Get to sleep in 60 seconds
A simple breathing exercise that’s based on ancient yogic principles could help you nod off in less than a minute while also contributing to your overall health.
A deep-breathing trick can make insomniacs drop off to sleep in less than one minute, according to a health expert. The method involves holding the breath in stages then exhaling with a loud whooshing noise. This “4-7-8” method has been pioneered by US sleep expert Dr Andrew Weil, who claims the technique works by calming the mind and relaxing the body.
More than 1.5 million Australians suffer from poor sleep, with stress, mobile devices and taking work home often blamed for the lack of quality rest. Consistently poor sleep puts you at risk of medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and it can also shorten your life expectancy.
But Weil, the founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, says a simple alteration to your normal breathing could be the answer.
“This comes from yoga breathing techniques where you keep the tip of the tongue behind the upper front teeth,” he says. “You breathe in through your nose quietly and blow air out forcefully through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
It takes about 30 seconds, so there’s no excuse for not doing it, and it produces a pleasant altered state of consciousness. You may not get that the first time you do it but it’s one of the benefits of practising.”
The trick is to breathe in quietly through the nose for four seconds, then hold for seven seconds and exhale completely for a count of eight. The steps are then repeated between two and four times.
Weil says it’s effective because it allows the lungs to become fully charged with air, allowing more oxygen into the body, which promotes a state of calm.
“You have to do this two times a day religiously. It will become a wonderful way to help you fall asleep,” he says. “You can do it more often throughout the day if you wish.
“It’s utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. After about four to six weeks, you’ll see wonderful changes in your body.”
The method is based on an ancient Indian practice called pranayama, which roughly translates to “regulation of breath”, and is used widely in yoga and Pilates.
Research has shown that breathing exercises such as pranayama can have instant effects by changing blood pressure. But more importantly, they can be used as a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones. Rapid breathing makes the body think it’s stressed, but deep breaths stimulate the opposing parasympathetic reaction, which calms you down.
In 1975, Harvard University researcher Herbert Benson discovered that short periods of deep-breathing meditation triggered a “relaxation response”. Following decades of research, he claimed in 2010 that it could lead to genetic changes that counter the effects of stress. “It does away with the whole mind-body separation,” Benson says in his book, The Relaxation Response. “You can use the mind to change the body, and the genes we’re changing [are] the very genes acting in an opposite fashion when people are under stress.”
Whether or not such techniques help you fall asleep in 60 seconds, there’s no doubt being mindful of your breath helps you relax.
Sleep needs throughout life
- 0-3 months
- Recommended: 14-17 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 11; more than 19
- 4-11 months
- Recommended: 12-15 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 10; more than 18
- 1-2 years
- Recommended: 11-14 hours
- Not recommended:Less than 9; more than 16
- 3-5 years
- Recommended: 10-13 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 8; more than 14
- 6-13 years
- Recommended: 9-11 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 7; more than 12
- 14-17 years
- Recommended: 8-10 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 7; more than 11
- 18-25 years
- Recommended: 7-9 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 6; more than 11
- 26-64 years
- Recommended: 7-9 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 6; more than 10
- 65+ years
- Recommended: 7-8 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 5; more than 9
What happens to a sleep-deprived body?
A long-term lack of sleep may mean it's time for new bed linen! It has also has been linked to a greater risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. So what’s behind this association? The University of Chicago in the US has conducted various studies into human sleep deprivation and observed that even after a few days of reduced sleep, the following physical changes can occur:
- Higher blood pressure (a factor in stroke and heart disease)
- Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol (which impacts heart health and body weight)
- Lower levels of antibodies (which fight viruses and infection)
- Increased insulin resistance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes)
- Higher levels of the hormone ghrelin (which triggers hunger)
8.9% - The percentage of Aussies with sleep disorders (roughly 1.5 million people).
7 hrs - The average amount of sleep that Australian adults aged 25-65 get.
34.5% - The percentage of Australian adults who’ve experienced some form of insomnia symptoms in their life.