Most Americans spend an average of 13 hours1 a day sitting down. From working at a desk to riding in your car and eating meals, we’re sitting more often than we think.
Based on this data, it may come as no surprise when you get into bed at the end of the day feeling restless and unable to relax.
Stretching before bed is one of the best ways to release built-up tension, sleep better, and improve your overall health. We’ll cover the benefits of stretching, including the best stretches to do before bedtime and how long you should do them.
Benefits of Stretching Before Bed
Stretching offers many perks for your body and mind. For starters, developing an evening stretching routine helps your body enter a relaxed state, which should help you fall asleep more quickly.
Stretching also provides a great alternative nighttime activity to scrolling through social media or reading emails on a screen, which could make you feel more alert.
When done correctly, studies2 have shown that practices like yoga and stretching can be incredibly relaxing and meditative. Focusing on your body and the present actions is a great way to separate yourself from the day’s stresses and signal to your subconscious to stop worrying.
Interesting in exploring further? Check out 14 yoga poses for better sleep.
Improved Blood Flow
There’s a good reason why you see athletes stretch before competing: the practice improves circulation3. Better blood flow allows your muscles and joints to function to the best of their ability by getting more oxygen and nutrients to these vital areas.
Relieves Muscle Tension
As mentioned earlier, large periods of inactivity could lead to tension build up in your muscles, which could lead to discomfort while you’re trying to fall asleep. Stretching can provide a way for you to alleviate muscle tension4. Stretching extends the length of the muscle, and researchers say that the greater a muscle’s length is, the less tension it holds.
Helps With Lower Back Pain
Pain in the lower back can frequently keep you up at night, coming between you and quality sleep. While a top-quality mattress for back pain can help, experts say proper stretching should further minimize your discomfort5.
Not only could regular nighttime stretching help with back pain, but it is known to reduce your risk of injury, whether it’s back-related or in other parts of the body.
Stretching allows the muscles and joints to have a wider range of motion. When you don’t regularly stretch, your muscles will become tight, so when you eventually go to use them, they cannot function as effectively6, increasing your chances of injured joints, muscles strains, or damage.
Stretches to Do Before Bed
Knee to Chest
While lying on your back on your floor or mattress, lift and bend one leg. Then place both of your hands on your knee and gently bring it to your chest.
Try to remain as relaxed as possible and hold for a few seconds. Then repeat on the other side. If one leg at a time is comfortable for you, you can also try bringing both knees to your chest at the same time.
Great for: This stretch helps you achieve great spinal flexion and is wonderful for aching lower backs.
Lying on your back, extend both arms out from your sides. Lift your right leg and place your right foot on the floor. Slowly cross your right leg over the left side of your body and allow it to fall naturally towards the floor.
You may use your left hand to hold your knee, but there is no need to press your knee further than it naturally goes.
For a deeper twist, turn your head to the right. Breath in and out as you feel your spine relax. Repeat on the other side.
Great for: Helping spinal mobility and improving a hunched posture from working over a desk all day.
Seated with either your legs crossed or on your heels, extend your left arm above your head. Place your right arm on the floor and lean your body to the right, keeping your left arm above your ear.
You should feel the stretch in your left side. Repeat on the other side.
Great for: Stretches your obliques, spine, and strengthens your core for a stronger spine.
From a standing or kneeling position, place one foot in front of the other and come into a lunge. Allow your opposite knee to support some of your weight. Concentrate on keeping your spine straight and chest open, then repeat on the other side.
Good for: Stretching your glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors. This is a great stretch for people sitting all day and runners alike.
Sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, bring the soles of your feet together. Bring your feet towards your body as you lean forward, keeping your spine as straight as possible. Rest in this pose for a few moments to deepen the stretch.
Great for: Stretching your inner thighs and lower back.
Start on your arms and knees, sit back onto your heels while leaving your arms extended in front of you. Make sure your knees are at least hip-width apart. Focus on keeping your spine long and lengthened.
Walk your hands forward until you are nearly flat on the ground, and then put your head to the floor. Relax in this position. If your shoulders are too tight, you can also place your arms at your sides.
Great for: Tight shoulders, releasing tension in your neck, and stretching your back.
Beginning with the arms stretched wide, wrap your arms around yourself like you are giving yourself a hug. Grasp your shoulders and pull to deepen the stretch.
Breathe in this pose for at least 30 seconds. Then release, stretch your arms wide, and switch which arm is on top.
Great For: Your shoulders, rhomboids, trapezius muscles, and arms. You can also use this pose to mentally give a little self-love.
Legs Up the Wall
Lie on your side with your legs along the wall. Slowly roll onto your back, and lift your legs, so they extend vertically up the wall. Release all tension in your hips and breathe.
This pose is most effective when done for at least a few minutes and up to 15 minutes at a time. You can also put a pillow or cushion under your hips for more support.
Great for: Improving circulation in tired, aching, or restless legs, or aiding in digestive issues. This is a great stretch to do to relax at the end of your stretching routine.
How Long Should I Stretch?
Another important fact to consider when it comes to stretching is that you won’t reap the full benefits if you don’t do it long enough.
According to Harvard Health7, a healthy adult should remain in each stretch for a minimum of 60 seconds. In the event you cannot hold the stretch for a full minute, they recommend doing several repetitions. For example, if you’re only able to do a stretch for 30 seconds, repeat that same stretch for another 30.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
- 1. “To Sit or Stand? Almost 70% of Full Time American Workers Hate Sitting, but They do it all Day Every Day”. Cision PR Newswire. 2013.
- 2. Rachel E. Maddux, Daiva Daukantaité, Una Tellhed. “The Effects of Yoga on Stress and Psychological Health Among Employees: An 8- and 16-week Intervention Study”. National Library of Medicine. 2017.
- 3. “Why Stretching Is More Important than You Think”. Wexner Medical Center. 2017.
- 4. Phil Page PT PhD ATC CSCS FACSM, “Current Concepts In Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation”. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2012.
- 5. “Stretching and Strengthening Are Key to Healing and Preventing Back Pain”. Harvard Health. 2014.
- 6. “The Importance of Stretching”. Harvard Health. 2019.
- 7. “The Ideal Stretching Routine”. Harvard Health. 2021.