Dear to Whom it may concern,
I think my circadian rythmns are messed up and I don't sleep well.
Is it beneficial to try to relax just before bed? Will this help?
Will it help with my nightmares? Does relaxation before bed help to promote R.E.M. sleep?
How do I know if I have a sleep disorder?
The first step to take is to see your medical doctor for a checkup. Your doctor can determine whether you have a sleep disorder and help suggest treatment.
Some of the steps you can take yourself right now are as follows: YES, relaxing just before bed is beneficial. Relaxation is a natural sleep aide that helps you calm your mind to fall asleep. Relaxation also helps you fall asleep in a positive frame of mind, which can help with nightmares.
Relaxation by itself will probably not help to reset ("entrain") your circadian rhythms. What can help to "phase shift" your circadian rhythms (reset your internal clock) is environmental factors. For example, the times you eat, are exposed to light, and your daily schedule. Using relaxation to calm yourself for sleep can help you adjust to a regular sleep schedule and therefore reset your circadian rhythms.
Just for interest, if you are without any environmental cues, and just allow your body to set it's own internal clock, the average person's circadian rhythms function on a 25 hour clock. We can use cues in the environment to set our internal clocks to anywhere between 23 hours and 27 hours - obviously we can usually function best if we are adjusted to a 24 hour clock. If you work shift hours, it can cause difficulty with your circadian rhythms and make you feel jet lagged.
The most important cue to set your internal clock is the cycle of light and dark. Indoor lights are usually not bright enough - sunlight is best. If you do not get enough sunlight, special full-specturm lamps, called SAD lamps for Seasonal Affective Disorder, S.A.D., are a good alternative.
Relaxation can help you to fall asleep. It may help to promote restful sleep, and thus promote REM sleep, but I am not aware of any specific relationship between relaxation and REM sleep.
Incidentally, dreaming occurs during REM sleep - so if you are having nightmares you are experiencing REM sleep.
Relaxation might help decrease nightmares by helping you to fall asleep in a positive frame of mind. This can prevent your anxieties from being on your mind as you fall asleep and as you dream. Relaxation can help you to calm yourself after nightmares, and replace frightening images with more positive ones when you are awake.
In summary, I recommend that you first see your doctor to find out if you have a sleep disorder. Second, you can use relaxation to help you be calm and fall asleep in a positive frame of mind. Try the sleep relaxation script for an example of relaxation to help you fall asleep.
Links and references for this episode:
Vander, A., Sherman, J., & Luciano, D. (2001). Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Sleep Relaxation Guided sleep relaxation is a natural sleep aid that will help you unwind and simply sleep. Listen to this relaxation script any time you need to drift easily into deep, healthy sleep.
Listen to the sleep relaxation audio on the Relaxation Downloads page.
Need relaxation advice? Click here to ask Inner Health Studio.