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Stretching Before Bed

Stretching before bed is a natural way to support better sleep. Connecting your body to your breath is one of the best ways to tune out from the stresses of your day and relax. Gentle stretches help relieve muscle tension and support a mindful awareness of your body and your breath.

Mindful awareness is known to improve the quality of sleep. Getting your body into a peaceful state before bedtime helps promote a more restful night in bed. Relieving muscle tightness and soreness can also prevent painful sleep interruptions, like cramps.

Why You Should Stretch Before Bed

Connecting your body to your breath is one of the best ways to tune out from the stresses of your day and relax. Gentle stretches help relieve muscle tension and support a mindful awareness of your body with your breath. That mindful awareness is known to improve not only the quality of sleep itself but any daytime disturbances that are a result of its loss. That said, getting your body into a peaceful state before bedtime helps promote a more restful night in bed. Relieving muscle tightness and soreness can also prevent painful sleep interruptions, like cramps.

Whatever stretches you choose, it’s important that they are gentle. Tai chi and some types of yoga are both great approaches to bedtime stretching. Any type of rigorous exercise before bed may stimulate your body and make it harder to fall asleep.

Bedtime stretches are beneficial to people of all ages. They can help children learn the benefits of mindfulness at an early age and wind down from an active day. Stretching before bed can help an adult focus his or her mind from a busy day of work, family needs, and daily stressors.

Humans lose flexibility as they age, so bedtime stretching is a great way for the elderly to release body tension and increase flexibility. Stretching improves mobility, can relieve joint pain and can address balance issues, all of which can prevent injury for the elderly.

There are many different stretches that are restorative and can support a great night’s sleep. Gentle hip openers can help relieve stress and discomfort from sitting at a desk during the day. Hamstring stretches can not only loosen your legs but also relieve tension in the lower back. Shoulder openers can help relieve tension in the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

It’s important to address any pre-existing injuries before creating a bedtime stretching routine. Make sure you consult a doctor or physical therapist if you have any pre-existing conditions that may be worsened by stretching before bed.

This guide will address the best stretches to do before bed for different groups of people and to address different types of mental and physical stresses. All recommendations are made to support a better night’s sleep.

Stretches

Stretches for Adults

No matter if you’re an adult professional athlete, a class junkie, or simply looking for a way to unwind after eight hard hours in the office, almost any adult can benefit from stretching before bed. The great thing is that you don’t need more than 10 minutes to achieve mind and body relaxation that will help you nod off to a great night’s sleep.

The three main target areas for the adult body are hips, shoulders, and feet. Tension can be held in our neck and shoulders and as a result of working in a desk environment. The same can be said for the hip and glutes area, which spend much of their modern days either crunched up in a chair or taught from standing on the job.

When it comes to stretching before bed, remember that easy does it. All stretches should be gentle and relaxing. Each exercise should be based upon mindful, slow, deep breaths.

Three helpful stretches before bed for adults are:

Neck and Shoulders

Your neck and shoulders can store stress and stiffen throughout the day. Loosening them up before sleep is a great way to avoid injuring your neck when you sleep. Neck and shoulder stretches are relaxing and can help you unwind before bed.

Here is how to do a two-step neck and shoulders stretch before bed:

Shoulder Rolls
  1. Stand straight, preferably in front of a mirror.
  2. Lift your shoulders up, and rotate them backward 10 times.
  3. Pause when you are done and shake out your arms.
  4. Repeat, rotating your shoulders forward.
Neck Stretches
  1. Stand, or sit in a comfortable chair.
  2. Take your right hand over the top of your head to, or towards, your left ear.
  3. Gently bring your right ear towards your right shoulder.
  4. Breathe deeply, at least five times.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.

Foot Flexor

Your feet work hard every day to support your life. Stretching them before bed can help you feel better, relax and improve your balance.

