Eternally busy and feel your stress is impacting your shut-eye? How the 4-7-8 sleep method could help

Try this one tonight.

4-7-8 sleep method: A woman with a pillow over her face
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's a vicious circle - you're stressed and unable to sleep, so you end up tired and even more stressed. Sound familiar? According to the NHS, a third of people in the UK will experience episodes of insomnia at some point - which is where the 4-7-8 sleep method comes in.

While there can be a number of reasons why people struggle to drift off easily, stress is well-known as being a common contributor. But getting decent sleep is crucial - research published by the University of York this year, suggests that high-quality sleep can help boost resilience to depression and anxiety.

Guilty of failing to get a good night's sleep recently? Then it might be time to introduce yourself to the latest sleep hack doing the rounds on social media: the 4-7-8 sleep method. A bit like the NSDR sleep method, it promises to calm your mind and help you drift off in no time. Sounds good, right? Below, a qualified expert shares their take, plus I share how I find trying the method myself at home.

Do scroll our edits on how to get to sleep, how to improve your sleep quality, and the best sleep tracking apps, while you're on the hunt for helpful sleep hacks. 

Introducing the 4-7-8 sleep method

What is the 4-7-8 sleep method?

"The 4-7-8 sleep method is a simple but effective breathing technique designed to help you fall asleep more easily and improve the quality of your sleep," says Joan Abebe, a holistic health and nutritional coach. 

Wondering how it works and what it actually promises to do? "This method helps calm the nervous system and quiet the mind, making it easier to fall asleep," says Abebe, who believes the method is a valuable tool for anyone looking to manage stress, improve their sleep and promote relaxation.

Crucially, breathing techniques can help with stress, which profoundly influences sleep and rest. "When you're stressed, your body releases cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which can detrimentally affect your sleep," explains the expert. This can manifest in a variety of ways, she says - think difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, reduced deep sleep, early morning wake-ups, night sweats, vivid dreams, nightmares, and feeling zapped of energy during the day.

Stress doesn't just impact sleep, either, she goes on. "Increased stress often leads to an elevation in ghrelin levels, which can result in heightened feelings of hunger, especially for comfort foods high in sugar and fat," she explains. Bottom line: managing stress through techniques like the 4-7-8 method not only supports better sleep but can also help regulate appetite and promote a healthier diet, she shares.

How to do the 4-7-8 sleep method

The 4-7-8 sleep method involves a specific breathwork pattern, explains Abebe.

Keen to give it a go? Try the following:

  • Take a four second inhalation through the nose.
  • Then, hold your breath for a count of seven seconds.
  • After seven seconds, exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight seconds.

How does the 4-7-8 method work?

Breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 method help your body to relax in various ways, says Abebe. "Deep, controlled breathing triggers the body's relaxation response, reducing the production of stress hormones," she explains, adding that it also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the 'rest and digest' system. This counteracts the "fight or flight" response triggered by stress, which in turn counteracts the body's stress reaction, promoting feelings of calm and relaxation. 

Additionally, deep breaths increase oxygen intake, improving brain function and reducing muscle tension which further enhances the overall relaxation process, she continues.

"By focusing on your breath and counting, you can calm your nervous system and transition into a more relaxed state, which is conducive to falling asleep," she explains. 

It's important to note that while the 4-7-8 breathing technique is a great practice to incorporate into your sleep routine, it is not a miracle solution for everyone, says Abebe. "It's a natural and accessible method that can really help people looking to improve their sleep quality and manage stress effectively." That said, for the best results, Abebe advises being consistent with it and combining the technique with other healthy sleep habits. 

I tried the 4-7-8 sleep method and it helped calm my mind

Abebe herself is a big fan of the 4-7-8 sleep method and has used the useful tool over the years to help her drift off during times of stress. Convinced, I gave it a go one evening to try and quieten a racing mine. 

"I suffer from both anxiety and depression and have also had trouble falling asleep. I have my own toolkit of ways to try and address it, but I have to admit that breathing techniques (although I know they'll be useful) aren't my go-to."

"As I lie in bed, I close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing, giving the 4-7-8 technique that Abebe outlined above a go. I run through it a few times and can feel that it's helping with zoning out distractions and calming my mind."

"My verdict? It's easy to do, free and simple to add to a routine, so for me, the 4-7-8 sleep method is a no-brainer. I'll definitely be trying it out again to drift off, but also am keen to use it during the day at times when I feel anxious or overwhelmed."

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Amy Sedghi

Amy Sedghi is a freelance journalist, specialising in health and fitness, travel, beauty, sustainability and cycling.

Having started her career in The Guardian newsroom working with an award-winning team, Amy's proud to have reported on a variety of topics, speaking to a range of voices and travelling far and wide to do so. From interviews on ski lifts to writing up breaking stories outside courtrooms, Amy is used to reporting from a range of locations (she’s even been known to type up a story in a tent).

She also loves being active, spending time outdoors and travelling - with some of her favourite features she’s worked on combining all three. Cycling and eating her way round the Isle of Man, learning to sail on the Côte d'Azur and traversing the Caminito del Rey path in Spain are just some of her highlights.

Covering a diverse range of subjects appeals to Amy. One minute she may be writing about her online styling session with Katie Holmes’ stylist and the next she’s transporting readers to the basketball courts of Haringey where she joined a group trying to lower knife crime in the capital.

While at university, Amy was awarded The Media Society bursary. Following her stint at the Guardian, Amy worked at Google and as well as writing for Marie Claire, she regularly contributes interviews, features and articles to National Geographic Traveller, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, Stylist, Refinery29, Glorious Sport, Cycling Weekly and Rouleur.

When she’s not writing, Amy can be found trying to get through her towering stack of books-to-read, cycling down at Herne Hill Velodrome or looking for the next place to eat and drink with friends.