Healthy Sleeping Habits

I Tried the 4-7-8 Sleep Technique and My God, It Worked Like a Dream

Photo: Stocksy/Jovo Jovanovic
Maybe it’s the existential dread or the mediocre mattress, but I’m not sleeping well these days. In fact, my nights asleep are so the opposite of good that when I stumble upon the 4-7-8 technique, I'm like, “Exhaling myself to sleep? Sure, what the hell.” Dubbed a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system” by Dr. Andrew Weil, I can't help but be seduced by an insta-sleep hack that can knock me out before my mind wanders.

The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise is adopted from the yogic practice of pranayama, meaning “regulation of breath.” Dr. Weil has since developed it as a way to lull the body into a state of deep relaxation. It’s meant to diminish stress and bring balance to the body, all the while giving your organs and tissues a much-needed oxygen boost.

You can practice the technique while sitting or lying down comfortably, maintaining good posture. But since I'm specifically testing this out to fall asleep fast , I decided to try it lying down in my bed. From there, I put the tip of my tongue where the ridge of the gum meets my upper front teeth before exhaling forcefully through my mouth to make a whooshing sound. Then, I close your mouth and inhale through my nose for a count of four. Next, I hold my breath to a count of seven, then exhale through my mouth making the same whoosh sound for a count of eight.

That’s one breath.

I repeat a cycle of breaths three more times, totaling four breathes. According to Dr. Weil, the most important part of this practice is holding your breath, because it’ll allow the oxygen to really circulate throughout your body, and that’s what relaxes you.

The first night is an unmitigated disaster, and I’ll be completely upfront as to why: I'm on the tail end of a cold, and “inhaling through the nose” isn’t super possible when you’re a disgusting snot monster. I guess it goes without saying that trying a breathing technique when you’re congested isn’t the move, but too late, I already just said it. Twice now. It ends with me throwing my iPhone and tossing and turning until I pass out.

The second day I feel a little bit better (thank you for asking) and try again. This time my struggle is memorizing what the hell I have to do. Yes, they say the steps are simple, but like with all strategic breathing, you need to memorize tongue placement and exhale count and blah blah blah. When you inevitably mess that up, the fear is, “Do I start over? Do I need to keep going? Do I do another cycle? What’s wrong with me that I can’t breathe correctly.” In these moments, I really wish you had more lavender lotion. What’s a girl to do?

But on the count of three, 4-7-8 starts working. It's the third night that I start seeing results. Though I'm still clutching my phone, trying to master the method, something clicked on that fourth breath cycle. I checked the time on the phone—11:56—and vowed to check the time again to track how long this took to work. I never got that far, having passed out swiftly and without strife.

This becomes my method of marking the 4-7-8 technique’s success. I finish my breathing cycle, check the time, and never stay awake long enough to go for a second check.

Will the 4-7-8 technique get you to sleep “in seconds?” From my experience, “minutes” feels a dash more accurate. I think once you get the hang of it, maybe it can be more potent, but you need to get past that awkward phase of thinking: “Okay, I want to put my tongue where now? How many seconds should I whoosh?” So I don’t know, I won’t throw out my sliver of lavender lotion immediately.

However, if you’re looking for something new (and decidedly free), I say go for it! When it comes to falling asleep, there is no harm in regulating your breathing. If nothing else, the simple act of focusing on something meditative will help you banish those late night scaries. So why not, give 4-7-8 a whirl...or a whoosh, whatever.

Lot's of people are looking into ways to fall asleep fast (go figure)—including the U.S. Army. Here's their technique for zonking out in two minutes or less

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