Baekeland also proved that the students who exercised daily were able to enjoy more of the beneficial deep delta sleep than the students who did not exercise. Students following their regular fitness program tended to awaken refreshed. They did not develop any of the psychological difficulties experienced by those students deprived of activity.
The study shows that if we don’t exercise properly, we’re just too wound up to benefit from a night’s sleep. We drag ourselves from bed every morning, our nerves jangled, eyes baggy. Yet, by combining a program of intermittent relaxation with a sensible daily exercise routine, each of us would soon find ourselves taking steps to dreamland.
An excellent approach to relaxation is described by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in his book, You Can Sleep Well (McGraw-Hill). Jacobson points out that relaxing requires release of tension not only in the arms and legs, but in the breathing apparatus, forehead and brow, eyes and speech muscles. These are his instructions:
Lie comfortably in bed, have no part of your body bearing on another, nor even an arm or hand under your head. Concentrate. You’ll find that your eyes and mouth, your forehead, cheeks, and your general muscular structure are tense. Let go, putting your entire weight on the bed. Don’t let any of your weight be supported by your muscles.
Next, brake your thoughts by thinking positively and exclusively about your breathing. Concentrating on your breathing will take all of your attention and drive out all other mental activity. By practicing total relaxation of body and mind, you’ll soon experience a pleasant, floating sensation, well on your way to that first stage of sleep.
But what about exercise? The most elementary principle of exercise is that almost any form of gentle and slow movement will rest muscles that are tired from being in one position too long. You can exercise anywhere, even at work – whether your job be reading, writing, typing, cooking, or any number of “sitting-down” jobs. Stop frequently and turn your head from side to side, slowly and gently. Or stand up and bend over from the waist without straining. Let your whole upper body hung limp as possible; let your arms dangle as though they belong to a rag doll. When you straighten, you will be surprised at the relaxed feeling in those tired muscles.
Dr. Gary S. Sy, a Filipino gerontologist, suggests a simple exercise to unwind and relax anytime: Put your hands behind your head and pull your elbows back. Then return your arms to your sides. Now put your hands behind your back and slide your thumbs up as high as you can.