This Routine Will Help You Fall Asleep Like Clockwork (Even If You're Stressed)
Ever have one of those days where you can't wait to sleep—only to find that once you get in bed, your body feels restless? There are plenty of strategies you can use to relax and de-stress before bed, but some are more effective than others. One routine that has some solid evidence behind it—both scientific research and anecdotal acclaim—is progressive muscle relaxation.
What progressive muscle relaxation is & why it's effective
For nights when this happens, Wechsler writes, "I learned a great pre-sleep relaxation technique from a counselor at a sleepaway camp back when I was 12 (yes, really!). She taught us to contract each muscle in our body fully, then relax it, starting at our heads and working down. This methodical tightening and relaxing always helps me, and I remember teaching it to my kids when they were younger."
There's some research to back up this camp folklore. One older study in the 1970s found that the progressive relaxation method was able to reduce participants' sleep onset time 1(the time it took to fall asleep) by an impressive 22 minutes on average. More recent research on 60 healthy college students showed that the technique, when paired with deep breathing and guided imagery, was "effective in improving relaxation states2 at both the psychological and physiological level."
The beauty of this method is that it's easy and free to do whenever you could use some help in the sleep department. Starting at the forehead, simply contract your muscles and pull your eyebrows together, holding a tense, furrowed face for a few seconds. Then release. Focus on how relaxation feels following moments of tension. Then, gradually move down your body and repeat the process with as many muscle groups as you can. Go slow, and deepen your breath to further sink into this soothing technique.
By the end of the practice, you may note that the tension you've been storing in your body throughout the day has dissipated. With any luck, you'll have released some pressure in the mind too, leaving you free to drift off to dreamland unencumbered.
Other ways to fall asleep fast
Looking for other ways to relax the body (and by extension, the mind) before bed for the sake of your sleep quality? Giving yourself a massage, either manually or with a compression tool, can release major tension. Try doing it from the top of your body to the bottom to mimic the progressive muscle therapy routine shared above.
Taking a warm bath or shower at night can also relax your muscles and lower your core temperature, sending your body the signal that it's time to rest.
Giving the 4-7-8 breathing technique a go before bed can also work wonders for mental and physical tension. This sequence involves inhaling for four seconds, holding for seven sections, and exhaling for eight seconds. In doing so, you'll practice holding tension before cultivating feelings of calm and release. Check out a complete primer to the breath here.
Some supplements can also help enhance relaxation, helping heighten all the practices above. One of the most effective and readily available is magnesium: an essential mineral that acts as a natural calcium blocker, encouraging muscles to relax following contraction. Magnesium also aids the production of certain brain chemicals that promote relaxation and calm the overexcited mind.*
It's a star ingredient in mindbodygreen's bestselling sleep supplement, sleep support+, which combines magnesium bisglycinate with other sleep promoters such as jujube and PharmaGABA®. When taken together, the nonhormonal formula relaxes you so you can fall asleep faster and supports your natural sleep architecture so you can stay asleep longer and wake up feeling more restored.* Read what people are saying about it here.
At the end of a stressful day, it pays off to have some tools in your pocket to help you relax and release tension. Progressive muscle relaxation is a popular one, but jumping in a hot shower, giving yourself a massage, doing breathwork, and taking a magnesium supplement can also help you fall asleep faster than you can count sheep. *
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.