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Breathing Exercises for Sleep

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 03/08/2024

Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep? A breathing exercise might be just what you need.

Examine the interplay between stress and respiration and how long-term anxiety can interfere with restful sleep. Discover the link between poor breathing, stress, and sleep issues and learn why high-intensity exercises may not always be ideal for managing them.

Breath for sleep

The Relationship Between Breathing and Stress

Stress can mess with your breathing, making it irregular, shallow, and rapid.

Irregular breathing can cause imbalanced inhalation of oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) exhalation, disrupting the body's pH equilibrium and affecting sleep.

The Effects of Low Oxygen Levels

Low oxygen levels can lead to fatigue and even cell death over time. Increased CO2 concentration can also cause respiratory acidosis, which disrupts enzyme activity throughout the body.

This makes it hard to get restorative sleep, which is crucial for overall health.

Tips for Managing Chronic Stress

  • Aromatherapy: Essential oils like lavender or chamomile may promote relaxation and more profound, restful sleep.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Incorporating regular exercise, a balanced low-carb diet, and proper sleep hygiene into your daily routine can help manage stress levels effectively.

Symptoms of Poor Breathing Due to Stress

Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your body, including your breathing. Poor breathing can lead to altered pH levels, affecting your nervous system, muscular system, oxygen transport system, and sleep regulation.

Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

Shortness of Breath During Everyday Activities

Feeling out of breath while doing simple tasks like walking or climbing stairs could indicate compromised oxygen intake due to chronic stress. This can lead to fatigue and exhaustion, even after minimal physical exertion.

Heaviness or Fatigue in Muscles When Climbing Stairs

Low oxygen levels can cause muscle fatigue or heaviness when engaging in physical activities like climbing stairs. This can lead to decreased muscle strength and increased risk of injury.

Combat these symptoms with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, walking in nature, or workouts. Studies show they can help reduce anxiety levels.

Oxygen Regulation Challenges During High-Intensity Workouts

Chronic tension can impede the regulation of oxygen intake during intense physical activities, potentially causing shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and even blackouts.

Try low-intensity exercises like walking or swimming instead of pushing yourself through intense workouts. These kinds of exercises can provide physical benefits while allowing you to maintain better control over your breathing patterns.

Benefits of Low-Intensity Exercises for Managing Stress

Low-intensity exercises are a great way to manage stress and improve breathing.

They help you control your breathing patterns better while providing physical benefits.

Incorporating these changes into your daily routine can improve mental and physical health, preventing long-term complications like insomnia or decreased muscle strength.

Why High-Intensity Exercise May Not Be Ideal for Stress Relief

Engaging in high-intensity exercises under constant stress may not be ideal because it further strains an already compromised ability to regulate oxygen intake into tissues.

A more suitable alternative would be engaging in less intense activities like long walks that allow better control over one's breathing pattern.

Oxygen regulation during high-intensity workouts

Participating in strenuous exercises, such as HIIT, necessitates oxygen to energize muscles and enable peak performance.

When stressed, your body struggles with proper oxygen regulation due to altered breathing patterns. As a result, participating in demanding physical activities can exacerbate this issue and lead to increased fatigue, decreased performance, and even potential injuries.

Benefits of low-intensity exercises for managing stress

In contrast to vigorous exercise regimens, low-intensity physical activities can be advantageous for reducing stress and improving overall health.

Some examples of these types of exercises include walking, swimming, hiking, and gardening.

Breathing Exercises for Sleep and Relaxation

If you're struggling with poor sleep, anxiety, or stress-related issues, follow the below steps to try this simple yet powerful breathing exercise to help you feel more relaxed and improve your sleep quality.

  1. Inhale through your nose for 5 seconds.

  2. Pause briefly for 1 second.

  3. Exhale through your nose slowly for another 5 seconds.

  4. Pause again for 1 second.

The key is to focus on slow nasal inhalations and exhalations while maintaining a steady rhythm.

Nasal breathing helps filter out impurities in the air and increases nitric oxide production in the body, which improves blood flow and reduces inflammation.

Importance of Abdominal Rather Than Chest-Based Breaths

This exercise emphasizes diaphragmatic or belly breathing instead of shallow chest-based breaths.

Inhaling deeply into your abdomen allows better oxygen exchange within the lungs, leading to an improved relaxation response.

Here are tips on how to breathe with your abdomen rather than using chest muscles:

  • Sit comfortably with an upright posture or lie down flat on your back.

  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.

  • As you inhale, focus on expanding your belly while keeping your chest relatively still.

  • During exhalation, allow your stomach to deflate naturally without forcing it inwards.

This type of deep breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces relaxation and reduces stress levels.

Combining deep breathing with regular exercise can effectively manage anxiety, lower your heart rate, and improve overall sleep quality.

When and Where to Practice the Breathing Exercise

Reduce tension, ease your nervous system, and prepare for more restful sleep with breathing exercises.

Dedicate 5-10 minutes daily to practicing this exercise and incorporate it into your morning or bedtime routine for maximum benefits.

This breathing exercise is versatile and can be performed anywhere. Here are some suggestions:

  • In the office: Take short breaks throughout the day and find a quiet spot to perform the exercise.

  • Daily commute: Incorporate the exercise during stoplights or traffic jams, or use headphones and calming music while on public transportation.

  • Outdoors: Practice the exercise during a leisurely walk in the park or sitting on a bench surrounded by nature.


The above breathing technique is simple, involving nasal inhalation and exhalation while focusing on abdominal breaths, making it a low-intensity exercise that can benefit physical and mental health when practiced daily.

Managing stress and improving sleep can be achieved through breathing exercises, which can regulate oxygen levels and alleviate symptoms like shortness of breath and muscle fatigue caused by chronic stress. Combining breathing regimens with low-intensity workouts like walking and swimming will help lessen chronic stress and improveimprove overall health and well-being.

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