I Find It Hard To Fall Asleep, But These Breathwork Exercises Work Every Time

If you’ve been scrolling through TikTok lately, you might have noticed a new wellness trend taking over your feed: breathwork. The practice is making waves for its transformative benefits.
While it isn’t exactly new, it's becoming increasingly popular — and for good reason. If you’ve never heard of breathwork, to put it simply, it’s conscious breathing. There are many schools and styles of breathwork and hundreds of different breathing techniques, Nike Well Collective yoga trainer, therapist and breathwork instructor Zoe Klein tells Refinery29 Australia. "In some cases, there are even different names for the same techniques," she says. But broadly speaking, there are a few core styles of breathwork.
Some of the oldest breathwork practices, dating back thousands of years, are spiritual or transcendental methods that can often be found in yoga practices. "These practices are built upon altering our states of consciousness to facilitate profound psychological, emotional and spiritual experiences," explains Klein. Think yogic pranayama techniques, structured breathing patterns, guided meditation, and somatic exploration to promote personal growth and healing.
Another is stressor techniques that were made popular thanks to the Wim Hof method. "These are geared towards creating a controlled state of discomfort by activating and sustaining a ‘low dose’ stress response," she says. "This enhances the body’s ability to cope with more severe stressors and increases our resilience to stressful situations.” These practices often involve periods of hyperventilation (heavy fast breathing) mixed with breath-holding.
And finally, there's functional breathing or breathing retraining, which Klein describes as a way of restoring the natural way of breathing. "This is a response to the poor breathing habits that have been culturally adopted throughout history," she says. "Poor breathing is a massively under-appreciated health crisis. Learning to retrain the way we breathe is vital to physical and mental health."
Functional breathing is a very gentle and subtle style of breathwork where you focus on nose breathing. A prime example of this breathwork trend is mouth taping, which went viral on TikTok in recent years.
According to experts, there are many benefits to practising breathwork, including stress reduction, emotional release, increased mindfulness, enhanced mental clarity, and improved physical health including lung function and respiratory health. But one of my favourite benefits of breathwork is that it can help send you off to a restful night's sleep.
“Breathwork before bed is one of the best ways to not only fall asleep, but induce a good night's sleep,” according to Klein. “Good quality rest is imperative to our mental and physical wellbeing. We spend so much of our waking hours in a state of stress, because our modern world is incredibly demanding. We know that breathwork gives us a really direct line to our nervous system. So practising some slow intentional breathing before bed is a very helpful way to relax the body, move us back into a calm balanced state until eventually we slip off into slumber.”

So can breathwork actually help with falling asleep?

Well, I can only speak to my experience. But my partner and I often practice breathwork before bed after I fell in love with it in one of Klein's classes. We usually follow the extended exhale method that Klein unpacks below. I find myself falling sleep quicker and instead of having a million racing thoughts before bed, I feel a sense of calm and stillness — which is a huge relief when you're an anxious person.
If you would like to try some conscious breathing before bed, Klein walks us through two of her favourite breathwork exercises for a good night’s sleep.

Breathwork exercise #1

Klein's favourite technique is the extended exhale, also known as the Viloma Pranayama. “This means that the length of the exhalation will be double the length of the inhalation," she explains. "The exhale is like the brake pedal of the nervous system, and breathing out really slowly helps us to feel calm (and calm is the key to feeling sleepy!).”
How do you do it? Start by breathing in for three counts, and out for six. Once that feels comfortable, breathe in for four and out for eight. Continue creeping up the 'ladder', extending the breath as much as you can without it becoming stressful.

Breathwork exercise #2

Another really nice way to induce relaxation and calm is by humming, also known as the Bhramari Pranayama technique. According to Klein, humming can stimulate the vagus nerve which helps the body to exit fight-flight mode. "The vagus nerve provides signals between the body and brain that regulate the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, digestion, mood and so much more.”
How do you do it? Once your head has hit the pillow, take a slow breath in through your nose and hum your exhale. Keep the tip of the tongue resting behind your two front teeth. Repeat this five to 10 times.
Sweet dreams!
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