Stress leads to physical tension in your body. Under stress, your body releases higher amounts of the hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and nor-epinephrine. These hormones are responsible for boosting energy and alertness, raising heart rate and blood pressure, and priming your body for the “fight or flight” response. These stress responses contribute to: 

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep throughout the night
  • Waking very early
  • Waking feeling un-rested and un-refreshed by sleep

Stress and sleep exist in a bi-directional relationship. Just as stress and anxiety trigger insomnia and other sleep problems, lack of sleep increases stress and anxiety. Poor sleep makes us more vulnerable to the symptoms of anxiety, including: 

  • Irritability and short-temperedness
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Struggles with motivation
  • Trouble with concentration and memory recall
  • Lack of energy
  • Increased emotional reactivity

High stress and lack of sleep both contribute to greater risks for mental and physical illness. Stress and insufficient sleep are both linked to obesity and weight gain, anxiety and depression, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive dysfunction.

So you can see why it’s important to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep!

I’ve put together a relaxation and meditation training for improving your sleep. Put it into practice each night before going to bed to give you a better nights rest, and a less stress-filled day.

Relaxation Meditation Techniques

Autogenic Training

This is an effective method for reducing stress and improving your sleep. It works by using a series of exercises to focus the mind’s attention to specific physical sensations of the body, in order to relax both mentally and physically. Autogenic training focuses the mind on creating sensations of warmth and heaviness in different areas of the body. This series of exercises use both visual imagery and verbal cues to relax physically as well as to quiet and calm your thoughts.

AT exercises are most effective when practiced regularly. Incorporating autogenic training into your nightly routine can help you prepare the body and the mind for sleep.

Autogenic training is easy and can be done anywhere.

No special equipment is needed and it can be done in less than 10 minutes.

How to Do Autogenic Training

First, sit or lie down in a comfortable position someplace where you won’t be disturbed.

Uncross your legs and relax your arms at your sides.

Take a few slow, deep breaths then say to yourself the following statements slowly.

Repeat each 3 to 6 times. Visualizing and feeling each sensation as you say or think these statements.

  1. My arms are heavy. My left arm is heavy. My right arm is heavy. Both of my arms are heavy.
  2. My legs are heavy. My left leg is heavy. My right leg is heavy. Both of my legs are heavy.
  3. My arms are warm. My left arm is warm. My right arm is warm. Both of my arms are warm.
  4. My legs are warm. My left leg is warm. My right leg is warm. Both of my legs are warm.
  5. My heartbeat is calm and regular.
  6. My breathing is calm and regular.
  7. My abdomen is warm.
  8. My forehead is cool.

When you are done, take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes.

Autogenic training is so simple you might be tempted to think it can’t be that effective. But that would be selling it short.

This relaxation technique can easily be paired with Progressive muscle relaxation as well.

Progressive relaxation 

This mind-body relaxation technique will help you become familiar with your body and the places where you hold stress and tension. Progressive relaxation involves working one at a time with different areas and muscle groups of the body, first tensing and relaxing them. This practice creates an awareness of what both tension and relaxation feel like in your body. With that awareness you become better prepared to address that physical tension and any mental or emotional stress that accompanies it.

Used as part of a nightly routine, progressive relaxation can help you release physical and mental tension. Progressive relaxation starts at the lowest point of the body—the feet—and works gradually up to the top of the head, tensing and relaxing every area of the body along the way.

Set aside about 15 minutes to complete this exercise. Find a place where you can complete this exercise without being disturbed.

Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, then close your eyes and let your body go loose. You can lie down, and this will increase your chances of falling asleep.

During this exercise, you will be working with almost all the major muscle groups in your body. To make it easier to remember, start with your feet and systematically move up.

For example:

Foot (curl your toes downward)

Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you)

Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while doing above) (Repeat on other side of body)

Hand (clench your fist)

Entire right arm (tighten your biceps by drawing your forearm up towards your shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching fist) (Repeat on other side of body)

Buttocks (tighten by pulling your buttocks together)

Stomach (suck your stomach in)

Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath)

Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)

Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)

Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut)

Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)

 

STEP ONE: Tension. The first step is applying muscle tension to a specific part of the body. This step is essentially the same regardless of which muscle group you are targeting.

First, focus on the target muscle group, for example, your left hand.

Next, take a slow, deep breath and squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about 5 seconds. It is important to really feel the tension in the muscles. In this instance, you would be making a tight fist with your left hand.

It is easy to accidentally tense other surrounding muscles (for example, the shoulder or arm), so try to ONLY tense the muscles you are targeting. Isolating muscle groups gets easier with practice.

You should never feel intense or shooting pain while completing this exercise.

Make the muscle tension deliberate, yet gentle.

STEP TWO: Relaxing. This step involves quickly relaxing the tensed muscles.

After about 5 seconds, let all the tightness flow out of the tensed muscles. Exhale as you do this step.

You should feel the muscles become loose and limp, as the tension flows out. It is important to very deliberately focus on and notice the difference between the tension and relaxation.

This is the most important part of the whole exercise. Remain in this relaxed state for about 15 seconds, and then move on to the next muscle group. Repeat the tension-relaxation steps. After completing all of the muscle groups, take some time to enjoy the deep state of relaxation.

Comment below if you have tried these relaxation techniques, or if you plan to.

 

Happy Sleeping!

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