We all know the importance of sleep. Lack of sleep has implications for our mental health and immune system. Not enough sleep can make us feel grumpy, groggy and puts us at risk of developing a worryingly long list of diseases. Enough sleep makes us feel energetic, positive and alert.

Less is more when you approach bedtime so keep calm, slow and mindful. I like to move around a bit before going to bed, stretching out my body for five minutes or so, in combination with mindful breathing. This helps to release the big muscle groups and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest and digest response. Once in bed, I’m either asleep before I know it or I do breathing exercises to help me fall asleep more quickly.

My three favorite bedtime breathing exercises:

1. Count your exhalations
Count your exhalations from five down to one and start again when you reach one. Allow the breath to flow evenly in and out and when your mind wanders, guide your attention back to the count of your exhalation.

2. Lengthen your exhale
Try to exhale slowly while relaxing all of the muscles in your body at the same time. This activates the rest and digest part of the nervous system. The exhale can be 1.5 or 2 times longer than the inhale. Make sure your breath still feels relatively comfortable otherwise you’ll feel more stressed and agitated, rather than less so.

3. Left nostril breathing
Try this exercise only when you can breathe easily and comfortably through your left nostril. The left side of our body represents the moon channel; the more cooling and introverted aspects of ourselves. The right side represents the sun channel with more heating and extroverted characteristics. In this technique, lie on your right side, and with your right thumb block your right nostril. As you breathe in and out of your left nostril, feel how you are cooling and calming your body. Do this for 3-5 minutes. Then return to your natural breath.

By Esther Ekhart