Relaxation Techniques for Better Sleep

Relaxation Techniques for Better Sleep

Struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night? Many Americans deal with some form of insomnia or disrupted sleep, which can negatively impact their health and quality of life.

Practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime provides a natural way to calm your mind and body and set the stage for restful slumber. In this article, we will explore various methods for using relaxation to improve your sleep and also will talk about the benefits, ways, and tips for relaxation for sleep.

The Benefits of Relaxation for Sleep

Incorporating relaxation techniques into your pre-bedtime routine has been scientifically shown to improve many aspects of sleep.

Numerous research studies demonstrate that practices that elicit the relaxation response can provide these benefits for sleep:

  • Shorten the time it takes to fall asleep – Relaxation lowers racing thoughts, worry, and physical tension that can delay sleep onset. This allows you to fall asleep faster.
  • Increase total sleep time – By helping you fall asleep faster and reducing nighttime awakenings, relaxation boosts the total amount of time you spend sleeping. This results in more time in restorative stages.
  • Improve sleep efficiency and quality – Higher percentages of REM and deep sleep lead to feeling more restored upon waking. Relaxation enhances sleep quality.
  • Reduce nighttime awakenings – By easing anxiety and training the body to associate relaxation with sleep, you are less likely to wake up during the night.
  • Decrease daytime sleepiness – With less sleep disruption and more time spent in deep sleep, you’ll experience less fatigue during the day.
  • Alleviate insomnia – Relaxation techniques are effective at treating chronic insomnia, especially when practiced consistently.

Physiologically, relaxation methods lower your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and muscular tension. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system signals your body to prepare for rest by slowing down both mentally and physically.

Regularly using relaxation before bed trains your body to associate these peaceful sensations with falling asleep quickly and sleeping more deeply throughout the night.

When to Practice Relaxation Techniques

For maximum benefits, set aside at least 20-30 minutes to practice relaxation techniques before going to bed. The ideal window is within 1-2 hours before your target bedtime. This gives your mind and muscles time to fully relax.

Consistency is key. Establish a regular relaxation routine every night to condition your body to wind down and prepare for sleep. Over time, you may find you can fall asleep more quickly and experience improved sleep quality.

Some people may benefit from practicing quick relaxation techniques during the day as well to manage stress and anxiety. However, intense or stimulating activities right before bed should be avoided.

sleep fit Techniques for Better Sleep

Breathing Exercises for Better Sleep

Perhaps the simplest way to induce relaxation before bed is through conscious control of your breathing. Focusing on taking slow, deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, signaling your body to prepare for rest.

When you breathe deeply, it triggers your vagus nerve, which lowers your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. This calms the body and mind, allowing you to detach from stressors and worries.

Making breathing exercises part of your pre-bed routine trains your body to associate slowed breathing with falling asleep. As you practice nightly, you reinforce this sleep-promoting reflex.

Aim to dedicate 5-10 minutes to focused deep breathing in the 1-2 hours before going to bed. Here are some of the most effective breathing techniques to try:

4-7-8 Breathing

This simple breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil is one of the best ways to activate the relaxation response.

To do 4-7-8 breathing:

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind your upper front teeth.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth.
  • Close your lips and inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale very slowly through your mouth for a count of 8, making a whooshing sound.
  • Repeat for 4 full breath cycles.

The long, deep exhale activates your vagus nerve, signaling relaxation. This technique clears the mind, reduces anxiety, and steadies your heart rate and breathing.

Perform 4 rounds of 4-7-8 breathing 2-3 times per day for general relaxation. Before bed, aim for 4-6 cycles paying close attention to your breath.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, engages the diaphragm to draw air deep into the lungs. It is one of the most effective ways to lower heart rate and blood pressure.

