In last week’s post, we examined techniques to help you sleep more soundly. A pre-bedtime relaxation routine is key. Many of the techniques below have been medically proven to calm the nervous system by eliciting the relaxation response in the body, which is exactly what you want before bedtime! Thirty minutes before turning in, try a combination of any of the techniques below and see what works for you.
Get bendy: Hang out in a forward fold
Forward folds are very calming for the nervous system; they massage and stimulate internal organs (kidneys, liver, intestines and pancreas) providing them with fresh blood and nutrients. Stimulating these organs improves sleep and, for those of you who sit at a desk all day, also helps to release tension from your lower back.
Standing Forward Fold with Imagery
- Stand with your feet the width of your hips apart
- Bend forward and place your hands on the floor
- Keep a slight bend in the knees
- Let your head and neck relax by nodding and shaking it yes and no a few times
- Gradually try to lift your hips higher to the ceiling until you feel a nice stretch through the backs of the legs
- Imagine all of the stress from your day can be released from your head onto the floor: watch it leave the room
- Hold for 5-10 breaths
Just breathe: Double the length of your exhalations
Try this relaxation-inducing breathing technique:
- Lie down, draw your attention inward and start to focus on your inhales and exhales
- Inhale to a count of 2 and exhale to a count of 4
- If that is easy for you increase your breath count, making sure the duration of your exhales doubles that of your inhales
- Do this for 3-5 minutes
Meditate: Focus on a pleasing word or phrase
- Pick a word or phrase that is comforting to you. For example, I AM CALM
- Come to a comfortable seated or reclining position that can be opened or closed
- Breathe in, and say to yourself “I AM”
- With the next out-breath say to yourself “CALM”
- Do this for 5-10 minutes
General Guidelines: If internal chatter arises and your mind wanders off to other thoughts, note “Thinking” to yourself and refocus on your word or phrase.
Activate your senses: Try aromatherapy
Currently, there is very limited scientific support for aromatherapy's effects on sleep. However, there is some research that indicates that lavender essential oil can help ease sleep disturbances.
For example, a 2006 study of 42 women with insomnia found that four weeks of treatment with lavender aromatherapy helped relieve insomnia (in addition to reducing symptoms of depression).
Bed, Bath and Body Works and other such stores has a selection of aromatherapy products so try them out and see if one helps.
In summary, customize a pre-slumber routine that works best for you. You can stretch, breathe, meditate, or invest in some lavender oil. Try them out and let me know how it goes!
Stacy Slawitsky turned to yoga and mindfulness as a means to relieve the stress of a demanding job at a Big 4 Accounting Firm. Her passion to share the benefits of these practices with others led her to start ZenConnect. She conducts stress management programs for companies throughout the Boston area.