Relaxation Strategies for Improving Your Sleep
I am L. John Mason, Ph.D. and founder of the Stress Education Center (in 1978.) Over the years of private practice, I have coached many clients in stress management techniques that can work to improve sleep. In this blog, I want to offer a little background information and then teach some effective relaxation strategies.
To begin, most people will find difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep at some point in their lives. There a physical and emotional reasons to these sleeping robbing periods. Many people will discover that stress which is held in your body can keep your mind too active to fall asleep or can cause unconscious tensions that keep you from getting the best quality of sleep and rest. If stress is adding to your sleeping challenges look first for levels of muscle tension especially in your jaw, forehead, neck/shoulders, and your back. Releasing this tension, easier said than done, can lead to sleep improvement and general health and well-being. Also, consider breathing techniques that can slow your heart rate and help to relax muscles. This is best done by slow, diaphragmatic breathing which is taught in many places like yoga, meditation, respiratory therapy, and in books like Guide to Stress Reduction (my first book.)
Breathing and counting slowly can help relax your body and your mind. Two of favorite techniques are:
1. 1-4, 1-4, 1-8 breathing. Slowly breathe in counting 1,2,3,4, then pause comfortably counting 1,2,3,4, and then slowly exhale counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, for 4-8 breaths. You can do this longer if you need but go as slowly as is comfortable.
2. Another great breathing and counting exercise is to count backward slowly from 50-1. Do this in this special way: count 50 then 1,2,3, then, 49 then 1,2,3, then, 48 then 1,2,3, then, 47 then 1,2,3, and so on until you get down to one. This exercise is so relaxing for a busy mind that it will want to go to sleep to avoid the counting. This works great if you awaken during the night with difficulty returning to sleep.
You can also benefit from slowly repeating calming suggestions to yourself. Consider closing your eyes, letting your head sink back into the pillow, take 3 slow deep breaths, and then repeat (mentally) “I am at peace with myself and fully relaxed.” This can train you to let go of stress and to ease yourself gently into sleep.
If you feel that you require a deeper level of relaxation, you can practice deep relaxation like the technique written out at the Stress Education Center’s article page http://www.dstress.com/articles/basic-guided-relaxation/ . With practice over several weeks, you will get very good at relaxation and stress management and this will lead to improved sleep.
Massage, warm water (or spa treatment), other forms of meditation, and gentle movement like yoga, when practiced, can also lead to better relaxation and improved, restful sleep.
Good luck with these techniques and good health. Contact me with any questions and please take good care of yourself. L. John Mason, Ph.D.