The global health crisis has put the world in a difficult spot, and it’s safe to say that we’re all dealing with a lot. Working from home, taking care of the kids and keeping up with day-to-day responsibilities can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other mental health concerns. The constant appearance of racing thoughts and intense emotions can even disrupt your ability to sleep soundly each night.
A lack of sleep can further add to your stress and anxiety – leaving you stuck in a vicious cycle that can be hard to break out of. Stress and anxiety both contribute to the fight-or-flight response – wherein your body either works to fight off danger or flee from the situation. This can lead to physical changes in the body such as an increase in your blood pressure, heart rate, energy and alertness. This means that excess stress and/or anxiety can prevent you from falling and staying asleep at night.
Relaxation strategies for sleeping better
A relaxed body can aid your transition to sleep. Consistently practising activities for relaxation can help you manage stress throughout the day and can enable you to unwind at night. This can then improve the quality of your sleep.
Meditation is also beneficial to manage anxiety, depression, blood pressure and pain. Studies show that relaxation exercises like deep breathing, for instance, can increase the level of oxygen in the body – in turn helping your body work less hard. Moreover, slowly exhaling can mimic what your breathing is like when you are asleep, thus making good sleep more likely.
Such techniques are in your control, and easy to include in your daily routine. Their ease of access can prompt you to practise them anytime you’re feeling distressed or overwhelmed with all that’s going on.
We’ll list down some more strategies you can engage in to relax and de-stress yourself before going to bed. We’ve provided them in text format so that you can pick the ones you think might work for you and try them out. However, if carrying out these relaxation activities just by reading is difficult, you can check out different self-help apps that offer a number of free relaxation audios that guide you to practise these techniques and ultimately sleep better.
Before you begin, sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and shift your attention to your breathing. The idea is simply to become aware of the way you are breathing, and do nothing else. Focus on your natural inhalation and exhalation, and notice the tension in your body. Visualise your breath reaching different parts of your body, and imagine the tension leaving your body when you exhale. If your mind wanders, observe your other thoughts and slowly bring your awareness back to your breathing. Do this exercise for 3-5 minutes.
This is a simple exercise that can help you fall asleep quickly. Get in a comfortable position, with your eyes either open or closed. Inhale for 4 seconds. Focus on the sensation of the air entering your nostrils. Feel your lungs expand and hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then, slowly exhale for 8 seconds. You can count out loud or in your mind to keep track of the 4-7-8 exercise. Focus on the contraction of your chest as you breathe out. Focus on how your body responds to the breathing. Repeat this process for a few minutes to relax your body.
Put one hand on your chest, and another on your stomach while lying down or sitting in a comfortable position. Inhale deeply through your nose, and feel the way your belly expands with air. Exhale slowly through your mouth and repeat a few times. Practise this exercise for 5 minutes to experience a sense of relaxation.
Close your eyes, get comfortable and sit in a place that’s away from distractions. Pick a relaxing scene or image in your mind. You could also pick a positive memory to think of. Imagine visiting this scene, and try to focus on your senses to make this experience richer. Think about the sounds you can hear, the textures and things you can feel, the scents around you, or anything you can taste as you visualise the situation. Doing this even for a few minutes can help you feel calm and centered.
While practising these activities, you may struggle to get comfortable at first. But it’s important to start small, take your time and gradually build your way up. Whenever you find your attention wandering to a negative thought, acknowledge it and let it go. Gently redirect your focus back to what you’re doing. Don’t be too hard on yourself and appreciate the effort you are putting into your practice.
Additionally, try to ensure that you don’t watch the news or videos about the crisis before bedtime as this can only add to the panic and stress. Instead, engage in enjoyable activities such as reading, taking a warm bath or listening to music. Avoid staying in bed or looking at the time if you’re not sleepy, as this can keep your mind awake and make you frustrated.
In times of uncertainty, staying consistent can be challenging – but it is something that can keep you going. Try and be as regular as you can with these relaxation exercises, and over time, you will feel more at ease and notice a difference in the quality of your sleep.