Deep Breathing Benefits: Helpful Exercises For Anxiety And Sleep

What To Know About The Benefits Of Deep Breathing And How To Practice

March 29, 2021 Updated September 13, 2021

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Hong Nguyen/Unsplash

This article has been medically reviewed by Howard Orel, MD. Board-certified and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Orel runs an active general pediatric practice, Advocare Marlton Pediatrics. He also serves as CEO of Advocare — one of the largest independent medical groups in the country. 

There are so many wellness and self-care techniques out there — and those are great to know about if you ever get to the point of having some time to yourself. Unfortunately, not everyone has time to make soap from scratch, or formulate their own DIY skincare products. Despite our best self-care intentions, it’s so easy to allow anything else to eat into that time. (The fact that we allow that to happen is a different story.) And sometimes, feeling stressed, or even just busy can cause you to tense up or hold your breath without even realizing what you’re doing. It’s as if your body and mind are bracing for impact.

It may feel as though you barely have time to breathe, let alone everything else. If that’s the case, you’re going to make those breaths count. And no, this doesn’t mean carving out 20 minutes to fully meditate: You can experience the benefits of deep breathing by getting in the habit of integrating it throughout the day. Here’s what to know about what deep breathing does for the body, and some examples of deep breathing exercises you may want to try.

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What are the benefits of deep breathing?

If you’re curious about what deep breathing does to your body, you’ve come to the right place. But first, what exactly is meant by “deep breathing”? According to Harvard Medical School, it can go by a bunch of other names, including diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration — if you hear one of those, you’ll know it’s just a fancy way to say deep breathing.

Also, deep breathing is more than just breathing slower than you normally do: it involves the air coming in through your nose and filling your lungs, as your lower belly rises. This process doesn’t come naturally for a lot of people, so it’s something that does (at least at first) take time and effort (and why it’s referred to as a practice). But it’s worth it: Shallow chest breathing can increase tension and anxiety, Harvard Medical School notes, because it doesn’t allow oxygenated air to get down into the lowest part of your lungs, which can leave you short of breath (and, in turn, make you feel more anxious). Additionally, deep breathing can help slow down a racing heart, and even lower or stabilize blood pressure.

This isn’t only a technique to incorporate throughout your day: there are also benefits of deep breathing before sleep. As we just discussed, deep breathing can help relieve tension and anxiety, which is helpful before bedtime. But it’s more than that. “Relaxation helps to reduce stress hormones, which block melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep,” Claire Barker RPSGT, CCSH, a clinical sleep specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Sleep Program told Insider. In addition to that, a 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry found that deep breathing can help treat insomnia, as well as make it easier for you to fall back asleep if you tend to wake up during the night.

How often should you practice deep breathing?

Of course, there’s a difference between how often deep breathing is recommended, and how much actual time you have to practice, but considering the benefits, it’s worth working it into your day. And honestly, that’s probably easier to do than you think: Harvard Medical School advises trying to practice once or twice a day, for a total of 10 to 20 minutes. (See? It’s not that bad.) And once you get into the habit of doing it every day, it’ll be easier once it’s part of your daily routine.

Examples of Deep Breathing Exercises

If you’re unsure of where to start and want some guidance, here are a few deep breathing exercises that work for people on all levels.

Pranayama Breathing

Also referred to as “yoga breathing,” pranayama breathing involves getting control of your breath, as demonstrated in this video from Ventuno Yoga.

Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Anyone who deals with anxiety knows how much it can mess with your breath. But at the same time, deep breathing can help reduce anxiety, so it’s good to know exercises like these, from Dr. Jo, a physical therapist.

Breathing Exercises to Help your Lungs

This video from Health Q demonstrates three different breathing exercises for strong lungs.