It’s no secret that sleep is essential for managing stress. Unfortunately, many Americans struggle to make it through the night uninterrupted and are left with a constant craze for caffeine to compensate. Whether your mind is racing over tomorrow’s test or your car insurance bill due next week, there is one way you can regain control of your rest time: just breathe.
Utilizing breathing techniques to achieve a clear mind and relaxed body is a staple of yoga. So it should be no surprise that Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing pattern has its roots in the ancient yogi technique called Pranayama. When implementing this technique, you must breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds before holding that breath for seven. Finally, exhale for eight seconds while keeping your jaw muscles relaxed and your mouth closed.
If your lungs can’t quite hold up to the 19-second pattern, you can still get a better night’s sleep simply by following the 4:7:8 ratio. Essentially, you must hold your breath for just less than double the time you inhaled. Then, focus on exhaling for exactly double the inhale time. The pattern is not only helpful for falling asleep but also for managing anxiety.
The scientific secret behind the 4-7-8 technique lies in the nervous system. Because breathing is both an automatic reflex and a voluntary action, consciously slowing your breathing can limit stress reactions that result an increased heart rate and more rapid release of stress hormones like cortisol. Getting those hormones in check and achieving a good night’s sleep is critical for maintaining overall health.
Whether you are a pro athlete, a stay-at-home mom or one of the millions of Americans who goes to the office every day, getting quality sleep is a necessity for your health. So the next time you’re struggling to shut your eye’s at night, remember to just breathe.