Catch some Zzzs - Try these 6 relaxation exercises tonight
Insomnia can affect us all at some point or another - maybe you're laying awake stressing about that presentation at work tomorrow, or perhaps money worries are making it hard to drift off. Perhaps you just feel tense and can't pinpoint a reason - stress and tension can make it really hard to enjoy a peaceful night's sleep, so whether you're finding it difficult to get to sleep in the first place or keep waking up in the night, learning to relax can be really beneficial. We all need around eight hours' sleep a night in order to be happy and healthy. Lack of sleep can affect your concentration and mood as well as having more serious long-term implications for your health, increasing your risk of obesity and conditions such as diabetes.
We're always on the lookout for new ways to relax and unwind at bedtime - current favourites include a relaxing bedtime yoga workout or a warm bath and a good book. These 6 relaxation exercises will help you to forget the day's troubles and enjoy a blissful night's sleep, so you wake up ready to face tomorrow!
#1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is one of the most commonly taught methods for relaxation and it really works, although it can take time and practice.
When you're lying in bed, ideally on your back, you're going to start slowly tensing and then relaxing every muscle in your body in turn. Start with the toes of your feet - tense them and then feel them totally relax. Move upwards, through your feet, ankles and legs to your knees, hips and stomach. Work on every muscle in your body, consciously taking a few seconds to tense and then relax them. Don't forget your facial features and your ears! You're not finished until you have reached the top of your head. You should feel totally relaxed - and you may even find with practice that you drift off to sleep before you finish with every muscle.
#2. Deep Breathing Meditation
Deep breathing helps you to inhale more oxygen, which can help to combat anxiety and stress. Breathing deeply needs to come from the abdomen rather than the chest, and it's best to perform this exercise just before bedtime.
Sit comfortably in a chair, back straight, with one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose and feel the hand on your stomach rise. if you're breathing correctly, the hand on your chest should barely move. Exhale through your mouth, contract your abdomen and push out as much air as you can - again, the hand on your stomach should move whilst the hand on your chest barely moves. Keep breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth, counting slowly as you exhale. We recommend trying this for a few minutes a night and building up to around 5-7 minutes as it gets easier.
#3. Mindfulness Meditation
Used for stress relief, mindfulness meditation helps you to be aware of how you're feeling in the moment. Think about it - it's normally worrying about the future and a feeling of lacking control, or thinking about the past that leads to our feelings of stress! You can use this technique to train your mind to focus on the present moment, which can help you to unwind and get a better night's sleep.
You'll need a quiet place - your bedroom is ideal. Sit up straight on the floor or in a chair and find a point of focus. This could be a meaningful word, mantra or phrase that you repeat, an imaginary scene you find relaxing or even an object in the room such as a flickering candle flame. Focus on your breathing, in and out through your nose as you try to focus on the scene, mantra or object. Starting with just a couple of minutes meditation is best and if you find your thoughts wondering, don't worry - it's normal! Just gently move your attention back to the focus at hand and continue.
#4. Belly Laughs
This might not seem like a relaxation exercise, but laughter can help us to de-stress by lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone our bodies produce. Laughter can also boost the production of feel-good endorphins. A quiet evening is a great time to watch some stand-up comedy, your favourite sitcom or even funny YouTube videos. Or call a friend who makes you smile!
#5. Visualisation Meditation
You know how relaxed you feel when you imagine lying on a beach? That's visualisation meditation, and you can harness it to enjoy feelings of peace and relaxation before bedtime, for a great night's sleep.
It's common to fall asleep when practising this kind of meditation, so we recommend sitting or standing in a quiet room - the bedroom or your living room is ideal. Close your eyes and imagine your peaceful place - it can be anywhere. It helps to include as many sensory details as you can - what do you see, hear, feel and smell? For example, if you're imagining being on a beach you might want to:
- Feel the sand between your toes
- Hear the sound of seagulls
- Hear waves lapping against the shore
- Smell the salty sea air
- Feel the sun beating down on your skin
As you immerse yourself in your visualisation, you will gradually start to feel more relaxed, and this is a great way to ease tension in muscles in the neck and shoulders. When you feel ready, open your eyes and gradually come back into the present moment. You're sure to enjoy a peaceful night's sleep.
#6. Bedtime Yoga
Yoga at bedtime can help you to unwind - here are two of the best types of yoga for stress relief:
- Hatha yoga - Mostly gentle poses which are suitable for beginners
- Satyananda - A traditional form of yoga which incorporates meditation, deep relaxation and gentle poses
Our bedtime yoga workout is ideal for helping you to relax before bedtime, and can be combined with one of the breathing or meditation exercises above for a totally stress-free evening. So if you've had a bad day at work, skip the gym and treat yourself to one or more of these relaxation exercises tonight!