Whether a poor night’s sleep is just an occasional thing or you’re one of the increasing number of people suffering from a frustrating and persistent abundance of them, there is a simple technique that requires little more than your own body to help you fall asleep—and fast. The 4-7-8 method is a breathwork practice, devolved from the ancient yogic tradition of pranayama (or breath regulation) which helps relax the body and mind and subsequently eases you into sleep.
The man behind the technique, Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, has dubbed it a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” It works by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our rest and digest mode, while switching off the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers our stress response (or fight or flight mode).
Not only can this kind of deep and rhythmic breathing help you get to sleep quickly, but it also reduces anxiety, can help us manage everything from cravings to anger and helps with the normal functioning of processes like digestion in the body. Given so many of us are chronically stressed, it pays to incorporate techniques like this into your day to day routine.
You can do the 4-7-8 to help you get to sleep, in the middle of the night when you wake up, or at any point during the day when you want to feel calmer. However and whenever you do it, Dr Weil advises performing the technique regularly and consistently–ideally, twice a day–to see long-lasting and life-changing results.
So, how to do it? The ultra-simple breathing exercise goes like this:
1. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four seconds.
2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
3. Exhale for eight seconds, making a “whoosh” sound through pursed lips
4. Repeat up to four times, twice per day.