Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Stress and Insomnia

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a deep relaxation technique that has been effectively used to control stress and anxiety, relieve insomnia, and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. Progressive muscle relaxation is based upon the simple practice of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time followed by a relaxation phase with release of the tension. Doctors have used progressive muscle relaxation in combination with standard therapies for symptom relief in a number of conditions, including headaches, cancer pain, high blood pressure, and digestive disturbances.

The technique of progressive muscle relaxation was described by Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s and is based upon his premise that mental calmness is a natural result of physical relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation can be learned by nearly anyone and requires only ten to 20 minutes per day to practice.

Most practitioners recommend tensing and relaxing the muscle groups one at a time in a specific order, generally beginning with the lower extremities and ending with the face, abdomen, and chest. You can practice this technique seated or lying down, and you should try to practice with comfortable clothing on, and in a quiet place free of all distractions.