I endured many, many years of sleepless nights before learning an important lesson: If I don't give my mind and body the time and space to unwind at the end of the day, I'm more likely to spiral into restless anxiety as I lie in bed. (Funnily enough, that doesn't exactly bode well for a good night's sleep.)
There are plenty of ways to relax before bed, and the rituals you adopt obviously hinge on personal preference. But for those who aren't quite sure where to begin (or feel like they've tried just about everything to no avail), yoga is a great place to start: Even cycling through just a few deep stretches before getting into bed can ease muscle pain and tension, lower cortisol levels, and clear your mind.
But it all comes down to choosing the right poses—and for this, we deferred to yoga instructor and THE/THIRTY contributor Alexis Novak for her pointers on practicing yoga for better sleep. Below she shares the (foolproof) stretches worth trying tonight—along with a few other tips to consider.
First, set the scene.
"Using essential oils like lavender or other calming scents is helpful to create a nightly 'ritual,'" says Novak. "If you start to build a nightly routine, your body will oblige what comes next, which is rest. Lighting palo santo is also very calming."
Novak recommends powering down all your screens and devices before diving into the yoga poses—that way, you're not tempted to wire yourself up again after winding down.
Ease your way through these poses.
1. Legs up the wall pose: "You can even do this in bed," says Novak. It's pretty self-explanatory: Move near a wall, lie on your back, lift your legs straight up, and press them against the wall (almost like you're sitting on the wall). This pose relieves any lower back or leg tension, sending a wave of relaxation through the rest of your body.
2. Child's pose: Yoga instructors tell us to go back to this pose during a particularly tough sequence for a reason—it pauses all effort and feels so good. Kneel on the floor with your big toes touching, and sit back on your heels. Widen your knees to hip distance, and fold forward. Your arms can be tucked by your sides or reaching forward.
3. Supine twist: When you've been sitting all day, giving your back a release is a must. Lie flat on your back, and bend your knees into your chest. With your knees touching, and the upper half of your body glued firmly to the ground, slowly push your knees to your right side so that your lower back gets a gentle twist. Hold for a few breaths, go back to center, and repeat on the other side.
4. Savasana: You know… that pose you look forward to at the end of every single yoga class. Save it for your final pose, since it's basically the mindfulness equivalent of lying in bed. Lie flat on your back, and relax.
Still awake? Give yourself a "body scan."
As you lie in bed with your eyes closed, try this classic relaxation exercise. "I internally 'scan' my body and try to relax into each part of it, until I feel calmer and more ready to receive rest," says Novak. Start from your toes, and work your way up your body, until you're either incredibly relaxed or fast asleep—whichever comes first.
Want to try a few more sleep-inducing poses? Follow Novak's calming yoga sequence in the video below.