No matter what you do for a living, stress and anxiety can creep in when you least expect it. And no matter how you live your life, you may experience trouble relaxing or falling asleep. Luckily, relaxation exercises like the 4-7-8 breathing technique exist. And with a little practice, you may find yourself drifting off to sleep in no time.
According to studies, nearly a third of all Americans get fewer than seven hours of sleep each night. Over 50 million Americans suffer from a sleep issue of some kind.1
There are all sorts of theories about why some people have a hard time falling asleep. There are also just as many remedies to help people get relief. Some people try integrative medicine, alternate nostril breathing, or herbal remedies but sometimes still find it difficult to relax or get to sleep.
If you’re looking for something new to try, the 4-7-8 breathing technique may be a simple way to help you focus on relaxing. And the best part is, you can do it anywhere, anytime.
So, what is a 4-7-8 breath exercise and how does it work? Read here to learn more about breathing practices and relaxing breath techniques that may help you feel relaxed and get to sleep.
What Is The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?
Compared to other alternate breathing practices, like diaphragmatic breathing technique, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is relatively new. The technique was developed over the last 30 years by integrative medicine practitioner Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil has referred to this practice as “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”2,3
The 4-7-8 breathing technique’s goal is to regulate the breath by channeling your mind and body’s focus on nothing but breathing. This method might be able to support healthy stress levels, which in turn could help you get to sleep.4
How 4-7-8 Breathing Works And How You Can Practice This Breath Exercise
I know what you’re probably wondering: What do the 4, 7, and 8 refer to in this mindful breathing method? It’s pretty simple: they are the number of counts you make while you breathe in through your nose, hold your breath, and breathe out through your mouth. Simple, right? Well, the art of this exercise comes when you learn to train your muscles and mind to repeat it.
How To Practice 4-7-8 Breathing
Whether you are sitting or lying down in bed, make sure you start in a comfortable position.
Your tongue should be relaxed and placed gently just behind your teeth on the roof of your mouth.
Exhale Your Initial Breath
Breathe out through your mouth. It’s OK to make a “whooshing” sound with the breath. Your lungs should be empty.
Breathe In For Four
Take a breath in through your nose for a count of four. Make sure your mouth is shut.
Hold Your Breath For Seven
Count to seven while you hold your breath.
Breathe Out For Eight
With your mouth open, count to eight as you exhale. It’s OK to make that whooshing sound again.
Repeat Four Times
You should repeat this entire cycle four times.5
How It Works
It is believed that the nervous system is calmed by this simple breathing pattern.
- As you breathe in slowly, your body is taking in large amounts of oxygen at a deliberate pace.
- When you hold the breath, the oxygen is given time to enter your bloodstream.
- And when you breathe out, your lungs are made to release carbon dioxide in large amounts.
Things To Remember As You Start This Breathing Exercise
It is suggested that beginners practice these breathing exercises twice a day. It’s not a good idea for a beginner to attempt more than four cycles at once until they gain more experience.
If you feel dizzy following your first few cycles, don’t be alarmed. It is a normal side effect to feel a little lightheaded as you begin, so always make sure you are sitting or lying down to start. If you are experiencing difficulty, try shortening the pattern to suit your needs. The breath ratio is more important than the length of the pattern.6
Can 4-7-8 Breathing Help You To Relax And Sleep?
4-7-8 Breathing is a mindfulness breathing exercise inspired by yoga principles. In yoga practice, this art is called Pranayama. This compound word comes from two ideas:
- Prana: the breath or life force which sustains the body
- Ayama: to draw out, or to extend
Pranayama, then, can be considered the thought processes and breathing practices that help to control one’s breath.7
How Pranayama Breath Control May Help You Relax
In addition to mindful breathing, these breathing practices instruct you how to breathe from your abdomen and belly rather than your chest. In doing so, you may enjoy some or all of the following potential benefits:
- Supported mood
- Supported energy and immune health
- Feelings of relaxation and an overall sense of well being 8
Feeling Too Much Stress And Anxiety? Know When To See Your Doctor
Let’s be real: sometimes “too much” is simply too much. It’s important to know your own mind and body. When your stress and anxiety levels are beyond what you can handle with mindful breathing or meditation, see your doctor. You may breathe easier knowing you’re in the hands of a trained professional.
The breathing practices I’ve outlined here may help you focus, fall asleep, and relax in moments of stress.
So, start tonight: When you’re lying back in a cozy spot, close your eyes, relax, focus on your breath, and just breathe.