We’re living through a very challenging time right now, with many of us worrying about our health, families, finances and jobs throughout the COVID pandemic. No wonder so many of us are struggling with sleep and wondering if it will ever go ‘back to normal’. If you’ve been scouring the internet for sleep relaxation tips and techniques, you’re in the right place here. We recently spoke to Dr Karen Treisman, a clinical psychologist, author, and trainer with psychotherapy Training Services organization nscience (opens in new tab), for her go-to sleep relaxation tips.
We also asked Dr Treisman why she thinks so many of us are struggling to sleep at this time. “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,” begins Dr Treisman. “We’ve had to start working from home, parent differently, stop favorite activities, perhaps adapt to reduced finances. This can leave people fearing ‘what next’, but also feeling uprooted.”
Add in uncertainty over ever-changing guidelines, new rules, new restrictions, new everything, and that sense of overload gets worse, “which can lead to moral, dilemma and decision fatigue.” Dr Treisman says. In other words, it’s a recipe for a bad night’s sleep (or several). And it doesn't matter whether you have hunted down the best mattress online (opens in new tab) or have stocked up on countless sleep sprays and potions, taking anxiety and stress into bed with you will lead to a restless night.
So the big question becomes, how can you get your sleep back on track? As it turns out, learning how to relax before bed is vital. To get you started, here Dr Treisman shares her top five sleep relaxation tips to try tonight…
5 sleep relaxation techniques to try tonight
1. Create a calming sleep 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.”
What you rest your head on can make a difference to helping you feel cosy and comfy, so if you don't yet own one of the best pillows for sleeping (opens in new tab), or your bed pillow is more than two years old, now could be the time to think about upgrading.
2. Try a sleep relaxation exercise
“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. Tense and relax your muscles
“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.
“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.”
We'd also recommend trying one of the best handheld massagers (opens in new tab) for relieving any tension or tightness in your muscles before ned.
4. Express 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. Remember the good times
“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 Treisman. “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 (opens in new tab) 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 seven to nine hours of slumber, they should help you to relax so that you can start enjoying your sleep again. And if you're having trouble waking up in the morning too, consider using a sunrise alarm clock (opens in new tab) to rouse you with a cheerful, energizing glow.
If you are thinking of upgrading your bed, take a look at our roundups of the best Purple mattress deals (opens in new tab), the best Capser mattress deals (opens in new tab), and the best Saatva mattress discounts (opens in new tab) to save on better sleep.