The number one reason why you find it difficult to fall asleep is the presence of stress hormones in your blood stream.
When the body is under stress, our endocrine system releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the blood stream that put the body in a fight or flight mode. Your muscles tense up, heartbeats get elevated, blood pressure raises, breathing becomes shallow and thinking becomes incoherent.
Even if you do get to sleep in a stressful state, you will not experience deep sleep states resulting in groggy mornings.
If you have been experiencing sleepless nights, or bad quality sleep, try this simple yet powerful breathing technique by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s called the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Take a few seconds and relax your mind and body.
Step 2: Let all your air out of your lungs through your mouth.
Step 3: Now close your mouth and breathe in quietly through your nose to the count of 4.
Step 4: Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Step 5: Finally blow the air out forcefully through your mouth to the count of 8. Make a woosh sound and push your lips out as you do this.
You can do the counting in your mind at a regular pace.
Repeat this breathing cycle 4 times which will take you around 1 minute to complete.
If you find it difficult to remember the counts or you get it mixed up, that’s perfectly fine. As long as you are breathing in, holding and then blowing the air out, you are good to go. With practice, you will gain more control over the technique so you can do it with ease.
As you complete each cycle, you will feel more and more relaxed. Your heartbeat will slow down, your thoughts will reduce and your body will have no choice but to start the relaxation response. During the relaxation response, the body removes stress related hormones from the bloodstream and replaces it with feel good hormones. And before you know it, you will start to feel super drowsy.
This technique is not only great in aiding the body to get into sleep mode, it can also be used as a relaxation exercise whenever you are feeling stressed out or feel anxiety. You can also use this technique to settle down the mind before a meditation session. According to Dr. Weil, this technique can also be used to effectively control cravings.
Dr. Weil recommends doing this exercise twice a day, preferably, once after waking up and once before going to sleep. The long term benefits of doing this exercise twice a day is that it slows your heart rate down, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion and aids healing.
Here’s a video by Dr. Weil, explaining how to do this technique: