Do you struggle to fall asleep every night, and end up spending most of your time in bed tossing and turning? We suggest you try the 10-3-2-1-0 rule of sleep that experts say “is a simple approach for remembering some healthy pre-sleep practices”. But if you are still unable to catch some shuteye, Dr Andrew Weil, an integrative medicine expert, has a solution — the 4-7-8 rule of breathing, which he also describes as a “natural tranquiliser for the nervous system.”

The technique, which finds its inspiration from the yogic breathing technique of Pranayama, “is the perfect, portable stress antidote, as it puts the practitioner in a relaxed state almost immediately,” the expert writes on his website. “Unlike tranquilising drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice,” he adds.

According to him, “Practicing a regular, mindful breathing exercise can be calming and energising and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders”.

How to do the 4-7-8 (or relaxing breath) exercise

Dr Weil’s website notes that the 4-7-8 breathing exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment, and can be done anywhere.

“Although you can do it in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward,” it read.

How to do?

*Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
*Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
*Hold your breath for a count of seven.
*Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
*This is one breath cycle. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four cycles.

sleep Ensure you sleep well with this technique (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

“Note that with this breathing technique, you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply,” his site mentioned.

How often should you do it?

*Do it at least twice a day.
*You cannot do it too frequently.
*Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice.
“Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass,” he added.

He added that the technique also helps calm the nerves. “Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension or stress. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it,” he added.

But does it really help sleep better?

Dr Ashish Kumar Prakash, consultant, respiratory and sleep medicine, Medanta Hospital Gurugram, told that while “no scientific data” exists, this technique can be considered a “good practice to relax the mind”. “Though it claims to promote good sleep, there is no evidence of its effectiveness in Obstructive Sleep Apnea — the most common sleep-related breathing disorder. As such, this practice is to just calm the mind and can be considered a good way to relax the body and mind, making it easier to sleep,” he said.

Agreeing, Dr Narendra Shetty, Chief Wellness Officer, Kshemavana, said that the main aim of this technique is to “regulate the brain waves, in terms of synchronising and channelising them, to get organic sound sleep by inducing the release of natural endorphins and serotonin without straining one’s physiology.”

However, Dr Animesh Arya, senior consultant and HOD, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute warned against “using it excessively for everyday stresses”. “This fight-or-fright response can help you survive but can be harmful to your health if used excessively for everyday stresses. In case of excess stress or uneasiness, a person must consult an expert to find out the real cause and begin treatment immediately,” Dr Arya said.

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