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Breathe Your Way Into Those Restful ZZZZ’s

BY: Ed Harrold • Author, Breath Educator, Health, Performance & Leadership Coach

You’re lying awake in bed staring at the ceiling feeling exhausted but unable to fall asleep; your mind racing. You finally drift off to sleep and what feels like only minutes later, your alarm is annoyingly telling you that it’s time to get up for work. Thus begins a hurried and stressful day.

Whether you’re the person who can’t fall asleep or can’t fall back asleep, we’ve got some breathwork tools and strategies to have you sleeping like a baby. To begin, let’s understand what’s happening in the body so we can make some changes during the day well before it’s time to go to bed.

The body operates on cycles and rhythms while the mind operates on habits. For now, let’s focus on our bodies. The body’s cycles and rhythms tell us when to sleep, awaken, eat, rest, think, learn, digest, and more. With regards to sleep, many of you may relate to the concept of jet lag. When we fly to another time zone, our body takes a couple of days to adjust to the difference in sunlight and temperature. Jet lag is part of our circadian rhythm telling us when to be awake or asleep and is a great example of how much our bodies are tied to the cycles of our environment. You don’t even have to travel to another time zone to experience this. Shift workers are constantly dealing with disruptions to their circadian rhythm impacting their sleep cycle.

Another natural rhythm in the body is our ultradian rhythm which is related to our nasal cycle. The nasal cycle is a change in nostril dominance every 90 to 120 minutes. One nostril is more dominant (or open) as a function of maintaining balance in our autonomic nervous system as well as maintaining our body temperature of 98.6. The most dominant nostril also reveals to us which hemisphere of the brain is more dominant. When the left nostril is more open, the right brain is more active. The right brain controls the left side of the body related to body control and awareness along with spatial tasks, creativity, imagination, and artistic endeavors. When the right nostril is more dominant, the left brain is more active. The left brain controls the right side of the body and is related to logic, analytics, linear thinking.

When these cycles are disrupted, it impacts our biochemistry (serotonin & melatonin), our physiology (autonomic nervous system), our cognition, and our ability to manage our emotions. We may become irritable and struggle to think clearly when we’re tired.

Sleeplessness Is Rooted In Our Daytime Activity

Among those with sleep health issues, we see the same symptoms in the body including disordered breathing, autonomic dysfunction, low vagal tone, and diminished cognitive function. All of this can be shifted by correcting our breath rates and patterns.

Daily breathing exercises are a wonderful tool for improving the function of both our circadian and ultradian rhythms resulting in a night of more restorative sleep. With some basic understanding of what’s happening in the morning, afternoon, and evening hours, we can incorporate different breathing techniques throughout our day to support our body and the demands of our day.


Breath AS Medicine in Sleep Health

Breath AS Medicine in Sleep Health

Learn more on this topic from Ed Harrold in his on-demand training Breath AS Medicine in Sleep Health in the WELCOA Institute. This training will reveal how breath rates and patterns influence the response of our autonomic nervous system, help you understand the role of the nasal cycle as it relates to our autonomic nervous system, and provide breathwork techniques to balance the autonomic nervous system, fall asleep and/or fall back asleep


Ed Harrold
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR Ed Harrold // Author, Breath Educator, Health, Performance & Leadership Coach
Ed Harrold is an author, inspirational leader, public speaker, coach, and educator. Ed’s mastery in the science of mindful breathing blends the fields of neuroscience and the wisdom of contemplative traditions into effective strategies to improve health, well-being, and performance. Ed is the author of Life With Breath IQ + EQ = NEW YOU & BodyMindBusiness: The Business Of BE’ing Within.

Ed is a contributing editor for Thrive Global, MindBodyGreen & PTOnTheNet, HuffingtonPost, and more. Ed’s Breath AS Medicine Trainings offer Continuing Education in the healthcare, health & wellness, fitness, allied health and sleep medicine communities. Learn more about Ed at