The layout of modern workplaces usually sees people sat at desks for the majority of the day. Hectic, busy schedules, coupled with slouched sitting positions detrimental to correct posture, means a build-up of tension. This stress is carried around with us in our muscles. The dangers of stress for accelerating the aging process are well documented, with a 2012 study published in the Journal PLoS ONE specifically focusing on work-related exhaustion.
An excellent way to combat the effects of stress and tension in the body is to have a routine of stretching. When you stretch, you lengthen the muscles and tendons, increasing flexibility. Maintaining your body’s range of movement as you get older is crucial for youth preservation and for people looking to extend their healthy lifespan.
Fitness experts, physical therapists and yoga instructors all agree that stretching before going to bed at night can calm the body, allowing us to let go of daily stress and tension. “It allows you to release some of the tension you’ve built up during the day so you can prepare both your body and mind for a good night’s sleep,” says New York yoga instructor Sarah Levey. Similarly, Alice-Beckett-Wilson, physical therapist and wellness expert says, “Stretching before going to bed is helpful in getting a good night’s sleep, and all stretches should be done with a focus on breathing.” If you make pre-sleep stretching part of your bedtime routine, it encourages your body to relax and will greatly benefit the quality of your sleep, resulting in more energy the next day.
If you’re worried about the hassle of setting up space for your pre-sleep stretches or not having the right yoga gear, here are five simple, stress-reducing stretches you can do in your pajamas and the comfort of your bed (and a bonus one for the shower). You can do all of them, or pick your favorites.
Spinal Twist Stretch
Let’s start with a stretch that seems like it was made to do in bed and will target your lower back – a typically tense spot for a lot of people, contributing to shoulder and neck pains.
- Lie on your back in the middle of the bed and bend both knees into your chest. Cross your knees over to the left side of your body and extend your arms into a ‘T’ position. Turn your head to the right and hold the pose for 30 seconds or more. You should feel your spine twist and lengthen, and may even hear some cracks! Finally, use your abs to lift your knees back to the center and repeat the pose on the other side.
Reclining Hamstring Stretch
Tight hamstrings are a common problem and can contribute to back pain. It’s important to note that tight hamstrings can be caused by a variety of issues and if you have persistent pain, you should seek advice from a medical professional.
If you’re looking to take the tension out of your tender hamstrings, here’s a relaxing way to stretch one hamstring at a time and increase overall flexibility.
- Lie on your back and raise your left leg as high as you can while keeping your pelvis flat on the ground. Hold your lower thigh and gently move your leg towards your head, while flexing the bottom of your foot to stretch your calf muscles. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Happy Baby Pose
After a long, grueling day at the office, the Happy Baby stretch can be a lifesaver, helping to get rid of tension and stress in the hips, groin and spine. “Happy baby lengthens and realigns the spine, stretches the inner groin, and can help release your hips,” says Levey.
- Lie on your back in bed, lift your legs and bend your knees. With your feet flexed towards the ceiling, grab the big toe of each foot with the corresponding hand. Gently bend your knees further towards your armpits. If you can, gently massage the spine by rocking left to right. Hold the pose for 15 seconds.
If you’re looking to increase flexibility in your spine, as well as gently lengthen the muscles in your abs, chest and neck, the Cobra Pose is a simple and effective bedtime stretch to master.
- Lie on your stomach and extend your arms out in front of you. Keep your legs and pelvis grounded and slowly walk your hands towards your chest, arching your back until you feel a nice stretch in your abs. Concentrate on lengthening your neck by relaxing your shoulders away from your ears. If possible, lower your head back between your shoulder blades to stretch your neck and chest, but be careful not to over-stretch your neck. Hold the pose for 30 seconds before carefully lowering your torso back to the bed.
The perfect way to end the day and your pre-sleep stretching routine, The Corpse Pose allows you to let go of everything you’re holding onto from the day’s events. “By focusing the mind on stillness and bringing awareness to the breath, the body begins to naturally relax, preparing you for a great night’s rest,” says Levey.
As the name suggests, this pose is reminiscent of a dead body!
- Lie in bed with your legs slightly apart and stretched out in front of you. Place your arms down by your sides with palms up. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Hold this pose for 15 seconds, or until you drift off into a deep, relaxing sleep.
BONUS STRETCH – Heart Opener Pose
Everybody’s pre-sleep routine is different. If you prefer to shower before going to bed, take advantage of the hot water for soothing your muscles and preparing your body for sleep.
The Heart Opener stretch is just the thing to open tight shoulders and your upper back.
- Stand with your feet together and carefully open your arms out to the sides behind you, placing your palms on the wall and the door of your shower. Press your palms down gently and lean forward slightly to deepen the stretch. Hold it for 30 seconds.
Obviously, while the cascading warm water will help to relax your muscles, if you’re stretching in the shower you need to take care not to slip and injure yourself. And no need to keep your pyjamas on in the shower either!