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5 relaxation techniques for better sleep, according to a clinical psychologist

5 relaxation techniques for better sleep, according to a clinical psychologist
(Image credit: Getty)

2020 has been a very difficult year, so no wonder some of us are struggling to sleep. The pandemic is causing worries about health, relationships and money, which can have unprecedented effects on our physical and emotional wellbeing. They can also impact our ability to enjoy quality shut-eye. But why are our bodies struggling to sleep?

Dr Karen Treisman, a clinical psychologist, author and trainer with psychotherapy Training Services organization nscience, provides some insight. “The pandemic and subsequent need for new ways of living has meant that many of us have had to process a lot of new information, extremely quickly. We’ve had to start working from home, parent differently, stop favorite activities, perhaps adapt to reduced finances. 

“For many, their status quo has changed and the goal posts keep moving, which adds to the uncertainty," Dr Triesman continues. "This can leave people fearing ‘what next’, but also feeling uprooted. Making sense of this new world can be overwhelming, let alone having to make so many new decisions and process so much new information, which can lead to moral, dilemma, and decision fatigue.”

Adapting to a new way of living
This immense shift may lead to you experiencing more emotions than normal, and there might not be just your emotions in the mix, either. “You’re also likely to be soaked in wider media narratives, as well as surrounded by your family, colleagues and friends’ feelings. Making sense of our own feelings, let alone everyone else’s, can be exhausting, especially when our usual outlets for stress, such as socializing, exercise and therapy, may not be available.”

5 relaxation techniques for better sleep, according to a clinical psychologist: A man tries to relax in bed with some deep breathing

(Image credit: Getty)

5 relaxation techniques to promote better sleep

If you’re struggling to sleep, or you find yourself waking up multiple times in the night, Dr Triesman suggests trying some of the following relaxation techniques. 

Reckon your bed might be contributing to your poor sleep too? Then read our guides to the best mattress online and the best pillows to ensure you have the right type for your preferred sleep position and the level of support you need.

1. Creating a more comforting, soothing and calming space
“Think about your bedroom and where you sleep. Are there things you can do to surround yourself and marinate yourself in a more calming space? For example, gentle music, white noise, calm lighting, the right room temperature, comfy or soothing pillows and a duvet, calming artwork on the walls, and so forth.”

2. Relaxation exercises
“Each person will be drawn to unique ones, but there are a couple that are worth trying. The first is hand breathing. This is where you trace along the fingers of your hand. As you trace up the finger, breathe in through your nose, then as you go down the finger, breathe out through your mouth. 

“You can also increase this by adding in another sensory system, such as putting on hand cream whilst doing this exercise, listening to relaxing music, or burning a calming scented oil. You can also visualize breathing in soothing thoughts and exhaling stress.” 

3. Muscle tensing and relaxing
“First, take a few whole body stretches, then shake out your body. For example, your left leg then your left arm, then your right leg and your right arm, then shake out your whole body. Then choose different parts of the body to tense, then relax. Start at your feet and work up, or select certain parts of the body. 

5 relaxation techniques for better sleep, according to a clinical psychologist: A woman stretches out her arms and legs during yoga to relax her body for better sleep

(Image credit: Getty)

“Try holding your shoulders up then dropping them down, stretching your arms above your head then shaking them out, and clenching then relaxing your fists. Rhythm and repetition, particularly ones which use the left and right sides of our body and brain, can be soothing.”

4. Expressing your worries
“If you have worries buzzing around your head, it can help to create some emotional or physical distance from them by capturing them externally. You might like to name the worries, or think about if the worries were a color, shape, animal, or a type of weather. If they were a thing, what would they be? What would they sound like? You can do this in any way that works for you – writing, drawing, sculpting. 

“You can also choose to get rid of them. For example, writing your worries on paper and then ripping them up, locking them away, or scribbling over them. Some people create a worry journal or worry box to put these things in.” 

5. A positive memory bank
“It can be helpful to marinate ourselves in positive feelings. For example, you might like to travel back to a time when you felt happy and at peace. Luxuriate in the memory, remembering it in terms of all of the five senses (what you saw, what you could smell), and soak in all of the happy emotions it brings up. 

“You might also like to create a treasure box next to your bed, or keep a moments journal. This could be things like a gratitude jar, or a memory tree. Before bed, write down, draw or say out loud the positive moments that happened that day.”

A change in routine (for now)

It's clear that our bodies are coping with a lot more than usual, and how that in turn can impact sleep. If your daily routine has changed, your bedtime routine may also be off. “It may be that you’re less active, due to working from home, so at bedtime you have pent up energy from doing fewer activities, making it difficult to drop off,” explains Dr Triesman. “Or you may feel hyper vigilant and worried about what's going on in your body, and are unable to relax as a result.” 

Anxious thoughts could be another issue, so learning how to stop anxiety ruining your sleep is worthwhile. “Sleep is our body’s ability to go from aroused to calm, so if you’re unable to relax, it's harder to fall asleep. Night time is also when you're alone with your thoughts, and that can be a difficult place to be for some. It’s therefore not surprising that so many of us are struggling to sleep.” 

While these relaxation techniques aren’t a guarantee of a solid eight hours’ slumber, they should help you to relax so that you can start enjoying better sleep.

Want more sleep content? Then read our guide to the best sunrise alarm clocks and how they could help you wake more naturally. If you’ve decided to upgrade your mattress, check out our round-ups of the best Purple mattress deals, the best Capser mattress deals, or the best Saatva mattress discounts to save on luxury sleep.