Could Breathwork Be the Secret to a Better Night's Sleep?

We’ve tried pretty much everything to get a good night’s sleep—to varying levels of success. We’ve turned down the thermostat in our bedroom, taken care to avoid foods that could wreak havoc on a good night’s sleep and even gotten sleep divorced. So when we heard that breathwork—basically, controlling the breath to move our body into a more relaxed state—could help us fall (and stay) asleep, we had to know more. We caught up with breathwork expert Nicholas Pratley to find out how breathing exercises can promote healthier sleep, plus, three techniques to try.  

Meet the Expert

Nicholas Pratley is a licensed Neuro-Linguistic Programming Therapist, Master Energy Practitioner and Breathwork Expert. He offers his Biofield Breathwork method in private treatment and in group classes on the first and third Saturday every month at SAGE+SOUND in New York City. 

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breathwork for sleep
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What Is Breathwork?

Practitioner Debbie Attias from New York's Maha Rose Center for Healing previously described breathwork to us as “an active meditation where we alter the breath to reach deeper states of consciousness and awareness.” Breathwork can take many forms, but the basic principle is to use breath awareness and exercises to boost your physical, mental and spiritual health.

How Can Breathwork Help You Fall (and Stay) Asleep?

Pratley explains that breathwork can stimulate the vagus nerve—the longest cranial nerve in your body, which runs from your brain to your large intestine. “It helps your body switch back and forth between your sympathetic (flight/fight) response and your parasympathetic response (rest/digest),” he tells us. “So, using the breath to stimulate the vagus creates an opportunity to rest better.” He adds that you shouldn’t be discouraged if you don’t fall asleep immediately; continue to work with the breath (practice makes better, after all).

Studies have also shown breathwork to be beneficial for a host of other reasons. One group of Danish researchers found that breathwork noticeably improved the mood of participants, while a study published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy suggested that it might be helpful in treating anxiety and depression. 

3 Breathwork Exercises to Try for a Better Night’s Sleep

Here are three breathwork techniques Pratley says encourage deep rest:

  1. Extended Exhale: “When you inhale deeply and then exhale slowly, it helps to slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure, allowing the perfect space for rest to open. Take a long, deep inhale, then exhale slowly so it's twice as long as the inhale. Focus on allowing every exhale to relax/release each body part and release the day's stress. I love how simple this one is. Continue this cycle for five to ten minutes.” 
  2. Stability Breath: “Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds. Repeat. Also known as the box breath, this is a great way to balance the nervous system and float into sleep. Continue this cycle for five to ten minutes.”
  3. 4-6-8 Breath: “Inhale for four seconds, hold breath for six seconds, then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat the cycle four or so times when you start, then work your way up. We want to repeat the process eight to 12 times. Once complete, relax and allow the effects of the breath to take you. You may have heard the 4-7-8 breath. For many clients, it's simply easier to remember the even numbers, and it works just as well, if not better!”

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...