Fall asleep fast — 3 breathing techniques that help me drift off easily

 A woman lies in bed looking peaceful and relaxed after using a great breathing technique for sleep.
A woman lies in bed looking peaceful and relaxed after using a great breathing technique for sleep.

Looking for breathing techniques to help you fall asleep fast and reduce your stress before bed? You're in the right place. As a sleep writer, I'm aware that stress is a major sleep disruptor. But as a human, I know it's never as simple as 'stop being stressed'. When worries keep me awake, meditative breathing techniques calm my mind and help me fall asleep fast, even if they can't banish my stress entirely.

Breathing techniques can be a crucial part of your sleep hygiene too, along with a calming bedtime routine and choosing the best mattress for your body and sleeping position. Breathing techniques for sleep are particularly good at easing a racing mind and relaxing tight muscles that tend to accompany late night panics. And these techniques are so easy, anyone can try them – and for free.

May is Mental Health Awareness month, so I'm taking this time to reflect on my wellbeing and how stress might be affecting my nighttime sleep. I hope these breathing techniques can help you fall asleep faster when worries are keeping you up at night.

3 breathing techniques to help you fall asleep fast and reduce stress

1. The 4-7-8 method for sleep

The 4-7-8 sleep method is one of the most popular breathing techniques – you might have come across it on TikTok. Social media isn't always home to the most reliable sleep tips, but this method comes backed by sleep experts.

"To lower your heart rate, try breathing deeper and slower for a number of minutes before bed," recommends Dr Hana Patel, resident sleep expert at Time4sleep and AttractionTickets. “You can follow the 4-7-8 method... Using this method reduces cortisol, one of the hormones released when we are excited or anxious.”

The 4-7-8 sleep method is a simple breathing technique. Try to practice it twice a day, until it becomes second nature. When using this technique, focus your thoughts on counting your breath, instead of letting your mind wander. Here's what to do:

1. Get into a comfortable position
2. Breathe in through the nose for four seconds
3. Hold that breath for seven seconds
4. Exhale through the mouth for eight seconds
5. Repeat up to four times

If you suffer from asthma or another respiratory condition, speak to your healthcare professional before practicing the 4-7-8 technique or any of the breathing methods in this guide.

2. Belly breathing for sleep

Studies have shown that deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help reduce feelings of anxiety, but I've noticed that when I'm stressed my breathing often becomes shallow. This in turn makes me feel more stressed. Belly breathing is a technique to combat the rapid breaths that often accompany feelings of heightened anxiety.

Belly breathing helps you to slow your breathing, returning it to a steady and soothing pattern. As you focus on the motion of your breath, this technique draws you back into your body, which is helpful if racing thoughts are leaving you a little disorientated.

Here's how to do belly breathing (sometimes known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing):

1. Get into a comfortable position lying on your back
2. Place one hand flat on your belly and the other on your chest
3. Breathe in deeply and feel as the hand on your belly rises
4. Exhale and feel the hand on your belly drop as the one on your chest rises
5. Keep this up for a few minutes / roughly 20 breaths

Woman asleep in bed, lying on her back
Woman asleep in bed, lying on her back

3. Moon breathing

There's some evidence to suggest that the full moon can disrupt sleep, but the moon breathing technique actually helps you drift off by regulating breathing patterns to promote relaxation.

Moon breathing is sometimes referred to as alternate nostril breathing, so that should give you some idea of what this technique entails. By alternating which nostril you breathe through, the moon breathing technique helps channel focus to distract you from stressful thoughts.

And it comes expert-approved. Dr. Patel describes moon breathing as “an example of a tried and tested breathing technique for relaxation. And anything that helps us to focus and relax is beneficial for our sleep." Here's what you need to do to use moon breathing to lower stress:

1. Lie down in a comfortable position and relax your face muscles
2. Bring your right hand up to your face
3. Cover your right nostril with your thumb
4. Inhale through your left nostril
5. Uncover your right nostril while covering your left nostril
6. Exhale through right nostril
7. Repeat the technique for several minutes, until you're feeling calmer

A close up image of a woman's face practicing alternate nostril breathing
A close up image of a woman's face practicing alternate nostril breathing

How to use breathing techniques to sleep better and stress less

While these breathing techniques can help lower stress, don't just save them for the times anxiety is keeping you awake. Regular practice will help these techniques come easier, so when stressful thoughts are disturbing your sleep, you'll find it easier to use deep breathing to calm down.

Incorporate breathing techniques into your nighttime routine. When you're in bed, try engaging in a few minutes of relaxing breathing before settling down for sleep. You might find it can help you drift off quicker, even when you aren't feeling stressed.

If you're mid-way through a routine and your mind starts to wander while your shoulders get tight, try not to get frustrated. Instead, acknowledge your drifting thoughts and then return to where you were in the technique.

The beauty of these breathing techniques is that they're easy. You can use them before bed, but they're also useful if you wake up at 3am and can't stop overthinking your high school prom. And by practicing regularly, your body will start to recognize these breathing techniques as a sign to relax and prepare for sleep.