It's a well-worn scene: you've got a perfect mattress, well-laundered sheets, a silk eye-mask and gallons of lavender oil, but you can't get off to sleep.
Breathwork has become increasingly popular over the last few years, to help us relax, cure anxiety and even allow us to fall asleep faster. The 478 method is a breathing technique which allows your body to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, which is the perfect condition in order to fall into a deep sleep.
With nearly 20 million views on TikTok, the breathing technique is popular for anyone who can’t nod off quickly – but does it actually work?
We put the sleep method to the test and speak to breathwork guru and founder of Mind You Club Sophie Belle about how it allows you to fall asleep faster. Before you drop a few grand on one of the best mattresses, try this.
Table of Contents
What is the 478 method?
The 478 sleep method is all over TikTok, and it's been endorsed by The Sleep Doctor Michael Breus:
If this is the first time you’ve heard of the 478 sleep method, it's not complicated and you can even try it when you are not in bed. If you’ve ever practised yoga you’ve more than likely come across it, as it's a form of pranayama breathing, a yogic practice which allows you to control your breath.
Sophie explains: 'The 4-7-8 breathing technique has become a popular relaxation method where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and then exhale slowly for 8 seconds.'
But how does it prepare your body for sleep? 'It’s a great way to reduce anxiety, stress and improve your sleep quality. You can do it consistently for at least 3 minutes, and I would recommend up to 6-8 mins if you have time, to access a calmer state of mind and body very quickly.'
Sophie is a breathwork facilitator and founder of online breathwork studio, Mind You Club. She helps individuals through her breathwork programmes, teaching how the power of breath can contribute to better health, lower stress levels, mental and physical healing and better sleep.
How to use the 478 sleep method to help you fall asleep fast
Sophie takes us through a step-by-step guide on how to use the method to fall asleep quickly – whether it’s as part of your nighttime routine or you want to have a quick nap to make you feel more awake.
- Find a comfortable position, lying down with a blanket or duvet over you. You can rest your hands by your side or gently on your stomach
- Inhale gently and steadily through your nose for 4 seconds, directing the air down into your diaphragm
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds (you can build this up from a count of 2 if you need a bit longer to settle into it)
- Exhale slowly and steadily through your nose for 8 seconds, emptying your lungs and feeling
- Repeat the cycle of steps 2-4 for up to 10 rounds
- Return to a light and effortless breath as you drift off to sleep
- Repeat the steps again if you need to.
Does the 478 sleep method work?
I put the method to the test to see if it really worked. To begin with, I found the method slightly odd. It felt forced, and instead of feeling sleepy I just felt wide awake. But I relaxed as I started to breath in rhythm, and concentrating on the breathing meant I forgot about the stresses of the day.
So, why did this happen? 'The 478 method works by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and healing. It’s the body’s ‘rest and digest response, which is the opposite to the fight, flight or freeze mode which is our sympathetic nervous system,' explains Sophie.
'The slow steady breathing alongside the breath hold and the slower exhale all stimulate the vagus nerve, which switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. In this relaxed state, your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure is lowered; both of these are important for inducing sleep.'
Sophie says that the focus on the breath helps to calm the mind. A couple of recent studies also show how effective the pranayama method is, with one finding that the breathing method helped with students' heart rate levels as they fell asleep.
The first few times I practiced the breathing method it took me slightly longer to fall asleep, but before I knew it I was waking up and wondering why I’d worried about falling asleep. It's been three weeks since I started using this sleeping method and I find it very effective after a stressful day. When I can’t quite drift off to sleep naturally, the method gives me a point of focus and relaxes my whole body, allowing me to drift off.
Is the 478 method the only method to help you fall asleep?
Adopting a calming breathing method is particularly useful for those who have insomnia. Sophie explains that 'Constantly returning to a steady and gentle breath is really helpful if you’re feeling anxious, and particularly if you’re struggling with sleep. Focusing on the breath is a meditative and mindful activity in itself, which is why it can be such a helpful tool that you can access at any time of night or day.'
Don’t fancy counting as you sleep? Sophie explains that simply extending your exhale and slowing it down signals to the mind and body that we are safe to rest. 'This is useful when you are finding the counting very hard to focus on or would like something even more gentle. Another really simple exercise is to count your breaths, starting at 20 and working backwards and repeating this as many times as you need to.'
Other methods which are said to help us fall asleep quickly are the military sleep method, a meditative technique which helps your body relax and has been said to help you fall asleep in 2 minutes. If none of these methods makes you nod off to dreamland - you can try meditation, a slow yoga routine before bed or even reading - anything which can take you away from looking at your screens, at least an hour before bed.
How long does the 478 technique take to work?
It just takes a few minutes to practice this method, but you can repeat it until you start to feel the effects. We would recommend trying the technique for 5-10 minutes.
Is breathwork scientifically proven to help sleep?
There's no hard evidence that they are guaranteed to work every time, for everyone. However, breathwork can calm down your body and distract your mind both of which are conducive of sleep.
Different sleep methods will have different effects on different people. But one thing we will say about the 478 is that it did help calm the mind before bed, so even if you don't drift off instantly it's a good habit to bring into your bedtime routine to make you feel more relaxed and ready for sleep.