Sleep is so important to us human beings that we were designed to spend a full one-third of our lives conked out – that’s eight out of every 24 hours. Not only that but the quality of our slumber affects us when we are awake.
Poor sleep results in a wide range of medical problems, including stress-induced disorders. As I wrote in Get More Sleep!:
“Not getting enough deep sleep weakens the body’s immune system and overall health. If you are tired all the time, feel uninspired, and crab at your family and friends, try getting an extra hour of sleep a night.”
An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages, occupations, and income brackets suffer from sleep-related problems. Scientists say that chronic insomnia affects at least 10 percent of Americans. The real number may be much higher than that.
Normally, it should take no more than 10 or 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you pass out before that, you may well be sleep deprived. If you are still counting sheep a quarter-hour after retiring to bed, anxiety or physical pain may be interfering with your personal pillow time.
There have actually been studies about the economic impact in the United States due to lack of sleep. Can you believe that over $411 billion (with a ‘b’) and 1.2 million working days are lost each year due to employees not getting enough of this restorative process?
An incredible 37.9% of people reported falling asleep unintentionally during the day or at work in the past 30 days. Nine million Americans take prescription drugs to help them fall asleep. Ironically, these drugs have been linked to higher mortality rates.
Stay off the sleep-promoting drugs – or at least reduce your consumption of them – by taking natural steps to help your body and mind unwind before lying down for that much-needed rest.
My readers know that I an ardent advocate for regular exercise and a well-balanced diet with limited sugars, salts, and artificial ingredients.
Working out makes you tired and this is, by far, the best way to induce a good night’s sleep. Avoiding sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants before bedtime is also wise. Why amp yourself up when you plan to slow yourself down?
Stretching out your muscles before going to sleep is an excellent way to soften tissues tightened by too much sitting while awake. Like it or not, we are creatures of habit.
When you perform a set of simple relaxation poses as a prelude to sleep, your mind-body will recognize these physical activities as a signal that soon you will be “dead to the world.”
If you don’t stretch regularly, today (or tonight) is a great time to begin. At first, expect your body to fight back against these postures which seem foreign and quite possibly painful.
Never force your body to relax: it can’t be done, in any case. Relaxation is a byproduct of changes in our brainwaves and chemical secretions inside our bodies.
Following are six easy exercises that will prepare your body and cue your mind to go into a deep and satisfying sleep.
- Child’s Pose
Kneel down – as long as this is comfortable – and place your arms either at your sides or extended in front of you, palms down. Hold this position for at least 20 seconds and up to several minutes as you breathe normally. This yoga posture loosens up tight shoulders, releases neck tension, and stretches your back.
- Side Stretch
Side stretches are great for the oblique muscles, spine, and core (trunk). From either a standing or seated position, with legs crossed, reach both arms straight overhead with palms facing each other. Reach toward the ceiling and slowly bend over sideways. Hold the maximum extension for a few seconds before switching sides. Do 5-8 sets and take your time.
- Forward Lunge
Stand or kneel. Step forward on one foot, placing it directly in front of the other as you bend both knees. This will lower your body toward the forward foot. Be sure to keep your knee in line with your ankle at the maximum extension. Return to the original position and repeat on the other side. Continue alternating lunges for 5-8 sets to elongate the glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles.
- Butterfly Pose
Sit on the floor with the soles of both feet pressed together in front of your body. Grasp your feet with your hands and carefully lower your head toward your feet. Hold the position for a few seconds before straightening your spine and returning to an upright seated posture. You may find you can only move a few inches if you aren’t used to stretching. That’s okay. Train, don’t strain, as my swim coach used to say. With practice, you will be able to bend forward further until your forehead touches your feet. Do at least four of these challenging stretches and work up to more gradually, over time.
- Knee To Chest Stretch
Lie on your back. Use a cushioning mat or mattress to avoid spinal stress. Bend one knee to raise that leg as you use both hands to gently raise the knee toward your chest. Again, never strain yourself. Hold the knee for a few seconds before repeating with the other leg. These should feel great on the lower back and you can do as many sets as you like.
- Spinal Twist
Still lying on your back, extend each arm sideways, in line with your shoulders, palms up. Your hands will serve as anchors as you bring one knee up with your foreleg parallel to the floor. Slowly lower that bent leg toward the floor and hold for a few seconds. This stretch is awesome for the obliques and deeply relaxing. Repeat with your other leg and do 5-8 sets. Youth is measured by the flexibility of the spine. To stay young, stay flexible.
There is no doubt that regular stretching tones the muscles and elongates them. The more often you stretch, the more flexible you should become. If this doesn’t happen to you, consult a professional healthcare provider to see if other medical issues are interfering with your ability to relax completely.
Now, off to bed with you. Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.