This is the first part in a series of articles on sleeping techniques designed to provide an alternative, natural way of overcoming or alleviating common sleep problems. In this article we look specifically at relaxation techniques for sleep and the other benefits such techniques bring to our every day well-being.
How Cultural changes have Affected our Sleeping Techniques
The way we live today has changed enormously from 50 or even 20 years ago as we move inexorably toward a more urban, fast-paced, technology driven society. At one time a family working on a farm, for instance would get up very early and have a set pattern of work, interrupted only by the seasons or by one off events and would wind down naturally in the evening before retiring to a well deserved sleep.
Today the scenario is different; an urban family are likely to wake up immediately concerned about the day ahead. With pressures to get the kids to school on time, to catch the train to get to work, to finish looking at the notes for the days meetings the pressures begin at the beginning of the day and continue filled with coffee and crisis, before returning home to eat badly and finish off some emails. The modern family goes to bed feeling very tired from the exertions of the day and hit the sack, but then of course sleep is elusive.
During the day both the mind and body have been reacting to the stresses of the day and there hasn’t been an opportunity for a re-balancing to take place so we need to slow down and take the time to rebalance mind and body with some relaxation. There are some excellent relaxation techniques to try but going down the pub for 6 pints, followed by a curry, isn’t one I’ll be recommending.
Breathing may not sound much like an exercise; it’s something we do a lot of but if done “properly” it is very relaxing. So try it and see. Your breath should come from the abdomen not your chest, breathe through your nose for 3 seconds then breathe out through your mouth also for 3 seconds, pause for 3 seconds and repeat. Try perfecting this technique so that it becomes comfortable and do it for 10 minutes before you go to bed.
Mastering Yoga or even in the early stages of learning, can be an affective weapon in the fight against insomnia.
There are many forms of yoga but they are all a form of workout for your mind and body, bringing them
together for harmony and well-being. After some practice you will have more stamina, strength, flexibility and energy. You will have more control over your mood, be able to calm the mind and truly relax with a sense of inner peace.
Try attending a class to get the most out of Yoga. There are many different types but hatha yoga is probably best for the beginner. Most gyms, these days run popular forms of yoga; I’m sure the instructor will be able to tell you more about each one.
The corpse is a pose in yoga, often done at the end of a session to wind down and relax the mind and body. It’s good to try before going to bed. Lie on your back with your legs and arms slightly outstretched, palms resting on the floor and pointing upwards. Think nice thoughts and if you feel tension in your limbs, as if you want to stretch them out, imagine you are enormously heavy and that the floor is supporting you. Do this for at least 5 minutes. This is also a good position for meditation.
Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR) is an anxiety reducing method devised by Dr. Jacobson, a physiologist but is useful as a sleeping technique. Everybody, at some stage has had muscle tightness and fatigue, brought about by emotional stress, depression or anxiety. This method works by concentrating on tightening muscle groups for a few seconds and then slowly releasing the tension with a slow exhalation of breath. This can be done with the breathing technique mentioned before and you should start from one end of the body either lying on your back or standing straight.
This technique might sound like a chore at first but like anything, with practise you develop more effectiveness as well as it becoming second nature.
Meditation is a time efficient way of bridging the gulf between the physical and mental stresses of the day and the slow wave, deep sleep needed to be able to function at the peak of performance in the waking hours.
The picture you might get of someone meditating, cross-legged, arms outstretched and chanting a repetitive ditty might put you off but this is only one way of approaching meditation.
Prepare a quiet, bland space and sit in a straight backed chair and place a hand on your stomach. Concentrate on the sensation of your lungs filling with air as you take long slow breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Once you feel your stomach rise and fall under your hand you know its working. Again, like the other techniques it may take some practise and feel a little trite at first. One of the benefits is to clear your mind of all the worries of the world and this will come eventually even if, at first your mind is awash with them. It may help to focus on a singular item like a flower and to concentrate on the sensation of your breathing.
Eventually you’ll be able to take your technique and do it anywhere.
As you may have noticed these relaxation sleeping techniques for sleep are also useful for your general well-being. Although it’s use has been overused and it’s meaning diluted “unwinding” should an important part of your daily tasks but they should be done purposefully and not just as an excuse to zone out. Unfortunately there isn’t a relaxation topic here devoted to “lounging around”, so getting into the habit of trying one or more of these methods that suits you will hopefully aid in getting a restful nights sleep.