Ask yourself How do I feel today? And answer honestly: Are you full of energy, or are you feeling just so-so? If you're the latter camp, don't worry, you're not alone: It turns out 30% of Americans are sleep-deprived. According to a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 40.6 million of us sleep six or fewer hours a day. And our fast-paced modern lifestyles don’t help matters. We’re so busy during the day that despite feeling physically exhausted by the end of it, our brains are still racing, and it can be hard to switch off. It's incredibly frustrating, and it usually results in a sleepless night of tossing and turning.
So, what's the answer? How do your help your mind and body relax so you can get some well-earned rest? According to Andrew Johnson, the clinical hypnotherapist who created the successful Deep Sleep app (the one app that helps us fall asleep every time), the harder you try to relax, the more you'll end up frustrated. So what do you do? We tapped the sleep guru to discover a few of his relaxation tips and techniques to help you get the best sleep ever.
MYDOMAINE: Why do so many people say they can’t relax?
ANDREW JOHNSON: Relaxation is something we should all be able to do naturally; however, a huge percentage of people struggle to relax on their own, hence the huge use of cigarettes, alcohol, tranquilizers, and food as relaxation helpers. The secret to relaxation is to find simple, easy techniques that can be learned, practiced, and integrated into daily use. Most people try way too hard to relax and end up blocking it. You must allow it to happen.
MD: Why should we learn how to relax?
AJ: Learning relaxation helps us deal with emotional and physical pain, brings us back to the moment, encourages better sleeping patterns, and so much more. All without chemicals or calories—and it’s free. Relaxation gives the heart a rest by slowing the heart rate, reducing blood pressure, slowing the rate of breathing, reducing the need for oxygen, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and decreasing muscle tension. Relaxation helps you with more energy, better sleep, enhanced immunity, increased concentration, better problem-solving abilities, greater efficiency, and less pain—and it's easy, once you know how.
MD: How long do you need to practice the techniques?
AJ: Once a day for five to 10 minutes over a period of three weeks should mean the relaxation becomes automatic. The technique fades away, and you will become a person who can simply relax.
MD: Can relaxation help with meditation?
AJ: Absolutely. There are so many similarities between relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis, that learning one technique will help hugely with the others. All incorporate stillness, slowing of the heart and the breathing, the mind becoming quieter, and a recharging of the emotional and physical batteries.
MD: Are there some things we should avoid that can hinder relaxation and sleep?
AJ: Yes. Avoid 24-hour rolling news, cut down on caffeine, switch off tech at night, and don’t worry that at times you seem unable to relax; it happens to all of us. Be gentle with yourself.
MD: What are some tips you can share on sleep and relaxation with our readers?
AJ: Many people worry about the mind wandering while relaxing. The mind does wander, but it is the act of giving energy to the thoughts that causes disruption. If you push away the thoughts, you add energy. If you try to hold onto the thoughts, you add energy. The only thing you can do is observe the thoughts. Just notice them and let them go. Be the observer.
What happens when you TRY to fall asleep? You become more awake. What happens when you TRY to remember something? You push the memory further away. What happens when you TRY to relax? You end up feeling the opposite. Sleep, memory, relaxation, intuition, etc. are meant to happen without effort. Find easy, simple ways to practice, allow time to practice, allow whatever happens to happen, and you will succeed.
MD: Can you share a simple relaxation technique we can start practicing now?
AJ: If you close your eyes and allow yourself to drift back to a time when you were at your most relaxed, where would you be? Now add in all your senses. What do you see? What do you hear? Are there any smells and tastes associated with this memory? How does it feel? When you allow all this to happen, and you practice, you are creating a method of relaxation that you can access very quickly if needed. Enjoy!
How do you relax? Do you have any tricks for helping the mind unwind before bed?