4-7-8: How to Trick Your Body to Fall Asleep in Under a Minute
For many sleepers, the period before falling asleep is the most stressful of the day. The time can feel interminable, tossing and turning, trying to find the perfect position and failing to drift off into dreamland. For every second someone spends awake in bed, s/he loses hours of productivity the next day due to drowsiness. Being awake is hard enough — it isn’t fair that falling asleep should feel so impossible.
Fortunately, it isn’t. There is a simple breathing trick that tricks the mind and body into falling asleep in less than a minute. Sleepers plagued by an inability to drop off can say goodbye to their sleeping woes for good by drawing breath in the 4-7-8 pattern.
How It Works
The 4-7-8 method is easy enough for anyone to practice, no matter one’s lung capacity or stress level. There are only three simple steps:
• Breathe in through the nose for four seconds.
• Hold breath for seven seconds.
• Breathe out through the mouth for eight seconds.
As soon as a sleeper’s head hits the pillow, s/he should begin breathing in this pattern. Usually, before a minute has passed, the sleeper will be in dreamland. Some sleepers even report drifting off before they finish the first breathing cycle, which speaks to its power over calming the mind and body.
Why It Works
The 4-7-8 trick works for more than just falling asleep; it can soothe anxious nerves any time of day. This is because the pattern counteracts the effects of stress hormones, which increase the heart and breathing rates.
Adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine cause the heart to beat quickly and the diaphragm to draw breath shallowly — among other potentially damaging reactions, like acne, immune suppression, depression, and more — which thwarts confidence and composure. Worse, these stress hormones keep the mind active, waiting for the supposed threat to pass, which prevents sleep. The 4-7-8 method negates these hyperactive responses and compels the body into tranquility. After a long period of short, shallow breaths due to stress, the mindful four seconds of inhale satiates the body with oxygen, providing a minor high much like a mild prescription sedative. As a result, the heart beat slows down, and the body relaxes as a result.
Harvard-educated holistic health advocate Dr. Andrew Weil is one of the country’s loudest proponents of the 4-7-8 technique. He admits that mindful breathing likely won’t cure disease or provide noteworthy clinical benefits, but claiming control of one’s breathing can lead to lower stress and better sleep.
Other Tips and Tricks for Better Rest
Of course, there are a handful of other effective methods for increasing the quality and duration of one’s rest. Sleepers who want the best possible chance at a rejuvenating slumber should double up by using the 4-7-8 trick with any of these other valuable sleeping tips:
• Have a schedule. Most trouble sleepers resolve their issues by maintaining a strict schedule of bedtime and wake time.
• Get the right mattress. The technology behind number beds has been shown to provide the best possible sleep for those who share a bed and have differing firmness needs.
• Avoid caffeine and nicotine in the afternoon. Experts say any amount of caffeine in the diet can hinder sleep, but coffee-lovers should avoid the upper for at least six hours before bedtime. Cigarettes cause all sorts of respiratory issues, including nighttime snoring which is disruptive and thwarts the sufficient intake of oxygen.
• Understand lighting. The body’s circadian rhythm influences feelings of drowsiness or wakefulness, and generally the rhythm is informed by levels of light and dark in the bedroom. The room should be completely dark while sleepers drift off.
• Set the right temperature. The body prefers to be slightly cool while dozing, so bedrooms should be set to between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit at night. However, warm hands and feet can keep the body in deep sleep longer, so warm socks and sleeping gloves might be useful.
• Exercise and eat right. A healthy body is better at falling asleep than an unhealthy one; daily vigorous exercise can tire the muscles enough for excellent sleep, and whole foods provide the nourishment needed for proper nighttime healing.
• Nap wisely. Not all napping will prevent healthy slumber, but naps that are too long or late in the day certainly will. Sleepers should avoid napping after 3 p.m. and never daytime snooze for longer than 90 minutes.