3 sleep breathing techniques to help you relax at bedtime

Prepare your body and mind for rest with these breathing techniques for sleep created by Breathe Well author Aimee Hartley

Sleep breathing techniques

Have you tried everything to try to go to sleep at night? Apps? Special tea? Daylight lamps?


Focusing on some simple breathing techniques to help you sleep could be just what you need to help you settle down after a busy day.

Transformational Breath Facilitator and yoga teacher Aimee Hartley says: “Sleeping well is a superpower and, for a large proportion of my life, I felt like I was a ’40-winks wonder-woman’. It was my only gift, which was sadly snatched from me after the birth of my first (and second) child.

“I suddenly suffered bouts of insomnia and restless nights became the norm. I felt that I had entered a dark land, where my nights were overactive and I wandered through my days in a semi-narcoleptic state.”

Those sleepless nights inspired Aimee to experiment with different breathing techniques to ease her insomnia.

Aimee shares some easy sleep breathing exercises to add to your nighttime routine – read on to try them for yourself. They’re all easy to follow and you can test them out to find the ones that work for you.

Unsplash/Mor Shani

Breathing exercises for sleep


Bedtime breathing exercise

What are the benefits?

  • Calms the mind
  • Resets the nervous system
  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system
  • The breath-hold releases nitric oxide
  • Easy to remember

Dr Ben Marshall, respiratory consultant at Southampton University, Hampshire, UK, highly recommends the following breathing technique to help you back into sleep mode.

  1. Lie in a comfortable position.
  2. To prepare, engage in a few rounds of muscle tensing and releasing. Inhale as you tense all the muscles of the body. Squeeze your hands into fists, squeeze the muscles of your legs and arms in toward the bones. Tense all the muscles in your face.
  3. Exhaling through the mouth, relax all muscles
  4. Repeat a few times.
  5. Keep space between the top and bottom teeth and place the tip of your tongue to the hard palate of your mouth.
  6. Breathe 3-4-5 as follows: Breathe in through the nose for a count of 3. Hold the breath in for a count of 4. Breathe out through the mouth for a count of 5. Repeat for at least 10 rounds or until you drift off.

Yawning breathing exercise

This is really simple and will trick the body into thinking it’s more than ready for some deep sleep.

If you wake up in the night, simply start yawning. You may have to pretend at first, but soon a real yawn will emerge. Do this until you have given ten proper yawns.

Get your entire body involved, too: stretch the arms and legs while the mouth is wide, then relax the limbs as the mouth closes.

You will soon start to appreciate all the physiological benefits that a yawn can bring, including cooling the brain and relaxing the body.

Ever noticed how babies blink their eyes as they fight to fall asleep? What if this slow blinking routine is an innate intelligence, guiding them into a deeper sleep? This is a breath and eye coordination exercise to practise, one which will hopefully lull you back to sleep.

What are the benefits?

  • Focuses the mind
  • Prevents overthinking about daily worries
  1. Breathing in through the nose slowly, blink your eyes open.
  2. Breathing out through the nose slowly, blink your eyes closed.
  3. Repeat and, even if you feel you are drifting off, keep blinking your eyes open as you breathe in and shut as you breathe out, for a few more rounds. Eventually you should reach the point where it’s a real effort to open your eyes.
  4. You can bring a breath count into this if you want to focus the mind.
  5. Breathing in, blink your eyes open for 1…2…3…4.
  6. Breathing out, blink your eyes shut for 1…2…3…4.

B is for breathe

This is quite an unusual technique, which came to me in the early hours, and has worked for me during many a sleepless night. The consistent slow breathing in and out of the left nostril will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and cool the body down – a great precursor for sleep. Add the B-word game to this exercise to keep the mind from overthinking.

What are the benefits?

  • Focuses the mind
  • Prevents overthinking about daily worries
  • Helps you drift off to sleep
  1. With your eyes softly closed and your jaw relaxed, find a comfortable position lying down, either on your back or on your side.
  2. Practise some left-nostril breathing: block off your right nostril by 90 per cent (using one finger pressed to the outside of the right nostril, with a tiny space for an airway) and breathe in and out slowly through your left nostril only. You may find that your left nostril is slightly blocked – this means the right nostril is your dominant breathing nostril (so you don’t completely block it).
  3. Breathing in through your left nostril slowly and smoothly, think of a word beginning with B (for instance, “breathe”).
  4. Breathing out through the left nostril, try and visualise this word (someone breathing out). • Breathing in slowly through the left nostril, think of another word beginning with B (for instance, “banana”).
  5. Breath out through the left nostril, visualise this word.
  6. Find a different word with the same letter and visualse it, for each inhalation and exhalation.

Featured image: Unsplash/Bruce Mars.

Taken from Breathe Well by Aimee Hartley. Published by Kyle Books, £12.99