VIA – It was the week before my best friend’s wedding, and my anxiety levels had hit the roof. A thousand thoughts were racing around my mind. Like most of us, I had a lot on my plate.
I wasn’t sleeping, not even a little. Part of that had to do with the best man speech I was due to give in front of all my friends. I was terrified and could not shut my brainbox off at night, it was a really bore.
After day three of lying awake until the wee hours of the morning, I sheepishly admitted to my friend (the groom) that I was too nervous to kip. He, who was sleeping like a baby the week before the biggest day of his life, told me I needed to try the “4-7-8” breathing trick.
It couldn’t be more simple and easily applicable. You simply breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds.
He explained that the considered combination of numbers has a chemical-like effect on our brains, and would slow my heart rate and soothe me right to sleep.
How it Works
I couldn’t wait to put the trick to the test, and to my complete disbelief, I woke up the next morning unable to even remember getting to the eighth second of the exhale because it knocked me out that fast.
When you feel stressed or anxious, adrenaline courses through your veins, your heart beats at a rapid rate, and your breathing becomes quick and shallow. So before I get into the specifics behind how the 4-7-8 breathing trick works, I wanted to explain in my own words what it feels like when you try it.
When you first start, you’ll be desperate to just take in another breath, or you’ll want to speed up your counting, but if you stick to the numbers (or at least try to), and don’t take breaks (in other words, consecutively repeat the 4-7-8 without resuming regular breathing), you can literally feel your heart rate slow down, your mind empty, and your whole body relax. It washes over you like a calming, relaxing drug. I can never remember getting past the first set of 4-7-8.
Do you know the feeling of being put under by anaesthesia, where you are conscious, and the next thing you remember is waking up? That’s what this is like for me.
Let’s get a bit technical…People who are stressed or anxious are actually chronically under-breathing, because stressed people breathe shortly and shallowly, and often even unconsciously hold their breath. I’m certainly guilty of the latter.
By extending your inhale to a count of four, you are forcing yourself to take in more oxygen, allowing the oxygen to affect your bloodstream by holding your breath for seven seconds, and then emitting carbon dioxide from your lungs by exhaling steadily for eight seconds.
The technique will effectively slow your heart rate and increase oxygen in your bloodstream, and may even make you feel slightly lightheaded which contributes to the sedative-like effect.
How it Can Work For You
The most well-known champion of the 4-7-8 breathing technique in the U.S. is Harvard-educated Dr. Andrew Weil. He’s been spreading love for the method ever since its inception.
Of course it’s possible that these things work better for different people, but I can safely say that if it affects you like it did me, you’ll be asleep in no time. Not only is it free, it also works for a number of different instances.
In addition to using it to fall asleep, you can practice it if you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something you have to do the next day, in order to fall back asleep; if you are nervous before an event; if you are angry about something and want to calm down. It’s widely applicable to a range of situations.
It is now what I use to fall asleep every single night, and each morning, and I’m amazed at how well it worked. I hope it does the same for you. Sweet dreams.