Anyone else not sleeping, like, at all right now? Yeah, you’re not alone. Between the stress and fear that so many of us are feeling and the complete blow to our usual routines, a lot of us are losing sleep. We can’t fix everything keeping you up at night, but we can offer one thing that might help ease the transition from your days to your nights (especially if your current bedtime routine consists of just changing out of your day pj’s into your night pj’s). Hopefully this short bedtime stretch series can be a calming transition that helps you get ready for bed and leave the stress of the day behind.
“Static stretching is an ideal way to unwind and de-stress after a long day,” registered yoga teacher Jessica Matthews, doctor of behavioral health, assistant professor of kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and author of Stretching to Stay Young, tells SELF.
With static stretching, she explains, your muscle is stretched to the point of mild tension or discomfort, and then held without movement for an extended period of time, usually about 30 seconds (or longer if it feels good). While static stretching isn’t the safest way to prep your body for your actual workout—as we reported previously, research suggests that it may have a negative impact on muscle strength and inhibit explosive movements (like jumping and sprinting)—it’s super helpful for relaxing your mind and body.
That’s because the slow, purposeful movement provides the perfect opportunity to breathe slowly and focus on your breath, Matthews says.
“Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing in and out through the nose allows for enhanced relaxation, as this type of mindful breathing elicits the relaxation response,” says Matthews. Our bodies’ relaxation response helps counter the physiological effects of stress by decreasing its hallmark symptoms, like high blood pressure, muscle tension, and high respiration rate, she adds.
In the long-term, rituals like nightly bedtime stretches and regular meditation can also be great for managing stress and all of the potential health consequences that come along with it.
“Performing the yoga-inspired stretches below along with mindful breathing provides an opportunity for both the mind and body to relax in order to set the stage for a restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep,” says Matthews. Think of it as a moving meditation.
On that note, your breath does play an important role in how relaxing these stretches will be—consider it your guide for stretch intensity. “If at any point you find that you are restricting or holding your breath when performing a stretch, use that as a cue to reduce the intensity of the stretch to the point where you can once again breathe naturally and freely,” Matthews says.
Oh, and you might want to add a hot bath or shower before your stretching regimen, she suggests. Not only will it seriously up the relaxation factor, but it’s safer and more effective to stretch muscles that are a little warm, she says.
By taking the time—just five minutes!—to do these bedtime stretches and wind down before you go to sleep, you may find it’s a bit easier to let go of the stress of the day and drift off to dreamland.
Demoing the moves are Caitlyn Seitz (GIFs 1 and 2), a New York–based group fitness instructor and singer/songwriter; Shanna Tyler (GIFs 3 and 5), a New York–based yoga instructor; and Charlee Atkins (GIF 4), a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist.