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Try This Breathing Practice for Better Sleep Tonight

Plus, author, yoga teacher, and international speaker Max Strom shares advice for boosting your ability to drift into slumber—and blissfully remaining there through the night.

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How are you sleeping lately? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of US adults reported they weren’t getting the recommended 7 hours of shuteye per night—and that was in the Before times.

Now, sleep experts say that heightened stress and anxieties around the Covid-19 pandemic have created a “perfect storm of sleep problems“—dubbed “coronasomnia”—which immediately impacts our physical and mental health. It’s also linked to chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and emotional distress.

So, how can we boost our ability to drift into dreamland, and blissfully remain there, uninterrupted, through the night? And how can yoga help?

Max Strom—yoga teacher, international speaker, and author of A Life Worth Breathing and There is No App for Happiness—recently to Yoga Journal about how to overcome disconnection, loneliness, and hectic lifestyles that are interfering with our slumber. Here, YJ asks him for advice on how to deal with three common roadblocks to rest.

Yoga Journal: Can you share a practice for when we’re lying in bed wide awake and just can’t drift off?

Max Strom: “A simple, age-old breathing practice that I use and teach is ideal for insomnia caused by stress. It’s the 4-7-8 Breathing Pattern. Lie in your bed in the dark, ready to sleep. Then inhale to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of seven, and exhale to the count of eight. I recommend continuing this for two minutes, but you can always do it longer.

Key techniques:

  1. Inflate the lungs 100% full before holding your breath.
  2. Always use the same metric, the same numbers. If it’s too slow or too fast for you, simply speed up or slow down your count, but always use 4-7-8.
  3. If you know how to regulate your breath using Ujjayi (Ocean) Breathing through the nose or mouth, do that. If you don’t know how to regulate your breath, simply inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth while pursing your lips so that the air can slowly be released with a hissing sound.”

YJ: What can we do if we wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep?

Max: “What not to do is just as important as what actions you can take to fall back asleep. Don’t allow yourself to start working in your mind. Don’t think about your job, your problems, or anything like that. Instead, get out of bed and sit in a chair near the bed in the dark. Then in your mind, focus on a relaxing and wonderful memory. One of the best times of your life. Not an exhilarating and exciting one, but a calm and loving one where you felt safe and seen and full hearted. Once you feel like you might be able to go back to sleep, get back into bed. (Absolutely under no circumstances should you look at your phone, laptop, or TV.)”

YJ: Winding down can seem impossible when our minds are racing after a long day on Zoom. What’s the solution?

Max: “People today have a habit of overworking to an extreme extent. We think of it as normal, but it is completely out of balance. The answer to this problem usually means changing the way you live. In other words, finishing your work at five or six in the evening and staying off all devices after that. You need to teach your mind how to relax again. How well you sleep at night depends on how well you live during the day. It’s a kind of litmus test. Without good sleep, our health and our psychology are damaged. And that means all of our relationships are damaged as well. Sleep should be treated as sacred, something to invest in. But to do that we must take good care of our nervous system during the day.”