I’m a certified yoga teacher and this is the one breathing exercise that always helps me fall asleep fast

Sometimes I’m out before I reach the count of 10

Man sleeping peacefully with his hand on his chest
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Picture the scene: your head hits the pillow ready to sleep but before you realize it, your mind is whirling around in an endless loop of worry. Sound familiar? I bet.

As a yoga therapist and personal trainer, I regularly work with people managing stress and anxiety. I know how essential sleep is for your mind and body, but I also know that slumbering after a frenetic day is easier said than done.

A stressed-out, overactive mind will release cortisol (your stress hormone). While cortisol helps wake you up in the morning, at night it can hinder the release of melatonin (your body’s natural sleep hormone) and delay the onset of sleep.

I tell my clients that relaxing the body is your shortcut to overcoming this hurdle. Connecting to physical sensations in the body is one way of breaking the cycle of thoughts, and your breath is one of the best channels to do this.

How to do a simple breath exercise to help you sleep

This is a breathwork practice I’ve used for years and it’s never failed to help me sleep! I usually turn to it when I realize I’m lost in my thoughts; as soon as I become aware that my brain is preventing me from sleeping, I gently bring myself to my breath and start the practice.

  • Lie comfortably in bed, ready to sleep
  • Start to concentrate on your breath. You might feel the rise and fall of the abdomen or chest. Place your hands gently on the belly if you need help to connect to the natural flow of breath.
  • Follow your inhalation and exhalation for a few rounds without any effort. Then gradually lengthen the out-breath so it’s longer than your in-breath. If you have experience with breathwork and feel comfortable doing so, you can lengthen the exhalation by up to double the count of your in-breath.
  • As you breathe in, feel the abdomen expand upwards and outwards. Breathe out in a long and smooth pattern, feeling the front of body soften and let go.
  • Do this up to ten times or more. Notice how the body and mind feel.

If you are familiar with ujjayi breath (sending the breath to the back of the throat), you can use this on your exhalation to help slow the breath down further.

This simple practice is accessible to people of all experiences, even if you’re a beginner to breathwork, proving that breathing exercises don’t have to be complicated to be effective.

How this breathing exercise works

Slowing down the breath, especially the exhalation can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s resting mode. Using the diaphragm (the long horizontal muscle under your ribs) through abdominal breathing can also help you move into this calmer state.

When the relaxation response is initiated, the heart rate slows, muscles relax, and resources are rebuilt. Your parasympathetic nervous system also supports other systems such as immunity, digestion, and sexual arousal. Bonus.

Try this simple breathwork and see if slumber comes more quickly. Getting sufficient amounts of exercise and exposure to daylight can also help with sleep, so try doing something like this full-body dumbbell workout during the day, too.

Yanar Alkayat
Contributing editor

Yanar Alkayat is a yoga therapist, PT and journalist. Her experience includes 15 years as a health and wellness editor for national titles such as Runner’s World, Women’s Health and Men’s Health.