Here is how to do a quick foot flexor stretch:

  1. Lie on your back. Bend your right knee and place your right foot flat on the floor.
  2. Starting from your hip socket, mindfully extend your left leg and place it along the floor. Flex your foot so your toes point toward the ceiling.
  3. Raise your left leg. You can loop a strap or resistance band around the bottom of your foot, or cup the back of your thigh with both of your hands.
  4. When your leg is vertical in the air, flex and point your foot back and forth seven times. You should feel a stretch in several places, including your left hamstring, your left foot, left ankle, left calf muscle, and your right quads.
  5. Switch legs and repeat.

Low Lunge/Runner’s Lunge

Hips are a notoriously tight body part. That tightness is connected to many areas that surround it, so it’s important to release that stress. Tight hips are often connected to tight hamstrings, and tight hamstrings can strain your lower back. Your hips and pelvic area are a target for strain, wear, and tear throughout the day, both for people who stand and sit all day at work.

The low lunge to runner’s lunge progression is an easy way to target the hips, hip flexors, groin, glutes, and lower back in one flow. It can also work as a chest opener too. Remember to breathe deeply.
Here is how to do the low lunge/runner’s lunge progression:

Low Lunge
  1. Come into a low lunge position. Align your right foot below your right knee
  2. Extended your left leg back, keeping your knee on the floor.
  3. Bring your hands to the floor beneath your shoulders, on your knees, or up toward the ceiling.
  4. If your arms are in a vertical position towards the ceiling, you can opt for a chest opener by putting your arms in a cactus position and pulling your elbows back slightly.
  5. Breathe deeply. Focus on lengthening your spine, pulling gently at your left hip flexor and right glute, right hip, and opening your chest.
  6. Hold this pose for five breaths.
Runner’s Lunge
  1. Keep your legs in place from the low lunge, but shift your weight off your front body and right foot towards your back left leg and right hip.
  2. Arch your back as you hinge your body back over your haunches and left foot.
  3. Relax your arms you shift your weight backwards and stretch them forward over your now extended right leg.
  4. Stretch your body forward over your extended right leg for five breaths.
  5. Feel the stretch in your right glute and along your back.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.

Stretches for the Elderly

Getting a good night’s rest is important for the elderly. When it comes to stretching before bed, the elderly should address issues such as stiffness and balance in a way that is gentle, focused, and poses no risk for injury. Here are a few options for stretches for the elderly before bed.

Spinal Twist in Bed

This is an easy stretch that can stretch your lower back and also stretch your glutes. You will feel your spine lengthen and twist. It can be done in bed too, which makes transitioning to sleep easy.

Here is how to do a spinal twist in bed:

  1. Lie on your back, preferably in the center of your bed.
  2. Bend both of your knees and pull them up towards your chest, and then gently let them fall over towards the left, as far as is comfortable.
  3. To make the stretch more intense, you can allow your knees to hang down even further, possibly down past the edge of the bed.
  4. Extend your arms in T position, or in cactus arms, and gaze to the right.
  5. Breathe deeply and hold the stretch for 10 seconds.
  6. Engage your abs to bring your knees back up and to the center.
  7. Switch sides, and repeat as needed.

Standing Side Reach

Side reaches are a relatively easy and safe stretch that can relieve pressure in the arms, side body, and hips. They also help promote balance and flexibility.

Here is how to perform this stretch:

  1. With your feet spaced slightly wider than hip-width apart, stand with your a slight bend to your knees. You can also sit on a comfortable chair.
  2. Extend your left arm upwards and then out toward the left side while shifting your weight to your left leg.
  3. Continue to extend your arm towards the side until you feel a stretch on your side.
  4. To intensify the stretch, reach your arms until you can feel the stretch in your hip.
  5. Hold for three deep breaths, then return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the stretch with your right arm.
  7. Do two rounds of three sets per side.

Foot Massage for Relaxation and Balance

Over time, you can develop painful bunions, and issues with your arches, or toes. Moreover, your feet have nerves in your ankles and at the bottom of your feet, called proprioceptor nerves, that help you with balance and spatial awareness.

