The 8 Best Stretches for a Better Night's Sleep, According to a Personal Trainer
If you are one of 50 to 70 million Americans suffering from a sleep disorder or are one of the almost 40% of adults who report that they don't get enough sleep, per the National Institutes of Health, you are well aware that the way you feel each day depends, in part, on the way you sleep each night.
In fact, getting enough quality sleep doesn't only impact how you feel; it affects your overall health. According to the NIH, a lack of quality sleep can lead to diminished immune system functioning and is associated with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety.
The good news is that by adding some simple stretches to your bedtime routine, you can get a better night's sleep. Studies, such as a 2019 one published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, have shown that stretching can help improve insomnia and increase muscle relaxation for a better night's sleep.
8 Stretches to Include in Your Bedtime Routine
This series includes gentle stretches to help you unwind from your day, reduce stress and relax for a better night's sleep. It begins with standing stretches to help reverse the c-curve, or desk posture, that your body gravitates toward after a long day, then moves to lying stretches you can do on a mat, or even in your bed, just before sleep.
1. Doorway Stretch
After working on a computer, being on your phone or even driving your car, your shoulders are in a forward posture, and the muscles in your chest are shortened and tightened, which can lead to stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Utilize the doorway stretch to improve posture and reduce the discomfort that can inhibit quality sleep. As you are walking through a doorway, simply place the palms of both hands on the door frame, palms facing forward, and step through the doorway while keeping your hands in place. You should begin to feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Walk forward as far as you are able to in order to deepen the stretch.
2. Hip Flexor Stretch
When you sit for long periods of time, your hip flexors become tight. These extended periods of hip flexion need to be countered with hip extension to reduce the risk of developing low back pain.
Further, yoga practitioners often associate tightness in the hips with stored emotions. For some, hip stretches and hip openers can reduce stress by releasing emotional muscle tension and improving sleep.
Try the easy hip stretch: Step one foot forward so that you are in a lunge posture with your hips and toes facing forward, a bend in the front knee and a slight bend in the back knee. The front foot is firmly planted into the mat with the weight in the front heel. The back foot is in a heel-up position with the weight in the ball of the foot and the heel off of the floor.
Look down at your front foot to make sure that you can see your toes—if the front knee is out over the toes, it puts too much pressure on the knee joint. If you find yourself in that posture, simply shift your weight backward so that your torso is centered between your feet.
Gradually bring the back knee to the floor and allow the back foot to relax down onto the floor or mat to release the hip flexor. Once in this posture, allow your body weight to sink into your legs to deepen the stretch. Hold the stretch as long as you'd like, then repeat on the opposite side.
3. Calf Stretch
The calves are a common area where people experience muscle cramps, which can be especially disruptive and painful at night. In addition to prioritizing hydration, try a calf stretch before bed to reduce the frequency and duration of nighttime muscle cramps.
Simply step one foot forward so that you are in a staggered stance. For this stretch, the feet will be closer together than they were for the hip flexor stretch. Your hips and toes face forward, and you have a slight bend in the front knee. As with the hip stretch, check your front knee position by looking down at your front foot to make sure that you can see your toes. Adjust as needed.
Press the back foot all the way down into the floor, bringing the back heel down until it is fully pressed into the ground. You should feel a stretch all the way down your back leg, specifically in your calf. Perform this stretch on one side, and then swap to stretch the other.
4. Ragdoll Pose
Ragdoll provides a great release. It is easy to do and offers many benefits—helping to reduce tightness in the low back, hamstring and calves. It is also a great way to let go of tension in the neck and shoulders by allowing gravity to work for you.
Try the ragdoll pose to relieve tightness and reduce stress. Begin with your feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in the knees and feet firmly planted into the floor. Inhale and reach your arms up and over your head into a full-body stretch. Exhale and bend forward to allow the upper body to drop down toward the legs, with the fingertips reaching toward the floor.
Keep the knees bent, allowing the torso to fall over the thighs and the head to drop, relaxing the neck and shoulders as it falls heavy. Hold the opposite elbow with each hand and allow the weight of your upper body to deepen the stretch.
5. Lying Hamstring Stretch
Lie down on the floor, a mat or even your bed and try the hamstring stretch to relieve tightness and reduce nighttime cramping. Start lying flat on your back. As you exhale, hug one knee in toward your chest. Then extend that heel up toward the ceiling and wrap your hands around the back of the hamstring, the knee or the calf to support the weight of the raised leg.
Consciously work to reach your heel up toward the sky and flex your foot to bring your toes back down toward your body. This will also deepen the stretch in the hamstrings and stretch the calf. Breathe, and as the muscles begin to release, walk the hands up the leg toward the foot to deepen the stretch. As you feel ready, hug the knee in again, allow the leg to drop back down to the floor and repeat the process on the other side.
6. Upper Body Clamshell
In addition to the doorway stretch mentioned before, you can relieve tightness in the shoulders, neck and upper back and add a gentle twist that can help ease low back pain and stomach discomfort by performing an upper body clamshell stretch.
Start lying on one side with the knees pulled up toward the chest and legs relaxed. Begin to reach the top arm up toward the ceiling and then let it continue to fall over to the opposite side, opening the upper body toward the ceiling and letting the arm relax all the way down onto the floor. Allow the eyes to follow the hand as it moves and then settles. Depending on where you may be holding tension, you may feel this stretch from the neck all the way to the hips. Begin to reach the arm back up toward the ceiling, rotating the body back onto the side and letting the top arm settle back down.
Repeat this stretch as often as needed to feel the chest open and the neck and shoulders begin to relax; then repeat on the opposite side.
7. Cat, Cow and Cobra
Cat, cow and cobra are yoga poses that are often done in a sequence and provide an excellent stretch for the back and abdominal muscles that make up the body's core. This gentle series is an excellent way to reduce back pain and promote deep breathing, which can improve sleep quality.
Start in a hand-and-knee posture, with the hands under the shoulders pressed into the floor, the knees under the hips and lower legs relaxed. As you exhale, drop your head between your arms as you pull your belly button up and in, tuck your hips under and allow your back to arch up toward the ceiling for the cat. As you inhale, lift the crown of the head and the tailbone, allowing the back to sway and your chest to open for the cow. Repeat as often as you'd like.
To make the cobra, come back to your hand-and-knee posture and allow your body to rest all the way down on your mat, lying on your stomach. Place your hands under your shoulders with your elbows pulled in tight by your sides. Keeping your legs relaxed down and on your mat, and your shoulders pulled down and into the body and away from the ears, begin to press into your palms to lift your chest gently off of the mat and stretch the muscles in your stomach. Bring the body back down to the mat, and then repeat as often as you'd like. To deepen the stretch, continue to press into the palms to bring the upper body up as much as you feel comfortable without locking out your elbows.
8. Child's Pose
This gentle pose provides an excellent stretch for the hips, the low back and the shoulders. And the best part—once you're in the pose, you simply settle in, let your body relax and allow gravity to do the work for you.
To get into the child's pose, start in a hand-and-knee posture. Bring your big toes together and let your knees go as wide as needed in order to bring your hips down onto your heels. Keeping the hips down on the heels, begin to allow your arms to slide forward until your upper body is resting on your legs and your forehead is on the floor, the mat or even your bed. Settle in and breathe, allowing the body to relax and the muscles to release and sink further into the stretch.
The Bottom Line
If you have trouble sleeping or are looking for extra relaxation before going to bed, try including a few of these simple stretches in your nighttime routine. They may just be the signal your brain and body need to know that it's time to relax.
However, if you find that you are still having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting restful sleep, it may be time to seek additional help. Talk to your health care provider or look for a sleep specialist in your area.