Sleep, remember that? It was that amazing rejuvenating thing we all used to do before we began streaming episodes of the new ‘unmissable’ Netflix series in bed until 4am.
Thanks to countless studies we now known more than ever how good sleep is for our physical and mental health. Ironically however, just as we learn exactly how important sleep is for us, as a society we’ve never slept worse.
The reasons for our collective inability to sleep are manyfold. Some blame the prevalence of screens in our lives and their ability to overstimulate the mind. Others point to the lack of exercise we all get in our largely sedentary desk-based existence. Taken together the result of these two factors is that we often head to bed when we’re not actually tired.
So what to do? Well the answer is to get more exercise of course. Exercise helps to clear the mind and tire the body. But before you pull on the sweatbands and jog out into the night hold on for a second. Not all exercise is created equally when it comes to sleep.
Cardiovascular exercise, that is any exercise that get your heart rate pumping, also increases the amount of adrenaline in our system which isn’t always helpful for sleep. The perfect pre-bed exercise will tire the body but will also lower the heart rate. That’s where yoga-like stretching comes in.
Below we give you three of the best stretches that will help you on your journey to sleepytown. And don’t worry none of them involve you twisting your body into a human pretzel….
Legs up the wall
This stretch is as easy as lying on your back with your legs against a wall.
Try to get your bum pressed as close to the wall as your body will allow and your legs to extend upwards perpendicular to the ground. Lie with your arms out to the side of your body with your palms facing upwards. And relax. Remember to breath.
Inversions are great for the body because they take stress from the heart. Think about it for a moment, all day long we wander around on our feet and our poor little heart muscle is forced to work against gravity to pump blood back up our body. By inverting the body, gravity begins to work for your heart instead of against it. This helps to lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
Now you can stay in this pose as long as your heart’s content. Anything from 30 seconds to 15 minutes. The longer the better. When you’ve had your fill be sure to support yourself as you slide off the wall and come back to standing slowly. You may get a little dizzy.
The rag doll
The rag doll or simply the standing forward bend, is a fairly straightforward posture. Stand with your feet hip width apart and slowly bend from the waist until you’re folded in two, with your hands loosely folded and hanging above your head.
Make sure to rock your body weight forward slightly to ensure any feelings of tensions are in your feet rather than your lower back. And then just hang there. Gentle sway from side to side if the sensation pleases you.
As well as all the multiple physical benefits of the pose, such as keeping the spine healthy and flexible and strengthening the hips, calves, thighs, knees and hamstrings, rag doll is also a perfect pose to get your head into the right pre-bed space.
Hanging in an inverted position like this is again thought to lower blood pressure and with it heart rate. In doing so it plays a role in reducing stress, anxiety and depression. By helping to clear the mind of worry and slowing the breathing, the stretcher is able find a place of mental and physical calm before climbing into bed.
Corpse pose + tense and release
Now, this might not sound like much of a stretch at all but believe me the corpse pose is actually one of yoga’s most fundamental and important stretch.
Lie on your back with your legs falling open and your arms palm up to the side of your body. Easy right? Well you’re only halfway there. Now empty your mind of all thoughts, breath deeply and focus on what your body is telling you.
Now when you’ve had your fill of relaxation gradually bring your attention to each area of your body in turn. Start at your feet and work all the way up to your head. In sequence tense each area of your body and hold for 15 seconds before releasing.
This is referred to in yoga as tense and release but it also known in sleep medicine circles as Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). PMR has often been taught as a non-pharmacological means to treat insomnia. Focussing attention on the body parts helps to distract a racing mind and the systematic tensing of muscles releases pent up tension.
Well, there you go sleep fans, three top stretches to get you into the perfect mental and physical position to maximise your sleep. Give them a go and I guarantee there will be one stretch you will be doing a lot less of tomorrow – yawning!