Insomnia Treatment Option: Relaxation and Biofeedback

Focus on the Mind-Body Connection to Fall Asleep

Difficulty falling or staying asleep, cardinal symptoms of insomnia, may respond to relaxation and biofeedback techniques. Before turning to sleeping pills, explore whether these methods might help you to sleep better. What is the best method for relaxation? How does biofeedback work?

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To answer these questions, let’s review an excerpt from UpToDate — a trusted electronic medical reference used by healthcare providers and patients alike. Then, read on for additional information about what all of this means for you.

Relaxation Therapy

"Relaxation therapy involves progressively relaxing your muscles from your head down to your feet. This exercise can promote restfulness and sleep and reduce insomnia. Relaxation therapy is sometimes combined with biofeedback.

"Beginning with the muscles in your face, squeeze (contract) your muscles gently for one to two seconds and then relax. Repeat several times. Use the same technique for other muscle groups, usually in the following sequence: jaw and neck, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, fingers, chest, abdomen, buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. Repeat this cycle for 45 minutes, if necessary.

“Biofeedback uses sensors placed on your skin to track muscle tension or brain rhythms. You can see a display of your tension level or activity, allowing you to gauge your level of tension and develop strategies to reduce this tension. As an example, you may slow your breathing, progressively relax muscles, or practice deep breathing to reduce tension.”

Adopting a Routine

It may not be much of a surprise that relaxation may help you sleep better. In fact, using a bedtime routine to transition to sleep can be incredibly helpful in those who have difficulty falling asleep. Many people already use a strategy to relax before going to bed. This might incorporate reading, listening to music, taking a bath, praying, or other activities. These routines ready the mind — and the body — for sleep.

When you suffer from insomnia, you may have increased difficulty making this natural transition. You may toss and turn for hours or lie awake watching the minutes tick by on your alarm clock. Relaxation therapy and biofeedback may provide you with tools to improve this transition. Relaxation therapy is a means to gradually release the tension that you are unconsciously holding in your body. It focuses on your muscles because these are under your control. The technique highlights the connection between your mind and body. For those whose insomnia is secondary to stress, it may be a very effective strategy.

As described above, it is best if you relax your muscles in a sequence from your head to your toes. This will make it easier for you to repeat the process in an orderly fashion. The rhythm you establish will add to the stress relief. As you tense and then relax your muscles, the tightness will fade away. Your breathing and heart rate will slow. Your blood pressure will become lowered. Ultimately, you will be ready to fall asleep.

Biofeedback is a helpful adjunct to relaxation therapy. With the use of various non-invasive monitors, you can have objective markers of your level of relaxation. For example, you can strap on a wrist monitor that will tell you your heart rate. As you attempt to become more relaxed through progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing, you can watch how your heart rate changes. You may even be able to set goals by knowing what your heart rate is when you do feel fully relaxed. These monitors may add to your success in using these techniques.

2 Sources
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  1. Washington University in St. Louis. Creating a sleep routine – 6 steps to better sleep.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Sleepless nights? Try stress relief techniques.

Additional Reading

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.