error, make sure you are giving it a solid chance. Some soldiers who tried the military method practiced it every day over the course of six weeks before it stuck! Give it a try; the benefits of this practice are so crucial to the balance of your every day life.



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