Top 3 breathing exercises for better sleep

Esther Ekhart shares her top 3 bedtime breathing exercises to ensure a good night's rest.

esther ekhart yoga relaxation

We all know the importance of sleep. Lack of sleep has implications for our mental health and immune system. Not enough sleep can make us feel grumpy, groggy and puts us at risk of developing a worryingly long list of diseases. Enough sleep makes us feel energetic, positive and alert.

General tips to improve sleep

It’s a good idea to go offline in the evenings. A couple of hours before you go to bed, turn off your wi-fi and electronic devices. If you still want to practise your yoga/meditation or Yoga Nidra with one of our amazing teachers, use our app where you can download the classes you want to do and practise them offline. Or follow an audio only class. That’s already a step in the right direction.

Whatever you decide to do, keep it calm, slow and mindful. Less is more when you approach bedtime. I like to move around a bit before going to bed, stretching out my body for 5 minutes or so, in combination with mindful breathing (scroll down to practise my 10-minute Bedtime routine). This helps to release the big muscle groups and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest and digest response. When in bed I’m either asleep before I know it, or I do a breathing exercise to help me fall asleep more quickly. 

My 3 favourite bedtime breathing exercises

1. Count your exhalations

Count your exhalations, from 5 down to 1 and start again when you reach 1. Allow the breath to flow evenly in and out and when your mind wanders (which it almost certainly will), guide your attention back to the count of your exhalation.

2. Lengthen your exhale

Try to exhale slowly whilst relaxing all of the muscles in your body at the same time. This activates the rest and digest part of the nervous system. The exhale can be 1.5 or 2 times longer than the inhale. Make sure your breath still feels relatively comfortable otherwise you’ll feel more stressed and agitated, rather than less so. 

3. Left nostril breathing

(To be done only when you can breathe easily and comfortably through your left nostril). The left side of our body represents the moon channel; the more cooling and introverted aspects of ourselves. The right side represents the sun channel with more heating and extroverted characteristics. In this technique, lie on your right side, and with your right thumb block your right nostril. As you breathe in and out of your left nostril, feel how you are cooling and calming your body. Do this for 3-5 minutes. Then return to your natural breath.

Alternative option

  • Alternate nostril breathing

Another option is to sit up on the side of the bed with your soles of the feet on the floor. Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril, next close the left nostril with your ring and little finger and exhale out through the right nostril. Repeat, inhaling through the left nostril while closing the right and exhaling through the right nostril while closing the left. This technique is also helpful to get you back to sleep when you have woken up.

Also, try James Reeves’ class I woke up and can’t get back to sleep

Explore these 3 techniques, until you will find one that works best for your system. 

Happy sleeping, yogis!

Esther x

Bedtime routine – 10 mins

Yoga before bed doesn’t have to take long, even 5 minutes will make a big difference to your sleep. In this class, Esther shows you a few poses to practise before you step into bed, plus a breathing exercise whilst in bed.

10 days of bedtime yoga – Yoga for Better Sleep Program

All classes are around 10 – 15 minutes long, mixing Hatha and restorative yoga to help you unwind before bed. 

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Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.