If you’re looking for ways to sleep better, calm your nerves and improve your overall happiness, the answer couldn’t be more simple: breathing exercises.
It’s no secret that lack of sleep and heightened stress levels are pretty common in today’s modern age, with 1 in 5 struggling to get enough sleep (opens in new tab) and around 74% of the nation feeling stressed (opens in new tab). A common trend that pops up repeatedly from doctors, sleep experts and viral TikTok videos is working on your breathing to ease these problems.
To find out how breathing exercises improves health and wellbeing, I spoke to Dr Elisabeth Honinx, neuropsychologist and breathing expert from moonbird (opens in new tab). As Dr Honinx states, “We take over 20,000 breaths automatically a day, but breathing still doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. From helping you sleep better to reducing feelings of depression or anxiety, breathing can be the secret to living a healthier, happier and even longer life – you simply have to harness it.”
In this article, Dr Honinx shares 5 breathing exercises that harness the power of your breath for better sleep, less stress and a happier, healthier life.
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1. 4-7-8 breathing
The 4-7-8 breathing hack is one of the most well known exercises that people use to fall asleep quicker and combat anxiety symptoms. This technique was popularised in 2015 and according to Dr Honinx, this technique helps you sleep better with studies showing that it “can help slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and even reduce your blood sugar levels.” For more details on this, take a look at I tried the 4-7-8 breathing sleep trick (opens in new tab).
How to do the 4-7-8 breathing hack
Step 1: Sit up with your back straight (if you’re doing this during the day) or lie down on your back (if you’re using it for sleep).
Step 2: Place the tip of your tongue at the ridge of your mouth and exhale through your mouth, making a ‘whooshing’ sound.
Step 3: Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while you mentally count to 4.
Step 4: Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Step 5: Exhale through your mouth while counting to 8.
2. Box breathing
Box breathing is another popular breathing technique, especially for those who suffer with anxiety. Following a ‘squared’ breathing pattern has been proven to be a great way to relax, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed or trying to get to sleep, box breathing can help you unwind, clear your thoughts and connect to your breathing.
How to do the box breathing hack
Step 1: Sit up straight in a chair with your feet on the floor.
Step 2: Inhale for 4 seconds.
Step 3: Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
Step 4: Exhale for 4 seconds and hold your breath again for 4 seconds.
Step 5: Repeat this ‘box’ cycle for 4 minutes.
3. Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a common yoga breathing exercise that’s typically done during yoga or meditation. It’s a relatively simple technique but it “can have an amazing effect on your health, with studies finding it can improve your heart function and lower your blood pressure,” says Dr Honinx.
How to do the alternate nostril breathing hack
Step 1: Get into a comfortable position, either on a chair, the floor or the edge of your bed.
Step 2: With your right thumb, close your right nostril while inhaling through your left nostril.
Step 3: When you’re ready to exhale, cover your left nostril and breathe out through your right.
Step 4: Inhale again through your right nostril and then exhale through your left.
Step 5: Repeat for 5 minutes.
4. Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep breathing technique that may reduce stress and migraines. It’s also meant to encourage you to use your diaphragm correctly when breathing (opens in new tab) and can lower your blood pressure, heart rate and promote relaxation. This hack also involves you touching your body so you become more in tune with your breathing and body processes.
How to do the diaphragmatic breathing hack
Step 1: Sit down or lie on your back with one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach just below your ribcage (where your diaphragm is).
Step 2: Breathe in through your nose slowly while counting to 4. You should feel your stomach pushing your hand out while the hand on your chest should stay still.
Step 3: Hold your breath for a second before slowly exhaling through your mouth while counting to 4, engaging your abdominal muscles to push the air out.
Step 4: Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
5. Pursed lip breathing
The pursed lip breathing technique is designed to encourage you to breathe more intentionally, as it slows your breathing and results in you inhaling and exhaling more air. This hack has been found to make it easier for people to breathe during exercise and benefits those with respiratory issues, like asthma.
How to do the pursed lip breathing hack
Step 1: Get into a comfortable seated position and ensure your neck and shoulders are relaxed.
Step 2: Inhale through your nose for a count of 2 before exhaling with pursed lips to a count of 4.
Step 3: Repeat for 5 minutes.