How slow breathing is the solution for bad sleepers

March 16th, 2022,

5 min read

How slow breathing is the solution for bad sleepersfeatured image

20 - 30% of all adults suffer from sleeping problems. Almost half of them have such trouble sleeping that they are unable to function properly on a daily basis. We often think that a pill can be the solution, but we ignore the main cause: stress and anxiety. How can our breathing offer a solution?

World Sleep Day takes place in March every year, this year on Friday the 18th. A day fully focused on the one thing we all so desperately need, but many fail to get. Why do we sleep so badly? And what can we do about it?

Insomnia is a serious problem

Poor sleep is a worldwide problem. About 20% of the population suffers from sleeping problems and almost 30% even sleeps less than six hours a night, a sign of poor sleep quality.

Insomnia is often brushed aside as 'just the way it is', but it certainly deserves real attention. Claudine Drees, sleep expert in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CGTI) at sleepcompass.be also underlines this: “Insomnia means that you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or that you wake up too early. Often insomnia goes along with worrying, insecurities, and pressure you may experience in life. This results in hours of lying awake or worrying. Often you will also worry about not being able to sleep, which creates a vicious circle - because the more you worry, the less you will sleep. You see, it is a persistent problem.”

If you don't sleep well, it eats away at your productivity and efficiency during the day, which often leads to more stress. This comes with health risks that should not be underestimated, including stress, depression, and diabetes.

Breathing exercises recommended by the American Association for Sleep Medicine

In case of a disturbed night's sleep, for many people, a pill is easily seized. But that is far from ideal, moreover, a pill doesn’t improve the quality of our sleep. The call for natural alternatives is growing, from doctors and psychologists as well as people with sleep problems themselves.

Since 2012, the American Association for Sleep Medicine (AASM), the worldwide reference for sleep expertise, has designated CGTI (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia) as the most appropriate therapy for solving long-term sleep problems. The success rate is around 80%, according to clinical studies. In recently updated guidelines, the AASM also recommends breathing exercises as an effective way to manage chronic insomnia in adults.

Drees: “Breathing techniques are effective for achieving a state of relaxation, a lower heart rate, and alpha brain waves. With alpha brain waves you experience no pressure or stress (which are beta brain waves) and you can gradually evolve into theta and delta waves: you’re asleep!"

What works best? Slow down your breathing

Breathing slowly before bedtime is golden. But how does that work, effectively? And how do you keep it up, every day? When moonbird's co-founder, Stefanie Broes (PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences), saw more and more people in her environment struggling with sleeping problems, she wanted to come up with a solution.

Stefanie: “Science has already shown that doing slow breathing exercises makes all the difference when you want a good night's sleep. I noticed that many people in my environment are open to doing breathing exercises, but find it difficult to maintain.

If you breathe alone and without guidance, it is often the question of whether you are doing the exercises correctly. You will also not receive that daily reminder to practice. Our thought was: If we could develop something for this, something tactile that you can hold in your hand, that guides you in a simple way, and also gives you feedback about the effects, then we can solve that problem."

This is why moonbird was created, a nifty tool that fits in the palm of your hand and guides you in doing slow breathing exercises. A study into the effect of breathing with moonbird on sleep is being finalized as we speak. The results look very promising and will be published soon. Stay tuned.

3 Tips for better sleep

What tips can Stefanie share for better sleep?

1. Take the time to breathe

“Research shows that if you breathe slowly for 20 minutes before bedtime, you fall asleep 15 minutes earlier than usual and wake up half as often during the night. When you breathe more slowly, you activate your body's natural relaxation response, causing you to relax. Moreover, by consciously breathing more slowly you can break the vicious circle of worrying thoughts, which also calms your mind.”

2. Find the right pace

“‘How slow is slow?’, you might wonder. Research shows that the aforementioned effects occur at about six breaths per minute (five to seven breaths per minute, to be exact). This is a lot slower than we are used to; on average, you breathe about twelve to twenty times per minute at rest.”

3. Let yourself be guided

“It is a fact that slow breathing exercises work. However, they have the most effect if you do them in the right way and also do them regularly. That is why we have developed moonbird, a tool that helps and guides you in an intuitive way, like a breathing coach in your hand.”

A natural solution with great effect

Breathe slower. It may sound simple, but often the real strength lies in simplicity. Breathing slowly is the most effective way to sleep better. Your breath is in fact the remote control of your nervous system, with a little practice you can switch channels quickly and easily. From a thrilling adventure film to a beautiful dreamland...

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