STRETCHES FOR BETTER SLEEP
There is no mystique or magic to it, stretching before going to bed helps us sleep better for some very simple physiological reasons.
For a start, we need to relax to sleep, and gentle stretching helps relieve built up tension in the body. A regular stretching routine can also help train our brains to “wind down” before sleeping so that our brains are free from too much distraction while we try to nod off. Stretching within an hour of bedtime also helps us get into poses and breathing patterns that help establish a deep and relaxed breathing rhythm for a restful sleep. For a deeper rest, here are five stretches that will send you off to sleep sooner so that you can wake up with more get-up-and-go.
1. SHOULDER ROLLS AND NECK STRETCH
Anyone who operates a computer or really works that phone knows all about the tension that can build up in the neck and shoulders. This can lead to tension headaches and tossing and turning on a pillow and movement that doesn’t suit the scrunched-up muscles supporting your head.
These stretches work as a team. First, lift your shoulders up towards your ears. Now roll them back and down. Now lift the shoulders to the ears again, and this time roll them forward and then down, Repeat these movements three times. Now straighten up your neck to lift your head high while looking straight ahead. Hold your gaze as you lower your right ear to your right shoulder while pushing down lightly on your left shoulder. Hold for a count of 10. Do the same for the other side and repeat three times.
2. CALF/HAMSTRING STRETCHES
Twitchy, restless legs can knock a dent in your quality sleep, but full-on night cramps smash it with a hammer. Dutch researchers believe a short stretching ritual before sleep can provide the solution. A study of long-time night cramp sufferers aged 55 and over, compared a control group to a group who did hamstring and calf stretches within an hour of going to bed. The stretching group had a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of their cramps after only six weeks.
Here’s one of the combination of stretches that they did. Stand facing a wall. Put one foot down flat on the floor a short step behind the other foot and place your hands against the wall. Now sink down and lean into the wall at the same time to stretch the back calf. Hold for 30 seconds and swap legs. Now stand in front of a chair and place the heel of one leg on the seat of the chair. Now bend the supporting leg a little as you sink down while keeping the raised leg straight to stretch the hamstring. Hold for 30 seconds.
3. THE OFFICE HIP STRETCH
Office work and anything else that requires a lot of sitting (e.g. driving, long flights) can leave your hip flexors in a shortened, contracted position that also traps your glute and hip muscles into a position which, over a period of hours, can cause tension and pain. This stretch provides a counterbalance, stretching the muscles back the other way to release tension.
Lie on your back close enough to a wall so that you can extend your legs and press your heels into the wall where it meets the floor. Now place a block (about 10cm high) under your butt so your hips are raised. If you don’t have a proper yoga block, you could use a foam roller, or even a couple firm cushions. Lay your back, neck and head on the floor with your arms beside your body, and relax. Hold for 1-2 minutes.
We end each day a little bit shorter than we started. This is due to holding our spines vertical against the compressive forces of gravity. When we sleep, the discs between our vertebrae have a chance to be flushed full of fluid and nutrients so they can rebuild and recalibrate. You can help the process with this stretch, which has the added advantage of promoting a breathing rhythm that also helps calm you mentally.
On a soft surface, lie on your back. Bring your knees up towards your chest, then hold your knees with your hands, pulling them wide apart. Link your ankle, then slowly rock back and forth, feeling the stretch between the vertebrae and breathing deeply in time to the motion.
5. THE CHILD POSE
This is the ultimate pre-sleep de-stressor. The child pose helps to stretch and align the spine (people often hear cracks and pops from the spine when they go into this pose) while relieving tension in the muscles all the way through the back of the legs, the hips, the back and the neck.
Kneel on a soft surface with your toes pointed back. Sit back on your heels and fully extend your arms up over your head. Hold this position as you bend forward at the hips to lower your chest onto your thighs. Rest your forehead and arms on the floor. Relax and hold this for two minutes.
Reference: Hallegraeff JM, van der Schans CP, de Ruiter R & de Greef MH 2012, Stretching before sleep reduces the frequency and severity of nocturnal leg cramps in older adults: a randomised trial, Journal of Physiotherapy, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 17-22.
About the writer: Dominic Cadden is an online contributor for 2XU. Dominic holds vast knowledge and experience in coaching for health and performance. Having worked closely with elite athletes, coaches, sports dietitians, psychologists, researchers and other health professionals throughout his career as both a coach and athlete, Dominic has significant insight into coaching principles for performance and health. He is also an endurance athlete and powerlifting champion. An accomplished writer, Dominic has more than 20 years of experience writing for various publications across health, fitness, lifestyle and travel industries. Dominic also owns and runs Writeninja Total Fitness.
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