Envision a morning of waking up feeling alert and well rested, before consuming your daily cup of coffee. Sadly, for more than a third of United States adults, this is only in their dreams. That’s partially because the constant commotion and unexpected stressors of today’s world keep our minds constantly occupied. However, while you may not have the ability to control some things, you can focus your attention on what you can control: your breathing. By regulating your breathing patterns, you can achieve the clear and relaxed state of mind you need to fall asleep. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is simple and requires no equipment but yourself.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s based on an ancient yogi technique called Pranayama, which helps practitioners gain control over their breathing. Here’s how it works:
1. Breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds.
2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
3. Exhale for eight seconds.
All the while, relax your jaw muscles and keep your mouth closed while inhaling through your nose. When exhaling, practice releasing any tension from your body by pushing air through your lips so it sounds like a gust of wind. The tip of your tongue should rest on the roof of your mouth, directly behind your upper front teeth.
The specific amount of time spent on each stage isn’t important, but the ratio of 4:7:8 is what’s most critical. This means the breathing technique can be adjusted based on the level of your breath-holding ability. Whether you have swimmer’s lungs or some trouble catching your breath, the exercise can be sped up or slowed down as long as the 4:7:8 ratio is being kept for the three phases — that is, hold your breath for roughly double the time it took you to breathe in, then exhale for exactly double your inhale time. Focus is important, too. It’s easy to let your mind wander to the events of the day, but when you notice your thoughts straying, force yourself to turn back to the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
The 4-7-8 technique works because when it comes to your nervous system, breathing is special. It’s both an automatic reflex and a voluntary action — think about the way your breathing speeds up when you’re scared and slows down when you’re calm, all without your control. Stressful situations can trigger other automatic reflexes, such as an increase in heart rate and the release of stress hormones. But because breathing is part of that automatic system, consciously slowing your breathing can also slow down those other stress reactions. The 4:7:8 breathing ratio forces you to slow your breathing, which helps you fall asleep in a shorter period of time and sleep longer through the night.
Getting quality sleep is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. A good night of shut-eye does everything from helping you perform better on memory tasks to regulating blood pressure. If you’re conscious of your health, it’s a good idea to put away your smartphone, crank some pink noise, practice your breathing, and get yourself to sleep. You’ll thank us tomorrow.