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Sleep itself is more than just something we do because we are tired. But instead, we get tired because we need to sleep! Our entire system is structured around this precious practice that gives you so much in return.
In fact, getting enough sleep does so much more than just refresh you. It’s a vital part of our immune system, mental and emotional health and even helps our cardiovascular system! It’s no risk to say that sleeping is one of the most fundamentally healthy things that we can engage in.
So how can we better engage in this fundamental part of our day and ensure we are getting the most out of our bedtime?
We’ve compiled some of our favorite relaxation techniques to help you wind down from your day and get the most out of sleep. But first, let's take a closer look at what sleep is to understand how to relax and engage with it.
Sleep is a dynamic process with multiple phases, and it is very true that not all sleep is the same. For instance, when we fall asleep, we lose consciousness and drift into a time where we may or may not remember dreams, but this doesn’t mean we experience good sleep.
When we fall asleep, for the most part, time seems to go by quickly. You close your eyes and fall asleep -- and the next thing you know, your alarm is blaring, and your automatic reaction to smash the snooze button is being activated!
However, just because you may fall into this period of unconsciousness does not by any means imply that you have slept well or gotten the most out of restful sleep. Thus, it is important to understand the body’s natural relaxation response and follow a variety of relaxation practices, including guided meditation, body scan meditation, breathing exercises with inhale and exhale control, and diaphragmatic breathing.
With biofeedback, this technique uses electronic devices, especially a wearable device, to help monitor your breathing and strengthen the diaphragm.
Autogenic training takes you through the same steps as the body scan, but also adds warmth to calm different parts of the body. More often in conjunction with other therapies, gently massage the common trigger points in the body, such as the thighs, buttocks, hips, belly, eyebrows, cheeks, and forehead.
You can even improve your quality of sleep by reducing caffeine intake and stimulants, changing your sleep routine, investing in blue light glasses, and baking your favorite cookies.
To understand what that means, let’s look at what is called a sleep cycle and how this can give us insight into how to relax and wind down before bed.
When we fall asleep, we enter into a series of what are known as sleep cycles. These sleep cycles are composed of four stages and can be divided into two different types of sleep that we engage with throughout those stages. These types of sleep are non-REM sleep and REM sleep.
Three of four stages in a sleep cycle engage in non-REM sleep. These first three stages, N1-N3, are important for preparing the body to enter into REM sleep, the last stage of the sleep cycle.
REM sleep is one of the most beneficial stages of the sleep cycle, and it is always the last stage of the sleep cycle. Each cycle lasts about ninety minutes. However, it does vary from person to person.
The first stage of the sleep cycle is the one that we will be most concerned with when learning relaxation techniques. The reason why is simply because this first stage of the sleep cycle is all about dozing off to sleep. This stage is a vital part of our sleep cycle where the mind bridges from conscious to the unconscious, and we relax enough to let our grip on reality sleep, ease physical tension, and lower blood pressure.
For many people, this stage of the sleep cycle is one of the absolutely most difficult stages to master. In fact, there are sleeping disorders that keep a person from experiencing this stage of the sleep cycle specifically.
This can be caused by issues affecting our brains or even certain treatable medical conditions. For some people, actual medical intervention is needed to help their minds wind down and enter into snooze mode.
Lying awake and staring at the ceiling for hours on end, hoping to fall asleep, can be a very hopeless feeling, and it can cause a build-up of system-wide tension.
Stage two of the sleep cycle can be thought of as the body getting ready for deep sleep. This stage is another commonly hard stage for people to pass through on their sleep journey as well.
In fact, if you have ever experienced falling asleep for several hours but waking up still tired and groggy, you could have just been hanging out in stage two of the sleeping cycle too long. Not progressing past stage two into deep sleep deprives you of the reinvigorating benefits of sleep.
Stage three is the first stage of deep sleep and where your body may begin to experience paralysis. This is because you have reached such a deep level of slumber that you are about to branch over into REM sleep. This is the stage of deep bodily regenerative properties in the sleep cycle.
REM sleep is the last stage of the sleep cycle and the deepest point of your sleeping pattern. This is where your brain becomes more active and engaging.
Your body is in paralysis, so it doesn’t act out any commands or dreams your brain may be giving it. This is the stage of the sleep cycle where we experience the most mental refreshment and integration.
