What is the 4 7 8 breathing technique

4-7-8 breathing: How to use the technique for sleep or anxiety

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Falling asleep or coming down from anxiety might never be as easy as 1-2-3, but some experts believe a different set of numbers – 4-7-8 – comes much closer to doing the trick.

The 4-7-8 technique is a relaxation exercise that involves breathing in for four counts, holding that breath for seven counts and exhaling for eight counts, said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, via email.

Also known as the “relaxing breath,” 4-7-8 has ancient roots in pranayama, which is the yogic practice of breath regulation, but was popularized by integrative medicine specialist Dr. Andrew Weil in 2015.

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“What a lot of sleep difficulties are all about is people who struggle to fall asleep because their mind is buzzing,” said Rebecca Robbins, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate scientist in the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “But exercises like the 4-7-8 technique give you the opportunity to practice being at peace. And that’s exactly what we need to do before we go to bed.”

“It does not ‘put you to sleep,’ but rather it may reduce anxiety to increase likelihood of falling asleep,” said Joshua Tal, a New York state-based clinical psychologist.

The 4-7-8 method doesn’t require any equipment or specific setting, but when you’re initially learning the exercise, you should sit with your back straight, according to Weil. Practicing in a calm, quiet place could help, said Robbins. Once you get the hang of it, you can use the technique while lying in bed.

During the entire practice, place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth, as you’ll be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue. Then follow these steps, according to Weil:

  • Completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight.
  • Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles.

Keeping to the ratio of four, then seven and then eight counts is more important than the time you spend on each phase, according to Weil.

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“If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep the ratio (consistent) for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply,” his website advised.

When you’re stressed out, your sympathetic nervous system – responsible for your fight-or-flight response – is overly active, which makes you feel overstimulated and not ready to relax and transition into sleep, Dasgupta said. “An active sympathetic nervous system can cause a fast heart rate as well as rapid and shallow breathing.”

The 4-7-8 breathing practice can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for resting and digesting – which reduces sympathetic activity, he added, putting the body in a state more conducive to restful sleep. Activating the parasympathetic system also gives an anxious brain something to focus on besides “why am I not sleeping?” Tal said.

While proponents may swear by the method, more research is needed to establish clearer links between 4-7-8 and sleep and other health benefits, he added.

“There is some evidence that 4-7-8 breathing helps reduce anxious, depressive and insomniac symptoms when comparing pre- and post-intervention, however, there are no large randomized control trials specifically on 4-7-8 breathing to my knowledge,” Tal said. “The research on (the effect of) diaphragmatic breathing on these symptoms in general is spotty, with no clear connection due to the poor quality of the studies.”

A team of researchers based in Thailand studied the immediate effects of 4-7-8 breathing on heart rate and blood pressure among 43 healthy young adults. After participants had these health factors and their fasting blood glucose measured, they performed 4-7-8 breathing for six cycles per set for three sets, interspersed with one minute of normal breathing between each set. Researchers found the technique improved participants’ heart rate and blood pressure, according to a study published in July.

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When researchers have observed the effects of breathing techniques like 4-7-8 breathing, they have seen an increase in theta and delta brain waves, which indicate someone is in the parasympathetic state, Robbins said. “Slow breathing like the 4-7-8 technique reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and improves pulmonary function.”

The 4-7-8 technique is relatively safe, but if you’re a beginner, you could feel a little lightheaded at first, Dasgupta said.

“Normal breathing is a balance between breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. When you upset this balance by exhaling more than you inhale, (it) causes a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide in the body,” he said. “Low carbon dioxide levels lead to narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. This reduction in blood supply to the brain leads to symptoms like lightheadedness. This is why it is often recommended to start slowly and practice three to four cycles at a time until you are comfortable with the technique.”

The more you practice the 4-7-8 technique, the better you’ll become, and the more your body and mind will incorporate it into your usual roster of tools for managing stress and anxiety, Dasgupta said. Some people combine this method with other relaxation practices such as progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, mindfulness or meditation.

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Unmanaged stress can rear its head in the form of sleep difficulties, Robbins said. “But when we can manage our stress over the course of the day (and) implement some of these breathing techniques, we can put ourselves in the driver’s seat instead of being victim to events that happen in our lives.”

Correction: A previous version of this story included a quote that misstated what happens with delta and theta brain waves when someone is in a parasympathetic state. The story has been updated to say researchers have seen an increase in theta and delta brain waves when someone practices a breathing technique like 4-7-8 breathing.

How It Works, How to Do It, and More

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s based on an ancient yogic technique called pranayama, which helps practitioners gain control over their breathing.

