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.
When practiced regularly, it’s possible that this technique can help some people fall asleep faster.
How Does the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique Work?
Breathing techniques are designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation. Certain patterns that involve holding your breath for a while allow your body to replenish its oxygen. From the lungs out, techniques like the 4-7-8 can give your organs and tissues a much-needed oxygen boost.
Relaxation exercises also help bring the body back into balance and regulate the fight-or-flight response when we are stressed. This is especially helpful if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation due to anxiety or worry about what happened today—or what might happen tomorrow. Spinning thoughts and worries can prevent us from getting a good night’s rest.
The 4-7-8 technique forces the mind and body to focus on controlling the breath instead of replaying their worries as they lie down at night. Proponents claim it can calm a racing heart or calm frozen nerves. Dr. Weil even calls it a “natural sedative for the nervous system.”
4-7-8 The overall concept of breathing can be compared to methods such as:
- Alternate nostril breathing involves breathing.
- Hold one nostril closed at a time and the other nostril out.
- Mindfulness meditation encourages focused breathing while guiding your attention.
- up to the present moment.
- Visualization focuses your mind on your natural breathing path and pattern.
- Guided imagery encourages you to focus on a happy memory or story that will take you away.
- Release your worries while breathing.
People experiencing mild sleep disturbances, anxiety, and stress can find 4-7-8 breathing helpful to overcome distractions and slip into a relaxed state.
Over time and with repeated practice, proponents of 4-7-8 breathing say it becomes more and more powerful. It is said that at first its effects are not so visible. The first time you try it, you may feel a little lightheaded. Practicing 4-7-8 breathing at least twice a day can produce greater results for some people than those who practice it only once.
How To Do It
To practice 4-7-8 breathing, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Make sure you practice good posture, especially when starting out. If you are using the technique to fall asleep, it is best to lie down.
Prepare for the exercise by resting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth. You will need to hold your tongue in place throughout the exercise. It takes practice to stop your tongue from moving when you exhale. Exhaling during 4-7-8 inhalation may be easier for some people when they purse their lips.
All the following steps should be done in one breathing cycle.
- First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
- Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
- Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
- Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
- Nose as you count to four in your head.
When you inhale again, you begin a new cycle of breathing. Follow this pattern for four full breaths.
Breath holding (for seven seconds) is the most important part of this exercise. It is also recommended that you practice only 4-7-8 breathing for four breaths when you are first starting out. You can slowly work your way up to eight full breaths.
This breathing technique should not be used in a setting where you are not ready to fully relax. Although not necessarily used to induce sleep, it can still put the practitioner into a state of deep relaxation. Make sure that you do not need to be fully alert immediately after practicing the breathing cycles.
Other Techniques to Help You Sleep
If you’re experiencing mild insomnia due to anxiety or stress, 4-7-8 breathing can help you get the rest you’ve been missing. However, if this technique alone is not sufficient, it can be effectively combined with other interventions, such as:
- Gold mask
- Diffuse an essential oil such as lavender
- A white noise machine
- Relaxing music
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Ear plugs
- Yoga at bedtime
If 4-7-8 breathing isn’t effective for you, another technique like mindfulness meditation or guided imagery may be a better fit.