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Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to help cure your insomnia without having to resort to pills or costly alternatives? Changing the way you breathe at night can help you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

Deep breathing techniques are becoming more and more popular as a natural sleep aid to treat chronic insomnia.  This is an encouraging trend because researchers have found that over 80% of patients are able to notice improvements in their symptoms with non-pharmacological methods [1]. Generally, insomnia is linked with an imbalance of stress, mood disorders and aging that can make it difficult for victims to get a good night's sleep. With more than one third of patients suffering from insomnia also having an underlying anxiety disorder, it is paramount that they reduce stress through any method possible [2]. Altering air flow with the help of breathing exercises before bed time can be that solution. 

Number 1:  Diaphragmatic Deep Breathing 

This technique is scientifically proven to reduce your body's response to stress [3]. Brains are programmed to rely on stressful events in certain situations to force you to complete your chores, get to work on time or even run away from a tiger if we'd still live in the wild like our ancestors. This phenomenon is the well-known "fight or flight" response we are naturally programmed to engage in. As hormones are released during times of stress, our bodies respond with shallower breathing, increased heart rates and racing thoughts from alpha waves in your brain. All these are useful in moderation but when you are trying to fall asleep, these internal stimuli make it impossible to get a good night's sleep.  

Studies have found that if a person practices diaphragmatic breathing for two to five minutes when getting into bed, there will be a corresponding decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, decreased oxygen consumption and more numerous theta waves (the waves you need to fall asleep) [4]. Essentially, breathing deeply tricks your body to turn off the "fight or flight" response and help you relax once again — no need for melatonin pills for sleep or other pharmacological methods. 

Number 2:  The 4-7-8 Breathing Method And The Pranayama Technique 

The "4-7-8" Breathing Method is another consideration for your chronic insomnia treatment. This breathing exercise is a modification of the more popular pranayama breathing. To preform this technique, you must inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then slowly exhale for eight seconds. In as little as four cycles, you will be able to perceive a more relaxed frame of mind and will also train your lungs to hold more air. This can indirectly help with you to fall asleep, because you are breathing less often — a pattern that naturally occurs when you sleep.

Experts suggest this technique must be followed for at least two months, twice a day in order to start noticing these improvements. 

A study conducted to determine if pranayama breathing was actually effective was conducted on one of the most stressed out populations anywhere in the world  — members of the health field. Participants in the study were taught one of two methods, fast pranayama and slow pranayama and studied over the course for 12 weeks to see how they responded to their perceived levels of stress.

At the conclusion of the study, both groups were found to have significant decreases in their levels of stress but only those who practiced slow pranayama were found to also have decreased heart rates, blood pressures and better sleep patterns [5]

It is no surprise that pranayama is found to be effective in reducing stress and is a key component in many yoga courses offered around the country. Yoga targets the cognitive and physiological triggers that can lead to your arousal and inability to sleep during the night. In as little as eight weeks of yoga breathing, participants can expect to have: 

  • Increased total sleep time, 
  • Sleep efficiency, and
  • Decreased numbers of awakenings throughout the night. [6

Oxygen Administration During Sleep 

In some cases, patients may benefit from extra oxygen administered during the night to help them sleep. In one such study, patients suffering from chronic insomnia were outfitted with a nasal CPAP or nasal tube during the night to see if additional oxygen could improve their sleep. At the end of the study, it was found that patients equipped with a nasal turbine using low-flow oxygen had higher satisfaction of their night sleep. The group using the nasal CPAP also reported better sleeping compared to the control group. [7]

A common co-morbidity of chronic insomnia is a condition called obstructive sleep apnea. This condition occurs in patients who are elderly or obese and presents with patients who have non-restorative sleep and their partners will complain of them loudly snoring throughout the night. Patients will complain of day-time sleepiness and can be treated with the same extra oxygen therapy in order to sleep better at night. [8]

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