Watch a baby or small child start to feel sleepy and they will naturally stretch and yawn. Babies, children and animals stretch their muscles before sleep and upon waking. For some reason, most adults seem to have lost this natural inclination that helps relax the body and prepare the mind for sleep.
How we live and look after ourselves during the day affects how well we sleep at night. Our level of fitness affects the quality of our sleep. Pain, discomfort and illness will all influence how easily we fall asleep. Poor diet, alcohol, too much caffeine and anxiety or depression will contribute towards insomnia and other sleep problems. Lack of sleep will cause fatigue during the day and may make you feel too tired to exercise and reliant on coffee and other stimulants to get through the day. This vicious circle is hard to break.
Flexibility is important to physical fitness. Many people overlook this as they try to improve their shape or increase strength and endurance. Maintaining flexibility is important as it helps protect joints and mobility. It also helps reduce stress and relax the mind and body. It encourages muscles to relax and the removal of toxins from the body. The benefits to the body and mind are visible in the prevention of injury, recovery from soreness after exercise and the feeling of relaxation and enjoyment.
Stretch to Sleep
Aerobic and heavy exercise should be taken during the day. Exercise is stimulating to the mind and body and interferes with the body’s need to calm down before sleep. Stretching helps the body relax tense muscles and bring warmth to the joints and surrounding tissues. It restores balance to the body after a day responding to the affects of gravity and other postural challenges.
Flexibility and Age
Flexibility is usually determined by adolescence and starts to diminish as part of the normal aging process after the age of 25. Stretching helps prevent tissue damage and the natural wear and tear around joints.
Stretching the Mind
Stretching is an ideal way to relax the body before sleep. Slow stretching combined with breathing techniques that help calm the mind, are an enjoyable way end the day.
Developing a Routine
Stretching is nature’s way of relieving tension. It requires little more than a desire to spend a few moments being aware of the body and its ability to lengthen and release.
A programme of stretches can be designed to take care of specific conditions such as arthritis and back pain. Yoga is an ideal way to learn how to create harmony between the mind and body. Most fitness classes will include stretching and there are books and CDs available that will show how stretching can be used to improve fitness.
Stretching for Sleep
Stretching before bed can be done safely lying down. This allows the body to stretch without the pull of gravity and the risk of injury.
- Start by lying down in a warm place – either on the floor or on a firm bed. Bend the knees and place the feet on the floor. Allow the back to relax and lengthen. When the back is comfortable stretch the legs away from the body. Stretch into the heels and lengthen the legs. Point and stretch each foot and try and separate the toes.
- Lengthen the arms towards the feet and feel the shoulder blades move towards the waist. Stretch into fingers and feel energy move throughout the body.
- Raise the arms towards the ceiling reaching as high as possible. Slowly lower the arms behind the head and rest them on the floor.
- Stretch all along the right side of the body from the little finger through to the right heel. Feel the body lengthen and the movement in the hips and shoulder.
- Repeat on the left side.
- Stretch both sides equally.
- Screw up all the muscles in the face. Then the right side and the left. Make a ‘silent scream’ by opening the mouth and eyes as wide as possible.
- Return by inhaling and drawing the arms back by the side.
- Exhale and relax all the muscles in the face and the body. Spend a few moments in this position and allow the breath to slow down and the mind to relax.
Stretching in the morning helps lengthen the body and improve circulation.
Carefully get out of bed and stand with the feet comfortably apart. Plant the feet into the floor and lift the arms to the ceiling. Look to the ceiling and lift the chest on an inhalation. Alternatively stretch both sides of the body before opening the arms to the side on an inhalation. Release the arms to the side and bend the knees. Release the head towards the chest and allow the shoulders and upper back to release forward. Unroll and straighten the legs.
You are ready to face the day – and the night!