I sometimes find it hard to fall asleep at night. My mind can race thinking about the events of the day, an upcoming test or a blog that needs to be written. It doesn’t help matters when I stay up late and have had a cup or two of coffee and have eaten whatever sugary snack that was within reach. Not being able to settle your mind can lead to sleepless nights, tossing and turning in search of rest. Some people believe white noise can help. Others use sleep aids such as eye masks and body pillows, melatonin or the more extreme sleep aids like Unisom or ZzzQuil. A friend of mine told me about a breathing technique called the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise or The Relaxing Breath when I complained about not being able to fall asleep. I was skeptical and wanted to know, is it proven that you can fall asleep by just following this breathing routine?
I first set out to understand exactly how to conduct this breathing exercise. The 4-7-8 technique was created by Harvard trained medical doctor, Dr. Andrew Weil. He believes that the routine allows your body to relax and create a state of calm, naturally. He has referenced it as a form of Yoga and has created a video to demonstrate the use of the technique as shown here Dr Weil 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise.
This method of breathing has been compared to pranayama, which is a yoga technique for meditative breathing. A researcher at Brown University, Aaron Berard, was asked to opine on the breathing method as a means to induce sleep. His conclusion was that the method was clearly a form of meditation but that there was no direct link to an absolute means to sleep. Aaron Berard commentary. Dr. Weil has referenced a research paper entitled: Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers http://icmr.nic.in/ijmr/2004/0807.pdf. This study concluded that autonomic functions, such as respiratory rate and heart rate, were improved in slow breathing exercises.
As said earlier, the 4-7-8 breathing technique relaxes the whole nervous system in a way of extreme relaxation. Being relaxed before you go to sleep is very important because you will most likely find it easier to fall asleep. This technique is able to be used every day multiple times a day. Now, keep in mind that in order for this exercise to work, you must train your lungs over time. Practice makes perfect, but then again it just might not be for you. There have been numerous studies outlining how mediation can affect your sleeping patterns and bodily functions. Overall, these studies have concluded numerous things except that mediation will put you to sleep, but have stated that mediation is directly correlated to activating brain stimulation by allowing more oxygen to the brain which in turn effects the mental and physical state in a positive way at which we sleep.
There is no scientific proof that the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise will make you fall asleep. For me, I find that it works to calm me down and relax while I focus on the breathing technique. By counting in my head and focusing on my breath, other thoughts are allowed to escape. While the technique might not be a scientifically proven method for sleep, it is simple, quick, doesn’t cost anything and it works for me – why not give it a try!