While it varies from person to person, a sleep cycle takes ninety minutes, on average. What’s more, is for most adults, getting four to six sleep cycles is recommended. This means that most people need to be hitting around seven to eight hours of sleep!
With that in mind, the goal is not just about sleep but good healthy sleep that engages an entire sleep cycle. So, what can you do to improve this process?
How can you make changes in your life to deepen your sleeping experience and get you engaged in the kind of sleep you need?
One of the most important aspects of getting a good night's sleep is preparing correctly for it. Strategizing for the time of your day that leads up to sleep is essential for ensuring that you get the kind of sleep you deserve.
Sleep itself can be affected by a host of different problems, and most of them come from the hours directly preceding you engaging in it.
Here we are going to split up our relaxation techniques into two different groups: Relaxation for getting to bed and relaxation techniques while in bed. We’ve broken this up because the process of falling asleep actually starts during your day.
Getting to your bedroom after a long day is a vital part of your sleep practice. What you eat, drink and physically do throughout your day affects the quality of sleep you get.
While in bed, we will talk about some of our favorite relaxation techniques to practice that will help improve your ability to doze off.
One of the best ways to be sure that you are preparing for bedtime - is to simply plan your day towards it! This means being proactive about your schedule and really prioritizing sleep.
If you know that you need six to eight hours of sleep a night, structuring your days to give you that time is paramount to your success.
Now you may be wondering, how does planning your day around bed count as a relaxation technique? Well, it works indirectly in that it helps you to have less distraction and stress when you come down to the part of the day where you need to wind down.
By proactively structuring your days to where your workload is accomplished and finished well before you need to hit the proverbial hay -- you are allowing yourself the freedom from stress to enter into the night. That nagging feeling of having work to accomplish, going to sleep when due dates are fast-approaching is not conducive to getting a good night of rest.
The process of learning how to sleep can be a long one. For those who struggle with falling asleep - this progress can seem discouragingly minimal. Getting a sleep journal to write out your goals, structure your day and then record your progress is a great way to remind yourself that you are growing. Not only this, but spending time in the evenings reflecting on your day and journaling has been known to lower anxiety and help alleviate stress.
It may surprise you, but getting good exercise during the day will be very important to relax before sleep.
Naturally, your body produces energy throughout the day, especially if you live a more sedentary lifestyle -- the impact of getting moderate exercise will be huge on your sleep journey.
Also, this doesn’t have to mean intense gym days or high endurance athletic training. This can be as simple as making sure that you walk the dog before and after work, get outside to stretch multiple times a day, and get fresh air. Trying to relax after a long day that hasn’t seen adequate exercise can be difficult.
This is a vitally important part of learning how to relax at the end of the day. You should be sure that you are providing yourself a balanced and healthy diet to give your body what it needs to enter into sleep.
The biggest part of this is making sure you are eating with enough time to digest before bed. Curtailing your evening meals for night relaxation can help you avoid heartburn, gas, or general discomfort from eating something too close to the bed.
Also, be sure to drink plenty of water and try to avoid alcohol. While a nightcap is a popular choice for those wishing to get an edge on falling asleep, alcohol doesn't actually promote healthy sleep.
It will help you relax and drift off, but it doesn’t work well to engage you with deep sleep, and it will either prevent or shorten your time spent in REM sleep.
So now that you’ve structured your day to set the stage for getting to sleep, you’re actually at the stage where you make that big transition!
For this crucial part of the process of falling asleep, we will take you through several different techniques. These will start in the environment you sleep in and end in practical steps you can take when you’re in bed that will help you quiet your mind and fall into sleep.
You can take stress supplements at any point in your day for a variety of different reasons. Whether you need to reduce tension and increase focus in the middle of a workday, or you're trying to wind down. The active natural botanical ingredients provide vitamins for stress support for multiple systems and can have a powerful effect on your overall health.
When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, supplements with soothing botanicals like chamomile and calming amino acids like L-theanine can be powerful tools to help relax your mind. We have worked very hard to bring the highest quality supplements to our Calm & Unwind capsules.
Our Calm capsule uses a powerful mix of active ingredients like ashwagandha, lemon balm, Relora®, and more to increase your chances of feeling relaxed and naturally falling asleep.
