Relaxation and breathing
Stressful lifestyles, working late, and watching intense television shows or the news, are some of the factors that can contribute to the mind racing and being unable to wind down. It’s important to know the importance of being relaxed before bed, and to have the knowledge of effective relaxation techniques to apply in order to experience deep, restful sleep.
Relax your body
This can be done in bed and works by relaxing separate groups of muscles. It is also effective to visualise each set of muscles being relaxed as you go through the exercise:
1. Tense a muscle by contracting and flexing for 7-10 seconds. Don’t strain the muscle.
2. Visualise the muscle being tensed and feel the build up of tension.
3. Release each muscle abruptly, then relax, allowing the body to go limp before going on to the next muscle.
4. Keep other muscles relaxed whilst working on a particular muscle.
You can also watch our Relax and Exercises videos for some helpful hints and tips on winding down for bed time.
The effects of deep breathing are largely psychological but it can bring about a physiological response in the body. It can normalise the heart and respiration rate and calm you.
As well as relaxing you before bed, you can use this breathing exercise whenever anything upsetting happens, and before you react. It can be done anywhere because you don’t have to lie on your back:
1. Sit up with your back straight and place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the entire exercise.
2. Practice exhaling with your tongue in this position. It will be easier if you purse your lips.
3. Now close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds (counting one one thousand, two one thousand etc).
4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds then exhale through your mouth, taking 8 seconds to exhale completely.
5. Repeat 3-4 times and try to be accurate with the counting.
6. Do this every evening before bed.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is commonly prescribed for depression but clinical trials have shown it is the most effective long-term solution for insomniacs. CBT helps you identify the negative attitudes and beliefs that hinder your sleep, and replaces them with positive thoughts, effectively ‘unlearning’ the negative beliefs.
A typical exercise if to set aside 30 minutes in which you do your day’s worrying. During the worry period you keep a diary of the worrying thoughts because the act of writing then down is believed to reduce them. You’re now banned from worrying at any other time of the day other than these 30 minutes. And before going to bed you write down the worries you might have in bed then set them aside. When in bed you close your eyes and imagine these worries floating away in a balloon, leaving your mind free and unencumbered by these worries.
Stimulus control – 20 minute rule
You go to bed when you’re fatigued, and if you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, you get up and do something else such as listen to relaxing music or the breathing and muscle relaxing exercises.
When you feel sleepy again, then you return to bed. The idea of this is to build a strong association between bed and sleep, and eventually you’ll be able to fall asleep soon after getting into bed and not dread bedtime.
This method involves only spending the amount of time in bed that equates to the average number of hours that you sleep. For example, if you only get five hours of sleep per night, even though you spend seven hours in bed, you limit yourself to five hours in bed at night.
This method may make you more tired at first, but it can also help you fall asleep faster and wake up fewer times. However it’s not suitable if you’re only getting a couple of hours sleep, and should be supervised by a qualified CBT Sleep Practitioner.
If you incorporate all the recommendations in the booklet and use the Sleepwell App your sleep should improve – but if not, then try Sleepio, a six week online CBT course devised by sleep expert Dr Colin Espie. It’s designed to help you develop a healthier relationship with sleep and in trials it’s said to have helped 75% of chronic insomniac sufferers (£49.99, www.boots.com).