Relaxation activities really belong in your evening routine (the second of the Three Rs), but this component is so important for helping you to obtain high quality sleep that it deserves emphasis in a section of its own.
💤 Why should we practice relaxation before bed?
As we move throughout our day, the majority of the things that we do present a huge sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) drive for our body.
We wake up, get the kids ready, drive to work/school, drink coffee, engage in challenging and complex tasks, sometimes experience disputes or confrontation, and likely spend much of the day confined to computers and chairs indoors before leaving work to perhaps pick up the kids, cook, exercise and carry out other important chores, all of which are focused around doing.
Nobody can dispute the importance of these daily tasks, but it’s important to understand that these activities promote the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which, if left unaddressed negatively impact on your sleep.
Ideally, when you lay down in bed at night you want to ensure that these day-time stress hormones are as low as possible in order to promote the healthy release of your night-time hormones (especially Melatonin).
The lower your stress hormones are in the evening, the higher your melatonin levels, and sleep quality, is going to be.
💤 How can we most effectively lower these stress hormones?
The most effective way to lower stress hormone is through practicing mind-body relaxation techniques. The techniques that we recommend include any form of deep abdominal breathing and simple meditation such as a guided body scan.
The research is very clear that if you do some form of relaxation in the evening, you can improve your melatonin levels by up to 50%, massively increasing the quality of your sleep.
- 🌬 Breathwork techniques such as Coherent Breathing are very simple and often preferred over meditation and body-scan practices for those who are newer to using relaxation methods. Almost any simple breathing technique is great for calming your mind. Your stress hormones are reduced and the relaxation response is activated within minutes by simply directing your focus toward counting the seconds of each inhalation and exhalation as you lengthen and expand your breath into the area of your diaphragm.
- 🧘♂️ Simple guided body scan meditations and other mindful relaxation techniques can be learned through applications such as Headspace and Calm. Although I am a huge fan of these apps, I still caution clients about the problems associated with exposing themselves to technology and artificial light that can disrupt sleep. I think the best thing about these applications is their ability to teach you simple skills that you can take offline and apply without any longer needing to use the technology itself. If you do choose technology-assisted relaxation in the evening, make sure you are protecting yourself by filtering the artificial light and putting your phone or tablet into aeroplane mode.
Other less-formal ways to relax might include spending time with animals, friends or family, reading a calming book, listening to podcasts or audio books, taking a relaxing hot bath or almost any other activity that floats your relaxation boat!
The possibilities for evening relaxation are endless, but a few golden rules apply:
❌ No artificial blue/green light
❌ No late-night technology
❌ Nothing too stimulating (loud music and heated debates should be avoided at all costs)!
💤 Relaxation is one of the most crucial components of healthy, high quality sleep and it should be scheduled into your evening routine accordingly.
Consider picking and trying one of the techniques that I’ve mentioned and reflect on how it changes the quality of your sleep over the course of a week!