9 Stretches to Do Before Bed for the Best Sleep of Your Life
We’ve all heard that stretching can help relieve muscle tightness and increase mobility, but did you know it’s also the secret to a better night’s sleep? If you’re anything like us, you’ve spent more than a few A.M. hours tossing and turning to a restless mind or an achy body. Sometimes your brain spirals off into an anxious abyss and other times that crick in your neck just refuses to let up. Either way, you’re left staring at a dark, empty ceiling with no hope in sight. Luckily, there’s a solution that’s completely free, quick to master and easy to incorporate into your existing routine: stretching.
Here’s Why You Should Stretch Before Bed
Our bedtime routine looks a little something like this: We brush our teeth, wash our face, slather on some moisturizer, comb our hair and read a book. But amidst all of this primping and prepping, we realized we were ignoring one key component: our muscles. Throughout the day, your body and mind are constantly holding on to physical forms of stress, whether you’re glued to your desk during a busy workday or pounding the pavement on a ten-mile run (or both, if you’re nuts). “A nighttime stretching practice allows your body to release built-up tension and provides [you with] an opportunity to integrate mindful breathing,” Kim Strother, a celebrity trainer and yoga instructor tells us. “By creating a peaceful mind and a relaxed body, you’ll find the ability to both fall asleep with greater ease and remain in a longer, deeper sleep.”
This 2016 article published by the Sleep Medicine Reviews journal reported similar benefits after conducting a comprehensive review of relevant studies from American and Chinese databases. It found that meditative movements, like stretching and yoga, performed before bed resulted in an improvement in sleep quality, as well as improvements in “quality of life, physical performance and depression.” And with these improvements in sleep come a number of other life-altering benefits like increased recovery and a stronger immune system.
What Kind of Stretching Should I Do Before Bed?
Prior to hopping in bed and watching The Great British Bake Off for the third time in a row, you’re going to want to send a signal to your muscles that it’s time to unwind. To do this, Strother suggests engaging in static or stationary stretching. As the name implies, static stretching involves holding a single position for an extended period of time and is a great way to isolate individual muscle groups. It also gives you an opportunity to slow down and focus on lengthening the muscle fibers while your body is at rest. “As you’re stretching,” she advises, “ take slow, deep breathes in and out through your nose” to decrease your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, steady your cortisol levels and enhance relaxation. “Hold each stretch for at least 45 seconds, or five long, deep breaths.”
To help you unwind during your nightly stretches, Strother suggests incorporating other self-care rituals like CBD or aromatherapy. She prefers to decompress while sipping on a not-so-average sparkling water. “To prepare for my nightly stretching, I always grab a can of MAD TASTY. It’s an all-natural sparkling water with 20 mg of pure broad-spectrum hemp extract, which keeps me hydrated as I stretch and helps relieve any stress or anxiety from my day.” If CBD isn’t your thing, you could try lighting a calming candle, listening to your favorite soundscape on the Calm app or deep breathing with essential oils and sleep elixirs. (Psst, we love this one by Apothecary Company. Just dap a little directly under your nose and prepare to relax.)
So if you’re finally ready to make the most of your hard-earned sleep, here are nine stretches you can easily do before bed (starting tonight).
1. Side Neck Stretch
*Releases tension in the head, neck and shoulders.
Step 1: In a seated position with your legs crossed, gently bend your head to the right, lowering your right ear to your right shoulder. Simultaneously reach your right hand down while dropping your shoulder away from your ear. You’ll feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
Step 2: Hold for five breaths. Gently bring the head back to center and repeat on the other side.
2. Low Lunge Stretch
*Releases tension in the hip flexors, glutes and lower back.
Step 1: In a standing position, extend the right leg behind you, dropping your knee to the floor. Bend the left front knee, keeping it in line with the ankle as you lower.
Step 2: Inhale as you reach your arms above your head and extend them toward the ceiling, lengthening the spine. Hold for five breaths. Release and repeat on the other side.
3. Sleeping Swan
*Releases tension in the neck, shoulders, back, hips and legs.
Step 1: In a seated position with a pillow in front of you, bend the left knee, bringing the sole of the left foot to your right inner thigh. Lift the right hip to extend the right leg back behind you. Your upper right thigh and the top of your right foot should be pressed against the floor.
Step 2: Gently hinge forward from the hips and lower down as far as you can, keeping your torso aligned, until your head hits the pillow.
Step 3: Extend your arms forward with a slight bend in your elbows to further deepen the stretch. Hold here for ten breaths. Roll up slowly and repeat on the other side.
4. Seated Forward Fold
*Releases tension in the hamstrings and calves.
Step 1: In a seated position, extend both legs straight out in front of you.
Step 2: Inhale and reach both arms up, lengthening the spine. Exhale and fold forward, hinging at the hips as your arms reach towards your toes. Hold for five breaths and release.
5. Supine Twist
*Opens tight shoulders and releases tension in the lower back.
Step 1: Lie flat on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Lower both knees to your left side. Keeping the shoulders on the ground, extend both arms out as your torso twists.
Step 2: Take five breaths, making sure your hips are aligned, and then slowly bring the knees back to the center.
Step 3: Let your knees fall to your right side and repeat.
6. Child's Pose
*Releases tension in the neck and lower back.
Step 1: Begin on your shins with you knees hip-width apart, feet together behind you. Take one big inhale and on the exhale fold forward, hinging at the hips, lengthening the spine, drawing the ribs away from the tailbone and stretching the crown of the head away from the shoulders.
Step 2: Rest your forehead on the ground, with your arms either comfortably at your side or extended out in front of you. Hold here for ten breaths or more as needed.
7. Cat-Cow Pose
*Releases tension in the back, neck, spine and shoulders.
Step 1: Begin in a neutral position on all fours with your wrists directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Take a deep inhale and on the exhale round your spine up towards the ceiling, pulling your belly button in towards your spine while dropping your head and tucking your chin in towards your chest. This is Cat pose.
Step 2: Take another deep inhale and on the exhale lower your core and lift your head and tailbone up towards the ceiling. This is Cow pose.
Step 3: Continue flowing between Cat and Cow for ten breaths or more as needed.
8. Happy Baby
*Releases tension in the spine, groin and hips.
Step 1: Lie flat on your back, then lift your legs and bend your knee with your feet flexed up towards the ceiling.
Step 2: Reach forward with your hands and grab the big toe of each foot to further bend the knees towards the armpits. If you’re able, rock side to side to gently massage the spine. Hold for 10 breaths or more as needed.
9. Legs Up The Wall Stretch
*Restores the body and releases tension in the back, shoulders and neck.
Step 1: Find a wall and lie flat on your back with your hips a few inches from the base of the wall. Extend your legs up until your calves and hamstrings are touching the wall.
Step 2: Choose the distance that feels most comfortable and adjust as needed. You can also place a cushion under the hips for support.
Step 3: Rest your arms comfortably at your sides and hold for ten breaths or more as needed.