Regular exercise has been shown time and time again to have a positive impact on our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Exercise raises your internal body temperature and then slowly drops it throughout the day back to its normal level, which can lead us to feel drowsy and tired.
If you are getting out and exercising in the sun, it also exposes you to natural light, which is important to helping your body’s circadian rhythm stay in check. For more details on how light effects our time between the sheets, check out last week’s piece about natural and unnatural light and how we can use it to our advantage to get some more sleep.
Generally, a lot of research shows getting some vigorous exercise earlier in the day is better, as it gives your body temperature time to dial down, (although exercise at any time will always be good for your body and your mind). However, if you reach that time in the night and feel yourself struggling to settle, it might be worth dipping your toes into some relaxing yoga.
Yoga has long been cited as an excellent form of exercise to help reduce stress and aid insomnia due to its restorative poses and focus on deep breathing.
If you fancy giving yoga a go, here are my top poses to complete as part of your bedtime routine. No sweaty hot pods or strenuous stretches here, just simple moves aimed to slow your breathing and calm your mind to help you drift into a peaceful nights sleep.
Whilst completing these moves, try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly, keeping more focus on the breath and less on making the physical pose ‘perfect’.
This pose is very calming and gives you a chance to focus on your breath.
Start by kneeling on the floor, toes and knees together best you can. Sink your torso to your thighs and let your arms either reach out in front of you or down beside your legs in a relaxed fashion – do not strain them to be particularly straight or rigid. Keep your forehead to the ground and breathe deeply.
To extend this pose further, separate your knees to hip width apart and settle your upper body between your knees. If you feel inclined, rock your head or your body from side to side gently, this helps to release tension.
HAPPY BABY POSE
This move gives room for you to introduce some gentle movement and to adjust into whatever feels comfortable. It is a great pose and is easy for all levels and allows tension from the body to melt away.
Start on your back and then bring your knees in towards your chest. Reach your hands up to grab your big toes, or have your arms come up the inside of your knees and grab the outside edge of your feet. Pull down gently on your feet and relax into the pose making sure your head is down and your spine is neutral and also in contact with the ground.
If this pose is too tricky to start with, try reaching for just your ankles or shins until you feel more comfortable.
To reap further benefits of the pose, rock your body slowly from side to side, massaging the spine, allowing you to playfully calm the body down ready for rest.
LEGS UP THE WALL
This pose helps with blood flow, particularly if you have a job where you find yourself on your feet all day. It is extremely restorative and you will find it to be the top suggestion from yogis if you struggle to sleep.
Find an empty space with a clear wall and place a blanket or mat down in front of the wall. Sit with your hips next to the wall and then slowly start to climb your feet up the wall until you find yourself lying on your back and your body in a rough L shape as your legs rest on the wall.
Try putting a cushion or folded blanket underneath your lower back or buttocks and your head to help support you through the pose as you breathe deeply with your arms resting either by your side or on your stomach.
As with many of these poses, the breath is key to winding your body down for sleep. If you are a fan of meditation then this is a great pose and time to practice (see our piece on top apps to help your sleep to find some great meditation apps to get a two for one on maximising your sleep health).
Sit with your legs crossed and body upright. Keep your spine relaxed – don’t think too much about posture and keep it light and supple. Start with your eyes open, breathe deeply and as you start to feel more relaxed allow them to gently close. Have your arms resting on your lap or to the side, whichever is the most comfortable.
This pose will go by many names, but they all essentially rely on the same thing; focus and attention on the breath, a warm blanket or duvet and almost no movement.
If you are trying several of these poses, do this one last in bed as with any luck, you will slip into a deep slumber without realising. Lie on your back with your legs slightly apart and your arms comparably by your side. Ensure all lights, noises and distractions are off and away for the day. Cover yourself in a blanket or your duvet and focus on your breath. Let your body become heavy and allow your mind to wander wherever it pleases as you breathe deeply and release all the stresses and tensions from the day.
With building better sleep habits, consistency is key. Doing a few, or all of these moves a couple of times a week before bed will help calm your mind and relax your body ready to get a good nights rest after a long day.
As with any form of exercise, tailor the moves to fit your medical needs. These poses should not hurt and if they do either stop and adjust, or seek medical advice.