Anyone who struggles with any kind of arthritis pain knows how tough it can be to get a decent night’s sleep. And the vicious cycle is that poor sleep may worsen your joint pain, (increase inflammation) and turn arthritis into a more serious, disabling condition.
Whether it be trying to relax enough to drift off into wonderland, inconveniently waking up at all hours or your eyes snapping open before the local birds have even had a chance to start warbling, getting deep and quality sleep is often a challenge for arthritis sufferers.
If we look at the research, it’s clear that lack of sleep has an effect on our central nervous system (CPM). This, in turn, can be detrimental to our brain’s ability to control and manage our perception of pain. According to arthritis.org, insomnia can promote something known as ‘centralised pain’; “This means that pain pathways become over-excited and pain is amplified beyond what would be typical for the amount of damage found in the joints.” (1)
We can go down a rabbit-hole of research on this topic, but the important thing is to start managing your sleep effectively in order to reduce the potential downward spiral that sleep deprivation and pain can spin into.
But it doesn’t have to be so tragic, and there are ways to treat arthritis pain and insomnia without relying solely on medication.
One way to possibly help improve sleep is by creating a relaxing evening routine to calm the mind, body and nervous system. This of course will vary from individual to individual and may include routines such as hot showers (or baths), meditation, using essential oils and choice of pillows and mattress.
Stretching is also a very simple and effective method for calming the nervous system, smoothing out the creaks and relaxing the body for a better sleep.
Here are 3 easy stretches you can do every night for a better sleep;
1. Cat / Cow - on knees or sitting
One of the easiest and most effective yoga stretches is the Cat-Cow pose. It’s a very gentle pose which makes it great to finish off your day and wind yourself down in the evening. And it’s easy to do anywhere — convenient!
The Cat-Cow is a flow stretch between the Cow, arching your back and head upwards and looking up, and the Cat, rolling your shoulders and head down to make a ‘hunchback’ type position (in a good way!)
- Gives a gentle stretch to the back, shoulders and neck
- Opens up the chest and thus slows and deepens the breath (good for sleep)!
- Stimulates and strengthens the abdominal organs (digestion)
- Flows with the breath to calm the mind and alleviate stress (perfect)!
Here’s how to do it:
This posture can be done in two ways;
1. On your hands and knees on the floor
2. Sitting up on a chair (or in bed)
1. Start on your hands and knees with a flat back (table pose). Make sure your hands are placed directly under your shoulders and your hips above your knees for a nice, even table position.
2. Slowly inhale and move into the cow pose by lifting your head and sit bones upward and look straight ahead.
3. Roll your shoulders back and drop your belly down towards the mat (or floor).
4. As you exhale, move into the cat pose by rounding your shoulders down and arching your spine upward toward the ceiling.
5. Tuck your tailbone under and press gently into your hands. Relax your head completely toward the floor. Feel the beautiful stretch across upper back.
Repeat this flow about 10 times, moving with your breath (inhale to cow and exhale to cat).
If you don’t have time to get on the floor, do this pose while sitting up in bed. You can still move through Cat and Cow with your chest and arms and gain the same benefits.
1. Cross your legs and keep a straight spine against the head of your bed or wall (or simply stretch your legs in front of you if you can’t cross legs)
2. Clasp your hands together and stretch your arms out in front of you.
3. Breathe in. Drop your chin to your chest and round your upper back up.
4. Breathe out and open your arms out wide to either side of you.
5. Push your chest forward into cow pose, lifting your chin upwards and dropping your head back.
Repeat this flow about 10 times, moving slowly with your breath. (Breathing is important!)
2. Knees- to-chest
If you struggle with lower back or hip pain, the Knees-to-Chest Pose can be help ease the tension in this area. This is a simple pose you can do while lying in your bed before sleep.
- Offers a good stretch to the lower back and hips
- Rebalances the nervous system as you draw your energy inwards
- Stabilises the digestion and bowel movements
- Helps expel tension and toxins
Here’s how to do it:
- Lay on your back and pull your knees up towards your chest, wrapping your arms around your shins. Try to grasp your elbows if you can.
- Tuck your chin into your chest, lengthening your spine along the floor.
- Try to keep your spine connected with the bed (or floor).
- Breathe slowly into your stomach and relax into the pose.
3. Spinal twist
This is an excellent pose to finish your evening stretch routine. Why? Because gently twisting the spine and breathing deeply has an immediate calming effect on the nervous system.
I love this one because you can move into it easily and it really opens out the cricks in your spine and hips.
- Releases the tension in the lower back
- Stretches out the spinal muscles
- Improves digestion
- Calms the mind
- Centres the nervous system
Here’s how to do it:
- Lay down straight on your bed, stretching your legs out.
- Pull your right knee up toward your stomach (don’t force it the whole way).
- Stretch your right arm out to your side, along the bed (or floor)
- Move your hips to the right a little and roll your right knee across your body toward your left side
- Keep your left leg stretched out straight along the bed
- Turn your head toward your outstretched hand at the right
- You can stretch your right leg out past your left leg, if you like, or keep it up closer to your body
- Breathe deeply into your stomach and feel the beautiful stretch down your spine and into your lower back
Take 3 deep breaths
Repeat this on the other side, stretching out across the left arm and moving your left knee over to your right side.
Breathing is very important in this pose for maximum calming benefits. Stay in the twist for at least 3 breaths and let yourself relax.
So there we have it! You certainly do not need to be a ‘human-pretzel’ yoga enthusiast to enjoy the wonderful calming and healing effects of some simple yoga poses.
These 3 stretches are easy to implement into your bedtime routine.
So, make like your cat or dog and stretch out your beautiful body before settling into a, hopefully, much more restful sleep!