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Do you wake up in the middle of the night feeling an ache in your back or stiffness in your shoulders? Or do you have a hard time falling asleep because your mind is racing?
Not only is a good night’s sleep important for energy and focus, but it’s especially important for a strong immune system and fighting off infection.
If you’re having a difficult time sleeping due to mental stress or physical stiffness, a nighttime stretch routine is the perfect way to unwind and relax. These stretches are great whether you’re working at a desk all day or if you’re more active.
As a yoga instructor and personal trainer, I’ve combined some stretches that you may remember from physical education class as a kid and that you also may have encountered in a yoga class. (A regular yoga practice, according to the Sleep Foundation, helps people with insomnia sleep for longer, fall back asleep more quickly in the middle of the night, and fall asleep faster.)
Each evening stretch will be performed with deep breathing. Breathe deeply through your nose. Then slowly breathe out through your nose. Repeat this breath pattern to help you unwind and lower your heart rate.
These five simple stretches address different body parts and movements to loosen tight muscles. Each stretch will help calm the nervous system and bring your mind and body into a more restful state. Perform each of these exercises for one minute each evening before you go to bed.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
1. Child’s pose
Soothe a stiff low back and focus on your breath in this relaxing pose.
On your hands and knees, gently shift your hips back so that your glutes are reaching toward your heels. Reach your arms forward and relax your shoulders.
Rest your forehead on the mat or bed, and slowly breathe.
2. Seated forward fold
Release tension with this stretch that helps loosen up the upper back, lower back and hamstrings.
Sit comfortably on your bed or yoga mat with your legs in front of you. Bring the legs together and flex your feet.
Reach your arms up toward the ceiling.
Then gently fold forward at the waist and reach your hands toward your feet.
Relax your shoulders and drop your chin toward your chest. Feel a stretch in the back of the legs and the lower and upper back.
3. Bear hug
This stretch loosens up the upper back and reduces pain around the shoulder blades caused by poor posture.
Sitting up tall, open your arms out to the sides.
Then give yourself a big hug with your right arm over your left. Draw your shoulders forward.
Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with your left arm over your right arm.
4. Figure four
This pose helps loosen the outer hips and glutes and reduces stiffness in the lower back.
Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the bed or mat.
Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Reach your arms through your legs to grab onto the left hamstring.
Pull the legs in toward your chest and flex your right foot.
Repeat on the other side.
Loosen the low back and reduce uncomfortable stomach bloating with this stretch.
Lying on your back, hug your knees into your chest. Then reach the arms out to the sides as high as your shoulders.
Bring the knees over to the right and allow them to drop toward the bed or mat. Turn your head to look over your left shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
Soothe away aches and pains and increase your overall sense of relaxation before you sleep soundly by performing this stretch routine. Your mind and body will thank you in the morning!
Stephanie Mansour, host of “Step It Up With Steph” on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.