What Is Moon Breathing And Can It Really Help You Sleep?

Getting a good night's sleep can feel like the holy grail for stressed-out adults, especially women. A 2016 study discovered that women from different age groups, starting from age six to 65, experienced poor quality sleep more frequently than men — and this is despite their underrepresentation in most research concerning sleep disorders. But across the board, many of us are simply not getting enough shut-eye. Per the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, around 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic or ongoing sleep disorders. This isn't surprising since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that one-third of adults in the US don't get proper, sufficient sleep. 

If you can relate to the large swaths of people who can never get enough rest, you should start examining your bedtime routine for habits that aren't conducive to sleep. Another area you can look into? Relaxing practices to help both your mind and body wind down at the end of the day. One such practice is moon breathing, a breathing technique that involves inhaling through your left nostril and then exhaling through your right nostril. According to Glamour, it's rooted in yoga where it's known as Moon-Piercing Breath or "Chandra Bhedana." Yoga teacher Gemma Nice explained to the publication that the left nostril is believed to be connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, which rules the body's rest-and-digest responses, hence moon breathing's relaxing effect.

Moon breathing regulates the mind and body to prepare for sleep

A 2022 study looked into the possible benefits of left-nostril breathing and discovered how four weeks of doing this practice led to better sleep quality among 149 participants, although further research needs to be done to pinpoint the reason why. A 2012 study, however, established that "pranayama" or yoga techniques that regulate breathing help increase the body's oxygen intake and release of carbon dioxide by as much as five times, thus improving circulation and easing anxiety.

According to Yoga Journal, in yoga, the left nostril is connected with the body's cooling energy and is thus linked to the moon or "Chandra" while the right is associated with the body's heating energy, symbolized by the sun or "Surya." Following this principle, by taking in oxygen through the left nostril, you help the body cool down and the mind becomes quieter. The publication noted that unlike "Surya Bhedana" or right-nostril breathing, Chandra Bhedana isn't considered a formal pranayama in traditional texts but it is accepted to be the former's opposite counterpart.

Because of its capacity to harness the body's cooling energy, yoga teacher Sita Sunar recommended doing moon breathing before bedtime, especially on full-moon nights when people tend to get less sleep (per AAAS). She told Vogue, "These days are for soothing and calming practices, and for enhancing creativity and ideas, which flow best when we are calmer and cooler. Moon breathing is an extension of this feminine energy practice."

It's a simple practice worth trying

While there's no conclusive explanation yet on why it improves one's sleep quality, there's no harm in including moon breathing in your bedtime ritual. You can do it sitting up or lying down as you turn in for the night. Close your eyes, and relax your forehead, eyelids, and jaw. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril. With your right ring finger, press close your left nostril and then lift your right thumb from your right nostril so you can exhale. Keep a slow and steady pace to your breathing so your inhales and exhales are of equal length. 

It might take some adjustment for you to feel at ease with remembering to breathe in and out through alternating nostrils, but Sarah Harvey, author of "Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits, One Small Step at a Time," recommended giving moon breathing a fair try. She wrote in her book, "It really helps to focus the mind and press the reset button on your nervous system." 

You can even rely on moon breathing whenever you feel anxiety building up or when you need a recharging mid-day nap. "Just find a quiet corner, sit, or lie down, and inhale and exhale from each nostril for five counts," Sunar instructed (per Vogue). "Tune into your natural breath, disengage from the hyperactivity of life, and focus." You'll soon find yourself calm enough to drift off to sleep.