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August 2011
Sleep Deficient? Stretch your body!
Nutan Sehgal
Did you know that stretching is the most effective way to wind down before going to bed?

Sleep is an elusive mistress, as a growing number of stressed out people are finding to their nocturnal distress. Nights of insomnia and groggy mornings have become more a rule than a rarity in the frenetic urban life. Estimates show that almost 45 percent of men and 32 percent of women are sleep-deficient. Lack of sleep is known to affect mood and negatively impact the immune system. Fatigue, at any age, can translate into diminished mental alertness and loss of concentration. Lack of sleep caused by insomnia is linked to accidents, both on the road and on the job, as insomniacs tend to doze off at odd times.

However, if the problem is not medical then self help is the most effective way to deal with insomnia. Some quick and gentle stretches will not just put you in a calm frame of mind but will also de-stress you and ensure a restful night of sleep.

However, the emphasis here is on gentle stretches. Heavy exercises should be avoided at night as these stimulate the body and alert the mind which can have quite the opposite reaction-sleeplessness. Mild stretches will best help you get a night’s restful sleep as against a night of tossing and turning.

Stretching is often overlooked for its health benefits. It can give you increased flexibility and improved circulation and induce healthy sleep. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

How does stretching promote sleep?
Gentle stretching helps you sleep better and deeper. It promotes the production of endorphins in the body, which lower muscle tension, calm the mind and banish stresses and strains. A good night’s sleep means you will get up completely relaxed the next morning.

Are there special stretching exercises before bedtime?
Any kind of stretching that gently works the core muscles of the body will help you sleep better. Yoga asanas too are of immense benefit in helping to put you to sleep. But experts say that for best results it should be done as a 15-minute routine before going to bed every night.

Should one stretch before or after dinner?
You derive the maximum benefit if you do light exercises sometime before going to bed. It is best to eat an early dinner, which should be at least an hour or two before bedtime and stretching should be the last thing you should do before sleeping.

What are the other benefits of bedtime stretching?
Besides sending you to dreamland, stretching before bedtime makes you more flexible and helps prevent leg cramps at night. It also helps digest food better and above all it winds you down and ushers in a peaceful state of mind and completely relaxes the body.

Most recommended sleep-inducing stretches:
  • Neck Stretches: Sit on a char and tilt your head to the left till you feel a pull. Hold for half a minute. Come back to starting position. Now tilt head to the right and hold. Repeat ten times. After this, turn your head to the right and hold. Repeat by turning your head to the left. Repeat ten times. These exercises are very relaxing as they loosen up neck muscles.
  • Knee-Chest Stretches: Lie on your back and lift your legs. Now bend them in a way that your knees touch your chest. Put hands behind your knees and breathing deeply, pull the knees gently but firmly towards the chin till your body is fully stretched. Hold for half a minute and release. Repeat this stretch ten times.
  • Toe-Touching Stretches: Stand straight and stretch your arms towards the ceiling. Now bend forward at the waist and try and touch your toes with your hands. Go as far as you can stretch—ideally your fingertips should touch your toes. Breathing normally, hold that position and roll your back and shoulders. Repeat slowly ten times.
  • Side Body Stretches: Stand with your feet wide apart. Raise your right arm in the air and bend your body to your left as much as you can stretch with your left hand touching your left knee. Come back to erect position. Now raise your left hand and bend body to the right. Repeat ten times.
  • Yoga Stretches: Yoga provides some very effective stretching exercises which promote relaxed sleep. Stretches like Salabhasana, Bhujangasna, Shavasna and Yoga Nidra are excellent for a sound night’s sleep. Yogic deep breathing too is very de-stressing and sleep-inducing.
So go ahead, try these simple bedtime stretches and chances are that as soon as you put your head on the pillow you would slip into zzzzzz…!

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