It was 1:30 a.m just a few nights ago. I woke up and knew I was in trouble. My body wanted to go back to sleep, my brain had other ideas. I tried deep breathing, meditating, reading. Two hours passed before I finally started to feel sleepy again.
Whenever this happens, I always check to see if there’s a full moon. Nine times out of 10 there is and sure enough, on that particular night, it was shining full and bright. Does anyone else blame their insomnia on the moon? The other time I don’t sleep well is when I’ve had a cup of black coffee late in the afternoon.
Andy Wight, my strength coach— yes, I’m still working out with Andy* — told me that when he can’t get back to sleep, he often does what he calls the insomnia stretch. I asked him to demonstrate and tell me why he thinks it works.
He showed me two versions. Here’s the simpler stretch. Pretty self-explanatory. Keep your feet flat on the floor and bend over at the waist.
I like this stretch if you’re having trouble sleeping at night or looking for a way to relax before going to bed. Keep your feet nice and flat to the floor and then hinge forward, drop your shoulders and chest to the floor and hang there. Once you’re in that down position, facing towards the floor as low as you can get, take a deep breath in through your belly and then a nice controlled exhale. As you exhale, you’ll feel your body sink lower and deeper into the stretch which will help you even more with relaxation. And then boom lights out!
For the other stretch, elevate your toes about two inches. Andy is using a half foam roller, but he says anything will work.
Once you elevate the toes, that increases the tension on the fascia — you get more of a fascial stretch. The fascia is the white tissue that wraps all of the muscles together. It goes from the base of your toes to the base of your skull. With the toes elevated, you have a more limited range of motion because the fascia is stretching throughout the whole body. It gives you a little bit more a total body stretch than when you keep your feet flat on the floor. With your feet flat you will get a little bit more stretch through the belly of the muscle.
Andy’s best advice is to do whichever stretch feels best to you. Don’t keep either one only for sleepless nights. They both feel really good any time of night or day. If you have trouble sleeping, I have some more advice in Insomnia? Don’t eat or drink these before bed. Yes, it includes coffee!
You can also listen to the podcast I did with Dr. Christopher Hughes. He’s a neurologist and sleep specialist and medical director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Southern Maine Health Care.
*I mentioned that I’m still working out with Andy. It’s been more than a year since I stepped into my discomfort zone and started going to his gym once or twice a week. With his continued coaching, I’m a stronger, healthier, and happier person. Oops, I almost forgot to add “and sometimes sorer” to the list! It’s a good sore.