Rolling Into Deep Sleep: How to Become a ‘Supple Leopard”

Tara Youngblood Jun 28, 2021

How to become a supple leopard

Are you looking for stretches to help you sleep or just curious about how to improve your sleep?

Did you know that a stretching routine -- even simple morning stretches or stretching before bed -- can enhance your overall well-being?

Yes, that’s correct. Stretching and relaxation exercises can transform your life! And best of all, they’re FREE! No fancy gym membership is required, no home gym setup, and no special training equipment. Learning to enhance your natural mobility is something you’re born with, and in this article, we’re going to share just how simple it can be to improve your mobility and system of movement.

Ready to get started? Great!

What is the Supple Leopard?

First, let’s quickly define what we’re talking about when we refer to being a supple leopard. Becoming a supple leopard is a revolutionary approach to mobility and maintenance of the human body. The idea was started by Dr. Kelly Starrett, a human performance and coaching expert. Dr. Starrett teaches a system of movement and mobility in his books, videos, and comprehensive guides.

Essentially, they’re mobility tips to hack your own movement, allowing you to live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Think about it: leopards are naturally supple. Humans, not so much! But that doesn’t mean we can’t work to have the full range of proper motion to perform better physically, which can help us sleep better, too. It can be as simple as learning to do some stretching before going to bed!

The amount of restful sleep you get is critical because good sleep can increase your productivity, aid weight loss, prevent disease, and enhance cognitive thinking.

If you’re struggling to achieve deep sleep, start by setting the stage hours before bedtime. The National Institute of Health points out that a chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of disorders, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

Let’s explore the origin of this metaphor and how you can apply some mobilization techniques to help improve how you feel.

Supple Leopard Facts

WHO:

Becoming a Supple Leopard is a book written by Kelly Starrett, a doctor of physical therapy and CrossFit coach. Dr. Starrett teaches how to become a “supple leopard” -- essentially a system of movement and mobility -- in his books, videos, and comprehensive guides on his well-researched website, The Ready State.

WHAT:

Mobility, and the ability to move correctly in every situation, are vital. As humans, we need the tools to diagnose problems and movements to correct the problem.

WHEN:

Poor mobility doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, most of us have years of poor posture and soft tissue damage -- tight, wrought with injury, slumping while texting, and many other bad habits that lead to tightness and a host of other mobility issues over time.

WHERE:

Dr. Starrett is known for breaking the body down into 14 distinct areas for demonstrating and teaching hundreds of mobilization techniques to resolve restrictions and reclaim mobility.

WHY:

Leopards are naturally supple. Humans, eh, not so much! But that doesn’t mean we can’t work to have the full range of proper motion to perform better physically. It can be as simple as learning to do some stretching before going to bed!

Supple Leopard Stretching Routine: Day and Night

Remember when we discussed how leopards are naturally supple and stretch all the time? You too can learn to incorporate stretching throughout the day and into the night.

Poor mobility doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, most of us have years of poor posture and soft tissue damage -- tight, wrought with injury, slumping while texting, and many other bad habits that over time, lead to tightness and a host of other mobility issues.

Just think of what would happen long-term if you started to think of every moment in your life as physical training and movement practice. You’d certainly become a lot stronger mentally and physically. Your sleep quality would naturally improve as well.

1. Before Bed, Try the Couch Stretch

It’s a great practice to learn to do some slow movements in the evening. Start with soft-tissue mobility work an hour before bed, which is enough to make you feel more relaxed.

Here’s a simple stretch you can try tonight.

Couch Stretch

Try the couch stretch for the last 4-5 minutes before you move to the bedroom. It’s two minutes per side -- the idea is to get your torso as vertical as you can, maintaining the integrity of your breath, and keeping your glutes squeezed on the leg that’s on your wall.

2. Focus on Your Breathing Before You Sleep

When you’re already in bed, remember that an equally important component to unwinding is your breathing.

Dr. Starrett points out that if you can integrate your breathing, and change it to match a more parasympathetic down-regulation pattern, you'll improve how well you stay asleep.

Exercise #1:

Slowly breathe in for 4 seconds, contract and build some tension, and then exhale for 8 seconds.

Another lesson he shares is about diaphragm mechanics as it relates to improving how you breathe and how you sleep. Think of this next stretch as self-massage.

Exercise #2:

Grab a squishy or softball. Spend 10 minutes “gut smashing,” which is literally rolling your abdomen over the ball. This impacts the nervous system, which can improve how you sleep. When your diaphragm’s muscles relax, you will naturally start to feel sleepier.

3. Sleep On Your Side to Improve Your Health

sleeping-leopard.jpeg Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, A Sleeping Leopard, George Stubbs, 1791

The last tip is learning to sleep on your side. Side sleeping has been shown to boost your cognitive abilities and is simply better for many reasons, including your breath.

Dr. Starrett suggests that a side-sleeping position “allows a neutral spine, shoulder girdle, and hip/lower back, all the while giving you nature's own chiropractic manipulation of the spine and ribcage -- your breath. With every breath you take in this position, you are rhythmically massaging your vertebrae.”

He adds that he’s seen people who gave side sleeping another chance reverse years of tightness and adhesion, shoulder pain, pinched nerves, etc.

Honor Your Body, Day and Night

Now you know the benefits of stretching and are quickly learning how to become more like a supple leopard.

At the very least, you’re on the way to getting off the freight train of Red Bull, coffee, and answering emails late into the night!

But don’t forget about incorporating a stretching routine after you wake up, too. What does your morning routine look like? Whether it’s taking time for a full yoga “sun salutation” and honoring the ancient sequence of movements, or just squeezing in a quick 5-minute arm and backstretch before driving to work, movement matters. Take time to honor your body, every day and every night.

Mobility to Improve Your Sleep

Keep it simple. A relaxing full-body stretch is what you were born to do! Remember, just about every animal in nature stretches before moving, whether it’s after waking up from a full night’s sleep or after simply laying around.

Improving your mobility will help reduce pain, and stretching for relaxation before bed will lead to better sleep. Check out recent news stories and interviews about this topic:

Mobility!

Dr. Kelly Starrett is featured in this Popular Science article, which explains that one of the most important things to know is that your body is fully interconnected: Stretching is not the key to moving better.

Movement!

Debilitating neck and back pain led this man to a physical therapist, where he finally had an “aha!” moment when he learned that maybe more movement, not less, was what he needed to heal: Waylon Richter: Injured and Bed Ridden to Squatting 405 Pounds, Coaching CrossFit.

Training!

In an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, Starrett and Ferriss talked about the habits, strategies, and training of top CrossFit athletes. This is an excerpt of their conversation, edited by Outside magazine: The Training Secrets of a Top CrossFit Coach.

Remember, as a busy human in a rat-race world, you’re not to blame. It’s just that you may be “less practiced” at winding down. But you’re already re-learning new and much healthier behaviors because you're here.

Take a look at what you’re doing an hour or two before going to sleep.

Wind down. Deep breath. Exhale.

The day is coming to an end.

It’s time to focus on some new mobility habits that can improve your sleep.

Sweet dreams, supple leopard.

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