Photo: bnilsen via Flickr
Each time you choose to stay up a little longer bingeing that Netflix show, you’re beckoning death, slowly cutting off years from your life. This was the most alarming finding in a new Guardian interview with top sleep scientist Matthew Walker on his new book “Why We Sleep: The New Science and Sleep of Dreams.”
To add urgency to the “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” Walker says the world is in, he cites more than 20 studies that come to the same grim conclusion: The less you sleep at night, the less time you have to live. Worse, it doesn’t take much to be labeled sleep-deprived. If you sleep six hours a night instead of eight — a relatively normal amount for many working adults juggling families and fun — you’re 200% more likely to have a stroke or heart attack, one of the studies Walker cited found.
As someone who regularly sleeps only six hours a night, at best, these statistics were a wakeup call. I’ve tried relaxation techniques, home remedies, and vigorous exercising, but there are still nights where I lie awake at night unsuccessfully counting sheep and dreading the exhaustion I’ll face the next day.
Try this sleeping technique
As I reckon with my sleeplessness, I recently tried one new sleep trick that appears to be working where Chamomile tea hasn’t. Celebrity doctor Andrew Weil has developed the 4-7-8 breathing technique that makes the grand promise to have you “asleep in 60 seconds.”
Okay, challenge accepted, buddy.
In this yoga-breathing technique, you first press the tip of your tongue to the tissue behind your front teeth, then you exhale your breath completely out through your mouth. Next, you keep your tongue pressed behind your teeth and inhale softly through your nose for a count of four seconds. Then, you hold your breath for seven seconds. Finally, you purse your lips as if you’re about to blow out a candle and exhale through your mouth for a count of eight seconds. Repeat this four times and Weil believes you’ll be asleep in no time.
I’m someone who has seriously looked up alternate nostril breathing techniques to help me relax, so I’m the type of crunchy holistic health junkie who would be open to this technique. I will admit that I didn’t fall asleep in 60 seconds as advertised, but when I tried Weil’s technique, I did end up falling asleep so quickly I didn’t have time to put out my room light.
Calling his technique a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system,” Weil advises people to do this twice a day and says that after 4-6 weeks of doing this, you can apply his breathing technique to different situations outside of sleep. The idea of inhaling slowly and exhaling forcefully is also popularly used by performers to center their bodies in what is known as the Alexander Technique. There’s science to back it up: Harvard brain researchers have found that relaxing breath techniques can counter the stress response in our bodies that puts down the gas pedal in our sympathetic nervous system and keeps us on edge.
So next time, you’re lying in bed, try some forceful, mindful breathing exercises. Doing them regularly might just buy you back a few years of your life.