This quick massage will further stretch your feet and gently activate your proprioceptor nerves. Quick attention to the soles of your feet not only feels good and is relaxing, but it can help support a better balanced following day.

Here is how you do this stretch and massage:

  1. Sit up in a chair, or sit on a cushion cross-legged.
  2. Lift one foot across your lap and gently massage its bottom.
  3. Place your fingers in between your toes, stretching your toes widely.
  4. Gently rotate that foot from the ankle, with your toes stretch wide.
  5. Let go of your ankle, shake out your foot and give your foot a gentle massage.
  6. Switch feet and repeat.

Stretches for Children

Stretching before bed with children should be fun and simple. Children can learn mindfulness practices at an early age, and carry that knowledge with them for the rest of their life. While stretches with children should be fun, it’s important to keep them calming and not exhilarating. Here are three poses to do with children before bedtime that are equally beneficial for adults.

Reclined Butterfly Pose

This pose opens the hips and stretches the thighs and hip flexors. It is mentally and physically calming stretch to do before bed, because it turns the focus of the mind inward.

Here is how reclined butterfly pose is done:

  1. Begin sitting on the floor, legs extended.
  2. Bring the soles of the feet together with the knees out to the side, making a diamond shape with the legs.
  3. Slowly, and with intention, curl back to lay back on the floor.
  4. Place your hands on your hips.
  5. Stay for five breaths.
  6. To come out, roll onto your side and use your hands to help you come back up to sitting.

Child’s Pose

This restorative pose has the perfect name for children. It stretches the lower back, hips, thighs, and arms.  It also calms the central nervous system and relieves mental and physical tension.

Here is how to do child’s pose:

  1. Stand on your hands and knees.
  2. Gently shift your weight back so that the buttocks are behind the feet.
  3. Stretch the arms long in front of the body.
  4. Put the forehead down on the ground.
  5. Close your eyes and breathe three, deep breaths.

Cat/Cow

This stretch is a relaxing way to stretch the neck, spine, arms, and hips. It’s simple and fun, and kids (and adults) can add a silly face to the cow pose as their heads come up.

Here’s how to do the cat/cow stretch:

Cat
  1. Stand on your hands and knees with your spine in a neutral position.
  2. Slowly arch the back as the head falls down and between the shoulders.
  3. Continue to arch the back as the shoulders, arms, and hips stretch towards the ground.
  4. Take three breaths.
  5. Return the spine back to neutral.
Cow
  1. Slowly roll the shoulders up and back, creating a scoop in the spine.
  2. As the spine scoops, the neck and head come up, stretching the front of the neck.
  3. Take three breaths.
  4. Kids can open their eyes wide and stick out their tongue in this pose. Known as lion pose in yoga, it’s silly and fun, but also stretches out the throat, face, and tongue.

Stretches for Lower Back Pain

One of the best ways to address lower back pain is to target the hips and glutes. A stretch that gives both a backstretch and hips/glute stretch is the fold-over stretch. It’s called pigeon pose in yoga. It’s great to do after a few cat/cow rotations, once your spine is a little looser, too.

Here is how the fold-over stretch is done:

  1. Start on all fours, or in a plank position.
  2. Drop your left leg behind you and bend your right leg in front of you.
  3. Slowly reach your hands forward, dropping your chest to the floor.
  4. Use a pillow or bolster for your head for a gentler stretch.
  5. Breathe deeply for five breaths. You should feel stretches in your right glute, left hip flexor, and along your back and shoulders.
  6. Switch sides and repeat.

Another great stretch to do before bed that releases lower back pressure is the wall hamstring stretch. Here is how it’s done:

  1. Sit alongside a wall, with your hip and shoulders as close to the wall as possible.
  2. Swivel your seat towards the wall as you pull your legs up and place them along the wall.
  3. Drop your arms by your side.
  4. You can support sacrum with a block, pillow or bolster if you are feeling especially stuck.
  5. Breathe deeply. This stretch relieves pressure in the lower back and also reverses the blood flow in your legs, which is great for people who sit or stand all day at work.

