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Ever make the effort to get to sleep at a decent hour only to lie there in the dark, anxiously trying to quiet your racing thoughts by calculating how many hours of rest you could still get if only you’d fall asleep in the next couple of minutes? Not exactly restful.
If you’re tired (literally) of turning in early and hoping for the best, consider trying an evening routine that’s scientifically sound in terms of calming both your psyche and your physiology. All it takes is a few simple stretches.
Does stretching actually help you sleep better?
When you engage in stretching that’s subtle and relaxed rather than intense and performative, you incite the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the level-the-vibes part of the nervous system. It slows the heart rate, cues the muscles to release, and helps the mind slow down. Team this with slow and steady breathing, which has been repeatedly shown in scientific research to calm both mind and body, and it becomes physiologically impossible to remain in a state of anxiety or agitation.
You already have everything you need to stretch and it costs nothing but 10 minutes of your time (yes, really). Given that you could end up with several hours of uninterrupted sleep, that’s a pretty strong return on your investment.
5 stretches to help you sleep better
Allow yourself to slowly transition to doing less by beginning in an easy standing stretch. Bring your feet hip-width apart and simply fold forward as you slowly exhale. Feel free to bend your knees a little or a lot if you experience any tightness in your back or hamstrings. Bring your fingertips or palms to the floor or bend at the elbows. As you settle into the stretch, inhale and lengthen your back. As you exhale, gently release your chest toward your thighs and relax your head and neck toward the floor. Stay here for a minute or so of deep breathing, then slowly come to a standing position.
While you can do this one in bed, you’ll get a deeper stretch in the inner thighs, hips, and across the chest if you’re on a firm surface. Come to a seated position with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together and your heels as close or far from your pelvis as comfortable. If you like, take a bolster, a couple stacked bed pillows, or folded blanket and place it lengthwise beneath your back. Lean back, first coming onto your elbows and forearms, then lowering yourself down. Stay in this position and breathe deeply for a minute or two. Slowly draw your knees together and roll onto your side.
From Reclining Bound Angle, use your hands to ease yourself up into a seated position. Child’s Pose is often used between poses, but when you linger here, it gently stretches your lower back and brings ease to your shoulders and neck. Start in a kneeling position and bring your knees hip-width apart. Hinge forward on a deep exhale and rest your torso on your thighs. Allow your forehead to rest on the floor or a folded blanket and rest your arms alongside your legs, palms facing upward, or extend them alongside your ears, palms resting on the ground. Rather than press down to hold yourself in position, let yourself surrender to gravity and release. Stay here for several breaths.
Reclining Spinal Twist
From Child’s Pose, come on your back (you can also do this in bed) and draw your knees into your chest. Extend your arms straight out from your shoulders and slowly lower your legs to the left. Let your legs rest. If it’s comfortable, turn your head to the right. You want to feel a deep but relaxing twist in your spine. Stay in this position, deepening the release on each exhale, for several breaths. Repeat on the other side.
If you suffer from achy feet or swollen ankles at the end of the day, this stretch is for you. Resting with your legs up the wall (even while in bed) affords the hamstrings and calves a subtle stretch and allows fluids to drain from your feet and legs. To get into this stretch, simply sit with one hip alongside the wall (or near your headboard) and slowly lower your upper body as you swing your legs up the wall. Stretch your legs up so that the backs of your legs are resting against the wall and your feet are about hips-width apart. Let your thigh bones settle into your hips. Remain in this position for a couple minutes. Bend your knees and slide your legs down to one side. Use your hands to slowly press yourself up into a seated position (or into a comfortable position in bed).