We spend around a third of our lives sleeping, so it’s important to make the most of our forty winks. Having a good sleeping pattern is essential in recovery, lifting mood and increasing energy levels during the week.


But, if you’re struggling with the quality or quantity of your sleep, the opposite effects can begin to take hold of your day. For those grappling with tiredness, lack of focus, and interrupted sleep, a technique you may want to consider for better sleep is breathing exercises.

Even if you think you sleep well, breathing exercises/techniques can help you get better rest and make you feel healthier each day. To aid you in understanding these, The Recommended has taken a dive into the world of sleep and pulled together a guide to breathing exercises and how they can assist you in nodding off.

How breathing affects sleep

Young woman resting lying in bed

Sleep and breathing expert Dr Mayank Shukla of The Asthma and Sleep Institute explained that breathing affects sleep by controlling how much oxygen reaches the brain during the night. By breathing well during the night, the amount of oxygen you give to your body increases.

This means more oxygen will reach your brain, giving you better overall brain health, sharper focus and increased productivity. More oxygen will be received by your organs and tissues, meaning you’re likely to feel more energised throughout the day as well as have better recovery times after sport.

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if you aren’t breathing properly during sleep, the NHS explains that you can wake up feeling tired and feel as if you haven’t had a proper rest. Lack of concentration, mood swings, headaches, and low mood, is also the negative side effects of not breathing properly at night. If this continues for an extended period, your risk of high blood pressure and heart conditions increases.

Benefits of breathing techniques for sleep

There are both physical and mental benefits to pre-bed breathing exercises, and not all of them come when your eyes are shut. Some of the advantages of breathing exercises can be felt prior to sleeping, and many come throughout the next day.

Mental benefits

Experts from the mindfulness and meditation app Headspace explained that breathing exercises before bed could help us relieve stresses that have built up over the day and make us feel more relaxed. This helps us to get to sleep quicker and means the time with our heads on the pillow is increased. The next day it’s likely you will feel more energised, productive, and less irritable because of this.

Mental health charity Mind also says that good quality sleep, which can be aided by breathing techniques, can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Without good sleep, it’s common for people to struggle with concentration and making decisions, adding to feelings of sadness and discontent. Tiredness might also make people feel they are becoming lazy and make them more susceptible to missing activities which raise their mood, such as sports.

Physical benefits

Research by psychologists from the Massachusetts General Hospital showed that one benefit of breathing exercises before sleep is the calming of the central nervous system. Having a calm nervous system means that your sleep will be deeper and of better quality. Doing the exercises can also help to slow down your heart rate, which signals to the body that you are ready to sleep and can make the process of falling asleep quicker.

As Dr Mayank Shukla said earlier, many of the physical advantages of breathing exercises come as a result of the increased oxygen the body receives during the night as your breathing becomes more efficient. Among these are better recovery times, more energy during the day, a healthier heart, productivity increases, and increased immune system strength.

Three breathing techniques for better sleep

Breathing techniques for better sleep are easy to follow and can be memorised quickly after you’ve practised them a few times. We’ve provided three breathing exercises that can help your snoozing quality. It might be trial and error to determine which works for you, so it’s wise to give them all a go and see which one you like best. You don’t need to dedicate a long time to breathing exercises and can start with 5-10 minutes of controlled breathing each night.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing is one of the most simple breathing exercises to do before bed. It’s really easy to follow and an effective before-bed technique to calm the mind and relax the body.

  1. Sit or lie down and make sure you’re comfortable. A bed would be a great place to do this.
  2. Take your two hands and rest one on your chest and put the other on your stomach.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose, and don’t stop until it feels like your belly is full of air.
  4. Counting slowly to seven is a good guide for how long you should breathe in.
  5. Once you’ve breathed in, then exhale slowly out your mouth until you feel your lungs have completely emptied.
  6. Seven seconds of breathing out is another good guide for the timings.
  7. Repeat this process for 5-10 minutes every night.

Box breathing

Box breathing is also known by the name square breathing and is practised by counting to four whilst breathing in, holding your breath, and breathing out.

