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Whether we like it or not, we all need to sleep.
Yet, for some of us, sleep feels like a chore or burden. Something that should be easy, natural, and pleasant can become a source of stress and frustration. Fortunately, there are things we can do to make it easier for our bodies and minds to drift off, including certain exercises.
So what effective exercises can we perform before bedtime to help us fall asleep? Or even better, what are the 5 best activities we can do before going to sleep to help us achieve better sleep? And why does it matter?
Why is lousy sleep so bad for us?
Scientists have been fascinated by sleep for ages. While the meaning of our dreams is still an enigma, scientists have concluded what price the human body pays when we do not sleep enough.
People who regularly do not get enough sleep may struggle with issues such as:
Getting ill more often
- Gaining weight
- Increasing the risk of getting serious health problems, including diabetes and heart diseases
- Increased stress levels
- Change in mood
- Decreased performance at work or school
Do any of these sound familiar?
Which exercises can I do to improve my sleep?
If knowing the extent to which bad sleep can impact your wellbeing makes you nervous and makes it even harder to fall asleep, you are not alone. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make it better.
We have found and tested 5 simple exercises you can do before bedtime that will hopefully help you sleep well and reap the benefits of a restful night.
1. Stretching for rejuvenation
Stretching is a straightforward and low effort exercise you can do in the evening to help your body relax, making it significantly easier to fall asleep.
Sleeping allows the body to rest and rejuvenate, and by stretching you can help the body achieve this goal. A few simple stretches before going to bed may also help avoid sleep-related pains.
If you wake up from spasms, feel very stiff when you wake up or suffer from restless leg syndrome, stretching may provide a much needed relief that will make it easier to fall and stay asleep.
Even the simplest stretching exercises can help, and as they do not require any special equipment or high fitness levels, they can easily be added to your routine today.
2. Yoga for better sleep quality
Yoga, a practice that originated in ancient India, is a popular way of staying fit. Most cities have yoga studios, and many video tutorials can be found online.
According to some research, there may be a direct correlation between the amount of yoga practiced and overall sleep quality.
Yoga is a form of physical activity that is supposed to strengthen and stretch the body, as well as bring the body, mind and soul together. This makes yoga one of the best physical exercises for people who struggle with sleep. Especially if the struggle is related to stress, anxiety and the inability to simply "switch off".
Yet, not all yoga is recommended right before going to bed. High-intensity yoga exercises (such as HIIT yoga) might benefit your health and fitness levels altogether, but just like aerobics, they might make it harder to fall asleep when done just before going to bed.
It is also crucial to remember yoga only works when done correctly. If you have never tried yoga, consider joining a class where a professional, trained instructor can help you fix any mistakes you might be making and avoid injuries.
3. Breathing exercises for falling asleep quickly
Are you looking for exercises to do while in bed? Or even better, exercises you can perform in the middle of the night without even opening your eyes? Well then breathing exercises might become your new best friend.
You can try many breathing exercises, including those incorporated in various meditation practices. If you are using a popular meditation app, such as Calm or Headspace, you know how big of a part conscious breathing plays in meditation practice.
When it comes to breathing and sleep, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is the one that has been getting a lot of attention lately.
This simple breathing exercise is said to be able to help you drift into dreamland in as little as 60 seconds!
Dr Andrew Weil, who invented the technique, drew inspiration from ancient medicinal practices and meditation techniques. This particular breathing exercise goes as follows:
Lay in bed and try to relax as many muscles in your body as possible
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds
For many, repeating this four times is enough to switch off and drift off. But do not get discouraged if you do not see the results right away. Dr Weil clarifies that it might take longer than 60 seconds when you do it for the first time, but practice makes perfect.
4. Walking for better sleep
We know putting your shoes on and leaving your apartment might be the last thing you want to do after dinner. But taking a short stroll around the block will benefit your sleep a lot more than watching Netflix or glaring at your phone.
Walking is also an excellent solution for those who do not enjoy exercises with instructions, such as yoga or stretching. Additionally, fresh air has also been linked with better sleep quality, providing yet another convincing reason to get up from the sofa and fit in an evening stroll.
If this is simply unimaginable, then make sure to try and hit as many steps as possible throughout the day.
According to a study published in Sleep Health, even a few extra steps can result in better sleep. The correlation is so strong that the more steps study participants took over the course of a month, the higher their self-rated sleep quality was during that time.
5. Foam rolling for achy muscles
If we have to pick a sleep-promoting exercise that requires special equipment, it would be foam rolling.
A foam roller is a small tube that can be used to help relax muscles and ease any soreness felt at the end of a long day.
Using a foam roller before bed helps you relax your body more than your mind. The pressure points on the rollers, and the massage they provide, help your body get into a state that allows it to take more advantage of the rejuvenating properties of sleep.
First-time users may find the foam roller a bit unpleasant due to its hardness. Indeed, a lot of pressure is put on your muscles when using the roller properly. But those who manage to use it over a period of time can usually get past that feeling, and may even start to enjoy it. The big question is, will you?
Which bedtime exercise is the best?
When it comes to deciding which of the above exercises are the best, or which ones will be most helpful in making it easier for you to sleep well, there is no one clear answer.
The best exercise is the one that works for you. The chances are that if you try each of the above techniques, you will instantly know which ones are right for you.
We recommend using multiple techniques simultaneously to give you the best chances of achieving the desired results.
Do not pick just one exercise. Try them all, choose the ones you like, and combine them. The more helpers you have, the bigger your chances of getting a good night's sleep.