The 4-7-8 method that can help you sleep

This breathing technique can help activate your system responsible for rest and digestion.

Falling asleep or recovering from anxiety may never be as easy as counting from one to three, but some experts believe a different set of numbers – 4-7-8 – is much closer to counting. get results.

The 4-7-8 technique is a relaxation exercise that involves inhaling for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight. Raj Dasgupta, professor of medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, via email.

Also known as ‘relaxing breathing’, the 4-7-8 method has ancient roots in pranayama, which is the practice of regulating breath in yoga, but was popularized by the medical expert Integrative Dr. Andrew Weil, in 2015.

“A lot of difficulty falling asleep occurs in people who can’t sleep because their minds are too active,” said Rebecca Robbins, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate scientist in the Department of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. in Boston. “But exercises like the 4-7-8 technique give you the opportunity to practice the state of peace. And that’s exactly what we need to do before we go to bed.”

“It doesn’t ‘put you to sleep,’ but it can reduce anxiety to increase your chances of falling asleep,” said Joshua Tal, a clinical psychologist in New York state.

How 4-7-8 works

The 4-7-8 method doesn’t require any specific equipment or setup, but when you start learning the exercise, you should sit with your back straight, according to Weil. Doing it in a quiet, peaceful place can help, Robbins said. Once you are comfortable with the exercise, you can perform the technique while lying in bed.

Throughout the practice, place the tip of your tongue against the edge of the fabric behind your front teeth as you will be exhaling through your mouth, around your tongue. Then follow these steps, according to Weil:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth making a breath sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale silently through your nose, mentally counting to four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale through your mouth making a breath sound as you count to eight.
  • Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles.

Keeping the count ratio at four, then seven, then eight is more important than the time spent in each phase, according to Weil.

“If you have difficulty holding your breath, speed up the exercise, but keep the ratio (consistent) for all three phases. With practice, you can slow everything down and get used to inhaling and exhaling deeper and deeper” , he advises on his site.

When you’re feeling stressed, your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, is overactive, making you feel overstimulated and not ready to relax and go to sleep, Dasgupta said. “An active sympathetic nervous system can cause a rapid heart rate, as well as rapid, shallow breathing.”

What the research shows

The 4-7-8 breathing technique can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for rest and digestion – which reduces sympathetic activity, he added, putting the body in a state more conducive to a restful sleep. Activating the parasympathetic system also gives an anxious brain something to focus on besides “why am I not sleeping?” Tal said.

Although proponents tout the method, more research is needed to establish clearer links between 4-7-8, sleep and other health benefits, he added.

“There is evidence that 4-7-8 breathing helps reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia when compared before and after the intervention, however, there is not a great deal of control randomized trial specifically on 4-7-8 breathing, as far as I can tell,” Tal said. “Research on (the effect of) diaphragmatic breathing on these symptoms is generally spotty and does not establish no clear link due to the poor quality of the study.

A team of researchers based in Thailand studied the immediate effects of 4-7-8 breathing on heart rate and blood pressure in 43 healthy young adults. Once participants had these health factors and their fasting blood sugar levels measured, they performed 4-7-8 breathing for six cycles per set in three sets, interspersed with one minute of normal breathing between each set. Researchers found that the technique improved participants’ heart rate and blood pressure, according to a study published in July.

When researchers looked at the effects of breathing techniques like the 4-7-8, they found an increase in theta and delta brain waves, which indicates the person is in a parasympathetic state, Robbins said. “Slow breathing like the 4-7-8 technique reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and improves lung function.”

The 4-7-8 technique is relatively safe, but if you’re a beginner, you might feel a bit dizzy at first, Dasgupta said.

What to expect

“Normal breathing is a balance between breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. When we break this balance by exhaling more than we inhale, it causes a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide in the body,” a- he declared. “Low levels of carbon dioxide lead to narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. This reduced blood supply to the brain causes symptoms such as dizziness. This is why it is often recommended to start slowly and practice three to four cycles of each time until you feel comfortable with the technique.”

The more you practice the 4-7-8 technique, the better you will become, and the more your body and mind will incorporate it into your regular list of stress and anxiety management tools, Dasgupta says. Some people combine this method with other relaxation practices, such as progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, mindfulness, or meditation.

Unmanaged stress can manifest as difficulty falling asleep, Robbins said. “But when we can manage our stress throughout the day (and) implement some of these breathing techniques, we can put ourselves on the front lines instead of being victims of events that happen in our lives.

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