Falling asleep is as simple as 4-7-8. Or something like that. But, tell that to someone who is exhausted and stressed and cannot sleep.
Being stressed and sleepless is becoming more and more common. A quarter of Australians report feeling moderately to severely stressed.
One survey found 51 per cent of those who suffer insomnia blame stress for their lack of sleep. A lack of sleep exacerbates stress, and so the merry dance continues.
Stress affects sleep because it switches on our body's fight or flight response. Our heart starts racing, our blood pressure rises, our muscles tense and our breath quickens in anticipation.
The mechanism is healthy when we need a hit of energy to get us through real or perceived danger, such as a deadline, exam or bad day.
It is less helpful when we are trying to wind down for the day.
However, a simple breathing technique can switch off the stress response and settle us into sleep. Harvard-educated doctor and best-selling author Dr Andrew Weil explains.
"Breathing strongly influences physiology and thought processes, including moods," Weil says. "By simply focusing your attention on your breathing, and without doing anything to change it, you can move in the direction of relaxation."
By souping-up the experience further benefits can be achieved.
The 4-7-8 breath technique is utilised by yoga and meditation teachers (there are various other pranayama or breath works used in yoga to charge the oxygen in our bodies and extend our breath beyond the 10 per cent of capacity we typically breathe to).
The technique is also championed by Dr Weil.
"This exercise is a natural tranquiliser for the nervous system," Dr Weil says. "Unlike tranquilising drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently."
Simply breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds and exhale completely to a count of eight. It only takes a few seconds and Weil suggests repeating the technique up to four times.
Some users have said the technique helps them fall asleep within one minute.
It can help users relax and fall asleep, but breathing deeply and the knock-on effect this has on our nervous system offers plenty of other benefits too.
"The ability to breathe so deeply and powerfully is not limited to a select few. This skill is inborn but often lies dormant," Harvard medical school points out. "Reawakening it allows you to tap one of your body's strongest self-healing mechanisms."
It improves our immune system, blood pressure, overall physical health and even helps us burn fat more fat more effectively.
And of equal importance, it is a completely free technique that we can all use to change our response to stress.
"Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you," Dr Weil says. "Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react.
"Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it."