Tara Youngblood • Jun 28, 2021
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 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!
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, 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, 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.
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.
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.
During the last 4-5 minutes before you move to the bedroom, try the couch stretch. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The last tip is learning to sleep on your side. Side sleeping has been shown to boost your cognitive abilities and it’s simply better for a range of 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.
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.
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 because you’re here, you’re already re-learning new and much healthier behaviors.
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.