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How Functional Breathing and Somatics Can Help Insomnia

Mar 15, 2024
 

If you look at sleep coaches, you may notice that most have trained in sleep coaching specific programs (or are former sleep doctors) and the majority of their focus is on cognitive based therapies (CBTi and/or ACTi).

While cognitive therapies (understanding our thought processes and how they help/ harm us) are important, they aren’t always enough to correct sleep and anxiety problems on their own.

This is because most cognitive therapies completely ignore the body (you know that meat sack that houses our brain).

We spoke a few weeks ago about thoughts, specifically unconscious thoughts, and how they can influence our moods and perceptions. The same is true for emotions and reactions which are stored in our bodies.

Let me give you an example, say you are walking along, minding your own business, and someone unexpectedly walks up and punches you in the nose.

Likely your eyes would start watering and you would instinctively lift your arms up to cover your face. While you might be able to talk yourself into lowering your arms, you likely would have very little control over your watery eyes. You would not be able to reason with them or talk them out of watering (perhaps telling them that watering won’t help your nose heal).

This is because eyes watering isn’t a logic (cognitive) based reaction, it’s instinctual and body based which means it happens automatically, independent of our mental control.

It can be the same with anxiety and sleep.

By now you may logically know that you can’t force sleep and that if you just relax sleep will come on it’s own, yet you still find yourself becoming triggered over and over again and (despite your best efforts) it seems that you still feel stressed regardless of whether this response is logical or not!

ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) correctly says that it is important not to fight or struggle with these emotions, as trying to suppress them only makes it worse. By accepting and feeling the stress we allow it to be expressed and dissipate on it’s own.

While this is likely the best solution in the moment, it is not the only thing we can do.

First, it’s important to realize that (just like watery eyes after a punch) anxiety and insomnia are symptoms of imbalance in the body, not a disease. Therefor, I find it best to work with clients to discover why and how they are being triggered and modulate the bodies stress response to help bring them back into a place of recovery and relaxation and increase resilience (making it more challenging for them to become triggered in the future).

We do this in several ways.

One tool I find helpful is functional breathing. I became interested in breathwork during my own insomnia journey after I discovered that my average overnight breaths per minute was more rapid than ideal.

This can be significant because the way in which we breathe works like a feedback loop, telling the brain whether we are stressed or relaxed.

If we are chronically breathing rapidly and shallowly into our chest then that is acting like a constant signal to the brain that we may be in danger (fight or flight). Remember we evolved to run from lions, not lay down and take a nap!

Living in a constant stress state makes it much more challenging to sleep and the body believes we are in danger and must stay alert to remain alive!

Learning to breathe functionally acts as a 24 hr signal to the body that everything is ok, you are out of danger, and it is safe to relax and sleep.

Along this same vein, somatic experiencing helps to directly rebalance the nervous system. A healthy, functional nervous system easily moves into life saving fight, flight, freeze (when necessary) and then back into rest and digest when the threat has passed.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the nervous system to become “stuck” in one of these stress responses. This can lead to chronic stress, circular thoughts, digestive problems, and insomnia.

Because of this I often find it helpful to work with clients in session to help strengthen and rebalance the nervous system. I then combine this somatic work with sleep education, cognitive techniques, and functional breathing exercises to provide a more holistic mind body solution.

Interested in Learning More? 

If you would like to learn more or book an individual session, please visit the Work With Me page or enroll in the 30 Day Beyond Sleep Course

In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!

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