I have battled insomnia my whole life. By the age of 8 my mom was desperately teaching me progressive muscle relaxation techniques. It worked for years and then it did not.. Lately, I have become a little bit desperate. So I did what I have learned to do in recent years: ask for help. What follows is a great, easy to learn breathing exercise that is WORKING!
Start in a dark, quiet, electronic device free, cool bedroom. On your in-breath count "in one" and on your out-breath count "out one". Move on to two until you reach ten. Repeat. Here are the important guidelines to accompany each breath in and out.
The first step and "coolest" fact I did not know is to relax your face and place a small smile on your lips. This seems to be the clincher: the smile! My teacher noted a study in which two groups of people were asked to complete a mood inventory. One group was then asked to hold a pencil (or use a chopstick) between their teeth and the other was given the same but told to hold it between their lips. The mood inventory was repeated. Low and behold, the group that used their teeth felt better regardless of where they started off and the second group reported the opposite. Here's the science: using the teeth forces a smile while using the lips forces a frown.
Now, of course I am not suggesting you try to sleep with an object between your teeth for the sake of a good night sleep. However, I have since learned that this grin on your face will reduce your body's stress response regardless of whether you are actually happy or not. Even faking it works! Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins are natural pain relievers and serotonin is associated with positive mood. Science also states that smiling changes your breathing pattern and restricts blood flow to the sinuses, cooling blood flow there and flow to the hypothalmus; the emotions control center. A cool brain is a happier brain.
So here we are counting our breaths with a grin on our face. What's next? Pay attention to each inhalation and exhalation. Each and every breath has it's own fingerprint so to speak and is completely unique from the prior breath. Pay attention to the air as it passes through your nose; how it feels, the duration, the temperature.. This attention to your breath with its resulting natural tendency to slow it down reduces physical tension and will calm the overall body and mind.
Occasionally, you will find distracting thoughts and self talk rudely "butting in". When this happens simply start over again at one. I promise you will make it to ten easier and easier if you don't fall asleep first.