This Simple Breathing Technique Will Calm Your Mind and Help You Sleep
Have you ever had a moment of panic and been told to "take a deep breath"? It's good advice: breathing deeply is known to help control anxiety and manage stress. What if taking a few deep breaths could help you sleep better as well? And how can we make sure we're doing it properly? That's where the technique known as 4-7-8 breathing comes in.
Here's the lowdown on the 4-7-8 breathing technique and how to use it for stress reduction and better sleep.
What is 4-7-8 breathing?
The 4-7-8 technique is steeped in the traditional breath control practiced in yoga, called prāṇāyāma.
The idea is to inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and then exhale for 8 counts. Technically, it doesn't have to be 4,7 and 8, and you could count as fast or slow as you like; the most important thing is that your exhale should be twice as long as your inhale.
What’s interesting about this technique is that it exaggerates the exhale, which is something many of us find challenging with deep breathing. According to professionals, this technique is particularly relaxing as it exaggerates the exhale portion of the breath.
How does it work?
Breathing deeply works to control the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the fight or flight response. Breathing deeply also brings the heart rate down – especially during the long exhale. Basically, it’s a signal to your body to slow down and a way of slamming the brakes on the stress response.
Beyond these benefits, it can also help you to feel a sense of control. The power of holding the keys to your own stress management is not to be underestimated. The simple act of counting your way through the steps also brings you into the present, requiring your attention and forcing the mind to stop wandering or racing.
What about for sleep?
Besides being a super useful tool for managing daily stresses, 4-7-8 breathing is also a great sleep aid. The next time you're feeling restless and struggling to drift off, try a few counts of 4-7-8 and you might feel sleep come a little easier as your mind relaxes.
How to do 4-7-8 breathing
Set yourself up comfortably with your tongue resting behind the top teeth. Inhale through your nose for 4, hold for 7 and then exhale out of your mouth for 8, making a "whoosh" sound.
Experts recommend a minimum of four cycles of this type of breathing to really feel the stress-relieving benefits. However, you can do as many cycles as you need to feel a change in your mental state, keeping in mind that if you’re new to the technique too many cycles might make you feel light-headed.
How many times a day? Sky’s the limit. Anytime you feel stressed is a great time to whip out your 4-7-8 breathing. Try it when you’re left on hold with your internet provider for two hours, or sitting in traffic.