Follow these instructions:

  • Lie comfortably on your back, placing one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
  • Inhale slowly through your nose so that your stomach rises (your chest should move little).
  • Tighten your stomach muscles slightly as you exhale through pursed lips.
  • Focus on keeping your inhales and exhales smooth, slow, and controlled.
  • Repeat for 5-10 minutes.

As you practice this deep abdominal breathing daily, it will start to feel natural. The more you relax the diaphragm through belly breathing, the easier it will be to destress.

Set a reminder to do 5 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing just before laying down to sleep. This will prep your body for sleep.

breathing exercises for Better Sleep

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This yogic breathing technique is calming, balancing and improves sleep by treating insomnia. It’s called nadi shodhana in Sanskrit which means “channel purification”.

Here are the steps:

  • Start by exhaling fully through both nostrils.
  • Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril, inhaling slowly through your left nostril.
  • Close off the left nostril with your right ring finger, exhaling through your right nostril.
  • Inhale again through the right nostril, then switch to exhale through the left side.
  • Repeat the sequence, alternating nostrils for up to 10 breath cycles.
  • Keep your eyes closed and shoulders relaxed as your focus your attention on smoothly transitioning between nostrils.

Alternate nostril breathing balances energy in both hemispheres of the brain and clears air passages. Use this technique for 2-3 minutes when struggling to fall asleep.

Ocean Breath

This breathing practice uses imagery and sound to evoke sensations of flowing, peaceful ocean waves:

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose as if you are breathing in the ocean air.
  • Exhale through your mouth making a prolonged “whooshing” ocean sound.
  • Visualize your stress and tension leaving your body as you exhale.
  • Repeat for 5-10 minutes.

The ocean visual really helps establish a relaxed state. Combine with relaxing music or actual ocean wave sounds for added impact.

Finish with 1-2 minutes of ocean breath right before getting into bed to wash away any mental clutter.

Be sure to practice conscious, controlled breathing using proper technique. Over time, your body will associate this with falling asleep quickly and sleeping more deeply all night.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Sleep

Progressive muscle relaxation sequentially tenses and relaxes muscle groups throughout your body to reduce physical tension. This releases mental tension as well, quieting your mind.

Follow these steps:

  1. Get in a comfortable position, lying down or sitting. Loosen any tight clothing.
  2. Take a few deep breaths. As you inhale, imagine breathing in relaxation. As you exhale, imagine breathing out stress.
  3. On an inhale, tighten or clench your right foot, holding for 5-10 seconds.
  4. On your exhale, suddenly release the tension. Feel the muscle relax.
  5. Repeat with your left foot. Continue moving up your body – calves, thighs, hips, stomach, chest, arms, hands, shoulders, neck, and face.
  6. Notice the sensation of heaviness and warmth in your fully relaxed muscles. Continue deep breathing.

Aim to tense each muscle group for 5-10 seconds, then relax for 10-15 seconds before moving up. This full body sequence takes 10-15 minutes. You can also target specific tense areas.

Guided Imagery and Visualization

Using your imagination to picture peaceful, relaxing scenes can move your mind to a tranquil state conducive for sleep. Guided imagery audio tracks can help lead you through this process before bed.

To use this technique on your own:

  • Get comfortable in bed, close your eyes, and take deep breaths
  • Picture yourself in a beautiful, calm setting like a beach, forest, or grassy field. Engage all your senses.
  • Visualize the details – sights, sounds, smells, textures. Imagine feelings of safety and comfort.
  • If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the sensory details.
  • Continue for 10-15 minutes until you feel fully relaxed.

Listening to recorded sleep relaxation scripts can help you fully immerse in the experience. Look for tracks that transport you to natural settings with soothing imagery and music.

Meditation Techniques to Improve Sleep

Meditation Techniques to Improve Sleep

Meditation involves focusing your attention to increase awareness of the present moment. This lets you detach from worrying thoughts about the past or future, easing the mind.

Try these forms of meditation before bed:

Body scan: Note sensations in each part of your body from head to toe, releasing tension.

