Originally, I knew very little about the 4-7-8 breathing technique, then suddenly it began popping up everywhere on social media and on health and wellness sites that I follow. An easy trick to help me fall asleep quickly and safely?
At first it honestly seemed too good to be true. Over the years I have experimented with a lot of sleep hacks, some that work and some that don’t. I was soon determined to find out more information on what 4-7-8 breathing was, and more importantly, see if it worked!
What is it?
The 4-7-8 breathing method was created by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s most commonly used to help people fall asleep faster, but also in general it is useful as a way of calming down the body and re-focusing oneself. You could use it to re-center if you are feeling angry or before an important public speaking event as a way to clear your mind and focus.
The breathing pattern is said to stop racing thoughts and slow your breathing, which achieves more restful sleep quicker. Many people love this technique for falling asleep because it requires no props, is fast and easy, and can be used anywhere.
Having a tried and true method would be quite beneficial for unique instances that have the power to mess with our sleep, such as being in a hotel room or on a long overnight flight. The ability to take this with me anywhere, in comparison to oil diffusers or specific blackout shades, was what first grabbed my attention.
The method is rooted in ancient yoga principles and involves 3 clear steps. When done in order, the steps will slow down your heart rate, increase oxygen, and calm your mind. In yoga, the key focus is connecting one’s body to its breath.
In this simple breathing practice, the idea is very similar. When done correctly, the combination of inhales and exhales will relax your body so much, that you should doze off to sleep almost instantly.
The mind, body connection is paramount to its success, and also why it continues to work over time. As long as you are able to come back to that state where you hone in on your breathing, your mind and body should follow suit and relax as well.
The method prides itself on being able to consistently help people who struggle with anxiety-related insomnia. When you have a head full of thoughts and worries, it can be really difficult to turn off your mind at night and recharge through sleep. As I researched, talked to folks who swear by this, and prepared to try, I learned valuable information about the approach itself.
The 3 steps are as follows:
Before beginning, take a big exhale, making a soft “whoosh” sound. Now you are focused and ready to begin.
- Inhale deeply through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds, again making a “whoosh” sound
After you do these 3 steps, pause for a second, inhale again, thus beginning the entire cycle over. You’ll want to do this exact cycle 3 more times, totaling 4 full cycles of breaths. Of course, you could always add a few more cycles on the end, just continuing as you get more and more relaxed and eventually fall asleep.
Many people who use the technique compare it to being put under anesthesia. One minute you remember being put under, and then the next, you are waking up! Here is a video of Dr. Andrew Veil explaining how to perform his famous method.
In addition to being super helpful, I also love that there is a hard-to-see dog hanging out in the background. I’m thinking perhaps he wants to learn these amazing sleep tips too
What happened for me?
After I was equipped with the information I needed to rest out the 4-7-8 method, I washed my face, put on my pajamas and practically jumped into bed. I was excited to see what all the rave was about and if indeed I could make myself fall asleep in virtually no time. So, I began.
Almost instantly, I started to get a little stressed and wonder ‘wait, do I breathe in through my nose or mouth?’ ‘what’s next again?’ I became frustrated. I knew that this was supposed to be an easy method and I was already messing it up! I eventually decided to play some soft classical music and fall asleep that way.
The next night, I tried again. This time, I was a lot calmer and took myself a lot less seriously. My more relaxed state certainly helped. I shut my eyes gently, and breathed in for 1, 2, 3, 4 seconds. I was already starting to sink harder into my pillow and sheets.
Next, I held my breath for 7 seconds. And I began to internally panic. It was in this moment that I realized, this is going to take a little practice. All the firsthand accounts I’d read promised that this would work instantly. Not as many shared that it would take some repetition.
My opinion? It is successful, but if and only if you do it consistently and remain calm when it’s not working right away. Learning to jog a mile, meditating for the first time, or memorizing the driving directions to your new office all took time. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is no different.
Over the next few nights, I was able to master the method and began to fall asleep within 5 minutes of getting into bed. I will also add that I noticed a correlation between my sleep environment and how successful the method was for me. Having a clean bedroom that was organized and calm certainly helped to trigger my brain and body into knowing that restful sleep was right around the corner.
Give it a try!
After going through the process of trying the 4-7-8 breathing method for myself, I can now see what all the hype is about. My main piece of advice is to not become discouraged if it doesn’t yield results right away.
It took me some practice, just as Dr. Andrew Weil claims it will. If you can, practice it a few times throughout the day to prepare yourself for bedtime. That will take the pressure off for later in the day, since you will be continually ingraining the pattern of inhale, hold, exhale into your mind and body.
Before you know it, the technique is second nature for you to use in a variety of situations and settings. Once you become familiar with how to effectively 4-7-8 and practice a bit, you will be calm and rested in no time.