6 Pilates-Based Stretches To Calm You Down

Skip the nightcap. Turn off Colbert. It's no surprise that 66% of Americans blame all their nighttime tossing and turning on stress, reports the Better Sleep Council. But there's a smarter, more effective way to relax after a tough day.

You can quiet your mind, release muscle tension, and beat stress with a few simple stretches. In a study at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, 86 healthy women who were having trouble sleeping needed 60% less sleep medication and fell asleep 30% faster when they stretched four times a week.

To help you get into sleep mode, San Francisco–based Pilates instructor Lara Hudson designed this soothing, 10-minute bedtime routine. "Stretching tight areas of the body—the neck, shoulders, back, and hips—relaxes your whole body, so you sleep better," Hudson says.

So slip into something comfy, turn on relaxing music, and do each stretch at least once. Stretch only as far as comfortably possible, never to the point of discomfort or pain. For max calming, close your eyes and focus on your breathing as you do each move.

Wall Roll-Down (Relaxes lower back, shoulders, and neck)


Stand with back against a wall, feet hip-width apart and about 12 inches from the wall. Inhale, pull abdominals in, and press entire back to the wall. As you exhale, roll down until only tailbone and buttocks are touching the wall. Relax neck and shoulders and let head and arms hang. Take deep, slow breaths and circle arms inward 5 times and then outward 5 times. Slowly roll up.

Shoulder Roll (Relaxes shoulders and chest)


Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a rolled bath towel down in front of you so arms are very wide apart (not shown). Inhale and lift arms overhead; as you exhale, lower them behind back. Inhale as you bring arms back up overhead, and exhale as you lower them. If shoulders feel too tight or the full movement is too challenging, only go as far as comfortably possible. Repeat 5 to 8 times.

Up the Wall (Relaxes hips and back of thighs)



Lie on back with buttocks as close to a wall as possible. Extend legs up on the wall, keeping feet relaxed and about hip-width apart. Using hands, gently press thighs toward the wall (not shown). Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Then slowly bend knees out to the sides and bring soles of feet together, sliding them down the wall as far as comfortable. The sides of feet should rest against the wall. Gently press knees and thighs toward the wall. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Release.

Twist (Relaxes hips, back, and shoulders)


Lie faceup on the floor with arms out to the sides, palms up, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor (not shown). Place right ankle on left knee so legs form a shape like a 4. Slowly let legs fall to the right as close to the floor as possible. Simultaneously turn head to the left, keeping arms and upper back relaxed and on the floor. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Return to center, then lower legs to the left while turning head to the right. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Return to center, switch legs, and repeat to the left and right.

Lying Side Bend (Relaxes hips, sides of torso, and underside of shoulders)


Lie faceup on the floor with arms and legs extended so body forms an X (not shown). Grasp left wrist with right hand, and slowly pull left arm and upper body to the right. Next, cross left ankle over right one so body forms a crescent. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths and repeat on the other side.

Cat with a Twist (Relaxes back, abdominals, chest, and shoulders)


Kneel with hands directly beneath shoulders and knees beneath hips. (A) Exhale, pull belly in toward spine, round back, and drop head and tailbone toward floor, stretching like a cat. (B) Inhale and reverse the move, arching back and lifting tailbone and head toward ceiling. Do the sequence 5 times. (C) Next, with back flat, twist and slide left arm, palm up, between right arm and right leg. Reach far enough with left hand so left shoulder, arm, and side of head rest on the floor. Hold for 5 to 8 deep breaths, then repeat with right arm.