It may not seem obvious, but exercise and sleep are more connected than you might think. While it’s true that an intense workout before bed isn’t recommended, incorporating certain gentle exercises into your evening routine can greatly enhance your sleep quality.
Adequate rest is crucial for your overall health and is essential for peak performance in your career and personal life, particularly when you’re dealing with high levels of stress. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute emphasizes the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. These include decreased productivity and an increased risk of mortality. Additionally, it can lead to challenges in social interactions and difficulties with concentration and learning. Furthermore, chronic health issues may arise as a result of inadequate sleep.
However, for many busy professionals, achieving the recommended amount of sleep is a challenge. While sleep is a key factor in managing stress effectively, stress itself can be a barrier to getting the rest you need. Factors such as excessive screen time contribute to disrupted sleep patterns. This includes habits like checking emails before bed or first thing in the morning. Additionally, an unpredictable schedule, stemming from fluctuating work and personal commitments, can further disrupt sleep.
The good news is that you can take actionable steps starting tonight to improve the quality of your sleep. Read on for four simple exercises to perform before bedtime that can boost your performance, enhance the quality of your sleep, and rejuvenate your body.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Exercise often conjures images of physical activity, yet meditation and mindfulness are forms of mental exercise that demand practice and offer numerous benefits for your overall well-being. Mindfulness meditation hones your focus and diminishes the flurry of thoughts, anxiety, and stress that can interfere with sleep. Studies have shown that mindfulness can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and enhance the quality of sleep, making it a valuable addition to your evening routine.
Initiate your journey into mindfulness meditation at bedtime by starting with a manageable routine of just 10 minutes each night. Employ deep breathing methods, concentrating on the sensation of the breath as it flows in and out of your body. Implement body scan practices to consciously tune into the sensations your body is experiencing at that moment. If you find it challenging to calm your thoughts independently, consider using guided visualizations, which are readily accessible through various meditation and mindfulness apps. These guided exercises provide a focal point for your mind, helping you to relax in a quiet space.
2. Gentle Yoga Stretches
Gentle yoga has been shown to help improve sleep and reduce stress and physical tension. According to Harvard Health, surveys have found that more than half of yoga practitioners reported that yoga improves their sleep, and more than 80% said that yoga reduces their stress.
A gentle pre-bedtime yoga routine doesn’t need to be overly time-intensive. You can pick three to five yoga stretches that you like best, and then hold each pose for three to five minutes each, for a routine that only takes you about 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your preferences.
Harvard Health recommends many poses. Here are some examples:
- Wide-knee Child’s Pose:
- Kneel on the floor
- Bring big toes together
- Separate knees hips-width apart
- Lower torso over thighs
- Keep arms lying either palm-up behind or palm-down in front
- Standing Forward Bend:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart
- Extend forward
- Drop over your waist
- Focus on your spine elongating as gravity stretches it downward
- Savasana (Corpse Pose):
- Lie on your back
- Hug knees against the chest
- Lay legs long with arms at the sides
Keep palms up as you relax on the mat
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3. Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can lower your anxiety or stress no matter where you are or the time of day, but they can be particularly useful before bed, if you struggle to get to sleep due to racing thoughts.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is favored for pre-bedtime rituals. This simply includes inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds and then exhaling for eight seconds. While some claim this practice can help you go to sleep within a single minute, according to Medical News Today, your mileage may vary; however, you can expect lessened stress.
Consider waiting to practice your breathing exercises until you’re in bed, with the lights off, so your body can simply fall asleep as soon as you’re relaxed.
4. Visualization Techniques
Once you’re nestled in bed and ready to drift off, another straightforward exercise to try is visualization, which can alleviate stress and anxiety. The specific visualization technique that resonates with you may vary but aim to craft a personal and meaningful scene to picture each night as part of your wind-down ritual.
Betterhelp recommends several visualization techniques, pointing to studies that support the use of visualization for stress reduction. The brand says you can visualize a favorable outcome related to something specific bothering you by first clearing your mind, then imagining a future where the source of your stress is completely resolved, in as much detail as possible. You can also use visualization without focusing on a particular problem, by choosing to imagine a peaceful scenario in as much detail as possible, such as a scenario where you’re watching a sunset with a loved one.
If you find these techniques challenging, there are guided visualization sessions available through mindfulness apps and platforms, where they use audio prompts to guide you through scenarios designed to lessen your stress.
The Bottom Line
Quality sleep can have a large impact on your professional success and wellbeing. Without it, you’ll struggle to perform at your peak and will be less equipped to deal with challenges, stress, and the demands of your job.
However, with the right bedtime routine, you can improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest dramatically. Consider integrating some of these practical exercises into your nightly routine, starting with one and adding others as necessary.
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