Two years ago, I attended a local social banquet event for young professionals to meet up and network.
After sitting down, I quickly greeted the person who sat next to me. She told me she’s a banker and apparently we shared some common friends. I told her one of the things I have been doing is helping people to improve their sleep through airway internal fitness training.
She then asked if I could give her some tips on improving sleep. I said of course, assuming she was asking on behalf of an elderly family member of hers.
“…for almost 2 years, she hasn’t been able to stay asleep for more than 3 hours”
To my surprise, she told me she was the one having trouble getting enough sleep. Not only falling asleep would take her 2-3 hours every night for almost 2 years, she hasn’t been able to stay asleep for more than 3 hours.
Every night she’d wake up at least 2-3 times, either to grab some water or to go to the bathroom. She had tried many remedies and tips she found, but nothing has truly worked for her.
She was just like any healthy looking girl in their 20s. Cheerful looking, physically fit, has regular working hours and exercise routines.
So we arranged a time to meet and I’d show her some of the airway fitness techniques that have worked for me and my clients.
Breathe and Relax – Diaphragm Breathing
When we met again, I first asked her how she breathes. I wasn’t surprised when she told me she doesn’t know what diaphragm breathing is.
“…diaphragm breathing is essential for you to have long term airway and holistic health.”
Many people overlooked the importance of diaphragm breathing; however, diaphragm breathing is essential for you to have long term airway and holistic health.
To check whether you are breathing with your diaphragm is easy. Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Inhale and exhale as you normally would. Feel your hand to see which one is moving as you breathe.
In diaphragm breathing, your upper hand on the chest should have minimal or no movement while your lower hand on the belly moves in-and-out as you exhale and inhale. You can also use a mirror to help you see.
You can perform this test either when you are lying down, standing up, or sitting down. Among these three postures, lying down is the easiest posture to do diaphragm breathing. Sitting down is the hardest, due to slightly compressed belly.
If you are practicing diaphragm breathing, start by lying down in supine position. Feel your belly contract and expand as your breathe. Once you are able to diaphragm breathe lying down, try to replicate that breathing standing up. Standing with your back flat on the wall would also help. Sitting down is the most difficult posture to do diaphragm breathing, but with practice you can also achieve. Just make sure to sit up straight.
So I spent the first 30 minutes showing her how to do diaphragm breathing correctly.
“You will also feel your heart beat slowing down, which will also help you relax and calm; essential in helping you fall asleep.”
When you first change from chest breathing to diaphragm breathing, immediately you will feel your body much more relaxed. Many people with tense shoulder will also feel their shoulder is relaxed, because they are no longer stressing their chest and shoulder to do the breathing work. You will also feel your heart beat slowing down, which will also help you relax and calm; essential in helping you fall asleep.
The next thing I taught her in the next 30 minutes was to do a mind shift and focus on controlling her breathing.
Mind Shift Technique
“…the more desperate you want to fall asleep, the more anxious and conscious you get.”
Often time when you can’t fall asleep, you feel there are tons of stuffs just bouncing around in your head. You try to tell yourself not to think about them and just fall sleep. But the more desperate you want to fall asleep, the more anxious and conscious you get. You can also begin to hear your own heartbeat, as your heart pounds stronger and faster from the stress.
So I told her to do the opposite.
“Forcing yourself to fall asleep when you can’t will only make you feel stress and tense, and stress will never do you any good in falling asleep.”
I told her that when she goes to bed tonight, make sure that she is doing diaphragm breathing, and don’t persuade herself into falling asleep like she normally does.
Forcing yourself to fall asleep when you can’t will only make you feel stress and tense, and stress will never do you any good in falling asleep. We fall asleep when we are relaxed, not when we are stressed. Stress makes us more alarmed.
And no, don’t count sheep.
“I want you to tell yourself that it’s fine if you don’t fall asleep. It’s fine to just lie on the bed and relax till the morning.”
I told her: “When you sleep tonight, while lying on the bed, I want you to tell yourself that it’s fine if you don’t fall asleep. It’s fine to just lie on the bed and relax till the morning. Put a hand on your belly, and just focus on your diaphragm breathing. In addition, try to relax, slow down, and reduce your breathing. Try to feel the movement of your hand and the belly gradually reduced. Focus on your breathing and nothing else. Tell yourself that you will still be refreshed in the morning by having a full night of relaxed rest.”
Focus on your breathing help you to shift your mind away from all the random thoughts that only makes falling asleep more difficult, and also shift your mind away from the desperation of falling asleep.
“Once your body is truly relaxed, falling asleep is no longer something you need to worry about, it just happens.”
Moreover, when you focus and concentrate on calming and slowing down your breathing, this will help you to slow your heart beat and therefore allow your body to feel relaxed. Once your body is truly relaxed, falling asleep is no longer something you need to worry about, it just happens.
I told her to practice and try these methods for a week first, and then let me know it goes.
Two days later, she told me that she slept for 5 hours straight on the first night after she did the training, and 6 hours the next.
These two tricks alone have helped many of my clients to sleep through the nights during their stressful days. Give it a try and hopefully improves your sleep as well!