When practiced regularly, it’s possible that this technique could help some people fall asleep in a shorter period of time.

Breathing techniques are designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation. Specific patterns that involve holding the breath for a period of time allow your body to replenish its oxygen. From the lungs outward, techniques like 4-7-8 can give your organs and tissues a much-needed oxygen boost.

Relaxation practices also help bring the body back into balance and regulate the fight-or-flight response we feel when we’re stressed. This is particularly helpful if you’re experiencing sleeplessness due to anxiety or worries about what happened today — or what might happen tomorrow. Swirling thoughts and concerns can keep us from being able to rest well.

The 4-7-8 technique forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your worries when you lie down at night. Proponents claim it can soothe a racing heart or calm frazzled nerves. Dr. Weil has even described it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”

The overall concept of 4-7-8 breathing can be compared to practices like:

  • Alternate nostril breathing involves breathing
    in and out of one nostril at a time while holding the other nostril closed.
  • Mindfulness meditation encourages focused breathing while guiding your attention
    to the present moment.
  • Visualization focuses your mind on the path and pattern of your natural breathing.
  • Guided imagery encourages you to focus on a happy memory or story that will take your
    mind off your worries as you breathe.

People experiencing mild sleep disturbances, anxiety, and stress may find 4-7-8 breathing helpful for overcoming distraction and slipping into a relaxed state.

Over time and with repeated practice, proponents of 4-7-8 breathing say it becomes more and more powerful. It’s said that at first, its effects aren’t as apparent. You might feel a little lightheaded the first time you try it. Practicing 4-7-8 breathing at least twice per day could yield greater results for some people than for those who only practice it once.

To practice 4-7-8 breathing, find a place to sit or lie down comfortably. Be sure you practice good posture, especially when starting out. If you’re using the technique to fall asleep, lying down is best.

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:

  1. First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound,
    exhaling completely through your mouth.
  2. Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your
    nose as you count to four in your head.
  3. Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
  4. Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight

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.

If you’re experiencing mild sleeplessness due to anxiety or stress, 4-7-8 breathing could help you get the rest you’ve been missing. However, if the technique isn’t enough on its own, it might be combined effectively with other interventions, such as:

  • a sleeping mask
  • a white noise machine
  • earplugs
  • relaxation music
  • diffusing essential oils like lavender
  • reducing caffeine intake
  • bedtime yoga

If 4-7-8 breathing isn’t effective for you, another technique like mindfulness meditation or guided imagery may be a better fit.

In some cases, insomnia is more severe and requires medical intervention. Other conditions that may contribute to a severe slack of sleep include:

  • hormonal changes due to menopause
  • medications
  • substance use disorders
  • mental health disorders like depression
  • sleep
  • pregnancy
  • restless leg
  • autoimmune

If you experience frequent, chronic, or debilitating insomnia, contact your doctor. They can give you a referral to a sleep specialist, who will perform a sleep study in order to diagnose the cause of your insomnia. From there, they can work with you to find the right treatment.

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  • Breathing 4-7-8 - a technique for reducing the activity of sympathy

    The 4-7-8 technique is a type of slow controlled breathing where the exhalation is longer than the inhalation and there is a breath-hold between them.

    We recommend this practice if the section "What's happening to you right now?" (opens by clicking on the plus in the upper right corner of the feed) you note that you have insomnia. Breathing 4-7-8 will help you relax and fall asleep faster.

    How to do it right?

    The basic technique involves inhaling through the nose for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling through the mouth for 8 seconds (with the tip of the tongue behind the upper front teeth). This is the pace we set in our audio. nine0003

    The audio is designed for 8 cycles (inhale-hold-exhale), but for beginners, we recommend doing no more than 4 cycles at a time, and then gradually increase the duration of the breathing sessions to 8 cycles.

    How does it work?

    Slow controlled breathing increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, and holding the breath, according to some hypotheses, increases the activity of the vagus nerve, as well as long expiration. nine0003

    Regular practice of slow breathing reduces stress, increases the power of high frequency waves (HF), reduces the power of low frequency waves (LF) and the LF/HF ratio.

    Effect proven?

    Unfortunately, there are no scientific studies that would specifically consider the 4-7-8 technique or purposefully analyze the effect of breathing practices on the duration of falling asleep.

    However, it is the 4-7-8 breathing practice that George Rapier, physician, founder and head of the large network of WellMed clinics, resorts to for relaxation - and he not only uses it himself, but also organizes training in this practice for staff. Learn more: https://www.wellmedhealthcare.com/manage-stress-through-deep-breathing-and-mindfulness

    At the same time, the effect of controlled breathing practices in general (which includes the 4-7-8 technique) is described in the following scientific papers: