Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine® E-RYT 500 instructor and Therapeutic Specialist, weighs in on some late night stretching to help your body recovery every night.
BY SYEDA KHAULA SAAD FOR BUSTLE.
Sometimes, falling asleep can be hard. Whether it’s because of stress from your day or because you can’t find the right position to fall asleep in, it can be frustrating to be laying awake in bed hoping you’ll fall asleep. And if you’ve tried everything from drinking warm milk at night to counting backward from 100, you’re probably desperate to find something to help you doze off. Well, you’re in luck, because you can do simple night time stretches that will help you fall asleep.
“Most of us run through our days quickly, there is rarely enough time for grounding, pause, stillness — surrender,” Nina Endrst, yoga instructor and holistic health coach, tells Bustle. “A wind down ritual supports a deep and restful sleep and gives us a chance to check in with ourselves. Breathing and stretching is a great way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease general anxiety — something all human beings struggle with in some way.” If you begin to work stretching into your nighttime routine, you make a habit of helping your body recover every night. And if you don’t know which stretches to start with, here are 12 you can do at night.
1. Legs Up The Wall
This is an easy pose you can do right in your bed (if it’s up against the wall) before you sleep. Lie flat on your back with your butt touching the wall. Lift your legs up and put them against the wall, with the back of your heel on the wall, feet parallel to your torso. Then, rest your head and neck back. If you want, you can even cross your legs over each other. “I like to place one hand on my heart and one on my belly and practice deep breathing here,” Endrst says. “It’s also great for circulation, stretching the hamstrings, and relieving lower back pain.”
2. Forward Fold
Start in a downward dog position and then walk your hands back toward your feet, stopping when your chest is pressing against your legs. Then, let your head dangle. “Let the arms hang if you wish or take hold of opposite elbows behind the knees and hug everything in tight to hold yourself here,” Endrst says. By doing this pose, you allow your neck and shoulder tension to be released, and stretch out your calves, hamstrings, hips, getting your body more relaxed and ready to rest for the night.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana
Sit on the floor with your knees bent facing up, and then lower your back to the ground or your bed. Then, keeping your feet side-by-side, lower your knees to opposite sides, creating a diamond shape with your legs. You can use blankets to support your knees if you want. “Place one hand on your heart and one on your belly,” Endrst says. “Rest for 10 minutes and elongate the breath, inhaling for a count of three, exhaling for a count of four.” This pose is known as a restorative pose because it works to improve circulation and can even relieve symptoms of stress, depression, and menstruation.
You begin in downward facing dog. Then, you lift your right leg up and bend that knee. Open up your hips by pointing that knee out to the side. Then bring your body and your knee to the floor. You should end up sitting with your right shin down on the mat and your left leg stretched out behind you. “Inhale, lift your pelvic floor, draw your navel in and up,” Endrst explains. “Inhale to create space in your lower belly here. As you exhale gently wave and release yourself down to the ground. Rest here 10-20 breaths, then switch sides.” This position can aid in digestion and stimulate abdominal organs.
5. Bridge Waves
This is a little remix to the well-known “bridge pose.” “Start out lying flat on your back with the souls of your feet on the earth,” Endrst says. It’s important to focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, pushing your hips up with every inhale. During this, bring your arms over your head and move them in a wave-like motion. “Draw your heart toward your chin and keep a soft gaze toward the sky,” Endrst says. “As you exhale, gently wave your spine down flat on the mat and rest. Repeat 5 times.” This pose can improve circulation and calm your mind and body down, making it easier to fall asleep.
6. Figure 4 Pose
Lay flat on your back and then bring your right ankle to to your left knee, imitating the number “4” with the shape of your legs. Then, grab your left shin (or thigh if it’s easier) and bring it toward your chest, holding it for three minutes before switching. “This is a great hip opener that also releases the low back after a long day in repetitive positions.” Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine instructor, tells Bustle.
7. Resting Jackknife
For this pose, you’ll need a pillow or some sort of block to place under you. Start on your back with your knees bent and feet touching the floor. Raise your hips and then place the pillow or block you chose underneath the bottom of your spine, without touching it. Bring your knees up over your hips while keeping your lower back curved. Kearney advises to bring your knee to your chest, keeping your spine in place, all while extending the opposite leg and putting it on the ground. Hold the pose for 2-3 minutes before switching sides. “This is a great way to release the hip flexors,” Kearney says. “If you sit or drive most of the day, these muscles tend to shorten. Releasing them can help ease low back pain and help you sleep easier at night.”
This move is simple to do. Lay down flat on your stomach and then bring your elbows under your shoulders, holding your body up in a plank position. Then, relax your shoulders, buttocks, and back, Kearney says, letting everything fall to the floor. “Again, most of us sit all day at our jobs. This pose can help open the front line of the body and also gently stimulate the adrenals, part of our endocrine system responsible for delivery of stress hormones, as well as assisting our immune system,” she says.
9. Myofascial Release
“A long day in a consistent posture can be exhausting and dehydrating to our tissues,” Kearney says. She suggests using the myofascial release roller on your lower back and gluteal muscles so that you can ease this pressure in your body, making it easier to fall asleep afterwards. Begin on the right side of your gluteals and then work your way from the bottom of your spine to your hips or from your hips to just beneath them. “Stay off bone and just move on soft tissue,” Kearney says. “Be sure you are able to comfortably maintain your deep focused breath.”
10. Progressive Body Scan
This is less of a yoga pose and more of a relaxation technique to calm yourself, but it does begin with you laying on your back. All you have to do is lie back and list each and every one of your body parts, starting from your toes, working your way up to your face. “Another technique that helps induce the relaxation response,” Kearney says.
11. Simple Neck Stretch
This stretch is simple, yet makes a world of a different. Begin by sitting at the edge of your bed with your right hand placed underneath your right thigh. Then bring your left hand over your head to hold the right side of your head. Then pull your head toward your left shoulders. “This will open up the muscles in your neck, and alleviate pressure.” Austin Martinez, MS, ATC, CSCS, director of education for StretchLab, tells Bustle. Martinez suggests holding the pose on each side for 30 seconds, and repeating three times. “During all these stretches it is important to concentrate and maintain your breathing,” he says. “Deep breathing not only allows you to get into a deeper stretch, but will also reduce your stress and tension prior to sleeping.”
12. Hamstring Stretch
“By stretching our your hamstrings, you can diminish tension in your lower back and lower body,” Martinez says. Start by laying flat on the floor, with your bed parallel to your hips. Place a leg up on the bed and bend at the hips. Martinez says that you don’t have to bend too far so long as you make sure you’re pivoting your hips and keeping your back straight. Hold this position and then, repeat this stretch, with your foot rotated inward and then outward. “This will activate different areas of your hamstring and reduce overall tension,” Martinez says.
While these poses can be a great way to unwind and release tension at night, if you’re having repetitive sleep issues despite all your efforts, you may want to consult a doctor to see if there is a more serious, underlying issue you should be getting treated for, because everyone deserves a good night’s sleep.