Being able to relax is a requirement for falling asleep. If you are tense or restless, you are in the opposite state needed for sleep. Sleeping is about letting go and allowing your body to do what it’s designed for and to do it without effort.
Not everyone who has insomnia has trouble relaxing. Some people feel totally relaxed, but still don’t sleep. This is usually because they’re not tired enough for sleep.
We all relax in different ways, such as hobbies, watching TV, reading, and listening to music. In addition, there are many exercises used specifically for inducing relaxation.
Some people love relaxation exercises and others don’t. It’s a matter of personal preference. Experiment and choose one relaxation exercise you like and stick with it for a few weeks. It may take a little time to learn and get used to, but once you do, it can be extremely beneficial, not only for sleep, but also for your daily life.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to teach you several relaxation exercises. These can be used as an aid for falling asleep, or as a daily relaxation practice. If used during the day, try to avoid falling asleep, as taking naps will impede your nightly sleep.
When we get stressed or anxious, we tend to breathe from the chest, with our airflow becoming shallow and more rapid. This is due to tensing and contracting our muscles, resulting in less oxygen. Enough to keep us alive, but not enough for ideal functioning and staying relaxed.
When you’re relaxed, you breathe from the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle, located below your lungs. When you inhale, the “dome” blows up like a balloon, expands the chest cavity and pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the dome deflates. You can easily see diaphragmatic breathing by watching a baby breathe as he or she sleeps.
This exercise is simple and designed to help you return your breathing to the diaphragm and establish slower, deeper breaths, the way you would be breathing if you were completely relaxed. It trains you to become conscious of your breathing and to notice when you are tensing up and breathing from the chest, so you can adjust and let go.
How to do it:
- Sit or recline in a chair or sofa.
- Place one hand flat on your abdomen (just above the belly button) and one hand flat on your chest.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths in and out (through your nose or mouth, whichever feels most natural).
- Notice which of your hands is moving up and down. It should be the lower hand, the one over your abdomen (where the diaphragm is). The hand on your chest should remain still as you do this exercise.
- Once you get the hang of it, you can remove your hands and relax them, then continue taking in slow, deep breaths, feeling your belly expanding like a balloon as you inhale and deflating as you exhale.
- Inhale for three seconds and exhale for six to ten seconds. Easy, deep, slow, relaxing breaths.
- While exhaling, gently tighten your core and contract your abdominals, which will push the air more effectively out of your lungs.
- Continue breathing deeply for a few minutes. You can also close your eyes. As you breathe, feel your body relax and let go with each exhale.
You can start by doing diaphragmatic breathing for just a few minutes at least twice a day. You will usually feel calmer and sometimes even sleepy after doing this exercise. You can gradually increase the time to five or ten minutes as you get more comfortable.
Personal Tip: You can do this exercise anywhere and no one knows you’re doing it 🙂