You close your eyes. You close them hard. You try and think about nothing. You play dead.
Yet nothing. You’re still awake. As awake as an owl. You stare at the ceiling in frustration, as you know what’s coming the following day.
At some point in all our lives, we’ve all faced the wrath of sleep deprivation.
Two words: Not. Pretty. Needless to say, unless you find zombie-like behavior somehow appealing, sleep is vital for your well-being.
So why are our eyes wide open while the moon is at its apex?
Well, those dark, quiet hours after both the boss and the kids have gone to bed are the only ones we have truly to ourselves.
Or, we may behave and go to bed, only to find our minds are whirring too fast to drift off to sleep as a result of pandemic stress.
The point is that I’m sure we’d like to go to bed earlier, but our bodies and minds have other plans.
Why Sleep Is a Necessity
There is a huge list of reasons why sleep is a necessity, but to name a few (to remind you how valuable sufficient sleep is), enough sleep can:
- Boost your immune system: If you get enough sleep, your body’s immune cells and proteins can better fight off whatever comes their way – such as colds and flu (1).
- Prevent weight gain: When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite (2). In addition, the body decreases the production of leptin, which tells you when you’re full (2). When you combine ’em both, you have a dangerous hunger for late-night snacking.
- Strengthen your heart: Sleep deprivation can trigger your body to release cortisol, a stress hormone causing your heart to work harder. You also suffer from higher blood pressure, and the likelihood of heart attacks and disease goes up.
- Improve your mood: sleep helps regulate hormonal imbalances (3). You wake up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. You feel energized. You’ll be less annoyed by life’s little challenges and maintain a more positive attitude.
- Improve memory and productivity: enough sleep helps you retain memories better from the day prior and effectively learn new topics (4). You’re also able to better concentrate and think about things when your mind is well-rested (4).
Tips for Better Sleep
If you want to sleep at a reasonable hour, you may need different interventions depending on your circumstances.
I’m always looking for ways to help sleep-deprived individuals calm down and get the rest they need, from advice on sleep hygiene to tricks to quiet the mind.
To add to the bag of tips for better sleep, I have one more idea that seems especially appropriate to our anxious times.
All you need (apparently) is a few seconds and your lungs to follow this story by Dr. Andrew Weil from the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine via Vogue.
The method is known as the “4-7-8 Method,” and while it traces its origins to ancient yoga traditions, Weil says it has been scientifically proven to work.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Method
By using it, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest mode,” as Vogue describes it. Here’s how:
- Inhale for a count of four seconds through your nose.
- Count to seven while holding your breath.
- While mouths are pursed, exhale for eight seconds with a “whoosh” sound.
- Then repeat four more times.
No matter what time of day it is, you can use the 4-7-8 breathing method to kill stress and calm your body.
It works better the more you use it consistently. Try it out and see if it could help you sleep better.
- Besedovsky, Luciana, et al. “Sleep and Immune Function.” Pflugers Archiv : European Journal of Physiology, Springer-Verlag, Jan. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/.
- Beccuti, Guglielmo, and Silvana Pannain. “Sleep and Obesity.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632337/.
- Triantafillou, Sofia, et al. “Relationship between Sleep Quality and Mood: Ecological Momentary Assessment Study.” JMIR Mental Health, JMIR Publications, 27 Mar. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6456824/.
- “Sleep, Learning, and Memory.” Sleep, Learning, and Memory | Healthy Sleep, https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory.