Jan 242007

I wish I could get to sleep at night, I lie awake for hours.”

“I sleep fairly well, except these days I usually end up having to visit the bathroom in the early hours.”

“I get to sleep OK, but then I get woken up, and I can’t get back to sleep again.”

Do any of these statements ring true for you, or someone in your family?

Poor sleep often leads to a groggy start to the day, tiredness and consequent knock-on effects on your health. I remember those broken nights of early parenthood followed by exhausted days. Fortunately they were short-lived, so I was able to accommodate them. It’s a different story when a poor sleep pattern persists.

If you have difficulty sleeping, you’ve probably already tried various practical ways to get through the problem. Things like changing your mattress, opening the window, getting rid of electronic equipment, introducing a clam décor or a bedtime ritual, and avoiding eating or drinking too much at night. Maybe sleeping pills if it’s really bad.

If you’re still finding it difficult to get to sleep, or to get back to sleep after an interruption, here’s a simple method that works.

Tap into your natural relaxation system

When you breathe in you’re taking in oxygen which stimulates the body – great when you want to be awake and alert, but not so good for sleeping. Conversely, when you breathe out your body is relaxing and shutting down. So the trick, when you want to get to sleep, is simply to focus on your ‘relaxing’ outbreath.

1. Count

First, to get used to counting as you breathe, try breathing in to a slow count of 3, then breathing out to a slow count of 3. Continue to do breathe in and out to a count of 3, until you settle into an easy rhythm. If you’ve done yoga, you’re probably used to this type of breathing, otherwise it may take a couple of minutes of practice.

2. Lengthen your outbreath

Now make the relaxing outbreath longer by extending your count to 4. So you breathe to a count of 3, and then out to a count of 4.

If you like, you can adjust the counts to suit yourself, so long as you keep the outbreath longer than the inbreath.

3. Get into a rhythm

Continue to take a shorter inbreath, followed by a longer ‘relaxing’ outbreath, and feel yourself settling into its rhythm.

4. Visualise

When your ‘relaxing’ breathing has become more or less automatic, you may want to reinforce the message you’re giving your body by visualising it relaxing and shutting down during the long, relaxing, outbreath. I like to imagine my body turning to honey and melting into the bed; be creative and find an image that works for you.

5. Keep going…

Keep counting: in for 3, and out for 4 until … you fall asleep!


In the morning, or any time you’re feeling groggy, just reverse the procedure. So you breathe in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 3. When your ‘activating’ inbreath is longer than your ‘relaxing’ outbreath you’re taking in a lot of oxygen which stimulates your body systems, so your body and mind soon become alert.

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