Does the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise to Sleep Actually Work?


You’ve tried everything. From a hot bath to warm milk, you’ve even put your phone on the other end of the bed to avoid the temptation but alas, sleep doesn’t evade you. With important meetings to lectures, you know you will never get through any of it without a good 6-7 hours of sleep. At this point you might be lying awake wondering why your brain won’t shut down.

This has been my condition many a times, especially before an important interview or a test when I need my focus to be sharp. With the constant need to stay connected via social media, insomnia and sleep depravity have become more common often leading to chronic sleep disorders. Stimulants, such as caffeinated drinks, alarm clocks, and lights, interfere with our “cardiac rhythm,” otherwise called our normal sleep cycle, which is the reason lack of sleep is turning out to be more common. Although research cannot pinpoint the exact amount of sleep needed by people at different ages, however, eight or so hours for a healthy adult is a good rule of thumb.

To achieve a good night’s sleep I had tried everything from ear plugs, eye masks, soothing music to a light exercise before bed. This is when I came across a YouTube video offering an easy life hack for sleep, claiming to put you to sleep in under 60 seconds. This YouTube channel belonged to Arizona-based Dr Andrew Weil who claimed: ‘It is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere.’ Naturally, curiosity took the best of me and I started researching this method. Turns out, this method was dubbed a ‘natural tranquilizer for the human mind,’ by many noted websites.

By a few simple breathing exercises taken from the ancient Indian practice called pranayama, that means “regulation of breath,” it encourages fast removal of carbondioxide. During times of stress, the nervous system becomes over stimulated leading to an imbalance that can cause a lack of sleep. With this technique, oxygen fills our lungs better and has a calming effect on our nervous system. It can also help those suffering from anxiety or irregular heart rhythms.

This guide from Athena has more information about breathing exercises along with other tips on relieving anxiety.

With such compelling evidence I decided to try this out for a few nights to fix my sleep cycle.  Although you can do the exercise in any position, it’s recommended to keep your back straight while doing the exercise, for example when lying in bed. Weil explains to place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there through the entire exercise, exhaling through your mouth around your tongue to make a little whoosh sounds. This is followed by the five-step procedure listed below:

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

Weil emphasizes the most important part of this process is holding your breath for eight seconds. This is because keeping the breath in will allow oxygen to fill your lungs and then circulate throughout the body. It is this that produces a relaxing effect in the body.

Although the first few times I didn’t quite get it right, but after a few tries I noticed that every time I would do it, I’d get a little drowsy. I admit I was expecting to fall into deep slumber after the first try, I was disappointed to note that it took me at least 7-10 tries before I started feeling sleepy. And that may as well have been due to boredom. All in all this exercise wasn’t quite for me, however, I do believe that keeping a calm and silent mind before falling asleep is essential to a perfect goodnight’s sleep.

Article Sources:

  1. How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
  2. A Life Hack For Sleep
  3. Breathing: Three Exercises


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