Not being able to fall asleep quickly or easily may be one of the most frustrating parts of my life, especially because I've tried everything: switching positions, kicking off blankets, adding more pillows, even reading a boring book in hopes that it will make me sleepy. Nothing seemed to help until I discovered a breathing exercise known as the 4-7-8 technique.
Here's how it works: place the tip of your tongue against the tissue just behind your upper front teeth and exhale out of your mouth. Then inhale through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. (Your exhale should make a whooshing sound.) Repeat that cycle a total of four times.
The technique was developed by Andrew Weil, MD, a leading integrative medicine expert, and it's based on the concepts of pranayama yoga. Dr. Weil describes it as a "relaxing breath," and for good reason — it's known to calm jittery nerves and relax your racing mind, making it a perfect exercise to do right before bed, especially if you have trouble falling asleep.
I was in the throes of a stressful week when I decided to try it. I had experienced a string of restless nights, and no matter what I did, I couldn't get tired enough to actually doze off. The more I tried to go to bed, the more my mind wanted to stay awake.
And I'll admit that I was worried that this technique, too, would fail. The first night I tried it I realized that I was becoming too aware of my breath, which only made me feel more awake. But after loosening my focus, my breathing eventually became more like background noise, and my thoughts became more fluid. I must have fallen asleep in about two minutes; I don't think I did the exercise more than a couple times. Later on in the week, when I woke up randomly at 4 a.m., I tried it again and — like magic — it worked!
If you are having trouble falling asleep, or simply feel anxious or nervous, I highly recommend that you give it a try. What could it hurt?