What is it?
The ‘4-7-8 method’ is a breathing technique designed to trick your brain and body into relaxing, and fast. Firstly, exhale completely. Then, breathe in quietly through your nose for a count of four; next, hold your breath for seven seconds; and, finally, exhale completely again for a count of eight. Repeat these steps between two and four times until you feel the desired effects.
It sounds strange, but you may have come across the method before – it’s based on the ancient Indian practice pranayama, which means ‘regulation of breath’, and is used widely in yoga and Pilates classes across the wellness world.
Any science behind it?
US sleep expert Dr Andrew Weil – who pioneered the 4-7-8 method during research at the University of Arizona – says the technique works because it allows the lungs to become fully charged with air, in turn getting more oxygen into the body, which promotes a state of calm.
Countless studies have proved breathing deeply affects the heart, brain, digestive system, immune system and even the expression of genes. Research has also shown that breathing exercises like pranayama can have immediate effects on the body, by altering the pH balance of the blood or changing blood pressure – and are also considered an effective method of training the body’s reaction to stressful situations by reducing the production of stress hormones. Why? Scientists believe that rapid breathing makes the body think it’s stressed, but deep breathing stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction.
Does it really work?
Surprisingly, yes. I’ll admit, I was dubious – some evenings it takes hours of lying in a dark room before I can sleep, and when my insomnia is really bad I don’t sleep at all. It’s been that way my whole life – even as a baby, apparently. I’m a classic night owl and find my mind is most active in the evening: cue racing thoughts and the urge to write a long to-do list just when I should be drifting off.
In a nutshell, I used to envy those people who say they nod off as soon as their head hits the pillow (think of how much later I could go to bed!), but now I’m closer to being one of those smug sleepers than ever. While I didn’t fall asleep in the exact 60-second window, I did just a few short minutes later.
Friends of mine, who I instantly recommended the tip to, had similar experiences too. One didn’t even make it past the first 4-7-8 (she really is one of the smug ones).
Anything else to know?
According to the method’s purveyor, Dr Weil, it doesn’t have to be reserved for night-time alone. He advises doing it at least once – or as often as you need – in the day too, both promoting relaxation and helping you deal with anxiety and stressful situations.
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