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Relax to Sleep Better: The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

Authored by: Janell Strupp PT, CPI

Simple, quick, No equipment needed, Do it anywhere.

Use this simple tool to achieve general relaxation and manage stress. Anyone can do it!

Beginner tips:

  • Lie down or sit with your back supported comfortably.
  • Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper front teeth, keeping it there through the entire exercise.
  • Exhale through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly.

Disclaimer: This exercise is meant only as a guide. If you are suffering with a severe or chronic sleep disturbance, stubborn pain or other physical limitations, please contact a health care specialist to get individualized help and guidance with the condition.


  1. Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound (as if you are steaming up a mirror with your breath)
  2. Inhale through your nose, fill the depths of your lungs, and widen the breath into your back for a mental count of 4.
  3. Remain still not breathing in or out, “the breath is lightly held without bearing down” for a count of 7.
  4. Exhale completely through the mouth making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.

This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle 3 more times for a total of 4 breaths.

Are the numbers important?

The absolute time spent on each phase is not important. The ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble, speed up the exercise, but keep the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice, gradually slow down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more deeply. The held phase (7 counts) is the most important part.

Why should I do it?

This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which can be effective when first taken, but then lose their power over time, this exercise can feel subtle when you first try it, but it gains in power with practice and repetition. It is best done lying down if you intend to use it to help you fall asleep.

How often?

Perform 4-7-8 breathing, 2x/day, completing no more than 4 breaths at a time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, gradually work your way up to 8 breaths. This breathing technique should only be practiced in a setting where you can fully relax due to the deep state of relaxation that follows. Use this skill when becoming aware of internal tension.

Physical Therapy May Help with Sleep

Physical Therapy may be considered (for a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan which may include 1:1 manual techniques such as Fascial Counterstrain, Craniosacral therapy, or Visceral Manipulation). A variety of clients often report improvement in the quality and quantity of their sleep after attending the recommended course of physical therapy.

Consult with a health care practitioner for further questions or if you experience continued difficulty sleeping.

Janell Strupp PT, CPI
Total Health Wellness Center
Phone: 262-251-2929

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