Healthy Sleeping Habits

Use the 3-6-5 Method for Meditative Breathing To Help You Sleep Better Every Night of the Year

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
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Wouldn't it be oh-so-delightful if falling asleep were as simple as 1-2-3? Perhaps, but given the stress levels associated with living through unprecedented times like these, many might find conking out to be at least a smidge more difficult. So if you’re being kept up by chronic doomscrolling, the fear of pandemic nightmares, the fear of the living nightmares, or anything else, check out the 3-6-5 method for sleep, which is a meditative breathing technique to be used throughout the whole day. It’s not as simple as 1-2-3, but it's pretty damn close.

According to Stephanie Gailing, an astrologer and wellness consultant who shares information about the 3-6-5 method in her book The Complete Book of Dreams, many of us rapidly inhale and exhale, with more than 12 breaths per minute—and that's not necessarily helping our ability to drift off peacefully come bedtime. "It’s been found that slower, more mindful breathing can have impacts on the nervous system, helping to tamp down the activity of sympathetic nervous system, which is often associated with being in [a state of] hyperarousal and fight-or-flight [mode] and activating parasympathetic nervous-system activity," she says. To wit, the 3-6-5 method uses mindful, slowed-down breathing to basically help the the body chill out throughout the course of the day.

To practice it, commit to doing the practice three times per day, taking six full breaths per minute, and for a total of five minutes. If this sounds similar in spirit to the tranquilizing 4-7-8 technique, that’s fair; the endgame of achieving better sleep by way of reducing stress is the same. But 3-6-5 can be a better option for those who’d rather treat breathwork for sleep as ongoing interval training rather than a right-before-bed sprint. That is, instead of one long session, this method takes three rounds at different levels.

"For many people, doing practices like paced breathing is easier to do in short stints than in longer-duration practices," Gailing says. "So doing it three times a day, for five minutes may be easier for some people than doing it for a longer period of time. The 3-6-5 reflects the ideal of doing it every day [of the year], and the benefits that having it be part of your self-care routine may yield."

How to practice the 3-6-5 method of meditative breathing for better sleep

1. Find a comfortable position

"You want to be as relaxed as you can be, since not only is that the aim of this practice, but also, in the beginning, taking longer breathes may take some getting used to," Gailing says. "Find a comfy chair, or sit on your bed or meditation cushion. Some people do like to lie down, as they feel more relaxed that way."

2. Have a method for tracking your breaths

"You can use a breathing app for pacing, or just count the seconds on your own," Gailing says. "Some people find it less stressful to set a timer for five minutes rather than counting their breaths. Yet if you find that counting enhances your mindfulness, you can take that approach."

3. Breathe slowly and deeply into your diaphragm for five seconds, and then exhale slowly for five seconds

So again, if math's not your strong suit, this step ultimately leads you to doing six full breaths a minute. Do this for five full minutes, and you're golden!

4. Repeat two more times at different in your day

And there you have it! The rule of threes helps you essentially punctuate your day with the practice. You can start it after waking up, fit in a round of breaths after lunch, and end your day with one, right before your head hits the pillow. The benefits don't end at the technique being a sedative: Breathwork meditations offer a host of physical- and mental-health benefits, too. "Any practice—such as paced breathing—that helps us to rebalance the nervous system…will help us become more resilient to stress," says Gailing.

So, why not give it a shot? If easier days and restful nights are on the table, might as well carve out some time to 3-6-5 yourself to sleep.

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