A good night's sleep is one of the most important pillars of health, along with eating well and exercising. Getting enough sleep has a positive influence on so many aspects of our health and is proven to offset many physical illnesses, increase brain function and energy, and decrease inflammation and appetite. But for some, falling asleep can be a chore. The anxiety from the day has crunched up your shoulders and neck and your mind just can't shut off. Here's how you can let go of physical and mental strain for a peaceful night sleep.
Before any stretching, my first step to better sleep is to turn off your devices at least one hour before bedtime. Start with 30 minutes and work your way up if needed. This creates time for calming rituals like making a cup of hot tea, writing in a journal, reading a book, or practicing gentle restorative movements.
One of my favorite ways to release tension from the day and calm my nervous system is to do tension-relieving stretches. So much of what we do during the day is in a frontal motion and encourages skull forward, shoulders forward, and chest shortening. Doing a chest opening exercise before bed can help to offset your daily tension and also calm your nervous system.
How to open your chest and release your back
I use a large yoga bolster, but you can use a rolled-up towel if you don't have a bolster. Lay your spine over it with arms extended to the side, head resting comfortably. As you inhale, focus on broadening your collarbones, and as you exhale, allow your body to melt down over the bolster. This creates openness around your heart, often relieving tightness that can make sleeping less comfortable. I recommend staying in this posture anywhere from three to five minutes.
If you are looking for a more targeted release you can lay on your back on the floor and place a lacrosse ball or trigger point ball underneath tense spots on the back. Placing the ball on pressure points will help to release connective tissue and induce further relaxation.
Want to take it a step further? Add meditation.
I find the shape of this posture is extremely calming and is a great beginning to my nightly meditation practice. If you feel relaxed and supported in the posture you could consider staying in it even longer and putting on a guided meditation.
Meditation can mean different things to different people, but regardless of the technique you practice, it creates calm and self-connection. One of my favorite meditation practices is a gratitude and appreciation practice. Before bed I take a few deep breathes and think about three things I am grateful for and three things I appreciate about myself (this can be done on the bolster!)
It can be as easy as "I appreciate myself for getting into bed at 9pm instead of midnight." I find this practice helps me focus on my positive and content self rather than my negative and stressed self. If you wake up in the middle of the night and your brain starts dominating, go back to the meditation to quiet your brain, connect to yourself, and fall back to sleep.
Sleep is an essential part of self-care, and that's the most important care—and the way we can ensure that we can show up to be there for the other people in our lives!
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