How does the lengthened breathing technique work?
The lengthened breathing technique is basically deeply and slowly inhaling through your nose, and then exhaling through your mouth while making sure the duration of the exhale is twice as long as the inhale. That means you will have to count along in your head.
How can this technique help me to fall asleep faster?
In our recent blogpost about the connection between breath and sleep, we explained how feelings of stress and anxiety trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response. This results in fast, short and superficial breathing and an increased heart rate. When that happens, it becomes very hard to fall asleep, even if you’re very tired. Practicing lengthened breathing is the most straightforward way to signal to your parasympathetic system that everything is okay and that it is time to relax. Once you feel that you’re starting to calm down, it will be significantly easier to make the transition to sleep. An additional benefit of this exercise is that you have to focus on the count and your breath. This prevents your thoughts from drifting off, meaning you can’t keep yourself awake by ruminating and overthinking.
How do I start with the lengthened breath technique?
Once you’re in bed, lie on your back with your arms down your side. Make sure you are in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
If you’re not familiar with breathing exercises, I would suggest starting out with a three second inhale. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, while counting to three in your head. If you notice that you’re rushing the count, it may help to imagine a clock and follow along with the seconds hand. On the top of your inhale, open your mouth slightly and then slowly breathe out through your mouth while counting to six in your head. Repeat this until you feel that your breath is better lined up with your mental counting.
Take a few seconds to check in with yourself. Do you already feel calmer than before you stepped into bed?
Now, let’s lengthen your breath a little more. Instead of three/six, try a four second inhale and an eight second exhale. Again try to keep your mental count steady. And while your breaths should be deep, make sure you’re not forcing anything. You shouldn’t be pushing your exhalations beyond your current natural capacity. Repeat this a couple of times.
If you’re still awake at this point, check in with yourself again. If you want, you can proceed to a five/ten second lengthened breath, but if you feel that the four/eight works for you at this point, you can also stick with that one.
I recommend doing this every evening before you go to sleep. Like with other exercises, you will get better at it the more you practice. After a while, your parasympathetic system will also respond more quickly to the signals you are sending it. Sweet dreams!