When was the last time you fell asleep in just a few minutes?
Falling asleep is hard for most people. Even healthy people have trouble. Poor sleep can cause anxiety, depression, weight gain, loss of focus, heart disease etc etc.
Research shows we can use an exercise named Progressive Muscle Relaxation to fall asleep faster. It’s a relaxation exercise that you can do anywhere or anytime, but we’re gonna focus on sleep for this write-up.
🔎 How it works
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.
It’s proven to lower your heart rate and reduce levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”).
It also teaches you to notice the difference between your tense states and your relaxed states. A lot of people don’t recognize when they’re stressed until it’s too late. So learning this mindfulness practice can help reduce stress in the longterm.
Progressive muscle relaxation can take 1-2 weeks to master.
📘 How to practice
Start by sitting or lying down. The goal is to tense and relax all of your muscle groups, one at a time. You can start from your feet and work up towards your head.
You should tense each muscle group for 10 seconds. Then quickly release the tension and relax for another 10 seconds. Stop tensing immediately if you feel pain for any reason.
Make an effort to notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation. This is arguably the most important part of the exercise.
Feet: flex your feet towards your head.
Lower body: squeeze the muscles in your buttocks and thighs.
Abdomen: tighten your stomach muscles.
Arms and hands: make a tight fist with each hand while simultaneously flexing your hands upward at the wrist.
Shoulders: Tighten your upper back muscles by pulling your shoulders back as tight as you can.
Wrinkle your forehead upward as tight as you can.
Squeeze your eyes closed.
Open your mouth as wide as you can.
🎧 Try now
This is a guided example exercise that you can listen to, or follow the steps above to try on your own.
🔬 From researchers
A 2020 study found that just 3 days of daily PMR practice can create a “significant” decrease in anxiety and an improvement in sleep quality. — Arak University of Medical Sciences, Arak, Iran
A 2019 study of 50 unemployed individuals found that PMR reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. At the same time, it improved feelings of well-being and quality of life. — National School of Public Health, Athens, Greece
A 2015 study of 60 new mothers found that PMR can improve mothers’ sleep quality. — Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran
Progressive muscle relaxation is proven to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. If you can commit just 5 minutes per day for 2 weeks then you could see benefits that last much longer than that.
If you’re worried about maintaining a new habit then I encourage you to read up on identity based habits. But that’s another story.
📖 Read more
Progressive muscle relaxation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_muscle_relaxation
More guided PMR exercises on audio: https://wellness.mcmaster.ca/topics/mindfulness-and-relaxation/
1 in 3 Americans not getting enough sleep:
📱 Practice more
Download Bold CBT. It’s an iOS app that I made with a lot of mental health exercises like this.
🙏 Thank you
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