Everyone tosses and turns sometimes. But if you’re one of the 40 percent of people who have difficulty sleeping, a few gentle pre-bedtime stretches could help you get the shuteye you need. Why? “Stretching and yoga activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which tells your body to slow down, rest, and digest,” says Candace Cabrera Tavino, an E-RYT 500 yoga instructor and NASM personal trainer. “So afterward, you’ll feel calmer and more relaxed for better sleep.”
Not only does yoga promote sounder sleep, research reveals it may also be a natural way to combat insomnia. And if restless legs keep you awake at night, there’s more good news. One recent study found that regular yoga practice reduced restless leg syndrome symptoms in 77 percent of participants resulting in improved sleep quality, not to mention less stress and a happier mood.
That said, not all stretching routines are equally effective. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you’ll want to avoid anything that gets your heart pumping, like vinyasa or hot yoga. Instead, stick with slower, restorative routines that encourage deep breathing like Hatha, Yin, or Nidra yoga.
How does pre-bedtime stretching differ from the typical daytime yoga or stretch class? For starters, it doesn’t take very long. As little as 10 minutes should do the trick, but you can always go longer if you prefer. Plus, you can do it in the comfort of your bed, although a carpeted floor or yoga mat are also good alternatives, says Cabrera Tavino. And no need to wait until right before lights out. Stretching any time in the evening can help ease your mind and muscles.
So put on your coziest PJs, dim the lights, and get ready to relax your way into dreamland with these soothing pre-bedtime stretches.
Seated Cat-Cow. Begin in easy pose, sitting upright with your legs crossed and your hands on your knees. Inhale, gently arch your back and draw your sternum forward while gazing up toward the ceiling. Then, reverse the pose. Exhale and tuck your chin. Round the back and straighten your arms while still touching your knees. Return to easy pose and repeat for 5 breaths.
Seated Twist. Starting in easy pose, take your left hand to your right knee. Bring your right hand behind you onto the ground. Breathe in and lengthen through the spine. Breathe out and pull firmly on the right knee to twist. Repeat 5 times. Return to center and switch to the other side for 5 repetitions.
Seated Side Bend. Continuing in easy pose, place your right hand on the ground to your side, about a foot away from your body. Inhale, lift the left arm up and over your head. Then, exhale as you lean to the right. Try this 5 times, then repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold. Sit with your legs extended straight in front of you with your feet flexed. Place your fingers on the floor on either side of your hips. Inhale to lengthen the spine. Then exhale and lean forward, reaching toward your toes while keeping your back flat. If it’s comfortable, feel free to hold onto the sides of your feet. Hold for 1 to 3 minutes.
Legs Up the Wall. Facing a wall (or the headboard of your bed), lay flat on your back and scoot your tailbone as close to the wall as possible. Raise your legs in the air, pressing them upward against the wall so that your body resembles the letter L. Keep your arms at your sides, with your palms facing upward. Hold for up to 3 minutes. To release the pose, slowly draw your knees into your chest and roll over onto your side. Gradually push yourself up into a seated position and rest quietly for a few seconds before standing.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Karen Ansel, MS, RDN
Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN, is a nutrition consultant, journalist, and author specializing in nutrition, health, and wellness. Her latest book is Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer.