01 Nov Relaxation and Mind-Body Practices for Treating Insomnia
Everyone has struggled to fall asleep or stay asleep at some point in their lives. Whether it was from worry (the night before a big exam, or a job interview) or from stress (problems at work or with kids) or those times when you just can’t seem to shut your mind off. But when this inability to sleep is a habit, it becomes insomnia, and that can lead to serious problems.
In fact, research shows that insomnia can result not just in sleepiness, but deep fatigue and even cognitive impairment. It impairs people’s ability to perform ordinary tasks, and affects memory, concentration, reasoning and problem solving. People with chronic insomnia are also nearly four times more likely to have depression and it increases the occurrence of conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
But there are some things you can do to treat insomnia naturally, without medication – starting with relaxation and mind-body practices.
HOW DO RELAXATION AND MIND-BODY PRACTICES WORK FOR TREATING INSOMNIA?
Relaxation and mind-body practices help to reduce insomnia by reducing anxiety at bedtime. This allows the mind and body to calm and slip into sleep. Specifically, however, relaxation works by increasing the part of the nervous system that slows the heart and calms the mind, and decreasing the part of the nervous system that increases heart rate and enhances wakefulness.
Whatever the reason, research shows that relaxation and mind-body approaches to insomnia result in measurable, reliable and continuing benefits. The quality of sleep improves, and the time it takes to fall asleep is reduced. And they provide the added benefit of treating insomnia naturally without medication.
5 RELAXATION AND MIND-BODY PRACTICES FOR INSOMNIA
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is designed to reduce muscle tension that is associated with stress. With this technique, you simply tense up particular muscles and then relax them. As you work through the muscles of the entire body (avoiding places of injury), your mind will begin to relax as well.
With this technique, the more you practice, the better your results.
With this technique you simply inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds. Then repeat.
Another way to bring about the relaxation response that aids sleep is mindfulness mediation. This type of meditation begins by focussing on breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without thinking about concerns of the past or the future.
Practicing mindfulness meditation for 20 minutes a day creates a reflex to relax, so that it becomes easier to evoke that response at night to combat insomnia.
Guided imagery is a simple process but one that can give good results. You simply focus your mind on one thing – like a mental image or a story. Pick a restful image or moment and live in it – what do you see, smell, hear, taste and feel. Go slowly and find the details. Keep doing this until you drift off to sleep.
Don’t panic if you find your mind wandering away. Simply come back to the moment each time.
If you suffer from insomnia because of chronic pain disorders such as arthritis, massage therapy can provide significant increases in the duration of sleep and reduce long-term pain.
Even if your insomnia derives from something else altogether, massage therapy can be useful. Regular massage decreases depression and anxiety levels and improves sleep quality. This technique works well for children and teens as well.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
These practices will help you to relax and be in the present moment to enable you to fall asleep more easily and return to sleep if you wake at night. But if your insomnia has become a pattern, or if you don’t feel refreshed during the day, or if your lack of sleep is interfering with your daily life, it is probably time to seek out a doctor for advice.
While medication is not always the answer, it may sometimes be the right choice. Working together with your doctor will enable you to find the best treatment options for you.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
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