Ever make the effort to get to bed at a decent hour only to experience a war of attrition with the clock on your nightstand? Its numbers silently tick away while you attempt to quell jumpy legs and a racing mind that pauses only to calculate how many hours you might still get if only you’d just fall asleep already.
If you’re (literally) tired of flicking off the lights and hoping for the best, try incorporating this quick series of stretches into your pre-bedtime routine. Stretching can help release muscle tension and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of the nervous system that slows the heart rate and cues the body to relax.
You can do all of these pajama-friendly stretches in less than 10 minutes (a tiny investment for a solid eight hours of shut-eye).
Standing Forward Fold
This gentle stretch for the hips, hamstrings and calves is a good place to start. With a straight back and your feet hip-width apart, simply bend forward from the waist (not your hips), exhaling slowly. Feel free to bend your knees slightly if you experience any tightness in your back or hamstrings. If possible, bring your fingertips or palms to the floor, otherwise fold your arms at the elbows. With each inhale, lengthen your body from the waist. As you exhale, gently deepen the bend. After a minute or so of deep breathing, slowly come to a standing position by hinging at the waist and maintaining a flat back.
Reclined Bound Angle
While you can do this one in bed, you’ll get a deeper stretch in the groins, hips and across the chest if you’re on a firm surface. Come to a seated position with your knees bent and your heels drawn in towards your pelvis. Take a bolster, body pillow or blanket that’s been folded into a rectangle and place it behind your tailbone lengthwise. Lean back with your elbows bent so that the bolster lines up with the length of your spine to gently open your chest upward. Let your elbows and forearms rest on the ground. Stay in this position and breathe deeply for a minute or two before drawing your knees together and rolling onto your side. Use your hands to press yourself up into a seated position.
Legs Up the Wall
If you suffer from achy feet or swollen ankles at the end of the day, this is for you. Resting with your legs up the wall affords the hamstrings and calves a subtle stretch while allowing stagnant fluid to drain from your feet and legs. To get into this stretch, simply lie on the floor and scoot your sitting bones forward until they touch a wall (it can be helpful to lie on your side at first). Stretch your legs up so that the backs of your legs are resting completely against the wall. Remain in this position for a couple minutes before slide your legs down to one side. Use your hands to press yourself up into a seated position.
Child’s pose is the ultimate resting stretch. It relaxes your spine, shoulders and neck while gently stretching your lower back. Start in a kneeling position and spread your knees so that they’re hip-width apart. While tucking your tailbone back and under, hinge forward at the waist on a deep exhale and rest your torso on your thighs. Allow your forehead to rest on the floor and your arms to stretch back along your sides with palms facing upward. Stay here for a few breaths before gently sitting up in kneeling position.
Reclining Spinal Twist
A day of sitting, hunching and slouching can leave your back feeling tight and compacted. Create a little space in your spine with this reclining twist. Lie on your back (you can do this in bed) and bring your knees to your chest. Hug the right knee in while extending the left leg. Use the left hand to draw the right knee across your body while looking over your extended right arm. Shift your hips to the right and draw your right knee closer to the floor on your left side. You should feel a deep but relaxing twist in your spine. Stay in this position, deepening the stretch on each exhale. Repeat on the other side.
After the final stretch, you should find yourself in bed, on your back and relaxed from head to toe. How convenient! Now switch off the lights, close your eyes, and show that stupid clock on the nightstand who’s boss.