15 Sleep Relaxation Techniques for Maximum Zzz

9 Min Read | By Chris Clark

Last Modified 18 July 2023   First Added 3 March 2017

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Struggling to sleep? We get it, it’s hard sometimes and more common than you may think. In fact, our sleep survey revealed that 34% of the nation has difficulty falling asleep every night due to stress.

Stress activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, making it difficult for us to relax, and it can result in a rise in the stress hormone cortisol, which can make it even harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Stress and sleep have always been enemies!

Calm your mind, take a deep breath, and read on. We’ve put together 15 of our favourite sleep relaxation and breathing techniques to help you get that much-needed shut-eye.

1. Prepare Your Bedroom

Your bedroom temperature should be set between 15.5 and 19.4 degrees Celsius. If the room is too hot or too cold, you may wake up at night. Noise disturbances should be kept at a minimum, switch off your TV, put your phone on silent, and invest in some thicker curtains to help block outside sounds, as well as a decent mattress and pillow to support your natural sleeping position. You can also enhance your sleep space with colour. Make sure to take a look: The colour of zen: relaxing tones for your bedroom.

2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

The secret to using the PMR technique is to tense and then release every muscle in your body, starting from your head down to your toes. This relieves any tension in your body from the day’s activities. Here are some tips to help you…

  • Foot (curl your toes downward)
  • Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you)
  • Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while doing above)
  • Hand (clench your fist)
  • Entire right arm (tighten your biceps by drawing your forearm up towards your shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching a fist)
  • Buttocks (tighten by pulling your buttocks together)
  • Stomach (suck your stomach in)
  • Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath)
  • Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)
  • Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)
  • Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut)
  • Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)

For more help with PMR and grounding, take a look at the guided 5-4-3-2-1 technique to relax with before bed.

3. Humming

Humming has the same calming effect on the nervous system as deep breathing. It makes your face, neck and shoulder muscles more relaxed and soothed – almost like a mini massage. Bhramari Pranayama, commonly referred to as Humming Bee Breath, is a meditative breathing technique that you can use to try to relax your nervous system and aid in reuniting yourself with your most authentic self. Studies show that it can reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, which can help you drift away into a deep slumber at bedtime.

Journal for sleep

4. Keep a Notepad Nearby

Sleep can often elude those who worry about the next day’s tasks and worrying about forgetting something. If you write down your jobs and worries, they can be left to rest on paper instead of your mind. Here are some of the benefits of noting down your thoughts…

1. It can help you process and make sense of your thoughts and emotions. You may better understand them and find ways to cope with them.

2. Expressing your thoughts and feelings on paper can be a cathartic experience that can help you feel calmer and more at ease, reducing stress and anxiety.

3. It can help you set and achieve goals. By writing down your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them, you can create a roadmap for success.

4. It can improve memory and focus. By taking the time to reflect on your experiences and thoughts, you can help consolidate your memories and improve your ability to focus on the present.

Overall, journaling your thoughts before bed can be a helpful way to manage your emotions, reduce stress, improve sleep, achieve goals, and improve memory and focus. Why not give it a try?

5. Guided Imagery

Focus your attention on an image or story that you find relaxing. Get comfortable and concentrate on this image, whether it’s a calming beach or a starry night sky. Think of all the details in that picture and what makes it relaxing. If you get distracted, calmly move your thoughts back. This will take categorised time to master, but the more you try, the more relaxed you’ll be.

6. Sound Meditation

Some sounds such as ocean waves or wind through trees are categorized by our brain as ‘non-threat’ sounds. That means you can more easily fall asleep if you set your phone or radio to play soothing sounds. There are even apps that will time out and switch off after a certain time. Make sure you take a look at sounds to help you sleep more peacefully.

8. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Dr Andrew Weil, a pioneer of ‘integrative medicine’, advises people to perform a breathing exercise involving breathing in for 4 seconds, holding their breath for 7 seconds, and breathing out for 8 seconds. Repeat four times and you will have a profound sense of inner relaxation. Practice makes perfect though!

