There are many ways to tackle insomnia but what works for one person, doesn’t always work for another. However, the 4 7 8 sleep method uses the one thing we all have – our breath – and claims to deliver a simple solution to help you relax and drift off to sleep.
The 4 7 8 breathing method for sleep and stress reduction was devised by Dr Andrew Weil as a way to help people relax and promote healthy sleep, and, when practiced regularly, it is also said to lower blood pressure, aid digestion and help combat insomnia.
As my sleep tracker often reminds me, I’m prone to the odd bout of insomnia, and to waking up for long periods in the night, despite having a quiet room to drift off in and a comfy mattress to snooze on. So I’ve been really curious about this viral sleep hack and whether it actually works.
I put the 4 7 8 sleep method to the test over a period of five weeks to find out whether it really does work or if it’s just hype. But first, here’s the 101 on this breathing technique and how it works…
- World Sleep Day: 16 sleep tips, techniques and hacks to try tonight
- Sleep, caffeine and sugar: 6 foods and drinks that can keep you up at night
What is the 4 7 8 sleep method?
The 4 7 8 breathing technique is something anyone can do in order to fall asleep more easily. And the good news is it’s very simple and takes less than a minute or two a day to get up to speed.
The 4 7 8 breathing method for sleep was devised by Dr Andrew Weil (the Director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine and a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health), as the “perfect, portable stress antidote.”
This purposeful deep breathing takes the body from the shallow panicked breathing of the sympathetic nervous system, which is all about fight or flight, and helps you tune more into the body’s para-sympathetic nervous system, which is more restful and relaxing.
It won’t take long for you to notice the effects of 4 7 8 breathing and you can soon start to use the technique to help you get on top of insomnia, anxiety and general stress, any time, anywhere, even in the moment.
- How to use the Military Sleep Method to fall asleep faster at night
- Nutritionist reveals the foods that help you sleep well and what to avoid
How to use the 4 7 8 method to fall asleep
One of the most important things about using the 4 7 8 method to fall asleep is that you practice it regularly during the day. And the more you do it, the more effective it becomes. It is incredibly quick to do and can be done literally anywhere. First breathe out with a ‘whoosh’ through the mouth, and then follow these three easy steps, counting the seconds in your mind:
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds. Inhale so that your belly expands out – lightly placing a hand on your stomach will help with this.
- Gently hold the breath for 7 seconds. Here, you should not be straining to hold your breath, instead softly holding it in.
- Breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds. This should be done with a little force through pursed lips, so that it is audible.
And that’s it. Do these rounds four times, and repeat once or twice a day. You can eventually build up to eight rounds twice a day, but no more than this. And if you find yourself unable to sleep, try practicing the rounds, counting the seconds silently in your mind until you drift off.
In the following video, Dr Weil shows you exactly how to use the 4 7 8 breathing method for sleep and stress reduction:
Does the 4 7 8 sleep method work? My experience
As someone who suffers from occasional insomnia and more frequently, work stress (which manifests in shallow breathing), I decided to put Dr Weil’s 4 7 8 breathing method to the test for sleep as well as daily living. Here’s how I got on...
Week 1: Teething problems
For my very first attempt at 4 7 8 breathing technique, I have to admit I struggled a little with the first couple of rounds as my inhalations were still pretty shallow and higher up in my chest. But, placing a hand on my stomach really helped, and rounds three and four came easier, as I was able to breathe into my belly and feel it pushing out.
Counting the seconds in my mind became quite rhythmic, and after only a couple of days I was genuinely surprised at how focused I felt while I was practicing the technique.
I did these rounds just once a day, four times in the morning. It also took a little practice to hold my breath for seven seconds, but the key here is to do it really softly rather than strain to ‘hang onto’ the inhalation.
Week 2: Taking the focus away from stress
For this week I decided to stick to four rounds, but upped it to twice a day – once in the morning, and again just before bedtime. After last week’s practice, this came fairly easily, and I was also able to test out the 4 7 8 sleep method when I was kept awake by a car alarm at 3am in the morning. Still, I had to reach for my sleep earplugs when the alarm just wouldn’t quit.
By focusing on the sensation of the breathing, and keeping count in my mind, this drew my attention away from stressing about the annoying noise from outside and, before I knew it, I was waking up the next morning, feeling pretty refreshed.
Week 3: It’s helping me to fall asleep faster
This week I was able to really put the technique to the test, as I pushed the rounds to six times, twice a day. I also had an incredibly hectic week with deadlines as well as late nights, so it was crucial that I was able to fall asleep easily.
As soon as I got comfy on my pillow, I practiced the 4 7 8 breathing method to help me drift off. I’m not sure I even got to two rounds for most nights before falling asleep.
I also noticed that it was sometimes easier to focus on my work during the day, especially when I became distracted by work emails. I was finding that my breathing was becoming deeper and the inhalations were directed into my belly, rather than feeling tight in my chest.
Week 4: It’s helping me get back to sleep quickly
I decided to stick with six rounds, twice a day for this week. Not only was this week less hectic than last week, but I wanted to really focus on the breathing technique with a less stressful work day ahead of me.
It might sound a little odd, but I was starting to find the whole notion of breathing properly really enjoyable! It was becoming easier to get straight into the breathing, plus my sleep was definitely deeper. I also found it easier to wake in the morning and jump straight out of bed.
I woke up in the night twice this week, but was able to get back to sleep pretty quickly; the first night I practiced two or three rounds of breathing before nodding off, but the second time just the simple act of thinking about my breathing meant I went back to sleep almost instantly.
Week 5: I’m panicking less and remembering to breathe
I’m again sticking with six rounds twice a day for this week, and to be honest, I feel this is probably enough for me. Dr Weil advises no more than eight rounds twice a day, so I might increase it in the future, but, for now, six rounds is hitting the sweet spot.
I’ve had a couple of disruptive nights this week, including waking twice in one night. However, and somewhat crucially, I’ve noticed I’m feeling less stressed about the fact I’m waking in the night, knowing that the combination of breathing and counting will soon get me back to sleep.
I do genuinely feel calmer during the day too, and even when I’m put on the spot in work meetings for instance, I’m able to just take a second to focus on breathing into my belly, rather than default into panic mode. Because of the daily practice twice a day, it’s almost become second nature to remember to take a proper deep breath whenever a stressful situation arises.
Why I recommend the 4 7 8 sleep method
While I can’t promise the 4 7 8 breathing technique will work for everybody, it certainly made a difference to me, and I intend to continue with it. I hope to see some proper long-term effects too, such as a reduction in general anxiety levels and better digestion, as well as all the other good things that come with better quality sleep. I hope it works for you too.
Save up to $750 on mattresses at Nolah Sleep
We’ve teamed up with Nolah to offer you an exclusive discount with up to $750 off hybrid mattresses (with code TRNOLAH). Each model is made with cutting-edge mattress technology to relieve pressure, helping you to sleep comfortably in every position. You’ll get a 120-night trial too.
- The best mattress toppers for comfy sleep
- Drift away with the best sleep apps
This article is part of TechRadar's Sleep Week 2022 celebration (running until Saturday 19 March), a week-long look at all things slumber. We'll be bringing you proven techniques and tips to help you sleep better, and have rounded-up all the top-rated tech to transform your sleep.