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Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Sleep Issues

Updated on July 11, 2017
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I'm Gilles, and I'm a project manager in France. I enjoy movies, minimalism, and Buddhism.

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If you are struggling with insomnia, you’re probably ready to try anything that can help. Progressive muscle relaxation is a kind of exercise that can help you to ease anxiety and reduce your difficulty sleeping. It’s a simple technique that anyone can practice in their home within 15 minutes. For some people, it’s an effective way to fight insomnia.

What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple exercise that you use to control the tension in your muscles. Following the exercise, you first tense and then relax all of your muscles, moving through your body systematically. This technique was developed by Edmund Jacobson, an American physician, in 1915. It’s a kind of relaxation therapy that can work to relax your entire body.

What are the Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation has traditionally been used as a way to treat anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety and stress often tense their muscles throughout the day without even realizing it. This tension aggravates stress, creates pain, and makes it harder to sleep.

Progressive muscle relaxation has two primary benefits: making you aware of tension and helping you to relax. Through this technique, you first tense and then relax a particular group of muscles. It teaches you to recognize tension. That way, when it occurs in your daily life, you can take a moment to release it. This prevents tension from building up throughout the day.

The technique also leaves your body entirely relaxed. This is a great way to reduce tension and make you feel both physically and mentally relaxed. People who regularly perform these exercises often report that they have less anxiety, less trouble sleeping, less tension, an improved sense of well-being, and even lower blood pressure.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Insomnia

Although progressive muscle relaxation was designed as a general relaxation technique, it can also be highly beneficial for people who suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. As you likely know, insomnia and anxiety are often closely linked. If you find that your difficulty sleeping is related to feelings of stress or anxiety, this technique may be particularly helpful for you.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation before going to bed will help you to feel relaxed and ease any feelings of restlessness that may be keeping you up. Reducing the tension in your body can be very helpful to falling asleep more easily. Many people also find that going through these exercises helps them to clear their minds. This can also be very helpful for falling asleep easily.

Progressive Relaxation Techniques

Progressive muscle relaxation is a relatively simple exercise. You can do it on your own, or you can find a CD or video to guide you. There are plenty of videos and audio recordings available for free online if you prefer to have guidance. A single session should only take around 15 minutes. You can do it at any time you’d like to relax. This may be as a break during a stressful part of your day, or you may want to practice it before going to bed.

Before starting the exercises, you’ll want to be wearing loose and comfortable clothes. Then you’ll want to choose a space that will not distract you. This may mean turning off the lights and making sure all electronics are turned off. Next, lie down in a space where you are comfortable. If you want to practice the technique right before going to sleep, you can do it right in your bed.

The process of these exercises will take you through your entire body. You’ll focus on one group of muscles at a time. Depending on how much time you have and how thorough you want to be, you can focus on individual muscles or small groups of muscles. For instance, you might work on your entire face at once, or you might separate your face into the forehead, nose, lips, cheeks, and jaw. It may be a good idea to try different variations to find what works best for you.

As you move through each muscle group, you’ll first tense each muscle and then consciously relax it. The tension only needs to last for about 5-10 seconds. Then you can give yourself about 20-0 seconds to relax your muscles. Some people like to visualize the stress and tension flowing out of their body as they relax. Make sure that you breathe steadily as you go through all of your muscles. By the end of a session, the muscles throughout your entire body should be relaxed.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script

There are many scripts available that you can follow for progressive muscle relaxation. Feel free to experiment and find one that works best for you. The following is an example of a script that you can follow.

Feet

Curl your toes tightly, and then relax them.

Tense your feet by pivoting your ankles inwards, and then relax.

Legs

Tense both of your thigh muscles by squeezing your legs together tightly, and then relax.

Tense your hips and buttocks by squeezing your buttocks. Then relax.

Core

Arch your back so that it rises up off the floor slightly, and then relax.

Tense your stomach by clenching your abdominal muscles. Then relax.

Upper body

Take a deep breath and tighten your chest, then relax as you breathe out slowly.

Tense your shoulders by pulling them up to your ears. Then relax and bring them back down.

Arms

Bend your elbows and clench your biceps (like you’re trying to show off your muscles), and then relax.

Hold your arms out straight and push forward as if you are pushing against a wall. Then relax.

Hold your hands in tight fists, and then release them, letting your fingers rest naturally.

Face

Frown severely to tense up your mouth, jaw, and cheeks. Then allow your lower face to relax back into a neutral expression.

Close your eyes tightly, then open them slowly (you don’t need to open them all the way). Allow your eyes to relax.

Raise your eyebrows up to wrinkle your forehead. Then slowly lower them back down to fully relax your face. Allow yourself to lay still for another minute, breathing slowly, feeling how relaxed your body is.

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