Dr. Andrew Weil calls it a ‘natural tranquilizer.’ And even if you don’t fall asleep right away, science says you’ll immediately feel less anxious and stressed.
Getting enough sleep matters, and not just for your health. A 2018 study found that people who sleep for five to six hours are 19 percent less productive than people who regularly sleep for seven to eight hours per night, and people who sleep for less than five hours are nearly 30 percent less productive.
While they may be awake longer, they actually get less done.
Still not convinced? Research shows only getting six hours of sleep makes any task that requires focus, deep thinking, or problem-solving a lot harder. Where attention and reaction time are concerned, only sleeping six hours is like drinking a couple of beers, and only sleeping four hours is like drinking five beers. Research also shows sleep deprivation makes completing any activity that requires multiple steps — meaning pretty much doing anything worthwhile — a lot more difficult.
And, if that’s not enough, another study shows that lack of sleep causes increased activity in your brain’s reward centers specific to food. Eating a poor diet causes a lack of sleep, which unfortunately leads to eating an even poorer diet. (Yay.)
So, yeah: Most people know they need more sleep.
But what if you struggle to fall asleep? You could try the Military Method, a two-minute relaxation technique that, after six weeks of daily practice a study showed resulted in 9 out of 10 participants falling asleep within two minutes.
And if that doesn’t work? Try the Relaxing Breath Method.
A Simple Way to Fall Asleep Faster
The Relaxing Breath Method is also known as the 4-7-8 Method, and for good reason. (Although I still like relaxing breath, since “relaxing” sounds less clinical and is the actual goal.)
Here’s how it works. First, place the tip of your tongue against your two upper front teeth, and keep it there. (The goal is to inhale and exhale around your tongue.)
- Breathe in through your nose while you count to 4,
- Hold your breath while you count to 7, and
- Exhale while you count to 8.
While inhaling and exhaling deeply — and worse yet, holding your breath in between — sounds like it will make you less sleepy, that pattern activates your parasympathetic nervous system, helping switch your body to rest mode.
That’s especially important if you feel stressed, since anxiety shifts your sympathetic nervous system (think fight or flight) into overdrive. Kick-starting your parasympathetic nervous system helps counteract that affect.
And gives you something else to think about in the process.
Keep in mind practice is the key. Like the Military Method, the 4-7-8 Method may not help you fall asleep faster the first few times. But the more you use it, the more you’ll train yourself to relax.
And even if you don’t fall asleep quicker, you will feel a little less stressed and anxious. A 2022 study published in Physiological Reports found that 4-7-8 breathing reduced heart rate and blood pressure for several minutes. You’ll feel calmer, more grounded, and better able to relax… and let go.
Which is basically what happens when you fall asleep.