Now, if you’ve never heard of the concept of sleep hygiene, you may be thinking that all you’re going to read is about the benefits of taking a nice hot shower before sleep. While this is truly a part of practicing sleep hygiene, it is more than physical cleanliness.
Sleep hygiene deals with making a comfortable, hygienic, and holistic environment for you to fall asleep in. That means that sleep hygiene can affect the room itself.
Now, before you start getting PTSD and the voice of a parental figure comes to mind, telling you to clean your room - we aren’t telling you to have a conventionally ‘clean’ room.
While we should always strive to keep our bedrooms healthy, clean, and free of possible health hazards like black mold, the most important thing about your room is that you are comfortable in it.
This means spending some real-time making sure that your bedroom reflects a place you can truly feel safe, comfortable, and ready to fall asleep in. Another aspect of sleep hygiene is that it is different for every person.
That means you’ll have to be willing to experiment to see what works for you.
For instance, if you often sleep in a very cluttered room but you have been experiencing trouble letting go of anxiety -- try rearranging the room and removing the clutter.
Yoga is an ancient practice with a variety of health benefits, and restorative yoga is deeply relaxing. Find an easy, soothing restorative yoga routine you can complete in about ten minutes to start practicing every night. Make sure you aren’t doing anything to raise your heart rate, but instead focus on deep stretches and good breathing patterns.
Ending your restorative yoga practice with Savasana, or corpse pose, is another technique that can cultivate calm and peace. This position has you simply lay on your mat, flat on your back.
You close your eyes and focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your nose. As you lay here, you mindfully focus on your body and how it feels, taking every part of it into account.
You’ll note any tension present and then simply allow your body to be pulled by gravity down towards the ground at your back.
From the position of Savasana, you can start to work out the tension that you become aware of. One of the best ways to do this is to gently focus on the muscles in the areas of concern and tense them and relax them steadily.
You can also incorporate gentle stretching movements here as well. What this does is loosens up your body and allows it to start gearing towards the bed.
Your body naturally builds up tension throughout the day, and allowing a time of mindfulness to gently work on this tension before bed helps strengthen your transition to sleep.
Meditation is an ancient practice with multiple health benefits and limitless variations. For some, this is a practice of purposefully calming down the mind. Whether you find that you can meditate through the use of a mantra or you prefer to clear your mind of all thoughts, this can be a powerful tool to prepare for bed.
When learning how to meditate, set up a designated area that causes you to feel relaxed. This can be as simple as lighting your favorite scented candle and using the smell to bring you into a place of safety and calm.
Many people choose to focus on a phrase or a mantra that deals in positive affirmations that work well for meditation. If you are new to meditation, don’t be afraid to try and fail.
Every person is different - if you find that certain techniques don’t work for you, simply switch things up until they stick.
Binaural tones are a phenomenon that takes place in our brains when we hear sounds at different frequencies. These soft tones are not music and are best experienced using comfortable headphones or earbuds.
How they work is that they produce a tone at different frequencies for each ear. Our brains naturally produce a third tone that acts as the difference between the two frequencies when this happens. Research is still being done to determine the true effect of binaural tones, but it is currently being used as a relaxation technique.
You can choose to use these tones while meditating to help you clear your mind of active thoughts, or you can choose to use these tones as one of your last steps before falling asleep.
Lastly, when you are lying in bed, we suggest bringing your attention back to your breathing.
Focusing your thoughts away from the alarm clock that is going to go off in the morning or the workload that awaits you the next day is a great technique for falling asleep.
Focus on the steady, rhythmic pulse of your breathing provides a focal point away from your running thoughts and can bring a feeling of centeredness and peace.
The journey to finding better sleep can seem daunting -- but know that you can do this! Most people don’t realize that there is a level of work that goes into learning how to sleep well.
You need to take careful account of yourself and your progress to keep yourself motivated to keep moving forward. You also have to remember that this journey is unique to you.
So if something doesn’t work, simply recenter and try another path. There are no penalties for failing at relaxation when you actively try to find out what habits and rhythms work best for you.
If you have any medical concerns with your ability to relax, you should seek professional medical help and talk to your primary medical care provider.