Relaxation and movement for a good night’s sleep
“There is much that sleep can do that we in medicine currently cannot. So long as scientific evidence justifies is, we should make use of the powerful health tool that sleep represents in making our patients well” Dr Matthew Walker, English neuroscientist
Do you find it hard to fall asleep? Or do you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep? Maybe your bladder wakes you up several times during the night or you are simply a light sleeper. Or maybe you wake up feeling exhausted despite sleeping for 7 or 8 hours…
Most of us know how important a good night’s sleep is to our overall health, life and energy levels. Sleep is the time when we replenish our energy and our body and brain detoxifies – like a bit of cleaning up after we’ve had a party! But what if we can’t seem to find the restful and re-energising sleep that we need?
As a qualified insomnia practitioner I work with people one-on-one or in groups teaching techniques that can help to restore sleep.
The Relax-and-Restore-Sleep classes and workshops are designed to help the body release tension and let go of stress-related thinking. The class is a mix of gentle movement, breathing, relaxation as well as an introduction to some basic mind-and-emotion-survival techniques.
“my sleep has gone from 4-5 hours per night to 6-7 since starting the rest and recover class. Looking to get to 7-8 soon” Tony
Sleep is vital for our mental and physical well-being
Most of us have the odd sleepless night. But for some of us, our sleep is disrupted on a regular basis – either we find it difficult to fall asleep or to stay asleep, waking up during the night and finding it difficult to go back to sleep. Other people seem to wake up exhausted despite apparently getting enough sleep.
Sleep-related issues can often be linked to stress, anxiety or low mood. However, they may also be caused by a physical issue. Common causes of insomnia or poor quality sleep include reflux, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnoea and snoring, bruxim – grinding your teeth, or an overactive bladder (nocturia). Professional medical advice should be sought on these.
Some of the above issues may be addressed through specific jaw or tongue exercises or pelvic floor work.
Where insomnia is caused by stress and tension – physical or mental – releasing tension through movement and relaxation techniques, as well as some basic mind-and-emotion-survival techniques may help us fall asleep and stay asleep.
“can’t remember when I last felt so calm and relaxed” Jo
How can movement help us to relax?
Movement can be a powerful way to relax. In Relax-and-Restore-Sleep classes we use a combination of stretching major muscles groups followed by small hypnotic movement that can help us focus and release particular problem areas.
Let’s start with stretching….
Stretching to release tension in the major muscle groups, that is, the legs, buttocks, back and shoulders has long been used as a way to relax the mind. Stretching can also help to improve circulation and affect blood pressure and heart rate and relax a tense pelvic floor. Pelvic floor-related conditions that may affect your sleep include waking up to go to the toilet multiple times during the night, for example.
And what are hypnotic movements….
Hypnotic movements are tiny movements that are specifically designed to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Activating this part of the nervous system can help to trigger the body’s inborn mechanisms for rest, recuperation, and healing – lowering blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tone and other metabolic factors and slowing brain activity. The body relaxes and the mind becomes calm.
Hypnotic movements can also be specifically tailored to various issues, such as grinding your teeth, TMJ disorder or snoring and can help with some aspects of dealing with an overactive bladder.
“Your lessons are such a lifesaver Kat! I slept deeply for 10 hours again last night, just like last week. Amazing (and much needed). Thankyou!” Kate
What about exercise in general?
A healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise and a good diet is the foundation for a good night’s sleep. This is important for everyone but particularly for those with health issues that can affect sleep, such as reflux, nocturia or restless leg syndrome. If you have any issue that affects your sleep, talk to your health professional, say your GP, before joining my class/workshop.
Whilst exercise is important, choosing the right time of day for your exercise routine is just as important. If you have problems falling asleep, leave the fast vigorous, cardiovascular exercise for mornings and do some gentle, mindful movement, like Pilates, gentle Yoga stretching, Tai Chi or Chi Gong in the evening.
Fast, vigorous physical movements as in aerobics or competitive sports have the opposite effect: they make us feel more energized, awake and alert. They heighten our vigilance and produce a “stress response” – even though it’s generally a good stress response, they nevertheless activate our sympathetic nervous system. They increase our blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tone, other metabolic factors, and also heighten our brain activity. This is great for daytime activities but at night when we want to sleep we want the opposite to happen.
Slow, mindful movement practices such as Pilates and Yoga release tension in the major muscle groups and can calm down our nervous system: Several randomised controlled trials and surveys found that Pilates(1) and Yoga(2) can improve sleep quality.
Both also focus on breathing which is fundamental to relaxation.
Here is a short Pilates-based stretch & relax class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRCh-feA1DQ&t=208s
What about Breathing?
Breathing is fundamental in relaxation – just think of the last time you were stressed. Your breathing would have been shallow and quite fast. The opposite is true when we are relaxed. Our breathing tends to be slow and relaxed. Slowing down our breathing is a very simple way of calming our minds. So in the Relax-and-Restore-Sleep class we also focus on breathing.
Sleep and respiratory centres seem to share the same brain area: “The brainstem – particularly the pons and medulla – is responsible for the rate at which we breathe involuntarily and also plays a special role in REM sleep; it sends signals to relax muscles…” (Hartley, 2020, p78)
Relax-and-Restore-Sleep Classes with Kat
For information on online retreats, workshops and series of classes contact me . To join my sleep-specific mailing list, where you will find out about sleep-specific workshops or classes only, click on this link and fill in the form.
“Well, what a session that was! I could just about raise myself from my sofa and I felt so relaxed, I could have gone straight to bed!” Sue
Before you join class:
Ensure that you are in a quiet, comfortable environment that has a comfortable temperature and have blankets and cushions to hand. You may also need a chair.
Make sure you will not be disturbed: If possible switch off any distractions and ask others not to disturb you. If you know you will be disturbed by household noise you may want to use a white noise app.
Regularity of practice is important: The more regular your practice, the more successful you will become at relaxing and at improving your sleep in the long-term – even though you may not feel immediate benefits at the moment of practice. So don’t just try to relax when you are stressed or can’t fall asleep. Do a small relaxation practice, such as breathing or meditation every day if possible – whether you think you need it or not.
Finally, in time you may find information about circadian rhythm interesting. Working with and resetting our circadian rhythm will not just improve our sleep but can help to improve many diseases. Sleep is a very important part of that circadian rhythm. So give your body the best chance to heal itself by establishing a healthy rhythm to your day and life.
Kat is a qualified Sleep Restoration teacher (a Yoga-based approach to insomnia), an insomnia practitioner, relaxation trainer and restorative Yoga teacher. She is also a Feldenkrais practitioner and is currently taking a special training in Feldenkrais for tight jaws.
(1) Chen, Z et al (March 2020), Effects of Pilates on Sleep Quality: A systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials, Fontiers in Neurology
(2) Bankar, MA et al (Jan 2013), Impact of long term Yoga practice on sleep quality and quality of life in the elderly, Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine
(2) Wellness-Related Use of Common Complementary Health Approaches among Adults: United States, 2012
Hartley, A (2020) Breathe Well, Kyle Books – a wonderful book on breathing!