  1. Sit or lie down and make sure you’re comfortable. A bed would be a great place to do this.
  2. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds (or four counts).
  3. Then hold your breath for four seconds with the air still inside you.
  4. Exhale out of your mouth for four seconds.
  5. Hold your breath for another four seconds whilst there is no air left inside you.
  6. Repeat this process for 5-10 minutes every night.

4-7-8 breathing

This breathing exercise isn’t as complicated as it might first sound and is instead a great way of lowering the heart rate and relaxing you before bed. The sounds made are meant to help with managing anxiety and counting.

  1. Sit or lie down and make sure you’re comfortable, a bed would be a great place to do this.
  2. Start by breathing out your mouth until your lungs are empty, you should make a whoosh sound whilst doing this.
  3. When you’ve emptied your lungs of air, breathe in quietly through your nose for four seconds.
  4. Then hold your breath for seven seconds with the air still inside of you.
  5. Now exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, for eight seconds, making sure your lungs are empty at the end of the eight seconds.
  6. You should repeat this 4-7-8 technique for around 4-8 cycles each night.

Tips for incorporating breathing techniques into a bedtime routine

Woman doing yoga exercise in the night at home with candles

One of the most effective ways to use breathing techniques for better sleep is to incorporate them into a bedtime routine, so they become second nature. Breathing exercises require consistency, so it’s important to keep up the regularity and motivation for your pre-bed breathing. If you’re finding that you’re struggling to stick to your breathing exercises before bed, then we have some tips which can help you keep driven and disciplined.

Incorporate breathing exercises into relaxing bedtime rituals

By mapping out a time or process by which you go to bed every night, it can help you find the right point to practise daily breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are unlikely to help you if you don’t have a healthy bedtime ritual which involves a period of slowing down and relaxing before bed.

The aim of this is to lower the heart rate in preparation for sleep, and if you're looking for inspiration, examples of activities to add to a relaxing routine include: taking a warm bath or shower, listening to calm music, reading a book, and drinking herbal tea.

If you fancy a bit of stretching and yoga to relax you before bed, then you can look at our guide to yoga mats. By pairing breathing exercises with a relaxing bedtime ritual, you can create an effective routine that promotes relaxation and sleep.

Sleep expert and neuroscientist Matthew Walker says that during the period before you want to sleep, it’s best to avoid hard exercise, caffeine, and screens, as these will make it harder to sleep and therefore make your breathing exercises less effective.

Pairing breathing exercises with other relaxation techniques

To make breathing exercises work better, you can pair them with other, more formatted relaxation techniques. Practising some of these before your breathing exercises will help put your body and mind in a calmer space and can enhance the effectiveness of your breath work. Progressive muscle relaxation is one of these techniques.

  1. You start by taking a few deep breaths and taking a few seconds to relax.
  2. Then, tense the muscles in your toes and feet, tensing them for a few seconds.
  3. Release the tension and relax, and then you can start working your way up the body.
  4. Tense your calves, quads, hips, chest, neck etc., until you’ve tensed all the muscles in your body.
  5. After every tense, make sure to completely relax the muscles and don’t tense too hard or for too long.
  6. Once you have moved up the body, you can stop and start one of your breathing techniques.
  7. By combining breathing techniques with other relaxation techniques, you can create a more powerful and effective bedtime routine.

How to track your progress and monitor results

Once you have sorted a nighttime breathing routine, you should track your progress and results. By recording these, you can identify any adjustments you need to make and monitor what is working for you. Tips to track your breathing exercises include:

  1. Keeping a sleep journal to record which exercises you did, for how long and the sleep quality after these exercises.
  2. Track your sleep quality using an app or wearable device, such as a Fitbit - see our guide to the best fitness trackers here.
  3. Write notes during the day if you feel your mood, energy levels or overall well-being is improved.

Want more guidance on fitness and wellness? Check out our wellness and fitness sections, with guides including how to create a morning routine to boost your mood, best posture tips and tackling tiredness.


Finn ByrneEcommerce Writer

Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.