How to use exercise to help you sleep better
There’s a fine line when it comes to exercise and sleep.
Too much physical activity close to your bedtime can make it damn-near impossible to sleep. But time it right, and do the right workout, and you could get the best sleep of your life.
According to the Sleep Foundation, those who experience chronic insomnia and begin regular exercise can fall asleep up to 13 minutes faster and stay asleep for 18 minutes longer – which, accumulatively, can make a big difference.
So, how do you strike the right balance and use your fitness routine to enhance and improve your rest?
Firstly, you have to be sure to choose the right kind of exercise. Generally, if you’re aiming to improve your sleep, something slower and gentler is better.
‘Many of my students come to yoga to help improve sleep, whether that’s through more active practices or slower practices to help wind things down,’ says Becca Young Riboldi, yoga instructor at FLY LDN.
‘Exercise is brilliant for stress management and sleep; a more active class can help burn off excess stress and adrenaline, whilst a softer yoga practice can help prepare the body for a relaxing wind down from the day.’
Becca adds that timing is key. Working out too late can mess with your body’s sleep rhythm.
‘If you are doing a more active yoga practice or aerobic exercise, it is better to avoid doing these right before bed, with 90 minutes being the cut off,’ Becca tells Metro.co.uk. ‘If you are doing a wind-down practice, anytime in the evening is ok.
‘Before exercising, put away all tech and distractions. We spend most of our days looking at blue lights and these can be quite stimulating for our brains. Putting devices and distractions away helps us to focus inward and have more control over our nervous system, which is even more essential for pre-bedtime rituals.’
Becca suggests that you also take a moment to connect with your breath. Stretching is also a really important part of a sleep-focused workout.
‘Taking a few deep breaths before movement and then continuing this connection with the breath through the exercise can help us to calm the central nervous system and start to unwind,’ she adds.
‘A bit of gentle movement and stretching before bed can help clear out built up stagnation in the blood and muscles and help release any built up tension from the day. This is key to a comfortable deep sleep.’
Try this sleep-focused workout before bed
‘This soft wind-down routine will help to prepare the body for a good night’s sleep,’ says Becca. ‘Feel free to double these timings if you would like to make the practice a bit longer.’
Easy seat with shoulder rolls
Start in a cross-legged siting position and gently roll the shoulders up towards the ears and then down the back.
Do this three times with three big breaths to help you find that initial connection to the breath.
A deep, easeful breath will initiate the calming of the nervous system and should be maintained throughout the practice.
Bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees fall out wide. If there is any tension in the back, sit up on a pillow.
Inhale as you find a nice tall posture and exhale as you begin to lean forward, wrapping the hands around the ankles for a bit of leverage. Keep the spine straight and chest open, and hold this stretch while you breathe deeply.
This is a great release for the hips after a long day.
Single leg stretch
1 minute each side
Straighten one leg and keep the opposite knee bent with your foot on your inner thigh.
Square your torso off to the straight leg and take a deep inhale as you lengthen the spine, then exhale to fold forward over the straight leg. Breathe deeply as you feel into the stretch.
This is a great release for the legs when you’ve been on your feet or sitting for most of the day.
Switch sides once you’ve completed one side.
2 minutes each side
Lie on your back with your knees tucked into your chest. Spread your arms on the floor and let your knees fall to the left to rest on the floor as you turn your head to your right. Use your left hand on top of your right knee for grounding and support. Switch sides and repeat the stretch. This is a great way to release the spine and neck as well as rinse the digestive system.
Legs up the wall
One of my favourite poses, this is great for grounding, lymphatic drainage and preparing the legs for rest.
Scoot yourself near a wall so your bum is just touching the wall, prop a pillow under your lower back for support and extend your legs up the wall.
Relax your arms by your side or on your belly, and close your eyes and breathe.
Not a beautiful name, but this pose is the perfect way to send you off into rest.
Lie on your back with your legs outstretched and your arms by your sides or hands resting on your belly.
Close the eyes and focus on the breath. You can use this pose to drift off to sleep or, if you need to come out of it after, slowly roll onto your side and push yourself back up to a comfortable seat.
FLY LDN Online has a series of Release For Sleep classes which work deeper into the rest and digest side of the nervous system and focus on stretching, recovery and breath control.
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