What if my bedtime ritual is great but I just can't fall asleep? The 4-7-8 Method

I've had several questions about what to do if you either cannot fall asleep after doing a well put together night time ritual or how to get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night.  We all have had those nights when our brain just will not turn off when our head hits the pillow. My mom told me about this breathing method that she discovered and it helped her significantly, she's been an insomniac on and off for about 20 years now.  I figured if it worked for her, then I definitely should give it a try!  I've been using this technique successfully for the last year. Anytime my brain is racing and I just can't seem to get it to shut down to get some sleep, I implement this strategy. It must work because the next thing I know, my alarm clock is going off.

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern based on a yoga technique called pranayama developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. The goal is to help you gain control over your breathing and when applied it can help you fall asleep in a shorter period of time. 

The science behind this method has to do with holding your breath and allowing your body organs and tissues a much needed oxygen boost.  This type of relaxation practice also helps regulate the fight or flight response in the body which might be keeping us from getting our body to a state where it is ready to rest  And finally this type of technique forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your worries when you lie down at night like a ":natural tranquilizer for the nervous system" as Dr Weil puts it.

So how do you do this technique?

Prepare for the practice by resting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth. You’ll need to keep your tongue in place throughout the practice. It takes practice to keep from moving your tongue when you exhale. Exhaling during 4-7-8 breathing can be easier for some people when they purse their lips.

The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:

First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.

Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.

Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.

Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.

When you inhale again, you initiate a new cycle of breath. Practice this pattern for four full breaths.

The held breath (for seven seconds) is the most critical part of this practice. It’s also recommended that you only practice 4-7-8 breathing for four breaths when you’re first starting out. You can gradually work your way up to eight full breaths.

This breathing technique shouldn’t be practiced in a setting where you’re not prepared to fully relax. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be used for falling asleep, it can still put the practitioner into a state of deep relaxation. Make sure you don’t need to be fully alert immediately after practicing your breathing cycles.


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