We might joke about the idea of getting our beauty sleep, but there’s more to this expression that you probably realise. Getting enough sleep is essential to good health and maintaining a healthy weight, but, for many of us, a decent stretch of shut-eye is frustratingly elusive: maybe you go to bed too late and then have to get up early, or perhaps you have trouble nodding off even if you’re tucked in at a decent hour.
The longer you go without proper sleep, the bigger the toll on your health. Feeling tired and lacking energy can make you reach for sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks to help keep you going. Over time, sleep deprivation can slow your metabolism and leave you feeling permanently exhausted and cranky.
But help is at hand: if you’re too stressed out to get a good night’s sleep, trying a few gentle exercises before bed can help you feel mentally and physically calmer, slow your heart rate and prepare you for a good snooze. Try doing just 10 minutes of these easy exercises to help relieve stress before you hit the light switch:
Lying Bent Leg Oblique Stretch
Lie on your back and bend your knees at about 90 degrees. Place your hands behind your head. Slowly lower both knees down to one side, bringing them to the floor, or as close to the floor as you can without your shoulders lifting up. Keep your knees together as you move. Hold for several seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Lying Cross Over Stretch
Lie on your back with your legs extended straight out. Lift one knee up towards your chest and bend it at 90 degrees. Place your opposite hand on that knee and slowly draw it across your body, bringing it as close to the floor beside you as you can. Extend your opposite arm straight out beside you, making sure that shoulder doesn’t lift off the floor as you move your knee across. Slowly return to the start position and repeat on the opposite side.
You can also try lying on your back with your legs straight up against a wall and a pillow under your head for comfort. Spread your arms out by your sides and lie here for a few moments, taking long, slow breaths to calm yourself.
Side bends can help slow your breathing as well as giving you a nice side stretch. Sit cross-legged on the floor with your hands beside your hips. As you breathe in, slide one hand out to the side and arc the other over your head so that it points in the same direction. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on the other side. Continue for a couple of minutes, taking longer breaths each time.
Sit on your heels with your knees hip-width apart. If you like, you can put a cushion or rolled-up blanket on the floor in front of you. Slowly lean forward until your forehead rests on the cushion, blanket or floor. You can either wrap your arms beside your legs and hold your feet with your hands, or stretch your arms out in front of you. Breathe deeply and hold this position for a couple of minutes.
Breathing exercises are a great way to induce calm and slow your heart rate. You can also use them at any time during the day if you’re feeling stressed. Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling the breath move downwards and letting your stomach expand fully. Slowly breathe out and repeat for several minutes, concentrating only on your breath and pushing all other thoughts and worries from your mind.
If you do yoga, this is how you’ll usually finish each class: it’s the best part! Lie on your back on the floor with your feet about hip-width apart and your arms gently outstretched by your sides. Let your body relax completely. Do a mental ‘scan’ of your body, beginning at your feet and moving upwards, alternately tensing and relaxing each body part and breathing slowly and deeply throughout.
A few minutes of these simple exercises before bed each night will soon have you on your way to blissful beauty sleep. Remember, what you do during the day counts, too—regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help you get the most out of your shut eye. Sweet dreams!