Monday, July 23, 2018

Top 4 Stretches for Better Sleep

Quality sleep is something we often don’t think about until we’re feeling the physical symptoms of sleep deprivation. Sleeping is often underrated, and it’s no surprise that the majority of Americans don’t get enough of it. Various studies show that around 41 percent of the U.S. population needs to sleep longer; and for a good reason, too. It turns out that sleep deprivation is highly correlated with higher rates of obesity and mortality. Turning to high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods like candy and energy drinks to get through the day is common among people who don’t get enough sleep. Although these foods spike energy temporarily, the high sugar content makes it harder to get to sleep at night.

Because your brain and body need sleep to recharge and restore themselves from the cumulative stress that your daily activities place on them, it’s important to take proactive steps to manage your sleeping habits and maintain control of your overall health. Learning techniques for sleeping better is a good place to start.

If you have trouble sleeping at night, you’re not alone. In fact, with so many distractions nowadays, it can be hard to reconcile sleep with our minds' over-stimulation. And being tense due to our busy lives has become the new norm, making matters worse.

Fortunately, one of the most effective ways to improve our sleep is through stretching. Either on its own or paired with exercise, stretching promotes blood circulation and soothes muscles from tension. Not only is it important that we regularly strength train our muscles, but stretching also helps keep our muscles flexible. Bear in mind, it's even more important for obese people to stretch consistently because their motion range is already limited.

Considering these implications, here we present you with four relaxing stretching techniques, which can be used to promote muscles health and prevent muscles from tightening or shortening. Most importantly, these stretches will help you unwind and get ready for a night of well-needed restorative sleep.

1. Standing Forward Fold      

This stretch will specifically target your back and neck, as well as increase blood flow to the back of your head. To begin, stand with your feet six inches apart from each other. From the hips, fold your torso forward. Reach toward the ground, or bend your arms and grab opposite elbows over your head. Exhale and lengthen down through the crown of your head. Hang and hold this pose for approximately 15 seconds. When you return to standing, do so very slowly; otherwise, you may become dizzy. Visualize stacking your vertebrae, starting at the base of your spine and working upward. Bring your head up last.

2. Happy Baby

A favorite among yoga practitioners of all levels, the happy baby pose is a motion for stretching and relieving tension from your back, hips and hamstrings. First, lie down on your back. Bend your knees and grab the outside edges of your feet with your hands. Next, raise the soles of your feet to the sky and let your knees fall out to the sides. Then lower your knees toward your armpits, keeping your heels above the knees with your feet flexed. Hold this pose for 15-25 seconds, gently rocking from side to side. Holding the happy baby pose may take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, this stretch will become a go-to for relieving stress.

3. Nighttime Goddess Stretch

For a calming exercise you can try as you're about to drift off to sleep, the aptly named nighttime goddess stretch is easy for anyone at any fitness level to do. To perform the nighttime goddess stretch, simply lie on your back with your arms at your side. Touch the soles of your feet together while keeping your knees bent outward. For additional stress relief, form your fingers into a calming mudra (relaxation movements done with the hands) by bending your thumb and middle finger together so that they form a circle. While in the nighttime goddess pose, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Try clearing your mind, or you can find audio recordings of guided meditations online.


4. Legs Up the Wall

This final stretch can be done while listening to music, meditating or reading a book. Legs up the wall is very easy to do and requires little physical effort. Find a spot on the floor where you can spread out comfortably. Walk your feet up the wall until your hamstrings stand flush against it. Hold this pose for 10-15 seconds. If you desire a deeper stretch, slowly spread your feet apart so your outstretched legs travel down the wall. This stretch targets your hamstrings, hips and inner thighs.

Do you have a favorite stretch to do for stress relief or relaxation? Tell us about it in the comments below!