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 Sleep  Holistic-online.com

Alternative and Integral Therapies for Insomnia

Relaxation

Dozens of scientific studies have proven that the relaxation is an effective treatment for insomnia.

How Does Relaxation Improve Sleep

When practiced during the day, relaxation response counters daily stress responses. This reduces the likelihood that stress hormones will be elevated at night.

When practiced at bedtime or after an awakening, relaxation response helps turn off negative sleep thoughts, quiet the mind, and relax the body.

Relaxation response elicits a brain-wave pattern similar to Stage 1 sleep, the transition state between waking and sleeping. Thus, by practicing the relaxation at bedtime or after a nighttime awakening, it is easier to enter Stage 1 sleep and then to Stage 2, deep sleep, and dream sleep ultimately.

People who practice relaxation fall back to sleep faster. They sleep longer and they have a better quality of sleep (deep sleep). They are more rested in the morning. Gradually, they develop a greater sense of control over their mind and sleep. Thus, although the relaxation by itself may not cure insomnia, it has a significant positive effect on sleep for most insomniacs.

How To Achieve Relaxation

There are two main techniques to elicit relaxation.

1. Progressive Relaxation by Jacobson

2. Relaxation response by Benson

Both of these techniques are effective in eliciting relaxation. Which method you use depends on personal preferences and what makes you more comfortable.

Progressive Relaxation

One of the most popular and easy-to-use methods to relax is by progressive relaxation. The key to progressive relaxation is to become aware of tension and its corresponding state, relaxation, in each of the body's muscles. Once you are aware of the difference, you can learn to relax muscles one at a time until gradually your whole body is ready to drift away into restful sleep.

How To Elicit Relaxation Using Relaxation Response

Begin with the muscles in your face, such as those that move your eyebrows. Contract the muscles with gentle force for one to two seconds, and then relax. Don't stop breathing while you tense the muscles. Some people find it helpful to count their breaths.

Repeat a few times, then move on to the other muscles, such as those in the center of your face that control your nose and upper lip, and those that control the comers of your mouth.

Tense and relax the muscles of the jaw and neck.

Move on to the upper arms, the lower arms, and each finger of the hands. 
Now work on the parts of the body below such as the chest, the abdomen, the buttocks, the thighs, the calves, and finally the feet.

Repeat this exercise two more times, for a total of about forty-five minutes of relaxation time. In most cases, you won't be able to complete too many whole cycles, because you'll have relaxed yourself to sleep! When you feel you've learned how to relax your arms, repeat the procedure with other muscles-legs, chest, abdomen, and face. Each time, you begin by tensing the muscles, holding the tension, and then relaxing.

Once you have mastered this technique of relaxation, you'll be able to go straight to the relaxation mode. You'll be able to identify where you're tense and allow yourself to relax. 

Since it is hard to remember the sequence of relaxation when you are trying to relax and sleep, a better alternative is to make a tape that guides you through the process. There are many tapes available that are professionally made or you can record one yourself. Make sure you give plenty of gaps (preferably interspersed with relaxing music) so that you can go through it without having to rewind or fast forward the tape.

Learning to Elicit the Relaxation Response

Step 1: Relax the muscles throughout the body

Lie down or sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Feel relaxation gradually spread throughout your body.

Some people start with the head and feel relaxation spread to the toes. Others find it easier to start with the feet and feel relaxation rise to the head. Again choose whichever makes you comfortable.

You may feel warmth, heaviness, tingling, or floating as signs of relaxation. Some people may feel nothing specific.

Step 2: Establish a relaxed breathing pattern

When relaxed or sleeping, we breathe with the abdomen. This is the most relaxing to the body because carbon dioxide is expelled and oxygen inhaled efficiently. When we feel stressed, our breathing pattern changes to short, shallow, regular chest breaths, or we hold our breath. This type of breathing is not effective in inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. This further stresses the body. Since waste products were not removed during the breathing out, they build up in the bloodstream and we feel more anxious.

So, it is important that we learn how to breathe deeply. You can learn more about breathing in Holisticonline.com yoga infocenter. Yoga has an entire section called pranayama that deals with the science of breathing.

Related Topic: Breathing Exercises

Step 3: Direct your attention from everyday thoughts by using a mental focusing device that is neutral and repetitive

For many choosing a word and repeating it may help to keep their attention away from day to day problems. Transcendental meditation gives a personal mantra. You can, however, choose a word that may have special meaning to you such as peace, "Jesus love me", one, or relax. You can also use the rise and fall of the abdomen as you breathe. Some find it easier if they count or say the word with the breath. Others repeat a word silently with each exhalation.

You can choose a visual image of an enjoyable, relaxing place as the mental focusing device. Examples are:

bulletA favorite vacation spot
bulletA place you create
bulletA beach, a meadow, or mountain
bulletA place in a book, magazine, or movie
bulletFloating on a cloud

When eliciting the relaxation response, assume a passive attitude. Let relaxation happen at its own pace. Don't "force" to relax. Don't worry about whether relaxation is occurring. If distracting thoughts occur, disregard them and return attention to the mental focusing device. 

Practicing Relaxation Response

It is useful to make a relaxation tape so that you can follow the step-by-step instructions on the tape. You can make one yourself or buy one made professionally.

Play the tape and follow the instructions. Close your eyes and mentally repeat them. Relax.

Relaxation - Enjoying the Moment

When people first elicit the relaxation, they often experience physical relaxation: the muscles relax, breathing and heart rate slow. Others notice novel sensations such as heaviness, warmth, tingling, or even floating. Many find it difficult to quiet the mind, which wanders from thought to thought as if it has a life of its own. With practice, the ability to quiet the mind and focus attention improves. Thoughts begin to slow and pleasantly drift.

During deep relaxation, you may feel that you are not really awake or asleep. You may begin to lose awareness of surroundings, thoughts, or the mental focusing device and enter a state similar to Stage I sleep. If attention drifts back to everyday thoughts, return to the mental focusing device until the mind quiets again.

Initially, feelings of relaxation from the relaxation response may last only a short time. However, in a few weeks, the body adjusts to the relaxation. The stress hormones become less reactive and the effects of the relaxation begin to "carry over" and extend throughout the day. As stress is reduced, you sleep better. 

Making Relaxation as Part of Your Daily Life

You need to practice relaxation almost daily to obtain significant benefits from it. 
The more consistently the relaxation is practiced, the greater the benefits for sleep, health, and daily life.

Here are some guidelines you can use.

bulletAllot ten to twenty minutes per day for the relaxation. Most people simply can't relax and quiet the mind in less time. As more experience is gained, relaxation occurs more quickly.
bulletPractice relaxation in a comfortable position and in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
bulletExperiment to find the time of day that works best for you. Then designate that time as regular relaxation time.

See Also:

Relaxation for stress management

Meditation Infocenter in holisticonline.com

Meditation for insomnia

Sources:
Say Goodbye to Insomnia by Gregg D. Jacobs and Henry Holt
Get a Good Night's Sleep by Katherine Albert, Simon and Schuster

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