The 4-7-8 technique is a relaxation exercise that involves breathing in four times, holding that breath for seven times and exhaling for eight times, said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California. College of Medicine, via email.
Rebecca Robbins, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate scientist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said. “But exercises like the 4-7-8 technique give you the opportunity to practice being at peace. And that’s exactly what we need to do before we go to bed.”
It doesn’t make you sleep, but it may reduce anxiety to increase the likelihood of falling asleep,” said Joshua Tal, MD, a clinical psychologist in New York State.
How it works 4-7-8
The 4-7-8 method doesn’t require any specific equipment or setup, but when you first learn the exercise, you should be sitting with your back straight, according to Weil. Robbins said that working out in a quiet, quiet place can help. Once you get stuck, you can use this technique while lying in bed.
During the entire practice, place the tip of your tongue against the edge of the tissue behind your upper front teeth, where you will exhale through your mouth around your tongue. Then follow these steps as per file:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a noisy sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale softly through your nose until you reach four mental counts.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale through your mouth, making a sizzling sound for a count of eight.
- Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breathing cycles.
According to Weil, keeping four, then seven, and then eight counts more than the time you spend on each stage.
His website advised, “If you’re having trouble holding your breath, speed up the exercise while keeping the ratio (constant) for the three phases. With practice you can slow everything down and get used to the deeper inhale and exhale.”
What the search shows
When you feel stressed, your sympathetic nervous system — which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response — is overly active, leaving you feeling over-stimulated and unprepared to relax and go to sleep, Dasgupta said. “An active sympathetic nervous system can cause an acceleration of the heart rate as well as rapid and shallow breathing.”
He added that practicing 4-7-8 breathing can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for rest and digestion – reducing sympathetic activity, putting the body in a state more conducive to restful sleep. Activating the parasympathetic system also gives the anxious brain something to focus on besides “Why can’t I sleep?” Tal said.
He added that while proponents may swear this way, more research is needed to establish clearer links between 4-7-8 and sleep and other health benefits.
“There is some evidence that breathing 4-7-8 helps reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia when comparing pre- and post-intervention, however, there are no large randomized control trials specifically on breathing 4-7-8 to my knowledge,” Tal said. “Research on (the effect of) diaphragmatic breathing on these symptoms in general is sporadic, with no clear relationship due to the poor quality of the studies.”
“If you do some of these activities, what we see is () an increase in the amplitude of theta and delta (brain) waves, which indicates that one is in a parasympathetic state,” Robbins said. “Slow breathing like the 4-7-8 technique reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and improves lung function.”
what are you expecting
The 4-7-8 method is relatively safe, but if you’re a beginner, you might feel a little dizzy at first, Dasgupta said.
“Normal breathing is a balance between breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. When you upset that balance by exhaling more than you inhale, (it) causes a rapid decrease in carbon dioxide in the body,” he said. “Low levels of carbon dioxide narrow the blood vessels that supply the brain with blood. This decrease in blood flow to the brain leads to symptoms such as dizziness. This is why it is often recommended to start slowly and practice three to four cycles at the same time. Time until you feel comfortable with this technology.”
Unmanaged stress can raise its head in the form of sleep difficulties, Robbins said. “But when we can manage our stress throughout the day (and) implement some of these breathing techniques, we can put ourselves in the driver’s seat instead of being a victim of events in our lives.”