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What does 4-7-8 breathing do?

4-7-8 breathing is a relaxation technique that claims to help reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and calm an overactive mind. The technique involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. This breathing pattern aims to slow down breathing and activate the body’s relaxation response.

How does 4-7-8 breathing work?

The 4-7-8 breathing technique works by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and recovery. Specifically, it stimulates the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and many internal organs. Deep breathing techniques like 4-7-8 breathing have been shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Here’s how it works step-by-step:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. Feel your chest and lower belly expand with air.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds, pushing out as much air as you can.
  4. Repeat for 4 full breath cycles.

This extended exhale helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, triggering relaxation and reducing stress hormones. The technique can be repeated as needed throughout the day for quick bouts of calm.

What are the benefits of 4-7-8 breathing?

Research shows 4-7-8 breathing and other pranayama breathing techniques offer numerous benefits:

  • Reduces anxiety: Studies show slow pranayama breathing reduces symptoms of anxiety. One study found 4-7-8 breathing lowered anxiety by 72% after just 3 minutes.
  • Lowers blood pressure: Deep breathing techniques have been shown to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension.
  • Promotes sleep: Calming practices like 4-7-8 breathing can help people fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  • Relieves stress: The 4-7-8 technique triggers a relaxation response that counteracts the effects of chronic stress.
  • Improves focus: Deep breathing can help improve attention, cognitive function, and concentration.
Benefit Explanation
Reduces anxiety Slow breathing techniques lower anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system
Lowers blood pressure Deep breathing relaxes blood vessels and improves heart rate variability
Promotes sleep Calming practices at bedtime can help people fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality
Relieves stress Diaphragmatic breathing triggers relaxation response and reduces stress hormone levels
Improves focus More oxygen to the brain can enhance cognitive function and concentration

How to practice 4-7-8 breathing

Here are some tips for practicing 4-7-8 breathing effectively:

  • Find a quiet place to sit or lie down comfortably.
  • Loosen any tight clothing and place one hand on your belly.
  • Inhale smoothly through your nose while counting to 4 in your head.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale audibly through your mouth for 8 seconds.
  • Focus on keeping the exhale steady so it lasts the full 8 seconds.
  • Repeat for at least 4 full breath cycles.

When first starting, it can help to use a timer or watch with a second hand. With practice, your body will get used to the 4-7-8 pattern.

Tips for Making the Most of 4-7-8 Breathing

  • Keep your exhale smooth and steady. Don’t force it.
  • Sit up straight to allow your diaphragm to expand fully.
  • Reduce distractions – turn off screens.
  • Repeat as needed throughout the day.
  • Use as a relaxation technique before bed.
  • Try slowing it down to 5-8 breathing if 4-7-8 is too fast.

When is the best time to do 4-7-8 breathing?

The 4-7-8 breathing technique can be used whenever you feel stressed or anxious. Good times to practice include:

  • Morning: Helps center your mind and set intention for the day.
  • During work: Resets focus and reduces midday stress.
  • Evening: Promotes relaxation before bedtime.
  • Difficult moments: Calms nerves before presentations, tests, arguments, etc.
  • Panic attacks: Can help manage acute anxiety or panic symptoms.

Consistently practicing at designated times throughout the day is helpful for making 4-7-8 breathing an automatic calming response when you most need it.

Ideal Times for 4-7-8 Breathing Practice

Time of Day Benefit
Morning Helps center and set intention
During workday Resets focus and reduces stress
Evening Promotes relaxation before bed
Difficult moments Calms nerves and anxiety
Panic attacks Helps manage acute anxiety

What to expect when starting 4-7-8 breathing

It’s normal to have the following experiences when first practicing 4-7-8 breathing:

  • Lightheadedness – Caused by extra oxygen and rapid change in breathing pattern.
  • Tingling sensations – Can occur as body relaxes and blood circulation changes.
  • Air hunger – Exhaling completely may trigger a feeling of air shortage.
  • Cough or need to swallow – Extra air can irritate throat.
  • Sleepiness – Relaxation response and extra oxygen make people feel sleepy.

These effects are temporary and tend to resolve within a minute or two after finishing the exercise. With regular practice, the body adapts to the breathing pattern and adverse effects decrease.

Common Experiences When Starting 4-7-8 Breathing

Experience Cause
Lightheadedness Rapid change in breathing + extra oxygen
Tingling sensations Changes in blood circulation as body relaxes
Air hunger Exhaling completely can cause air shortage feeling
Cough/swallow Extra air can irritate throat
Sleepiness Relaxation response + extra oxygen = drowsiness


In summary, the evidence shows 4-7-8 breathing is an easy yet powerful relaxation technique. Breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds can stimulate the vagus nerve and trigger beneficial changes throughout the body. Regular practice has been shown to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and increase focus.

To get started, find a quiet place to sit, inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale steadily through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat for at least 4 breath cycles. The best times to practice are in the morning, at work, before bed, and during moments of stress or panic. With regular use, 4-7-8 breathing can become an automatic relaxation response to life’s daily stressors.