Breathing is nothing new. Inhale, exhale — what's the big deal, right? But it seems many of us don't take the time to breathe as fully and deeply as we should. Not only is deeper breathing important during meditation and yoga, as well as other practices for mind/body relaxation, but how you breathe may just affect how you sleep.
Harvard doctor and author Andrew Weil developed a deep-breathing tip that some people swear sends them to the sandman in minutes. With a few deep exhales and inhales, you can allegedly get more of the oxygen you need to de-stress and fall asleep.
Could curing insomnia be this easy?
Dr. Jose Colon, M.P.H., author of "The Sleep Diet, A Novel Approach to Insomnia," explains that when you breathe in, your heart beats faster and when you breathe out your heart slows.
Weil's 4-7-8 Breath (also known as the Relaxing Breath) claims to help you fall asleep in about a minute. Here's how it works:
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just above your upper front teeth and keep it there as you breathe.
- Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale through nose to a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- Repeat cycle three more times.
Holding your breath for the seven seconds is said to be the most important step as it's this effect that creates oxygenation of the body and hence, relaxation to help you fall asleep.
Why does the Relaxing Breath work?
This has two benefits, explains Dr. Murray Grossman, author of "Stressed? Anxiety? Your Cure is in the Mirror." "When the exhale is longer than the inhale, this sends a message to amygdaloid (the small oval structure in the temporal lobe of the brain that plays a role in smell, motivation and emotional behavior) that there is no tiger [chasing you] and, no stress."
Also, when you count, your mind is on a non-stressful subject. You're thinking about numbers not taxes or problems, Grossman explains.
Grossman trains scuba divers and people with hypertension with this exercise. By performing longer exhalations than inhalations, they can lower their blood pressure and increase their scuba dive time with a single oxygen tank.
He also recommends doing the exercise for one minute up to 10 times a day to reduce all stress chemicals in the body.
"Again the actual numbers used are not significant. Whether inhale is actually 4 or 5 seconds is of no importance as long as the exhale is longer and you count," says Grossman.
The breathing technique ensures you breathe using your diaphragm, which can induce relaxation and make you fall asleep faster. Is it a cure-all for insomnia? Not likely. Will it help everyone? Probably not. You may have underlying sleep issues or even a sleep disorder, however for run-of-the-mill sleepless nights, the 4-7-8 Breath is worth a shot. It's more challenging than counting sheep and may have a physiological component that helps you find your zzzzz's.