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4-7-8 Breathing for sympathetic nervous system slowdown
4-7-8 Breathing for sympathetic nervous system slowdown
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Written by Mark
Updated over a week ago

4-7-8 Breathing is a slow controlled breathing technique with exhale longer than inhale and breath-holding in between.

We recommend this practice when you tag insomnia on the “What’s going on?” screen (to open it, tap the plus sign in the feed’s top right corner). 4-7-8 Breathing will help you relax and get some rest.

How to do it

You should breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out through the mouth for 8 seconds (with the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth). That’s the pace we set in our audio.

Although we provide an audio for 8 breathing cycles (inhale — hold — exhale), we recommend a maximum of 4 cycles for beginners, with gradual extension of breathing sessions over time.

How it works

Slow controlled breathing increases parasympathetic activity and decreases sympathetic activity, and breath-holding is believed to increase vagal tone, producing similar effects as long exhales.

Regular slow breathing practices bring down stress levels, increase high frequency (HF) of the heart rate variability (HRV) spectrum, decrease low frequency (LF) of the HRV spectrum, and reduce the LF/HF ratio.

Proven effect

Unfortunately, scientists have not yet analyzed the effects of breathing practices on how long it takes to fall asleep or specifically studied 4-7-8 Breathing.

However, it is the 4-7-8 Breathing technique that George Rapier, founder, chairman, and CEO of WellMed Medical Management, uses for relaxation. Moreover, he has organized for this technique to be taught to doctors, nurses, and staff at WellMed. For details, see:

At the same time, the general effect of controlled breathing practices, to which the 4-7-8 Breathing technique belongs, is covered in the following studies:

  • In 2016, scientists from S-VYASA Yoga University in Bangalore reviewed scientific articles for the period from 1988 to April 2016 on a body’s response to breathing practices. Slow controlled breathing was reported to produce a beneficial effect on cardiovascular and autonomic variables. For details, see:

  • In 2019, researchers studied the effect of oropharyngeal exercises and breathing practices on the quality of sleep in patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. The study included 40 participants. Controlled breathing was reported to decrease snoring frequency and daytime sleepiness and improve sleep quality. For details, see:

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