According to experts, a simple breathing technique that takes just over a minute could help you fall asleep faster and sleep better at night.
The technique, known as 4-7-8 breathing, was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a trained physician and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
Weil developed the technique, which is based on breathing exercises found in yoga, with the aim of managing stress and anxiety.
But the experts said Newsweek the technique may also be useful for people who have trouble sleeping.
Why can’t I fall asleep even though I’m tired?
Sleep is crucial for our physical and mental health, allowing our bodies to recover and wake up feeling refreshed.
But a large part of the population does not get enough sleep, has poor quality sleep or has difficulty falling asleep due to sleep disorders, medical conditions or mental health problems.
According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million adults in the United States suffer from a sleep disorder, with insomnia being the most common.
About 10% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia, while many others suffer from short-term problems. Meanwhile, approximately 25 million American adults suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by repeated obstruction of the airways during sleep.
Additionally, 35% of adults report sleeping less than seven hours in a typical 24-hour period, less than the minimum recommended amount.
What is the 4-7-8 breathing technique?
“The 4-7-8 breath I teach is the most powerful relaxation method I’ve discovered,” Weil said in a video demonstration of the technique. “It’s very simple, requires no equipment, takes very little time, costs nothing.”
Here’s how to practice the technique correctly:
- Step 1 – Inhale gently through your nose for a count of four.
- Step 2 – Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Step 3 – Blow air through your mouth audibly and forcefully.
- Step 4 – Repeat this process for a total of four breath cycles.
How quickly you do the technique is not necessarily important. What is important is to maintain the 4-7-8 ratio between counts.
According to Weil, this is a technique that must be practiced regularly, at least twice a day, to fully benefit from it.
“You can do this more than twice a day, but never more than four breath cycles at a time,” Weil said in the video.
According to Weil, it can take four to six weeks before you notice any physiological changes from the practice.
Over time, he said it could help reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve digestion, improve circulation and help people fall asleep.
“These are the most effective anti-anxiety techniques I’ve found,” he said. “I’ve taught it to patients with the most extreme forms of panic disorder, who eventually mastered it, just relying on this breathing technique.”
Breathing and sleep
According to Patrick McKeown, a leading international expert on breathing and sleep, and author of best-selling books like The advantage of oxygenchanging our breathing can have a profound impact on our physical and mental states.
“With breathing exercises, we can down-regulate and up-regulate, giving us control over how our mind and body react to external stimuli,” McKeown said. Newsweek. “For sleep, breathing and mental health, functional breathing is essential.
“Knowing which exercises to practice can be life changing as we learn to change states. It’s not about taking deep breaths. It’s so much more than that!”
According to McKeown, the way a person breathes during the day will influence our breathing patterns during sleep.
“If our breathing patterns mean that we breathe through the mouth, with a faster rate and from the upper chest (rather than from the diaphragm), this will increase the risk of sleep problems including insomnia, snoring and sleep apnea.”
4-7-8 for sleep anxiety
McKeown said that for people with functional breathing who are able to slow their breathing rate to about three breaths per minute, such as during the 4-7-8 exercise, a prolonged exhale will help activate the body’s relaxation response.
“When the rest and digest response is activated, one feels drowsy and experiences an increase in watery saliva in the mouth,” he said. “Slowing the breathing rate also allows better gas exchange from the lungs to the blood.
“Practicing this breathing technique before going to bed will not only help people fall asleep, but will significantly improve the quality of sleep and, when practiced regularly, lead to a better quality of life all around.”
Michael Breus, American Board of Sleep Medicine Certified Clinical Psychologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said Newsweek he is a “big fan” of the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
According to Breus, the technique lowers the heart rate to the point where it needs to be at night when some are trying to fall asleep.
“I’ve embraced this method, both as a ‘helps you fall asleep’ method but more as a ‘helps you fall back to sleep’ method,” Breus said. Newsweek. “Most people don’t know this metric, but to reach an unconscious state, you need a heart rate of 60 or less, to get there. So when you wake up in the middle of the night and your anxiety is high because you looked at the clock, it can help you get back to sleep.”
Additionally, Breus said there is plenty of data showing that diaphragmatic breathing helps reduce anxiety, which has been linked to difficulty falling and staying asleep.
“Most people are what we call ‘shallow breathers’, which means they don’t use their full lung capacity except during intense physical activity,” Breus said. “This type of breathing requires more breaths per minute to get the volume of air needed to live. More breaths per minute equals an increase in heart rate – and we know we need to get to 60, which is usually lower to where people tend to sit naturally (unless you’re an athlete).”
Breathing in for four counts will slowly fill the lungs, holding for seven allows maximum oxygen exchange, and exhaling for eight pushes all excess carbon dioxide out of the lungs and allows more fresh, highly oxygenated air to flow. ‘get into the system, so the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, according to Breus. This leads to a drop in heart rate.
McKeown said it’s important to note that not everyone will be able to practice the 4-7-8 breath.
“People with poor breathing already suffer from a shortness of breath that we call ‘air hunger.’ he declared.