There are many different reasons you may struggle to get a good night’s sleep; you may have a medical condition, like insomnia, you struggle to quiet your mind at the end of another busy day, even your environment may make getting a good night’s sleep seem like an impossible challenge. This is where sounds can play a role. In a 2017 study, sleep aids helped participants get to sleep 38% faster, than those who used no sound stimuli at all. This provides encouraging insight into treatments that could help tackle sleep issues. But what type of sounds are there and how can they help? Read on to find out.

Progressive muscle relaxation therapy

This technique is often cited as a way to help manage symptoms associated with stress and anxiety, but it could be a tool that could help you get to sleep with more ease.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a mind-body treatment in which you focus on a particular area of the body, physically create tension in the muscles, holding the body in this state for up to 30 seconds, and then releasing the muscle, paying close attention to the different states, and then repeating this in other limbs around the body, from your feet to your face, to aid relaxation.  It is something you can do without guidance, but to help with sleep, we would highly recommend searching a streaming service or YouTube to find a guided track as it can significantly help to create a soothing and relaxing environment.

At the end of the track or video, usually lasting around 15 minutes, you will feel significantly lighter and considerably more tired.

ASMR

ASMR is an acronym for autonomous sensory meridian response that creates a tingling sensation through the body that is triggered through specific sound and visual stimuli, such as whispering, stroking and tapping. It is largely unresearched as the effects have only been acknowledged by individuals in the last 5-15 years, though studies are suggesting that in some individuals it is encouraging the brain to release relaxing hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones can help to trigger sleep, among a wealth of other benefits, and is such an effective medium that Gentle Whispering gathers an audience of hundreds of thousands for her ASMR videos.

Although ASMR can be an effective relaxation tool for many, particularly those with anxious tendencies, it seems that ASMR does not work for everyone, or certainly every type of ASMR video. On an individual level, we may respond to such stimuli quite differently. It may be the type of content that doesn’t cause the chemical and hormone release needed, or because of our individual life experiences that we may not feel the full effects of ASMR. However, just because one type of stimuli wasn’t effective in eliciting the desired response, it is worth trying a few variations.

Guided meditations

Meditation can be extremely effective in quietening the mind before sleep. However, it can equally be an extremely hard practice for those of us with busy minds. If this is you, a guided meditation, just before you want to go to sleep, can really help you to hone this practice. You may even find a voice that is soothing and relaxing that you refer to it each night before you go to sleep or for those times you’re struggling. Below is an example of a guided meditation tutorial.

Guided imagery

A guided imagery tutorial is a descriptive exploration of a place or space. In addition to the narrator’s voice, the video or sound clip will likely be accompanied by sounds you would expect to hear or experience in these places. For example, if the guided imagery was on the beach, you may hear waves splashing, birds calling, or the distance sound of children playing.

There is a ton of content available that can lead you on a guided imagery journey, allowing you to pick a place that you find soothing and peaceful. For this type of experience to be as effective as possible, it takes a considerable effort on your imaginations part to really envision the landscapes that are being described. Really try and immerse yourself in the space as though you can touch, feel and smell as well as hear.  

You can find a few examples of guided imagery below.

Nature sounds

If you prefer not to go on a guided journey to your favourite places, you could search for nature clips instead. There is plentiful choice on all of the streaming services, both music and video, that can play clips from the beach, woods, sea and more. You’re sure to find a track that is soothing, aids relaxation and helps you to drift off to sleep.

A bedtime story

As with all of the above, the key is in distracting your brain to focus in on something that will aid relaxation. This is exactly what Kathryn Nicolai sets out to do in her podcast, Nothing Much Happens, available on Spotify. The stories aren’t excitable, but real, and as the title suggests, nothing much happens. The simple, and only goal, is to get you to sleep and as she creates a simple script that, along with her soothing and enchanting voice, can help to soothe and calm your brain to trigger the sleep response. As she highlights in her latest story, Joyride, she’s hit 1 million downloads; that’s helping a lot of people get the sleep they need and she may be able to help you too.

I had hypnotherapy for a spider phobia about 15 years ago and during treatment, my therapist gave me a relaxation CD titled ‘Harvey’ (I have no idea where you can get it from, unfortunately). The aim was to listen to it before bed to help my mind relax and in conjunction with the hypnotherapy sessions, I would be able to tolerate spiders. This track starts with progressive muscle relaxation and ends with a guided meditation. It’s 13 minutes long and for the most part, I don’t often make it through the first few lines before falling asleep. I have had this track on repeat every night for the past 15 years. Not only does it help to quieten my mind and get me to sleep pretty quickly, but it has helped evade disruptive sleep as it is a constant my mind can focus on whilst getting the rest and restorative sleep it needs. I’ve even found that when changing environments, it is just as easy and have even been able to sleep through the constant city sounds too. For me, this tape was a game-changer, maybe you could find yours in one of the above.

Do you currently listen to sounds to help you sleep? What do you find to be the most effective? What would you recommend to a friend?

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