Whether a poor night’s sleep is just an occasional thing, or you’re one of the increasing number of people dealing with it on a frustratingly frequent basis, there is a simple breathing technique that could help you to drift off quickly. The 4-7-8 method is a breathwork practice with roots in the ancient yogic tradition of pranayama (or breath regulation), which helps relax the body and mind and subsequently ease you into sleep.
The man behind the technique, Dr Andrew Weil, the founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, has dubbed it a “natural tranquiliser for the nervous system”. It works by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our rest and digest mode, while switching off the sympathetic nervous system which triggers our stress response (or ‘fight or flight’ mode).
Not only can this kind of deep and rhythmic breathing help you get to sleep quickly, it also reduces anxiety; can help you manage everything from cravings to anger, and aids the functioning of processes like digestion in the body. Given that so many people are now experiencing chronic stress, it pays to incorporate techniques like this into a day to day routine.
You can do the 4-7-8 to help you get to sleep, in the middle of the night when you wake up, or at any point during the day when you want to feel calmer. But however and whenever you choose to do it, Dr Weil advises performing the technique regularly and consistently—ideally twice a day—to see long-lasting and life-changing results.
So, how to do it? The ultra simple breathing exercise goes like this:
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale for eight seconds, making a “whoosh” sound through pursed lips
- Repeat up to four times, twice per day.
This article originally appeared in British Vogue.