8 breathing techniques to help fall asleep at night

8 breathing techniques to help fall asleep

It is crucial to have an adequate amount of sleep every night. On average, it is recommended for an adult to have anywhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep. If you don’t regularly get enough sleep each night you might have insomnia, a common sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. However, you may just want to try and get a better night sleep and for that there are different breathing techniques that can be can be helpful in the quest for better sleep. 

Below, I have shared a list of soothing breathing techniques to help you regain control over your sleep and find the restful nights you deserve.

Before you get started

There are several common culprits behind the struggle to fall asleep. The stimulating effects of caffeine, can disrupt our natural sleep rhythms, making it challenging to achieve the restful slumber we need to thrive. Late-night exposure to the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with our circadian rhythms, keeping us tossing and turning in bed. Additionally, the relentless pressures and stresses of daily life have been linked to sleep disturbances, as the National Health Service (NHS) noted. These factors collectively disrupt our ability to achieve the rejuvenating sleep essential for our well-being.

So before trying any breathing techniques it might be worth seeing if there is anything you can do to help you fall asleep naturally. Learn more: What should you do if you can’t sleep?

Each method below, from the simple yet effective 4-7-8 breathing to the soothing melodies of Bhramari Pranayama, offers a unique approach to calming your mind, reducing stress, and guiding you into a peaceful sleep.

Technique 1: 4-7-8 Breathing

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a simple yet effective method that harnesses the power of your breath to induce relaxation and prepare your body for rest. This technique focuses on specific breath counts, helping you feel calm and reduce stress.

  1. Empty your lungs completely by letting your lips part and audibly exhaling through your mouth.
  2. Keeping your mouth closed, inhale quietly through your nose while counting to 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 8.
  5. Repeat this cycle around 6 times before returning to normal breathing.

Technique 2: Belly Breathing

Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a technique that emphasises breathing deeply into your diaphragm (the muscle below your ribcage) rather than shallowly into your chest. This method encourages a more relaxed and efficient breath pattern, helping to alleviate tension and anxiety.

  1. Sit or lie comfortably with one hand on your chest and the other slightly above your belly button.
  2. Take a deep breath through your nose, ensuring the hand on your chest stays still while the one above your belly button rises with your breath.
  3. Exhale gently, allowing the hand on your belly to fall.
  4. Count each breath, ensuring you feel your hand rising and falling while breathing only with your diaphragm. After 20 belly breaths, relax and breathe normally.

Technique 3: Buteyko Breathing

The Buteyko breathing technique is an approach that emphasises nasal breathing and reduces the volume of your breath. By practising this method, you can regulate your breath to improve oxygen utilisation, reduce anxiety, and promote a state of deep sleep.

  1. Sit or lie comfortably with your mouth gently closed.
  2. Take a gentle, controlled breath in through your nose, emphasising diaphragmatic breathing.
  3. Exhale slowly and steadily through your nose, maintaining a calm and relaxed pace.
  4. Hold your nostrils gently closed for a brief moment without straining.
  5. Release your nostrils and inhale gently through your nose again, focussing on diaphragmatic breathing.
  6. Continue this cycle for 5-10 minutes, gradually extending breath holds as you become more comfortable.
  7. Conclude with a few moments of normal breathing and relaxation.

Technique 4: Box Breathing

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a simple yet powerful technique designed to create a sense of balance and calm. This method involves equal counts for inhalation, holding the breath, exhalation, and holding the breath again, forming a square pattern. Following this pattern allows you to regulate your breath and ease your mind.

  1. After an exhale, inhale slowly through your nose while counting to 4.
  2. Hold your breath for another count of 4.
  3. Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
  4. After exhaling, hold your breath for one final count of 4.
  5. Repeat this breathing pattern as needed.

Technique 5: Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, a component of traditional yoga practice, is a soothing breathing technique that centres on deliberate airflow regulation through each nostril. This method aims to balance the body’s energy and calm the mind by alternating the breath between the left and right nostrils.

