Having Trouble Sleeping? Use These Stretches to Power Down
After a long day, I find it frustrating to be unable to sleep when I feel exhausted. I know proper rest prepares me to tackle another day, but the awareness that I’m not sleeping then becomes another voice in my head keeping me awake.
Our bodies, after so many years of figurative and literal running, can lose a connection to their natural circadian rhythms. Artificial lights inhibit our ability to create melatonin. Our anxiety runs rampant as we cycle through “what if” scenarios. Even having a phone at our bedside can be a deterrent to sleep.
If counting sheep isn’t doing the trick, you might try night-time yoga. If you’ve practiced yoga before, you may be accustomed to “sun salutations” that wake us up in the morning with the sunrise, warming all parts of the body and preparing us for the day. But there are also “moon salutations” that help us wind down and embrace rest.
Here are some prompts to walk you through this practice:
1) Begin standing at the side of your bed, lifting your toes and then heels to find all the corners of your feet, and ground yourself down into the floor.
2) Inhale and slowly sweep your hands up high and bring your palms to gently meet above your head. Close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths. As you exhale, lower your hands to your chest.
3) Set an intention, framed by the ultimate goal of a beautiful night’s sleep. Try:
I am calm, I am peaceful, I will sleep well tonight.
I deserve rest after a wonderful/challenging day.
I offer my body the gift of rest.
Let your intention be compassionate — be kind with your weary self. When you struggle to fall asleep, turn your mind back to your intention. Set your worries aside for now and replace them with stillness.
4) Inhale, take your hands back up above your head with palms touching and bend to the right. Keeping your feet firmly grounded, make a slight half-moon shape with your body.
Take a couple rounds of long deep breaths here. As you exhale, rise back up to your center.
5) Inhale, bend to the left, carving out a balance on both sides of your body.
Exhale, rise back up to center.
6) Take a large side-step out, bringing your legs into a wide V shape. Open your arms out to each side, bending at the elbows at 90 degrees. Sink your hips slightly lower to engage your core with a straight back and breathe.
Let your long slow breaths glide through your body, let calmness wash over you. Revisit your intention as you stay here for three breaths.
7) Release and climb into bed to lie down on your back. Enjoy the support of your bed on your back, setting your pillows aside so your head rests on the mattress.
8) Inhale and raise your hands straight up in front of you. Slowly wring your wrists in little circles.
9) Exhale and bring your hands to rest on your heart and your stomach. Come back to your steady deep breaths — in and out — lengthening your body.
10) Keeping calmness at the forefront of your thoughts, guide your knees into your chest, wrapping your hands around your shins. Take a round of breath here.
11) Using your hands, guide both knees to stack on the right side of your body. If your neck allows it, look to the left. If you want to go deeper, reach your left arm to the side, staying even with your shoulder. Take 5 long breaths here, and let quietness sweep over you as you twist.
12) Inhale, bring your knees back to your center, and switch. The knees fall to the left side, your gaze to the right with the option for your right arm to go long. Take 5 breaths.
13) Bring your knees back to center and give yourself a gentle squeeze. Thank yourself for taking the time to prepare for bed and the rest you deserve. Revisit your intention.
14) Send your legs back down, stay on your back, and bring both hands to your forehead. Gently massage your face — starting at your hairline all the way down to your chin, noting your eyebrows, cheek bones, lips. Allow your whole face to relax as you do this. Give your mind the space it needs to let your day go. Stay here for as long as you would like.
15) From here, place your hands on your heart and your belly. Listen — really listen — to your body as you lie there. Allow the beautiful orchestra of your heartbeat and breathing to lull you to sleep.
16) Give yourself permission to fall asleep.
In the days that come, embrace a nightly routine of self-care — routine can help your body prepare to wind down at the end of the day too. Take the time you need and deserve to care for yourself. Carve out your own spaces of rest.