Do you ever feel so tired at night that you just can’t wait to go to sleep, only to find that when you do climb into bed, your mind and body still feel wired, and it takes you ages to fall asleep? Something I find helps when I feel like that after a long, stressful day packed with activities at work and at home is, (unsurprisingly), movement. But I’m talking about gentle movement here. So this is where I’d like to share some stretches before bed that you can do at night to help you sleep better.
Stretching is a great way to ‘check in’ with your body, especially if you sit down a lot during the day. It helps relax tight muscles, mobilise your joints, get rid of all those aches and pains, and generally feel better within your body.
Stretching also improves your blood flow and helps you relieve some of the muscle tension you’ve been holding all day from sitting at your desk, walking around, or even exercising. In other words, doing some gentle stretches before bed can help with muscle recovery but also improve the quality of your sleep. Because (surprise, surprise), the more your get into bed feeling nice and relaxed, the better you will sleep!
Now, if you’ve come across any of my content on YouTube, Instagram, here on my website, or have heard me talk before, you’ll know I recommend you move every day. And that’s for at least 30 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be all at once – you can grab ten minutes here and there. And the great news is that your bedtime stretching can add to your ‘movement bank’ for the day.
Yes to stretching – no to high-intensity exercise before bed
Stretching is low-intensity movement, and that’s important here. Because the last thing you want to do late at night or before you tuck yourself into bed is to rev your body up with a HITT session or other forms of high-intensity exercise.
Because exercise is a form of stress on your body – it floods your system with adrenaline, and you’re likely to feel energised and wired after a good sweat. And that’s not the most conducive state to lead to a restful sleep!
If you’re in the mood to do a workout after work and that’s the only window you have in your day, then make sure you leave at least an hour or longer before you go to bed. You just want to give your body the chance and the time to cool down and relax.
So if you want to destress at the end of a long busy day and prepare for good, restful sleep, gentle movement that sets your body up for sleep (like stretching) is what you’re looking for here. And on that point, ease in and out of your stretches gently, avoid bouncing and combinations of movements that are likely to increase your heart rate too much (like you might do in a Power yoga session).
Make stretching part of your bedtime routine
As parents, we create a calming bedtime routine for our children and stick to it at all costs, don’t we? Especially when they’re little, we follow this amazing routine of bath, story, and bed, and we do our very best to stick to it no matter what. Because we know it helps our little ones fall asleep quicker and sets them up for a full night of uninterrupted sleep (hopefully!)
But we don’t do the same for ourselves. We might have thrived in a routine when we were little, but somewhere along the line, we grow up and forget all about it. And I think it’s time to get back to it. Or at least to think about some sort of routine that works for us now and helps us leave all the stresses and stimulation of the day behind, wind down before bed, and create better and more restful sleep.
Doing some gentle stretching is a great option, but if you’d like some more ideas to incorporate into your bedtime routine, check out my blog post: How to lower stress when hybrid working (and head over to Pillar #3 – Sleep).
Setting the scene for your full-body stretches
So where will you be and what will you need for your stretches before bed? It doesn’t really matter where in the house you choose to stretch. It can be in your bedroom or in your living room – wherever you feel comfortable.
You don’t need much in terms of equipment either – perhaps choose to be in a room where you have carpet, or grab a mat as you’ll want some good padding under your knees. Wherever you choose to be, I like the idea of making the environment nice and relaxing. You could dim the lights or diffuse some soothing, sleep-inducing essential oils like lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, or Ylang Ylang.
I suggest you do your stretches barefoot and obviously wearing something comfortable. Instead of coming up with your own stretches and having to think long and hard about what to do next, I prefer following a set routine or video, so you can just tune into the instructions without thinking about it too much and use that window to focus on your breathing and truly unwind and relax.
My head-to-toe stretch routine
If you want to try out some stretches for bedtime and see how they help with your sleep, I put together the Head-to-toe stretch routine. And actually, it goes from toe to head as we start with your feet and legs and stretch every part of your body, all the way up to those tense shoulders and neck.
When doing the stretches, I suggest you gently breathe into them and really think about the muscle you’re stretching while relaxing all other parts of your body. You’ll want to stretch to the point of feeling the tension in the muscle, and once you’re there, take some deep breaths and hold for 10-15 seconds. And if that position feels amazing to you, then feel free to hold the stretch for longer. But never to the point of pain. If you feel pain, you’ve gone too far – that’s not what you want and definitely not before bed.
I find it easier to deepen the stretch as I breathe out and really concentrate on the feeling it gives me. So why don’t you try it out and let me know what you think?
Of course, you can use this routine at any point during the day – it’s not just for bedtime. And if you have areas of concern and would like to stretch specific parts of your body, check out the Stretch playlist on my YouTube channel.
Oh, one last thing. If you’d like to find out more about working with me, I currently offer stress-free fitness coaching (one-to-one, group coaching, and group workshops), and workplace wellbeing workshops for corporates. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to find out more.