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What Is the 4 7 8 Breathing Method? Step-by-Step Guide

You’ve been asking yourself, ‘What is the 4 7 8 breathing method?’ After seeing it mentioned in article after article as a sure-fire trick to help you fall asleep, you’re ready to give it a try.

The problem is, you don’t know exactly how to do it, when to do it, or if you’re doing it right.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of people in the same boat as you which is why Snoozerville has a comprehensive guide on the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

Read on to learn how to do this breathing exercise so that you can drift off more easily tonight.

Background on the 4-7-8 Breath

Dr. Andrew Weil 4-7-8 breathing method

The 4-7-8 breathing (or 478 breathing) technique was created by Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil is a Harvard University-educated doctor specializing in alternative medicine. He

 is a celebrity doctor and founded the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.

He was a pioneer of integrated medicine which aims to combine alternative medicine with conventional evidence-based medicine.

Dr. Weil believes that,

“Practicing a regular, mindful breathing exercise can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.”

This conscious breathing method has roots in a yogic technique known as pranayama which has been recognized for centuries as a relaxation technique.

How Does the 4-7-8 Breathing Trick Work?

woman breathing in fresh air with her eyes closed

Both anecdotal evidence, as well as numerous studies, provide evidence supporting the idea that deep breathing exercises help to relax the body and reduce anxiety.

Collective stress from the day’s tasks is one of the main reasons people have trouble falling asleep. Breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 breathing trick help to relax you so you can fall asleep with a clearer mind.

4-7-8 breathing works as a natural tranquilizer for your nervous system.

This simple breathing exercise is different from taking tranquilizing drugs because drugs are powerful at first but lose their effectiveness over time with continued use. Conversely, the 4-7-8 deep breathing exercise gains efficacy over time with repetition and practice.

What Are the Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing?

man meditating on a bed

There are numerous potential health benefits of the 4-7-8 breathing trick.

For starters, the major reported benefits of breathing in this way are deeper relaxation and reduced sleep onset latency. Lots of people say it helps them fall asleep in under 60 seconds. There aren’t any scientific studies on this but there are lots of anecdotal stories.

What scientists do know is that deep breathing techniques reduce anxiety. Anxiety not only makes falling asleep more difficult but it’s also one of the reasons people who wake up in the night have trouble falling back asleep. You can reduce anxiety with breathing techniques such as the 4 -7 -8 breath relaxation exercise, as well as alternate nostril breathing and box breathing.

Dr. Weil also explains that this breath movement is very versatile. 

“It will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension or stress. Use it to help you fall asleep.”

Studies also show that deep breathing techniques like this can have positive effects on other medical conditions such as pain and hypertension. 

What Is the 4 7 8 Breathing Method? How To Use It.

 what is the 4 7 8 method breathe sign

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is very simple. The entire exercise takes almost no time and you don’t need any special equipment or teachers. Anyone can do it.

  1. Sit with your back straight as you learn to do the exercise. You can do it in any position but Dr. Weil recommends a straight back for first-timers.
  2. Place the tip of your tongue against the top of your mouth, just behind your front teeth, and keep it there for the duration of the exercise. During the exercise, you will exhale around your tongue. If it feels awkward, Dr. Weil suggests pursing your lips a bit.
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth. Make a whooshing sound as you exhale.
  4. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while mentally counting to four. 1…2…3…4…
  5. Hold your breath and do a mental count to seven. 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…
  6. Exhale completely through your mouth with a whoosh sound while mentally counting to eight. 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…
  7. Repeat the cycle three more times. Each cycle is called a breath. Aim for four breathing cycles.

Note that the actual amount of time you spend on each step isn’t important. But what IS important is the 4 7 8 breathing pattern and ratio.

So, at first, if holding a deep breath for seven seconds is challenging, you can reduce the other steps in proportion to how long you can hold your breath.

You should be inhaling quietly through your nose and exhaling audibly through your mouth, hence the whooshing sound which results from the diaphragmatic breathing in this belly breathing exercise. 

And don’t forget step one, keep your tongue in position for the whole 4-7-8 breathing exercise.

How Long Should I Do 4 7 8 Breathing?

clock showing 1 o'clock

The thing that’s great about the 4-7-8 technique is that you can use it anytime, anywhere. With just a few cycles of controlled breathing, you can have big potential health benefits.

Dr. Weil recommends using this form of breathing twice a day. He says you cannot do it too often.

However, for the first month of practice, he recommends not doing more than four breath cycles at a time. Once you have mastered the technique, or if you’re already experienced in advanced breathing exercises, you can do up to eight cycles at a time.

With consistent practice, you can slow the whole process down, use fuller breaths, and breathe more deeply.

4-7-8 breathing can be combined with other relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep easier such as:

  • Guided imagery
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Repetitive prayer
  • Yoga, tai chi, and qigong
  • Mindfulness meditation

But remember, like any new practice, give the 4-7-8 breathing technique a few tries because it will take some getting used to. Breath control can be challenging at first. 

In Conclusion

Now you should be able to finally answer your question, what is the 4-7-8 breathing method.

There are lots of effective relaxation techniques to sleep, but the 4-7-8 method continues to be one of the top recommendations because of its ease, effectiveness, and versatility.

Give it a try tonight and feel your anxiety levels reduce as you drift off into a restful night’s sleep.

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