Relaxation and Sleep: Why You’re Not Very Good At It

Many of us just don’t get the connection between relaxation and sleep. We usually wait until we’re sleepy, then lie down in bed. If you find yourself waiting helplessly for sleepiness to descend upon you, you may benefit from creating a relaxation ritual before bedtime. That might sound corny, but think about it: don’t you often go to bed with a good amount of stress buzzing in your brain? Your head might hurt from it and your shoulders might even feel pain from tightness.

A bedtime relaxation ritual uses a few simple techniques to help you prepare for sleep. If you’re at your wits’ end, it can’t hurt to try out one or two of those techniques. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), for example, can actually be done anytime — and it can help you clear enough tension to get a good night’s sleep. You can start PMR sitting in a chair or lying on your bed. Take a slow breath in, and start with your feet — start flexing and clenching them tightly, tighter, as tight as you can. Now as you breathe out, let your feet just go, as if “dropping” them, quickly and suddenly, letting all the tension out of them.

Moving up to your knees, do the same thing — clench them tightly for at least five seconds, then let them go. Remember to breathe in as you tighten and out as you loosen each part of your body. Progressively move up the body, clenching the thighs, buttocks, and abdominal muscles. Then move to your hands. Make fists and clench them, let them go. Then your forearms, your upper arms, and your shoulders. Pull your shoulders up to your ears as tightly as you can, then drop your shoulders quickly and suddenly. You can do the same with your face, clenching and releasing a few times.

A second relaxation technique falls under the “imaginal” category — that is, it uses your imagination to produce a heavy, loose, and sleepy sensation in your muscles. Again, you can do this technique either in a chair or on a bed. I’m going to walk you through the sitting version, and then you can convert that to a prone position if you wish.

Start by focusing just over your head and imagining a super slow stream of honey coming down on top of your head, then slowly easing down over your forehead, your ears, nose, cheeks, lips, and chin. Keep imagining this golden, thick, healing honey slowly sliding down your neck and onto your shoulders, relaxing every muscle and fiber as it continues its slow drip … Let the honey complete its course all the way to your feet, and remember to breathe as it loosens your muscles. Breathe slowly — in through your nose and out your mouth — the whole time. You can imagine the honey taking all your tension with it as it goes. Feel free to substitute whatever you want for honey. Some people like to imagine hot fudge dripping down and that’s fine as long as it doesn’t make you too hungry to sleep!

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