Biofeedback is not yet a widely recognized method to address sleep disorders; however, it can help you get in tune with your body and its rhythms, ultimately aiding sleep. As we've said before, stress can put a major dent in your ability to sleep. And since no one can completely escape stress, the best way to keep it from stealing your shut-eye is to learn to manage your response to it. Toward that end, you may want to give a technique called biofeedback a try.
Biofeedback training can help you learn to consciously control certain physical responses to stress. It begins with the use of a simple electronic device that monitors your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and/or muscle tension through electrodes that are placed on your skin. These electrodes give "feedback" about what your body is doing under certain conditions. You can then use this feedback to retrain your responses.
For instance, when you are in a stressful situation -- or even when you are just thinking about one -- your heart rate tends to speed up, your breathing quickens, your blood pressure increases, and your muscles tense up. Conversely, by shifting your thoughts to calming scenes or situations or by consciously taking slow, deep breaths, you can slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and ease muscle tension. The biofeedback machine makes these reactions easier to recognize. For example, the machine may be set to beep at every heartbeat, so you can hear when your heart is racing or when it's slowing.
The combination of this feedback with training in relaxation techniques, such as visualization, meditation, or even simple breathing exercises, can thus help you to notice when stress is negatively affecting your body and actively take steps to reverse those effects. With practice, you become better able to recognize stress responses so that eventually you no longer need the biofeedback machine. In this way, biofeedback can help individuals whose sleep problems stem from poor stress management, anxiety, or obsessive thoughts.
Most people who decide to try biofeedback visit a clinic where a trained professional in biofeedback can guide them through the process. If you take this route, look for a biofeedback practitioner who is certified by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America. The option of purchasing inexpensive biofeedback equipment to use on your own is also available. These home units typically come with detailed instructions for proper use.
On the next page, learn about how massage works, along with the benefit of massage on sleep.