Can’t sleep? Try this simple exercise

May 30 2024

Living with insomnia? Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique shown to help manage stress, lighten anxiety, enhance sleep quality, and even reduce some types of chronic pain. The method revolves around a simple yet potent practice of sequentially tensing and then releasing muscle groups.

Can’t sleep? Try this simple exercise


The beauty of PMR lies in its accessibility. This super simple technique is easy to learn, drug free, can be done anywhere, and costs absolutely nothing. Progressive muscle relaxation can help you release muscle tension and quieten the mind, making them valuable tools in your insomnia beating arsenal.

Many ancient cultures and healing philosophies understood the connection between a relaxed body and mind. But the formal roots of PMR trace back to the 1930s when Edmund Jacobson theorised that mental calm naturally follows physical relaxation, and developed a technique to help people struggling to sleep.

Progressive muscle relaxation sounds ideal, how do I try it?

Here's a simple step-by-step to progressive muscle relaxation:

  1. Sit or lie down, with your head resting on an ergonomic pillow, to keep your head and neck aligned and relaxed.
  2. Inhale fully and contact a specific muscle group, like your thighs, for 5-10 seconds.
  3. Exhale and release that muscle group.
  4. Take 10 to 20 seconds to relax.
  5. Repeat step 1 on the next muscle group, such as your buttocks.
  6. As you release tension, notice the sensations as the muscle group relaxes.
  7. Visualising the stress dissolving from your body can be very helpful.
  8. Gradually move through the body, engaging and relaxing specific muscle groups. This gets easier with practice.

    If you're struggling with insomnia, try practicing PMR at bedtime, or anytime to help you tune in to your body's cues. Try beginning with the lower extremities, working upwards to the muscles in the face and head. You can perform PMR while seated or lying down, in a quiet spot where you can focus.

    The Go Pillow is designed to cradle your head and neck

    Which herbs have been shown to reduce insomnia?

    When it comes to tackling insomnia, there's a world of alternative therapies to consider. Here are a few herbal remedies that have long been used in traditional and folkloric medicine to treat insomnia and sleep deprivation.

    1. Chamomile: This is a gentle option with no known side effects, unless you're allergic to related plants - and it has the added bonus of soothing the digestive system.
    2. Ashwagandha: Studies point to this adaptogen's positive impact on REM sleep and its potential to enhance sleep quality, as well as quantity.
    3. Kava: While it can be calming, there are concerns about its potential impact on the liver.
    4. Valerian root: This root may have been sleep-improving properties, but be cautious of potential interactions with certain medications.
    5. Other Herbs: Passionflower, hops, and lemon balm are calming - so it's worth trying herbal teas that contain them as part of a blend. Lemon balm is a herb that's also easy to grow.
      I'd like to try more options for dealing with insomnia.

      Melatonin has shown promise in helping people to fall asleep faster and manage insomnia. (In New Zealand, this sleep-regulating hormone is available as a prescription only, unsubsidised medicine.) The TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practice of acupuncture, involving fine needles placed at specific points on the body, has been demonstrated to support better sleep. Meditation, especially when combined with calming exercise, is connected to higher naturally occurring levels of melatonin and better sleep quality. Tai chi and specific yoga disciples (such as yin yoga) can help too – avoid vigorous exercise before bedtime. Conducted by licensed practitioners, sleep hypnosis can guide you into a trance-like state to reduce anxiety around sleep and insomnia.

      Keep in mind that alternative therapies might not be suitable for everyone. Please talk to your healthcare provider about the best approach for you, ensure you understand potential side effects, and seek information grounded in science.

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