Insufficient sleep can become a serious problem in our everyday life. Left unchecked, it can damage our health in several different ways and our performance at work by weakening our powers of concentration. According to the Swiss government, the percentage of working people with sleep disorders has steadily risen over the past decades, with around a quarter of the Swiss population having trouble sleeping on a semi-regular basis.
One of the most widespread sleep-related problems is difficulty falling asleep. Anyone who takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep over a period of several weeks is considered to suffer from this disorder. Sufferers of sleep disorders are more irritable, feel tired and listless and can only focus on work to a limited extent.
The hectic pace of everyday life often makes it harder for us to wind down in the evening and give our brains a break. In this article, we would therefore like to introduce you to a few relaxation exercises you can use to fall asleep, as well as explain how you can get to sleep faster at night in a more general way.
What really helps people fall asleep?
Relaxation techniques are a good way to both improve sleep quality and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep. These techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and autogenic training, for example. Try each of them out for yourself to decide which method is best for you. Be sure to try them out for a while, though, because you likely won’t feel the effects on the first day.
Furthermore, keeping a sleep ritual has also been shown to be quite effective for adults. By repeating certain activities on a daily basis before bedtime, you prepare your body to fall asleep. These activities can include, for example, taking a relaxing bath in the evening, going for a walk or reading a book. Intense exercise before sleep should best be avoided in favor of moderate or light exercise.
What techniques help with trouble sleeping?
In the following section, we would like to introduce you to a few exercises or techniques that you can use to improve your sleep.
Progressive muscle relaxation before going to bed
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing individual muscle groups one after the other in order to relieve the entire body of tension. In our everyday life, we unconsciously tense our muscles, which can eventually lead to injury and pain. In muscle progressive relaxation, the effect is transferred from muscle to muscle in a controlled manner until a feeling of relaxation spreads throughout the body.
Progressive muscle relaxation has been shown to help lower blood pressure and pulse rate, reduce bowel activity and calm breathing. This exercise is best done before going to bed, either while lying down or sitting up. Start by tensing muscle groups on the right side of your body (hand, arm, face, neck, back, abdomen, leg) and then releasing them after a few seconds. The process should then be repeated on the left side.
This exercise goes great together with autogenic training.
Autogenic training is a kind of relaxation exercise for the mind, in which we learn to get rid of stress and anxiety and relax completely. Our body is put into a trance and thus we gain access to our subconscious mind. Autogenic training can be done from home, they are best done with audio or video instructions.
These exercises are also performed while lying down or sitting. Perform autogenic training as follows:
- Find an undisturbed place and assume your posture. Breathe calmly and close your eyes while exhaling. Imagine a room in which you feel secure.
- Focus on your body.
- Say aloud "My right arm is heavy" and repeat this phrase. Then move to your left arm, to your jaw, then to your legs.
- Say aloud "My right arm is warm" and repeat this phrase. Then move to your left arm, to your jaw, then to your legs.
- Say aloud "My heartbeat is calm and regular" and repeat this phrase.
- Say aloud "My breathing is deep and normal" and repeat this phrase.
- Say aloud "My abdomen is warm" and repeat this phrase. Say aloud
- "My forehead is cool" and repeat this phrase.
Consciously notice how your body enters a state of calm and relaxation.
Breathing exercises before sleep
Breathing in and out slowly causes our body to pump and release a great deal of oxygen into our blood. This process gently lowers our pulse rate and helps us fall asleep faster. You can use this exercise not only to reach the level of comfort necessary for sleep, but also in other situations in which you might feel nervous, stressed or anxious.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a proven method to calm the parasympathetic nervous system. At the beginning of the exercise, you inhale through your nose and count to four. Then hold your breath and count to seven. On the exhale, count to eight and repeat this technique four times. When exhaling, your tongue should be behind your teeth and you can slightly purse your lips.
Meditation to fall asleep and let go of stress
Our thoughts and anxieties can sometimes keep us awake for nights on end, depriving us of much-needed and well-earned sleep. Practising meditation is a good way to separate ourselves from these tormenting thoughts. Meditating before falling asleep is best done while lying down in a quiet room.
When meditating, you should stretch out your legs and close your eyes. Try to consciously relax your body. Focus on your breath and count to ten as you inhale and exhale. In some meditation practices, you can choose a mantra, word or prayer to repeat on your outbreath.
If your mind wanders and you lose your focus, don’t get upset or discouraged. Just return your attention back to your mantra again.
Yoga exercises in the evening
Performing a series of light yoga poses before bed not only helps focus our thoughts on our bodies, but also releases pent-up muscle tension. Some relaxing yoga poses you can hold before bedtime include Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana), Child's Pose (Balasana), Knees to Chest Pose (Apanasana) and Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani).
Relaxation exercises that help children fall asleep
It’s common for children and adolescents to have trouble falling asleep. Restorative sleep is especially important for children, as it’s essential for learning and physical growth. Relaxation-inducing practices such as meditation, breathing exercises, autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation are just as helpful for children as they are for adults. However, children lose their motivation and become distracted more quickly, so it can be helpful to use CDs, videos or books for support. This makes the exercises more interesting for them and can help them stay on the ball longer.
A good night’s sleep with high-quality bedding products from Zizzz
Being in the right mental and physical state plays a role in being able to fall asleep quickly, but so does the right sleeping environment. Those who tend to sweat or feel cold in bed typically have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. We recommend products made with 100% natural materials to help alleviate these two problems.
With our goose or duck down comforters, feeling cold at night will be a thing of the past. The warm and toasty feeling will help you feel comfortable enough to fall asleep; they are breathable and allow moisture to escape. For those who tend to overheat and sweat at night, we also offer wool duvets for adults and children's duvets, so that both you and your little ones can get a good night’s sleep.
By using different techniques, we release the tension in our body and rid ourselves from negative thoughts, which put us in the right state for sleep. Autogenic training, light yoga poses, progressive muscle relaxation, practising meditation in the evening and breathing exercises are particularly helpful in this regard. These exercises are not only effective for adults, but also work very well for children and teenagers.