  1. Blocking your right nostril with your right thumb, slowly breathe in through your left nostril for 6 seconds.
  2. Block your left nostril with your index finger while holding your breath for 6 seconds.
  3. Unblock your right nostril and breathe out through your right nostril for 6 seconds.
  4. Breathe in with your right nostril for 6 seconds.
  5. Block your right nostril with your thumb and hold your breath for 6 seconds.
  6. Unblock your left nostril and breathe out through your left nostril for 6 seconds.
  7. Repeat as many times as needed.

Technique 6: Bhramari Pranayama Breathing

Bhramari Pranayama, often called “Bee Breath”, is a unique and tranquil breathing technique derived from the yoga world. This method involves the controlled production of a humming sound while breathing, which can help soothe the mind and relax the body. By incorporating Bhramari Pranayama into your bedtime routine, you can create an atmosphere of inner peace conducive to a restful night’s sleep.

  1. Sit comfortably and place your thumbs over your ears to block outside sounds.
  2. With your thumbs covering your ears, place your index fingers above your eyebrows and use the remaining fingers to hold your eyes closed.
  3. Take a deep inhale, then exhale slowly through the nose while humming or buzzing and focus on the area between your eyebrows.
  4. Repeat this breathing exercise as needed for relaxation.

Technique 7: Three-Part Breathing Exercise

Three-part breathing, or Digra Pranayama, is a calming breathing technique rooted in yoga traditions. It involves a systematic pattern of breathing that engages and expands your three major lung areas – lower, middle, and upper. This technique promotes a sense of fullness and relaxation in each breath, helping to alleviate tension and anxiety, making it an effective tool for preparing the body and mind for a night of restful sleep.

  1. Find a comfortable seated or lying position with your back straight and hands relaxed on your lap or by your sides.
  2. Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen (lower lungs).
  3. Continue inhaling and filling your ribcage (middle lungs).
  4. Complete the inhalation by expanding your upper chest (upper lungs).
  5. Hold your breath briefly at the peak of inhalation
  6. Exhale slowly and completely, emptying your lungs from top to bottom.
  7. Pause briefly before the next inhalation.
  8. Repeat this pattern for several minutes to promote relaxation and prepare for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Technique 8: Papworth Method

The Papworth Method is a well-established technique emphasising nasal breathing and diaphragmatic breath control. It encourages conscious and coordinated breath patterns, leading to relaxation, reduced stress, and improved respiratory efficiency. To fully understand and benefit from the Papworth Method, it is strongly recommended to seek the guidance of a certified Papworth Method practitioner. They can offer personalised coaching and ensure you apply the correct technique. In the meantime, here’s a basic overview of a simplified practice that you can try:

  1. Sit or lie down in a relaxed and comfortable posture.
  2. Focus on breathing through your nose, emphasising nasal breathing over mouth breathing.
  3. Practise diaphragmatic breathing, where you breathe deeply into your tummy, allowing your diaphragm to move in a controlled manner.
  4. Pay attention to the even and controlled flow of your breath. Inhale and exhale at a steady, rhythmic pace.
  5. Be mindful of your breath, ensuring that each breath cycle is smooth, calm, and under your conscious control.

Getting started trying these breathing techniques

How you should incorporate these techniques into your bedtime depends on flexibility. We are all different, and what works for one may not be the ideal choice for another. Try each method for a few nights to determine which resonates most with your body and mind. Some may settle on one technique, while others may rotate through different techniques on different days. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; the key is to explore, experiment, and adapt to find the best approach for you.

How can Dr Mistry help?

Our days are often filled with distractions, work and other life pressures, which leaves the nighttime and sleep to be one of the only times of the day we have to ourselves. Capitalising on this and ensuring we receive adequate and high-quality sleep is paramount. The above breathing techniques are designed to help you relax before you sleep, and ease the stresses of the day.

If you feel the above techniques have not improved your sleep, and you are worried that you might have an underlying sleep condition, please get in touch. As a sleep physician and psychiatrist, we can offer an assessment to help identify the root cause and formulate a treatment plan to get your sleep back on track.



The articles in the Sleep Psychiatrist blog have been written by Dr Dipesh Mistry. They are for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be regarded as medical advice. Always seek advice from your sleep physician, personal physician, psychiatrist, or any other suitably qualified healthcare professional in relation to any interventions or treatment for your sleep, mental health or physical health.

Share the Post: