That’s the estimated increase in heart attacks occurring on the Monday following Daylight Savings Time. It’s also why the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, supported by over 15 other scientific organizations, advocates that “these seasonal time changes should be abolished in favor of a fixed, national, year-round standard time.”
However, DST is a significant part of our culture, and many people like having that additional daylight when they leave work. They can enjoy extra family time or have more sunshine for their outdoor hobbies.
Whether you appreciate the time change or not, there’s no doubt that it’s an excellent time of year to improve our sleep habits and boost our sleep quality. And one of the simplest and most effective ways of doing this is right under our noses: our breath.
Breathing for Better Sleep
Interestingly, the way you breathe can positively affect your ability to fall and stay asleep. For instance, slow breathing at about 6 breaths per minute for 20 minutes before bed has been shown to shorten how long it takes to fall asleep. It might also reduce nighttime awakenings and help you fall back asleep faster if you wake up.
The route of airflow can enhance sleep too. Nasal breathing during sleep reduces upper airway resistance, reducing the risk of sleep-disordered breathing. Anecdotally, many people also report a reduction in nighttime bathroom breaks when they begin breathing through their noses during sleep.
Five Breathing Exercises You Can Try Tonight
1. 4-7-8 Breathing
This method was made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil. It involves inhaling quietly through the nose for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds, and exhaling audibly for 8 seconds through pursed lips (like blowing out candles). By making the exhale twice as long as the inhale, you activate the “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic nervous system, preparing your body for sleep.
2. Slow Breathing at 6 Breaths per Minute
This method involves inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 6 seconds, resulting in 6 breaths per minute. Breathing at this rate synchronizes your heart, lungs, and autonomic nervous system, allowing them to work more efficiently. Moreover, the slightly longer exhale activates the rest-and-digest system, priming your body and mind for slumber.
3. Left-nostril Breathing
Yogis have utilized alternate nostril breathing for centuries, and modern science is now confirming the power of these practices. More evidence is needed, but research suggests that the right nostril acts as the accelerator and the left nostril acts as the brake for the nervous system. Thus, by only breathing through the left nostril, we can send a relaxation signal through our body. To use this method, block your right nostril with your right thumb and breathe in and out through your left nostril. You can use this approach with a 4-second inhale and 6-second exhale, or you can simply breathe as slowly and calmly as possible while making your exhales longer than your inhales.
4. 4-4-6-2 Breathing
This method involves inhaling for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, exhaling for 6 seconds, and holding for 2 seconds. Because sleep is so critical for our brain, learning experts Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., and Olav Schewe recommend this breathing method for falling asleep. As they put it, “This type of breathing balances both the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body and allows you to relax more deeply.”
5. Mouth Tape at Night
It might sound a little odd, but using mouth tape at night is an easy way to reap the benefits of nasal breathing during sleep. You can purchase tape designed explicitly for breathing or simply use a gentle paper tape that is easy to remove. If this idea makes you nervous, practice during the day while watching TV or playing on your phone to get comfortable with it. Watch this video for tips on adequately taping your mouth at night.
BONUS—Safeguard Your Heart: In addition to helping you sleep better, a regular slow breathing practice (at around 6 breaths per minute) can enhance cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and increasing heart rate variability—all in as little as 10 minutes a day. Making this a part of your routine may help you bounce back quicker after nights when you don’t get enough sleep.
Breathing exercises are simple yet powerful. Test out one of the five listed here for a few minutes tonight to sleep better and improve cardiovascular health. And if you're having trouble controlling your breath or feeling like your breath is controlling you, resB Lung Support can help get back on track. You can learn more at www.resbiotic.com.
About the Author
Nick Heath, PhD, is an atmospheric scientist, breathing researcher, Oxygen Advantage coach, and type-1 diabetic. His work focuses on optimal breathing for diabetes, chronic disease, and overall health and wellness. Learn more at thebreathingdiabetic.com or follow Nick on Instagram.