Sleep is a nightly ritual that we all practice with the intention of waking up feeling rejuvenated and restored, but the reality is that some of us just do it better than others. If you've already gone through the list of recommended adjustments and are still seeking a better night's rest, you may want to consider adding a stretching practice to your P.M. routine. "Stretching is one of the best things that you can do for yourself," says Alain Saint-Dic, founding and head trainer at New York City-based Stretch Relief. He believes that the benefits of having a regular pre-bed stretching routine are threefold: Stretching sets the stage for sound slumber by not only inducing a sense of physical relaxation, according to Saint-Dic, but it also can help prep the body for a safer sleep, particularly if you move around in your sleep. "Some people tend to cross one leg over the other on a sideline position and then they might over-stretch their spine or their hips on one side, so stretching before bed helps you prevent those issues," Saint-Dic explains.
Another benefit of stretching before bed is that it helps to reduce cortisol levels, commonly known as the stress hormone, in the body. "If you go to sleep in less of a stressed out state, you'll probably sleep a little bit deeper," he says, pointing out that anything you do as part of an evening bedtime routine can help signal to your body, and your mind, that rest is about to take place: "Any time you're doing something consistently and developing a routine before bedtime, it helps you sleep deeper. Whether it be exercise or stretch—I think more people would prefer stretch to exercise right before bed—that kind of routine would actually help you sleep deeper and accomplish more quality and helpful sleep for your life." How much time should you spend stretching every night? Less than 30 minutes is enough to do the trick, says Saint-Dic, but even less can be beneficial, too. "If you only have five minutes to stretch, pick one or two stretches and just do those," Saint-Dic suggests. "Or maybe do one stretch and just build your stretch arsenal over time. You don't have to conquer the whole world in one night, or over your very first night of trying to accomplish this. You can literally do a back stretch, or a hamstring stretch, or something to open up the upper back—just one thing that gets you into position to build that habit over time."
Ready to give it a try? Follow these simple stretches that Saint-Dic recommends incorporating into your evening routine. The goal is to target most of the anterior and posterior chain, as well as a few rotations so that you hit all planes of motion. You want to create a combination of static and dynamic movements so you're stretching and increasing range of motion through mobility, as well as increasing the circulation of blood throughout the body. This should both relax your body and position it to not absorb any additional stress from sleep positions that may not be ideal for the body. Your body will thank you in the morning.
The 90-Degree Lat Stretch
This targets the upper back and lower back. Find a surface that's close to waist height. Plant the side of your hands a little past the wrist, firmly into the surface. Keeping your legs straight, hinge your hips back until you form a straight line from your hands to your tailbone Inhaling and exhaling deeply, hold the stretch for 45 seconds.
The Long Lunge Stretch
This targets the front of the legs and tightens internal stabilizers. Planting your left foot into the ground, take your right foot back into a reverse lunge until your knee touches the ground and you feel a stretch in the quadriceps (front of the leg). Keeping your head tall, angling your eyes up to the ceiling and chest proud, squeeze your glutes (butt), and shift your hips slightly forward. Lift both arms directly above your head until your elbows line up with your head or you're as close to that as possible. Hold the stretch for 45 seconds, then repeat this on the opposite side.
The Groiner Into Rotation
This targets the hips and adductors. Assume a high plank position, both hands firmly planted into the ground, shoulder width apart. Slowly, bring your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Push your hips slightly down to the ground. Hold this position for three breaths. Open your chest up to your right side by taking your hand up towards the ceiling, keeping your eyes on your right hand the entire time. While deeply inhaling and exhaling, hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Bring your hand back down to the ground, go back to the high plank position, then repeat this on the left side.
The T-Spine Opener
This targets the spine, upper and lower back, and neck. Lay on your floor on your right side with both arms outstretched in front of your body. Bring your knees up, thighs parallel to your arms with a foam roller or pillow between your legs. With your eyes fixated on your left hand the entire time, open your left arm away from your right arm slowly as you exhale; repeat this three times. Hold this stretch at the end range of motion for 45 seconds, then switch sides.
This targets the hips, back, and ankles. Start from a table top position with hands and knees on the floor. Touch your big toes together, then sit back into your heels while outstretching your arms. Push your knees out and try to get your upper body as close to the ground as possible using deep inhales and exhales. Do this stretch for 60 seconds.