It should come as no surprise that being well-rested is essential for good health. Sleep is one of the most influential factors in our overall health and wellbeing – it helps regulate our internal systems, it helps our bodies heal, and keeps our mental health in check.
So are you getting enough sleep? Studies show that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, while people over 65 need 7-8 hours per night. But when we’re not comfortable sleeping, or are constantly waking up exhausted, even these numbers can seem unattainable.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural ways to improve the quality and length of our sleep. Small adjustments to our diet, exercise and routine are the most commonly-suggested, but have you ever considered that simply stretching before bed could significantly improve your sleep?
Stretching and Sleep
Stretching has a wide variety of benefits, including increased flexibility, improved range of motion, increased blood flow and better posture. Because of its light and non-strenuous nature, stretching is the perfect activity for people with a history of injuries, those with limited mobility, and older people. A study published in the Journal of Gerontology, which looked at the 12-month results of a stretch and flex program for older adults, reported positive changes for participants in areas like physical fitness, self-efficacy, perceived functioning, and well-being. They also experienced a decrease in pain.
Other benefits of stretching include:
- Reduces body pain
- Reduces stress and improves mood
- Increases mobility and flexibility
- Improves muscle health and performance
- Reduces the risk of injury
- Promotes weight loss
- Improves circulation
- Prevents cramping
- Relaxes the body
So we know that stretching is good for us, but how exactly does it improve our sleep?
Many of the aspects we discussed above have a significant impact on the quality and length of our sleep, particularly as we grow older. By improving these aspects of our mental and physical well-being, we are in turn ensuring an improvement in the quality of our time spent asleep.
For instance, pain and tension in the back, neck and shoulder muscles can make it difficult to sleep comfortably, decreasing the time spent in deep sleep and making us toss and turn in bed. Stretching before sleep can help soothe these aches and relax the muscles, promoting longer, deeper sleep. In addition, the routine and calming nature of stretching before bed can reduce stress and improve mental health, which both have a huge effect on (and are affected by) sleep quality.
So where do I start?
Everyone’s abilities and needs are different, which means that everyone’s stretching routine will be different. Create a gentle stretching regimen that meets your own body’s needs – to start, choose 3-5 stretches that suit your level of mobility and hold each for at least a count of 30. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few simple stretches that you can use to get started and into the stretching mindset.
This simple stretch improves flexibility in your back and shoulder muscles.
- Stand up straight and open your arms out wide as you inhale.
- While you exhale, reach around your body, placing your right arm on top of your left arm, as if you’re giving yourself a hug.
- Use your hands to gently pull your shoulders forward, breathing deeply.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Gently release your shoulders on an exhale, opening your arms out wide again.
- Repeat the stretch, this time with the opposite arm on top.
This stretch helps to relax the head, neck, shoulders and upper back muscles.
- While in a seated position, reach your right hand up over your head to rest on your left temple or ear.
- On an inhale, gently apply pressure, slowly moving your right ear toward your right shoulder.
- Hold this position for 5 breaths.
- On an exhale, slowly release and lift your head up to centre.
- Repeat these steps on the opposite side.
- On an exhale, slowly turn your head to look over your right shoulder, keeping the rest of your body facing forward.
- Hold this position for 5 breaths.
- On an exhale, slowly turn your head back to face forward.
- Repeat these steps on the opposite side.
This will help loosen up the muscles in your shoulders and chest.
- In a seated position (without resting against the back of the chair), slowly roll your shoulders back and down while extending your arms out to the side.
- Gently push your chest forward and up until you feel a stretch across your chest.
- Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Tips for Your Routine
While stretching is generally a gentle activity, it’s still very important to be safe while you’re going through your routine. If your body isn’t used to using the muscles you’re focusing on, it’s easy to pull or overextend a muscle if you’re not careful while stretching.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind while planning and executing your nightly stretching to make sure you’re staying safe while still reaping all the rewards!
Before you Begin:
Warm Up. It’s important to remember to never stretch cold muscles! Before you stretch, warm those muscles up by moving around for 5 to 10 minutes – take a walk, hop on the stationary bike, etc.
Hydrate. Your muscles will thank you! Make sure that you drink water throughout the day and you’ll find your stretching improves exponentially.
During Your Routine:
Don’t forget to breathe. Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale as you stretch.
Hold each stretch. Be sure to hold each stretch for 30 seconds to give the muscle ample time to relax. If you feel you can’t hold the stretch for that amount of time, consider decreasing the intensity a bit to help you maintain it.
It shouldn’t hurt. Pain and discomfort are often an indication that someone is stretching too intensely. If pain or increasing discomfort occurs, stop stretching to prevent injury.
Avoid making it strenuous. While gentle exercise and stretching before bed can help you sleep, strenuous activity late at night can actually have the opposite effect! Working out intensely at night is stimulating and raises body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep.
After Your Routine:
Stay Hydrated. Don’t forget to drink a glass or two of water after your stretching as well, to keep yourself and your muscles hydrated!
Be Aware of Your Body. Make sure to take notice of how you feel after stretching. If you’re feeling very sore or if your muscles feel tighter than when you began, you may be overdoing it. When in doubt, speak with your doctor about the best stretches for your body and let them know if you’re experiencing any pain.
How Else Can I Improve my Sleep?
Studies have shown that the amount and quality of sleep that we get regularly has a direct impact on our waking hours, and poor sleep quality can lead to all kinds of mental and physical health problems. Increased flexibility, particularly as we get on in our years, is not only essential in preventing injury and supporting long-term fitness, but can also actually improve the quality and length of our sleep thus improving overall quality of life.
However, a gentle stretching routine on its own won’t solve all of your sleeping troubles. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, or are not feeling well-rested after a full night of sleep, it might be time to make a few other changes. Consider whether something about your sleeping atmosphere, your bedtime routine or your diet may also be having an effect on the quality of your sleep. Here are some other common things that may be preventing you from getting your best rest.
Inconsistent Sleep Schedule
Consistent sleep is necessary for maintaining a consistent circadian rhythm, which is responsible for monitoring crucial bodily functions like metabolism. If your bedtime varies significantly from day to day, your body can get confused and these processes are interrupted. Be as consistent as possible with your sleep schedule and you will quickly find that you are waking up more refreshed and with more energy.
Too Much Screen Time
Studies have shown that using electronic devices right before bed can actually make it more difficult to get to sleep. Make an effort to disconnect from any devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime – instead turn on some relaxing music, read a book or magazine, or do your stretching routine.
The Wrong Bed
Even if you’re doing all the right things before you get into bed, none of it will make a difference if you don’t have the right bed.
Specialised mattresses offering extra support in certain places or an adjustable bed to facilitate mobility issues can ensure that you can get a full night’s sleep and wake up without the usual aches and pains.
For more information on how electric beds will help you achieve a better night’s sleep, or for advice on purchasing an adjustable bed, contact our expert team at the Natural Sleep Company today! We have decades of experience in the sleep industry and want to use it to make sure you get the best rest possible.