The effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing relaxation training for improving sleep

Authors: Y. Liu T. Jiang, T. Shi, Y. Liu, X. Liu, G. Xu, F. Li, Y. Wang & X.Wu.

Citation: Sleep Medicine (2021); 78:8-14

Background: Front-line health care workers often report sleep problems, which are triggered in part by stress, anxiety, and depression. Poor sleep is also worsened by shift work. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues have been magnified, with many health care workers suffering from poor sleep quality and mental health problems. Interventions are needed to provide support to this population.

Objective: This study investigated the effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing on sleep quality and mental health in nurses working in a hospital setting.

Who Was It? There were 140 nurses with an average age of approximately 32 years. Almost 94% of participants were female. Nurses worked at a hospital in China treating COVID-19 patients.

What Was Done? Participants were trained to perform diaphragmatic deep breathing as a relaxation technique. They used the technique each day before bed over four weeks. This involved finding a restful position and listening to a recording of guided breathing, which took around 30 minutes. Sleep, anxiety and depression were measured before and after the intervention.

What Happened? After the four-week breathing intervention, there were improvements in many measurements of sleep health, including time to fall asleep, subjective sleep quality, and daytime dysfunction. There was also a reduction in anxiety.

Fringe Commentary: This study shows that improvements in sleep and mental health can be easily achieved using simple guided breathing techniques. Simply by following a short audio recording with instructions to relax and focus on deep, diaphragmatic breathing, subjects experienced profound benefits. Free and paid breathing tools (such as Prana Breath, Breath, and Breathwrk are widely available have been used successfully by thousands of people. As we explore breath as a healing factor this month, we see its power as a tool to help us to sleep and feel better.


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