Recently, I was introduced to the 4-7-8 sleep technique, also known as the 4-7-8 breathing technique. The older I get and the more I read and learn about health and wellbeing both from others and from my own experience of living, the more I realise how important quality sleep is to every aspect of wellbeing.
A sleep crisis?
An estimated 50-70 million US adults have some sort of issue getting a good night’s sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have labeled insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, claiming that people “experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity”. Not only that, but anyone who’s gone without sleep for periods in their life will totally understand why sleep deprivation is a form of torture – it makes you feel like rubbish.
I’m mad for podcasts and love listening to successful people talk about their lives, their passions and inspirations and then what routines they turn to to support those passions. There are many commonalities, but one thing they seem to have in common is that they prioritise sleep. And by prioritising, I mean they actually make a firm commitment to getting a solid number of hours sleep per night, and if this means it eats into their social time, or other hobbies, then so be it. So often I think we do the reverse – we get up earlier or go to bed later so that we can make time for other things that are important to us. I know I was effectively advocating for that recently when I wrote about time management and my daily routine.
But it’s a little bit like the premise of self-love as a foundation stone for healthy relationships. If you’re not sleeping enough, or well enough, nothing in your life will run as smoothly as it should. I continue to re-learn that lesson when I get on a high of inspiration and motivation that is great on the one hand, but means I can’t switch my brain off properly. I’m thinking at warp speed when I go to bed, I have super active dreams, and then I wake up with my mind already buzzing. Blurgh!!
So what is the 4-7-8 breathing (sleep) technique?
So, the 4-7-8 sleep technique. Have you heard of it? It’s a very simple concept that seems to be working wonders for people who have trouble falling asleep sometimes. I used it a lot while I was traveling recently and moving around from one strange bed to another (that sounds a little suspect but you know what I mean…). Of course it won’t help you make the commitment to getting to bed earlier, but if you can fall asleep more easily, that’s a good start to improving the quality of your sleep. Scientists have already been telling us for some time that the sleep you manage to get before midnight is of a better quality than the sleep you get after midnight. Many of us, I’m sure, are guilty of not going to bed until close to midnight and then not falling asleep until after.
And how does it work?
How the 4-7-8 sleep technique works is that you inhale your breath for 4 beats, hold your breath for 7 and then slowly breathe out for 8 beats. Breathing out is the hardest part I find, because the temptation is to let your breath out in a rush, and 8 seconds can feel like an excruciatingly long time.
It works, apparently, because it slows your heart rate and the rest of your nervous system riiiiight down and quickly relaxes you. Dr Andrew Weil, who developed the 4-7-8 technique, also recommends it not just for falling asleep but for managing any emotional or panicked response, such as dealing with cravings, panic attacks, etc. It’s the same basic theory as the paper bag for hyperventilating. If you can restrict your breath, less oxygen is making its way into your body to fuel the physical fight-or-flight symptoms, i.e. the racing heart, sweating hands, etc.
The benefits of sleep
People are raving about the 4-7-8 sleep technique. And why not? It’s free, easy, and a natural alternative to prescription drugs. Of course, if you try it and it doesn’t work, then it might be time to get some medical advice. No one deserves sleep-deprivation. And when your sleep issues are sorted, you can expect:
- Better health and a stronger immune system.
- More energy
- Improved mood
- Less chronic pain if you’re a sufferer
- Better weight control (yes really – people who are tired have less willpower and are more likely to reach for carb-laden foods for energy. Also, the hormone leptin helps to control appetite and sleep-deprived people have lower leptin levels).
Have you tried the 4-7-8 sleep technique? Did it work for you? If you haven’t tried it yet, why not give it a go and let us know how you? Also feel free to share any other tips you have for getting a good night’s sleep below.
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For more tips on how to get a better night’s sleep…
…you might like to check out this bestseller Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way To a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success by Shawn Stevenson on Amazon.