So how do you actually improve sleep?
In my previous posts I alluded to several scientifically proven strategies that actually improve sleep. Here they are:
I'm going to focus on just relaxation/meditation in this post. I'm sure most of us have tried some version of relaxation to try to fall asleep, like counting sheep, counting backwards from 100, etc.
The problem is that it doesn't always work, particularly if you're not following the other two strategies above (stimulus control and sleep restriction). BUT, if you put all three together, there's a very high probability that your sleep will improve. So, let's talk about relaxation.
Relaxation and/or meditation often sets the foundation for good sleep by doing a number of wonderful things:
When you deepen your breath, you naturally decrease your heart rate and even out your body temperature (which basically tells your brain that you're sleepy)
You shift the focus away from the pesky onslaught of ridiculous thoughts and instead pay attention to what's happening in your body (this is basically mindfulness)
You also help your brain make the connection that relaxation induces sleepiness. This one is a biggie - our brains easily get sidetracked when it comes to sleep and it's easy to throw things off. Practicing relaxation gives your brain a natural cue that it is time to fall asleep.
Are you sold yet? As I said earlier, relaxation alone may not solve all your problems. But you have set the foundation before you can go on to the other two strategies. If you're willing to give it a try, here are some options to put into your DAILY routine:
Diaphragmatic breathing - this is one of the easiest and most effective exercises. When you are lying down, count slowly to 10 when you breathe in, pause, then count slowly to 10 as you breathe out. Watch your belly fill with air when you breathe in and then watch your belly deflate when you breathe out. Need more guidance? Go here.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) - there are lots of scripts and recordings for this. Try this one.
Guided imagery - this is basically when someone walks you through a beautiful scene (often a lake, beach, meadow, etc). Try this one.
Meditation using an app - there are so many amazing apps for meditation. Honestly, any of them are fine and there are plenty of free resources. The most important part is using it consistently. Traditionally, it is not recommended to use meditation for falling asleep... but meditating right before bed works well for lots of people. My favorite apps for meditating are Calm, ten percent happier and Headspace.
Here's wishing you a more restful sleep... Onto stimulus control for my next post!