Eight Amazing Bedtime Relaxation Techniques That Work Like Magic
If you find yourself counting cracks on the ceiling instead of zzz’s, you could be one of the 40 million Americans who suffers from insomnia or chronic sleep deprivation. Healthy sleep duration is eight hours per day to achieve optimal health and wellbeing, and far too few of us are hitting that goal.
Sleep is critical to health and longevity, but few of us are getting adequate amounts of it. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in three adults do not get enough sleep. They also advise that: “Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression—which threaten our nation’s health.
Notably, insufficient sleep is associated with the onset of these diseases and also poses important implications for their management and outcome. Moreover, insufficient sleep is responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year. In short, drowsy driving can be as dangerous—and preventable—as driving while intoxicated.”
Here are a few techniques to help you catch those zzz’s you seem to be missing.
Sleep experts recommend exercising at least three hours before bedtime (more if you can do it). Why you may ask? Exercising in the late afternoon because of body temperature. Body temperatures rise during exercise and can take as long as six hours to start dropping. Cooler body temperatures are associated with quality sleep.
Studies also show a link between regular exercise and sleep. One study found that exercise “increased total sleep time and delayed REM sleep onset (10 min), increased slow-wave sleep (SWS) and reduced REM sleep (2-5 min).” Another study showed that regular exercise improves our circadian rhythms (our internal body clock), and helped us fall asleep naturally.
It’s funny how much we overlook once we become adults. Massage is one of the first ways we as babies were lulled to sleep. Regular massage sessions have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.
This could be because massages trigger the release of serotonin, a calming hormone. In one study, patients who received massage therapy reported improved sleep and their serotonin and dopamine levels were higher than the control group who did not receive massage therapy.
If you are short on time or cash, have no fear! You can ask a partner or friend to give you a relaxing rubdown, or you can give yourself a mini-self massage. You can either purchase a large foam roller to do more major muscle groups or focus on head, hands, and feet to trigger the release of serotonin.
It should come as no surprise that meditation helps us sleep better. Meditation encourages the mind to shut down and rejuvenate, but sometimes getting the mind to quiet itself is a Herculean task.
Some people like absolute quiet to meditate while others like calming music.
Do what you personally prefer and to get the best results, stay consistent by meditating each night before turning in. Meditation is like any habit, challenging at first but easier with every passing day.
Here’s a simple meditation you can do in bed before falling asleep:
- While lying comfortably in bed, take five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Try to keep them even to soothe your nervous system. As you breathe in and out, visualize your stress and worries leaving your body as you exhale.
- Continue your even breath as you check in with yourself. Acknowledge fleeting thoughts and dismiss them. Keep exhaling your stress.
- Continue breathing as you notice your body sinking into the bed. Exhale any heaviness you feel. Slow your breath by a second or two to further relax your body. If thoughts invade your mind space, acknowledge them and then dismiss them. Keep breathing evenly. Soon you should be asleep.
There is an old saying that “music soothes the savage beast” and it could not be truer. Several studies point to music as a preferred therapy for treating both acute and chronic sleep disorders. There is even a recipe for the very particular type of music you should listen to stop counting sheep and catch some shut-eye instead.
Psychologist Dave Elliot of the University of Cumbria discovered the magic formula: “90 beats per minute, 4/4 beat, it should include both piano and string instruments, and have narrow note sequences where the notes move from low to high.”
Now, don’t expect a miracle overnight. The National Sleep Foundation advises that it can take up to three weeks to feel the benefits. As for what to listen to, Spotify’s research shows a lot of people choose to chill to classical, jazz, folk music, and Ed Sheeran.
5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is used for many different types of stress and tension concerns but is also an excellent way to shut down the body each evening. While the exercise is basic (a lot of tensing and releasing), feel free to personalize it by imaging waves of water or color flowing up and down your body.
Here’s a simple guide to PMR:
- Lay comfortably in bed to prepare for sleep.
- Breathe evenly; inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
- Starting at your feet, clench your toes and feet while you inhale, filling them with tension and then release and exhale the tension out of your body. Do this until your feet are relaxed.
- Move up to your calves. Tense them as you inhale and release as you exhale. Perform it again or as many times as you need to release all of the tension in each muscle group thoroughly.
- Continue moving up the body at a slow pace remembering to breathe and tensions and releasing as much as you need to.
- Finish PMR at your face and head, really tensing your facial features and then giving big exhales to release the tension out of the body.
- Once you are finished, continue deep breathing as you drift into slumber.
6. Alternate Nostril Breathing
A nod to our Ayurvedic and yogic traditions, alternate nostril breathing (nodi shadhana) “encourages deep relaxation by balancing the left and right sides of the brain” which calms the nervous system by harmonizing the two sides of the brain. It also reduces blood pressure and activates the parasympathetic nervous system which metaphorically acts as both the gas pedal and brake pedal of our bodies.
Simply sit on your bed and lay your left hand on your left thigh. Take your right hand and close off your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale slowly and evenly through your left nostril for four counts, then exhale through your left nostril for four counts.
Inhale again through your left nostril but this time release your thumb and using your index finger, close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril for four counts. Inhale and exhale for four counts through your right nostril. This completes one cycle. Continue the pattern an additional four or more times.
7. Count Backwards
Well, I always thought math was a snooze-fest, but as it turns out, doing math can help you fall asleep. The rhythm of counting puts us in a sleepy state. Counting backward in multiples of three from 100 or multiples of seven from 1000 helps make the task more challenging and distracts the brain from other thoughts and worries that often crowd our brains making sleep difficult.
8. A Warm Bath
Not only is a nice warm bath relaxing, but biologically it helps us prepare for sleep. Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., associate professor at New York University School of Medicine advise people to take a 20-30-minute soak about two hours before bed. She says, “If you raise your temperature a degree or two with a bath, the steeper drop at bedtime is more likely to put you in a deep sleep.” It’s important to have a warm bath and not a hot bath because if the water is too hot, your temperature will stay raised longer and result in the opposite effect.
Want to add a little extra relaxation to your bath? Try adding some lavender. Lavender has a mild sedative effect, and a 2005 study showed it promoted deeper sleep in healthy sleepers. Add 12-15 drops to warm bath water for an even more relaxing bath.
Try one tip or more to increase your chances at a good night’s sleep every night. Remember, it takes three weeks to both build a habit and see results, so stay consistent, and soon you too will wake up refreshed and ready for every day.