Walking meditation: Slowly walk while concentrating on each step and breath.

Mantra meditation: Repeat a calming word or phrase silently like “sleep” or “let go”.

Mindfulness meditation: Observe passing thoughts and sensations without judgment. Refocus on your anchor – usually the breath.

Loving-kindness meditation: Wish yourself and others peace, health, and happiness.

Apps like Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer offer guided meditations for sleep, some as short as 5 or 10 minutes. Try sampling different styles to find what works best to relax your mind.

Yoga Poses to Help You Unwind

A gentle yoga sequence before bed can ease muscle tension and reduce anxiety through movement linked with breathwork. Flow through poses slowly and mindfully without straining. Here are some recommended poses:

  • Child’s Pose – Stretches hips, thighs, ankles
  • Cat/Cow – Massages spine, relaxes mind
  • Forward Fold – Calms nervous system
  • Downward Dog – Boosts circulation
  • Bridge Pose – Reduces stress, opens the chest
  • Reclined Butterfly – Loosens hips, groin
  • Supine Twist – Releases lower back
  • Corpse Pose – Invites full mind/body relaxation

Follow your yoga session with 10-15 minutes of resting in Savasana pose on your back with your eyes closed. Use blankets for extra warmth and comfort.

For convenience, follow along with a guided bedtime yoga video designed to promote relaxation and sleep.

Essential Oils, Baths and Massages

Essential Oils, Baths and Massages

Aromatherapy using calming essential oils can help initiate relaxation before you get in bed. Applying diluted lavender oil to pulse points activates its sedative properties as you inhale.

Run a warm Epsom salt bath infused with lavender or roman chamomile oil. The magnesium in the salts eases muscle tension. Soaking for 15-20 minutes before bed can induce feelings of tranquility.

Getting a soothing massage releases muscle knots and stimulates pressure points connected to improved sleep. Use a lightly scented oil like almond or jojoba. Even a short 5-10 minute hand or foot massage can relax the body.

Create a Relaxing Nighttime Routine

Establishing a regular evening routine trains your brain to wind down and relax at the same time each night. Transitioning to lower-stimulation activities in the 1-2 hours before bed signals to your body that sleep is approaching.

Try incorporating these rituals into your routine:

  • Take a warm shower or bath using calming essential oils
  • Drink a cup of chamomile, passionflower or lavender tea
  • Diffuse relaxing essential oil blends in your bedroom
  • Practice light yoga stretches, foam rolling or self-massage
  • Listen to soft music, nature sounds or meditation tracks
  • Read an uplifting or spiritual book

Put away electronic devices and limit stimulating activity during this window. Spend this time focusing on activities that relax your mind.

Repeating this sequence nightly can condition your body to wind down on cue and prepare for sleep.

Tips for a Sleep Conducive Bedroom

Optimizing your sleep environment makes it easier to fall and stay asleep. Here are some quick tips for setting up your bedroom for better sleep:

  • Install room darkening curtains or use an eye mask to block light
  • Set bedroom temperature to a comfortable cool level
  • Invest in a high-quality mattress and pillows for comfort and support
  • Use a white noise machine or fan to block disruptive sounds
  • Don’t use phones, laptops, or TVs in bed as they can inhibit sleep
  • Keep your room clean, tidy and free of clutter for a peaceful feel
  • Avoid strong scents from candles, cleaners or air fresheners

Making simple adjustments to transform your bedroom into a relaxing, sleep-inducing sanctuary can go a long way toward improving your sleep consistency.


Making time to relax and clear your mind before bed can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep. Start by setting up a soothing pre-bed routine, limiting screen time before bed, using breathing exercises, meditation, and other calming activities.

Be consistent and give these relaxation techniques a chance to work. With some minor lifestyle adjustments, you can learn to drift off to sleep more easily and wake feeling refreshed. Prioritizing healthy sleep is essential for your overall well-being. Learn here more about Sleep health tips and guides.