In order for a person to transition from wakefulness to sleep, they must be in a relaxed state. Many people find it difficult to enter a relaxed state to sleep and some find it difficult to maintain a relaxed state throughout the sleep cycle, causing them to wake during their sleep period. The ability to relax and experience a restful sleep is known as condition Insomnia, and it affects millions of Americans, 6% to 10% of all adults.

Chronic insomnia can have serious health risks, including, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and diabetes. It can also lead to depression and anxiety disorders. Additionally it can contribute or lead to overweight, obesity, and increased risk of accidents while driving.

Stress is one of the major contributing factors in the inability to have a restful sleep cycle. People under stress release adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones, which facilitate the fight or flight response in the body. When people respond to stressors continuously, as people in modern society often do, they are not able to relax.

Their body continuously cycles through the stress hormones, preventing relaxation. 1 in 4 Americans assessed themselves as experiencing high levels of stress during the month according to a 2009 American Psychological Association survey.

The Relaxation Response

The ability to escape the stress hormone cycle and fall sleep is desirable, but more is required in order to experience truly restful sleep. Activating the relaxation response advances a person's ability to fall sleep and sleep well.

The relaxation response is a state of mental calm and physical equilibrium; the sympathetic nervous system goes on hold. It has the opposite effect of the fight or flight response. As a person enters a relaxed state, their blood pressure lowers, the heart rate slows, the brain slows, and the rate of metabolism decreases as well. It also appears to increase the levels of serotonin (a feel good hormone) available to the brain.

Relaxation Techniques

Techniques applied to elicit the relaxation response can be physical or mental. Some use environmental factors. The may also be used individually or synergistically. The main objective remains to find the techniques, which encourage restful sleep for you because everyone responds differently. Experts often recommend prescription sleep aids, but many worry that they are addictive and becoming dependent on them during long-term use.

There are natural methods that can help to improve sleep, and should be tried in conjunction with your doctor's treatment plan. These are especially helpful for those who suffer from occasional insomnia, or simply suffer from the inability to get a quality restful full night of sleep.

Relaxation Techniques That Encourage Restful Sleep

Aromatherapy

Certain scents are accredited with having a calming effect on the mind and relaxing the body. These scents are easy to make part of your sleeping environment. Scented candles, incense, aromatherapy oils, herbs, or flowers may be placed nearby to permeate the room with their scent prior to sleep. Aromatherapists recommend lavender, chamomile, rose, and sandalwood for their calming influence.

Massage

During a massage for the purpose of relaxation, the masseuse uses a firm but gentle touch to stroke, knead and press the soft tissues. The practice relaxes muscles, tendons, and joints easing tension. Tense muscles can lead to nerve compression, which can interfere with other bodily functions. Massage helps the body find a more homeostatic state. It is recommended to get a massage at least twice per week whenever possible.

Visualization

Visualization allows a person to mentally remove themselves from their stressors and picture circumstances, which have a calming effect on the mind and body. A visualization exercise can take many forms. The exercise may ask a person to mentally recreate an event or location where they felt calm and relaxed. They may also imagine them effortlessly creating the circumstances, which end their sources of stress. A visualization exercise may be brief, five to 10 minutes, or longer.

Visualization CD's are available to guide you through a particular imagery, once well practiced many find them can take them to that place easily.

Progressive Relaxation

Progressive relaxation requires a person to name, tighten or engage and relax each part of their body while breathing slowly and deeply. When the entire body is relaxed, the person rests, remaining relaxed but aware.

There are many other techniques available to shift the body to a relaxed state:

  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Doing a creative activity drawing, painting, sewing, crafts
  • Meditation
  • Solitaire or other repetitious non-competitive game

Applying These In Your Life

The relaxation response may be cultivated by applying a variety of techniques. The types of stressors, which elicit high levels of response (stress), vary from person to person; the techniques, which elicit the relaxation response and their effectiveness, vary from person to person as well. You may need to experiment with several techniques to find the techniques or combination of techniques most effective for you.