A deep breathing trick can make insomniacs drop off to sleep in under one minute, a health expert has claimed.
The method involves making a loud whooshing noise with the mouth then holding the breath in stages.
Called the ‘4-7-8’ method, it has been pioneered by the US sleep expert Dr Andrew Weil who claims that the technique works by calming the mind and relaxing the muscles.
One in three Britons suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed for the lack of quality rest.
Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.
But Dr Weil, founder of the Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, claims a simple alteration to normal breathing could be the answer.
“This comes from yoga and in yoga breathing you have to keep the tip of the tongue behind the upper front teeth,” he said.
“You breathe in through your nose quietly and blow air out forcefully through your mouth making a whoosh sound. It takes all of about 30 seconds so there is no excuse for not doing it.
“It produces a very pleasant altered state of consciousness. You may not get that the first time you do it but it’s one of the benefits of practicing.”
The trick is holding the breath for four seconds, breathing out then holding for seven seconds. After that exhale completely for a count of eight. The steps are then repeated between two and four times.
Dr Weil says it works 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. You can do it more often throughout the day,” added Dr Weil.
“It is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere.
“After about four to six weeks you will see wonderful changes in your body.”
It can also be used to help deal with cravings and to control anger. Dr Weil claims it can also improve digestion and stop the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body, lowering stress levels.
The method is based on an ancient Indian practice called pranayama, which means regulation of breath, and is used widely in yoga and Pilates.
Breathing deeply has been proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system and even the expression of genes.
Research has shown that breathing exercises like pranayama can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or 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 is stressed but deep breaths stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction, which calms people down.
In 1975 Harvard University researcher Herbert Benson discovered that short periods of meditation triggers a ‘relaxation response’ and even alters genes.
“It does away with the whole mind-body separation,” Benson said in his book The Relation Response. “Here you can use the mind to change the body, and the genes we’re changing were the very genes acting in an opposite fashion when people are under stress.”