The Best Breathing and Relaxation Techniques for Sleep

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Because stress, worry, and anxiety are major causes of insomnia, promoting relaxation can help improve sleep — and breathing and relaxation exercises are an easy way to calm the mind at night.

Create the right environment

First of all, it's important that your bedroom is a peaceful, welcoming place. Sleep will always be difficult if your bedroom is a place that you prefer to avoid.

The five senses

Consider all five senses when evaluating your bedroom for sleep. Make sure the room is quiet and that no light enters it at night; the air smells clean and fresh; your bed feels comfortable; and that the decor reflects your tastes and your personality.

Calm the mind

The “equal breathing” technique is a great exercise to try before going to bed. Simply breathe in through your nose for a count of four, then breathe out of your nose for a count of four. As you get comfortable with this technique, you can increase the count to between six and eight seconds.

Relieve tension when in bed

Progressive relaxation is a great technique to try when you are in bed, ready for sleep. Simply close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for a couple of seconds. Start with your toes and work your way up to your neck. This also can be combined with the equal breathing technique.

Eliminate negative sleep thoughts: Part one

Creative visualization helps create positive thoughts. One technique involves imagining a journey to a peaceful and relaxing place. Use all your senses to make it as real as possible. This is your destination. To get there, though, you need to complete the journey.

Eliminate negative sleep thoughts: Part two

The journey should be difficult – even something of a struggle (for example, hiking a mountain pass during a blizzard). Pay attention to every single detail of the ordeal. When you reach your destination, you will be mentally and physically exhausted, but ready for your reward!

Guided relaxation

The journey-and-destination technique is just one form of creative visualization. If you're struggling for inspiration, try guided relaxation. It's a similar technique, but someone else has done the creative part for you. A quick online search will help you find guided relaxation scripts and audio recordings.

Add in some extras

As touched upon earlier, for these techniques to work, you need to have a comfortable sleeping environment. You also can add some extras to make your bedroom more welcoming for sleep, such as ...

Nature's relaxers

Sound machines or even small indoor water fountains can mask external sounds and encourage relaxation. It's best to avoid candles in the bedroom, but aromatherapy diffusers or sprays with sleep-promoting ingredients such as lavender and vanilla can also be particularly good relaxation aids.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.