Stress Management and Sleep Disturbances

Being Able to Manage Stress is Critical to Getting Good Quality, Restorative Sleep

Sleeping in Bed

 

Over the years, we have worked with clients who have various stress related disorders such as panic attacks and anxiety. Learning to manage stress is also critically important for people experiencing sleep disturbances.

Stress, worry and anxiety are often the underlying issues for people dealing with sleep issues. So, it makes sense that relaxation is probably the most commonly used intervention for those with sleep disturbances.

What is The Relaxation Response?

When we talk about a relaxation process, we have in mind a goal of attaining a specific state that Dr. Herbert Benson referred to as the “relaxation response”.   He began working on understanding relaxation and its effects in the 1960’s and published the classic book “The Relaxation Response”.  His initial work was based on Transcendental Meditation, which was becoming popular at that time.

Dr. Benson developed a very simple method with a focus on breathing (with repeated refocusing on breathing as the mind wanders). His technique allows a relaxation response to occur over about a 20-minute period.

Most people think of relaxation as some kind of non-work related activity like going on vacation, watching a movie or perhaps playing golf.  What we are talking about here is achieving a state of physiological relaxation or calm that is characterized by a decreased heart rate, blood pressure and brain wave frequency.

There is nothing abnormal about this relaxation response.  It is a very natural state.  The opposite state, a stressed state, involves increased heart rate and higher blood pressure as a person prepares to fight off or flee from a stressor.

It’s obvious that relaxation is important for sleep. In order to make the transition into stage one sleep it is necessary for the body and the mind to relax. 

Most of us can do this naturally as we become comfortable in our beds and then settle into sleep.  Some of the methods that many people use intuitively like “counting sheep” or praying help facilitate this natural transition.

Meditation, as a relaxation technique, can be used before bedtime to help effectively decrease over-arousal by helping to “wind down” and to disconnect from the stresses of the day.  It can also be helpful for people who begin to worry or experience anxiety when they wake up during the middle of the night by helping decrease anxiety so they can fall back to sleep easily.

Many relaxation techniques have been studied as treatments for insomnia. These include progressive muscle relaxation, Meditation and visualization training.  We’re finding good success in combining all three of these techniques to help our clients to get good quality, restorative sleep.

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