There are a hundred reasons why any one of us may struggle to sleep, and there are nearly as many remedies to match. Without wanting to sound like a snake oil salesperson, I have found one small change that all of us could make, that truly works: a short stretch before bed.
Studies have shown that low level physical activity and meditation practice that use gentle stretching like yoga or tai chi, can help with sleep quality. And while it is good to stretch at anytime of day, establishing a gentle and quiet routine before bed can help send a signal to the brain that it is now time for sleep.
Best of all, stretching doesn’t require money. There are plenty of exercise and stretching apps you could buy or subscribe to that will have routines you can follow. I have found that the subscription-based apps Sweat and Centr have good, short routines (under 10 minutes) with clear instructions to improve your form. But we’re post lockdowns now and there is a veritable platoon of personal trainers and yoga instructors on YouTube who have been giving away their classes for free to people stuck at home. Yoga with Adriene is the best known, with a huge library of videos available, but I also enjoy Zanna van Dijk’s relaxed and low-key stretches. There are plenty of others that offer routines specifically aimed at bedtime too.
If you’d rather perfect your technique in person, you can also find free yoga and tai chi lessons in your local community – most of Australia’s major cities offer some in parks or public areas like Melbourne’s Federation Square – and take those lessons home.
What works for you will depend on your current physical state. I am a 30-year-old who hunches over her computer for too many hours a day, and I have been to yoga classes with women in their 80s who could do a cartwheel over my poor, suffering body. But if you struggle with mobility, there are things like chair yoga to try.
So clearly I’m no expert, but I have been stretching right before bed since the pandemic began and have found that I always sleep better on the nights that I do it. Whatever your ability, the key is to start gently and work your way up – because the best thing about stretching is that you see great returns quite quickly, as long as you do it routinely. And how better to establish a routine than doing your stretches just before something you do every day? Sleep well.