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Lately there has been a lot of discussion around women and sleep—Arianna Huffington boldly asserted in her new book The Sleep Revolution that we are in the midst of a “sleep-deprivation crisis” that is hurting our relationships, sex life, career, and overall happiness. Not getting enough shut-eye has even been linked with health issues and bad eating habits—and according to the CDC, about a third of us get less than six hours of sleep. Add to that some research suggesting women are more likely than men to struggle with falling and staying asleep, and Huffington’s assessment sounds a little less hyperbolic.
We’ve heard all the classic sleep advice a thousand times, such as avoiding technology, dimming the lights, turning your phone off an hour before bed, or cutting down your caffeine intake, but who actually does that? Herbalists also suggest taking supplements at night including magnesium to help you relax, and some people swear by meditation, but the one habit that’s been proven to help even the most chronic insomniacs—and you might actually follow through with—is yoga.
Melissa Ambrosini, Insta-famous yoga instructor and author of Mastering Your Mean Girl, says there are specific poses you can try before bed to “tune into any areas of your body you might be holding onto tension” and relax for the best sleep of your life. She showed us her favorite before-bed sequence that involves just four simple poses, but each is engineered to help you chill out, release tension, and drift off to sleep. Keep scrolling and try these tonight to catch some quality zzzs.
What it does: Forward bend helps stretch the entire back of your body, especially your back muscles, which may get tight from sitting all day at work. “This pose invigorates the nervous system by increasing blood supply and makes the spine supple,” Ambrosini said.
How to do it: Stand straight with feet together and arms alongside the body, or sit with your legs straight in front of you. Balance your weight equally on both sides. While breathing in, extend your arms overhead if you’re upright and forward if you’re sitting. Breathing out, bend forward and down toward the feet. Stay in the posture for 20 or 30 seconds and continue to breathe deeply. On the out breath, move the chest toward the knees, let the head relax and move it gently toward the feet. Keep breathing deeply.
What it does: Ambrosini says this pose can help “remove fatigue from long hours of standing or walking,” making it perfect for your end-of-day practice. “It’s also a great stretch for inner thighs, groin, and knees, which is a common area we hold a lot of tension,” she added.
How to do it: Sit upright and bring heels of your feet toward your groin, splaying knees out and spine straight. Bring hands to feet and open your legs like a book. Inhale; lift out of lower back. Exhale; fold over and soften your shoulders. Take deep breaths through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
What it does: This is supposed to be a “deeply relaxing stretch for the back,” which, according to yogis such as Ambrosini, can also help calm the nervous system and help you get a solid eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
How to do it: Start in a kneeling position and drop your butt toward your heels as you stretch the rest of your body down and forward. In the fully stretched position, rest your arms in a relaxed position along the floor, rest your stomach comfortably on top of your thighs, and rest your forehead on the mat. You should feel a mild stretch in your shoulders and buttocks and down the length of your spine and arms.
Legs up the wall
What it does: To finish your sequence, this pose is the easiest (seriously, you just lie there) and is supposed to relieve tired legs and feet while increasing the blood supply to the brain. Ambrosini says this move has the power to “relieve mild headaches and calm the mind.”
How to do it: Sit sideways close against a wall. Bring up one leg, then the other, as you come to your back with legs extended up the wall. Extend the arms out along your sides, palms facing up. Close your eyes and breathe as you relax into the pose. If you like, place an eye pillow over the eyes to block light. Lie here for 10 minutes or as long as you wish.