As a sleep clinician I regularly get asked about relaxation techniques and why these are not working.
People often say:
“I’m trying everything that I can to sleep and it’s not working”.
“I’m doing everything… Relaxing, I’ve gone through loads of mindfulness, I’m like a zen-like Buddha and super chill during the day”,
And yet, they still have a sleep problem at night…
That’s because relaxation can’t fix a sleep problem.
It certainly can help us relax and it can help us reduce anxiety.
Both of these are really good at helping us to avoid sleep problems, but once you have a habitual chronic sleep problem that’s happened over time, then no amount of relaxation is going to lead to fixing it.
Usually, when we have a chronic sleep problem that’s happened over time, one thing that we can do is build a strong sleep drive.
Often people say to me they feel like they’ve lost that ability to feel sleepy. We need to regain that and the only way is to spend more time awake.
So, it’s actually a behaviour that we would ask you to do over a little bit of time, for example waking up at exactly the same time every day rather than trying to catch up with the sleep that you’ve missed.
We want to use that bit of a debt to build that sleepiness. So that in the evening, if you want to use that relaxation technique, you’re probably going to start feeling sleepy.
But the sleepiness will have happened as a consequence of the things that you did 12 hours before, and not the technique – like relaxation – that you’re doing just before you go to bed.