Here is a step-by-step guide to help:

  1. Place the tip of your tongue behind your two front teeth
  2. Deep breath through your mouth with your lips parted slightly
  3. Simply inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds
  4. Complete at least 4 cycles until you feel relaxed enough to sleep

Read more – How to get back to sleep in the middle of the night.

9. Bed is for Sleep

Make sure you never lie in bed wide awake. If you find yourself unable to doze off, then get up and distract your mind. Here’s why:

1. Your thoughts might be keeping you awake: If you’re lying in bed trying to sleep and your mind is racing with thoughts, it can be difficult to fall asleep. Distracting your mind can help to quiet these racing thoughts and give you a chance to rest.

2. Distraction can be a form of relaxation: Engaging in a relaxing activity, such as reading a book or listening to music, can help to take your mind off of any worries or stressors that might be keeping you awake.

3. It can break the cycle of lying awake: If you’ve been lying awake for a long time, it can be easy to get into a cycle of worrying about not being able to sleep. Distracting your mind can help to break this cycle and allow you to relax.

Of course, it’s important to be mindful of what activities you choose to engage in as a means of distraction. Some activities, such as watching television or scrolling through social media, may actually stimulate your brain and make it harder to fall asleep. Instead, try calming activities.

10. Have the Right Drink or Snack Before Bed

The last thing you want is to wake up hungry or thirsty at 4am. It’s important to stay hydrated; a warm drink such as herbal tea can help you drift off into a deep sleep. Some of our favourites are chamomile, peppermint and lavender. Some foods are also great for helping your body relax at night, particularly those containing calcium, magnesium and tryptophan. We recommend you try a low-fat yoghurt, a handful of berries and a banana.

11. Mindfulness

Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar and human activist Thich Nhat Hanh says that ‘mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognise the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives’. The practice of mindfulness involves many of the relaxation techniques already covered, but all are working in sync:

  • Mindful breathing
  • Concentration and awareness of your thoughts
  • Awareness of your body
  • Releasing tension
  • Meditation through walking

12. Meditative Breathing

The very first step in mindfulness meditation is learning to regulate your breathing. It requires some concentration, but it’s worth it once the relaxing effect takes hold. Connect with the rise and fall of your breath within your body, where you feel movement as you breathe and how the sensation of breathing feels. You should feel your muscles relax and loosen as you practise this for 8 to 10 minutes.

Read more – Meditation techniques to help you sleep.

13. Double Exhalation

This technique helps to keep us from thinking about stressful things and is much more effective than counting sheep! Slow breathing such as this also helps to reset the autonomic nervous system by synchronising neural elements in the brain, heart and lungs. To do this yourself, simply exhale twice as long as you inhale. The practice is particularly common in yoga.


14. Alternate Your Nostrils

It might seem a little odd but breathing through your nose sends signals of relaxation to the brain. Breathing through your mouth, however, is an indication of stress. Commonly you breathe through your mouth when unwell, scared, fatigued and when your heart rate is elevated.

To try this sit in a relaxed position and close your left nostril with your right ring finger to inhale. Swap your nostrils to exhale. Keep your eyes closed throughout and practice until you begin to feel calmer.

15. Deep Breathing

This routine is ideal as you get to lie down while doing it, putting you in the perfect position to fall right to sleep. Lie on your back, legs hip distance apart, arms relaxing at the side of your body. Take a few deep inhales through the nose and exhale through your mouth. Each time you inhale, aim to fill your lungs and rid them entirely of air when you exhale.

After you have done this three times, take a deep nose inhalation for four counts, constricting the back of the throat, so it feels like you are breathing through a straw. It should sound a little bit like snoring. Hold the breath for a count of four before exhaling through the nose in the same way for a count of four again. Each time you repeat the breath try to breathe and hold the breath for an excess of two more counts until you reach the maximum you can manage. Then begin holding less until you are back to 4 counts, at which point you should be ready for sleep.

Drift off in just 2 minutes with this viral sleep trend

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