The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It is based on an ancient yogic technique called pranayama, which helps practitioners control their breathing. Practiced regularly, this technique could help some people fall asleep more quickly.
How does the 4-7-8 breathing technique work?
Breathing techniques are designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation. Specific patterns that involve holding the breath for a period of time replenish your body with oxygen. Starting in the lungs, techniques like the 4-7-8 can give your organs and tissues much-needed oxygen. Relaxation practices also help rebalance the body and regulate the fight or flight response we feel when we are stressed. This is especially helpful if you suffer from insomnia due to anxiety or worry about what happened today or what might happen tomorrow. Swirling thoughts and worries can keep us from resting well.
The 4-7-8 technique forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than dwelling on worries when you go to bed at night. Its followers claim that it can calm a racing heart or raw nerves. Dr. Weil even described it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
The overall concept of 4-7-8 breathing can be compared to practices like:
– Alternate nostril breathing involves inhaling and exhaling through one nostril at a time while keeping the other nostril closed.
– Mindfulness meditation encourages concentration on the breath while guiding your attention to the present moment.
– Visualization focuses your mind on the path and pattern of your natural breathing.
– Guided imagery encourages you to focus on a happy memory or story that will take your mind off your worries while you breathe.
People with mild sleep disturbances, anxiety, and stress may find 4-7-8 breathing helpful in overcoming distractions and transitioning into a relaxed state. With time and repeated practice, proponents of the 4-7-8 breathwork claim that it becomes more and more powerful. It is said that at first its effects are not so apparent. You may feel a bit dizzy the first time you try it. Practicing the 4-7-8 breath at least twice a day might work better for some people than for those who practice it only once.
How to do it
To practice the 4-7-8 breath, find a place to sit or lie down comfortably. Be sure to adopt good posture, especially in the beginning. If you use this technique to fall asleep, it is best to lie down.
Prepare for practice by resting the tip of your tongue against the palate, just behind your front teeth. You will need to hold your tongue in place throughout the practice. It takes practice not to move your tongue when you exhale. Exhaling during the 4-7-8 breath may be easier for some people when pursing their lips.
The following steps should all be performed in the cycle of a single breath:
First, let your lips part. Make a hissing noise, exhaling completely through your mouth.
Then, close your lips, inhale silently through your nose for a count of four in your head.
Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
Exhale again through your mouth for eight seconds.
When you inhale again, you begin a new cycle of breathing. Practice this pattern for four full breaths.
The held breath (for seven seconds) is the most important part of this practice. It is also recommended that you only practice the 4-7-8 breath for four breaths when you are first starting out. You can then gradually work up to eight full breaths. This breathing technique should not be practiced in a context where you are not ready to relax completely. If it should not necessarily be used to fall asleep, it can nevertheless plunge the practitioner into a state of deep relaxation. Make sure you don’t need to be fully alert immediately after practicing your breathing cycles.
Other sleep aid techniques
If you suffer from mild insomnia due to anxiety or stress, 4-7-8 breathing can help you find the rest you need. However, if this technique alone is not enough, it can be effectively combined with other interventions, such as:
a sleep mask
a white noise machine
diffusion of essential oils such as lavender
reduce caffeine intake
If 4-7-8 breathing isn’t working for you, another technique like mindfulness meditation or guided imagery may work for you.
In some cases, insomnia is more serious and requires medical intervention. Here are other conditions that can contribute to severe lack of sleep:
hormonal changes due to menopause
substance use disorders
mental health disorders such as depression
restless leg syndrome
If you suffer from frequent, chronic insomnia, contact your doctor. They can refer you to a sleep specialist, who will perform a sleep study to diagnose the cause of your insomnia. From there, he can work with you to find the right treatment.