Stretches for Mental Stress

Focusing the mind on your breath is one of the most effective ways to let go of a stressful day. Balancing poses are helpful with this process and can help your mind unwind and get ready for rest. Tree pose is an effective mind balancing pose, and it helps with balance as well as stretches your arms.

Here is how tree pose is done:

  1. Stand on a flat surface, and roll back your shoulders to straighten your posture.
  2. Take a deep breath as you put your hand either on your hips or in prayer position in front of your sternum.
  3. Lift your left leg as you focus on a stable point in the distance in front of you with your eyes.
  4. Bend your leg and place the sole of your foot either on your ankle, calf, or thigh. Be careful not to place the foot on the knee, as that can cause pain and damage to your joints.
  5. Take a deep breath and raise your arms in the air, at 45-degree angles.
  6. Take three long breaths, keeping as stable as possible on your right foot. Close your eyes to make the stretch more mentally focused.
  7. Lower your leg to a standing position.
  8. Switch legs and repeat.

Another stretch before bed that can help your mind unwind is Savasana pose. While it’s not exactly a stretch, it’s a vital step into letting your mind empty and bring your focus to the present. Depending on how tight your lower back and hips are, it can serve as a gentle stretch along the spine and sacrum.

Here is how to do Savasana pose:

  1. Lay on a flat surface, preferably in a silent and dark room.
  2. Spread your legs and arms wide enough away from your body so they do not touch one another or your trunk.
  3. Close your eyes and focus your mind on letting go and being present.
  4. Take 10 deep breaths.

Products to Help You Stretch and Relax Before Bed

There are a few products to help you stretch safely and more easily. The more you stretch the more flexible you will become. But props can help you protect your knees, make an intense pose more restorative, or help you achieve better form as you continue along your stretching journey. Some of the most useful products to help you stretch before bed are listed below.

Bolster

bolster pillowYoga bolsters are cushions that are designed for restorative stretching. They are the length of an average human’s spine and have enough resistance in their filling to be supportive but also comfortable. They have straps at their ends, which makes them safe and easy to carry.

Just placing a bolster with its short end at your tailbone along the floor and laying along it is a wonderful and easy pre-bedtime stretch. They are great aids for stretching for the elderly, as they make stretches more gentle and supportive.

Yoga Mat

yoga matA yoga mat is a good addition to your stretching before bed routine for a few reasons. A yoga mat offers a sticky surface that will ensure you don’t slip. It useful as padding below joints that may be tender, and can easily be folded to provide padding as needed.

Introducing a yoga mat to stretching with children is a great way to create a designated space for the activity that will help the child focus their mind on stretching. Mats can also be rolled up to provide added support and used as a cushion upon which to sit. Yoga mats come in many different thicknesses and sizes.

Resistance Band or Strapresistance band

A resistance band, or yoga strap, is a great tool for stretching before bed. It creates extra length between your hands and feet when doing stretches, making your body more aligned and the stretch more beneficial. If you are stiff and try to do a stretch that is hard for your body at its current flexibility level, the stretch can end up being out of alignment, or simply out of reach.

Final Thoughts on Stretching Before Bed

Stretching before bed is a great practice for people of all ages and levels of health. While it’s important not to overuse areas of your body that may be injured, there is very little risk to stretching before bed and the benefits are endless. Stretching improves flexibility and mobility. It promotes concentration, supports balance, and can help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.

Stretching goes hand in hand with mindful, deep breathing. Deep breathing is known to be beneficial to not only relax the mind and body, but is a tool that can be helpful during the day when stressors trigger. The process of taking ten minutes out of your day before bed to stretch, breathe, and relax gets your body ready for a more fruitful night’s sleep. Stretching before bed also prepares you for a better balanced next day.

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