How to Achieve Calm and Fall Asleep
Think stress is inevitable or unavoidable?
A few deep breaths can calm us down in a moment of stress, but there are specific breathing techniques that can provide more than just a little relief.
Some people are able to completely change their mental health and wellbeing through breathing exercises alone.
One of these breathing exercises that is said to not only help people keep their cool, deal with cravings, and provide a myriad of other benefits, but create deeper physiological changes including slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve digestions, improve circulation, is the 4-7-8 Breathing method.
What is 4-7-8 Breathing
The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise is a breathing technique used to calm the mind and body in a stressful situation. This breathing method has been developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
Dr Weill suggests 4-7-8 breathing can help with the following:
- reducing anxiety
- helping a person get to sleep
- managing cravings
- controlling or reducing anger responses
Some people claim that the 4-7-8 breathing pattern helps people get to sleep in 1 minute.
How does 4-7-8 Breathing work?
In a moment of mental or physical stress, the sympathetic nervous system prepares your body to run from danger or stay and fight (known as the fight-or-flight response) It’s also activated in response to mental or physical stress.
- Blood pressure increases
- Blood flow to muscles, lungs, and other areas increases
- Blood flow to the digestive and reproductive systems decreases
- Cortisol, and epinephrine increase to increase strength and speed
- Glucose is rapidly released for energy
But by using the diaphragm to breathe it’s possible to calm the body and move into the opposite state: a parasympathetic state. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated after a meal is eaten or a pleasurable experience. But by controlling breath, using deep breathing exercises, it’s possible to shift the body into a parasympathetic state, even in a moment of stress.
As a result:
- Heart rate and respiration slow
- Blood pressure drops
- Intestinal activity and blood flow to the digestive tract increase
- Neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine are released, which regulates muscle contractions, including the heart.
- Stress hormones decrease
And what’s unique about the 4-7-8 method when compared to other breathing techniques, is that it involves both inhaling and exhaling, but breath holding too. The breath hold enables carbon dioxide to increase, and when you do this, your body starts to balance out its pH. Maintaining the body’s pH balance is essential for many processes including oxygen delivery to tissues, correct protein structure, and more.
It sounds like an incredibly powerful breathing technique, right?
If you are ready to see if it works for you, let’s go.
How to practice 4-7-8 BreathingStart by sitting down with your back straight and the tip of your tongue on the back of your upper front teeth.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Next, close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for four counts.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Now release your breath completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound for eight counts. You have completed one breath cycle. Ensure you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth.
- Repeat the cycle three more times.
Note that the numbers 4-7-8 do not necessarily mean you need to control your breath for 4, 7 and 8 seconds.
The time you spend on each step is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you start using seconds, as per our instructions below, and you find that you can’t hold your breath, try shortening the length while keeping the same ratio. For example try 2-3.5-4 seconds instead.
Dr. Weil recommends using this technique at least twice a day, and to avoid doing more than four breath cycles in a row until you are well practiced.
He also recommends that the first few times this technique is attempted, it should be practiced sitting or lying down as you may feel lightheaded.
The 4-7-8 breathing method may offer many potential health benefits, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and more, and may calm the mind enough to enable sleep. The only reported side effect is lightheadedness. This breathing technique may be just what you need to return to calm and fall asleep.