We already know that exercise is good for our sleep — but getting enough fitness into our lives can be a challenge. If you find it too difficult to exercise due to other health concerns or a perceived lack of skill, or you can’t settle on a workout routine that is appealing or interesting enough to stick with, Pilates may be a good option.
Pilates mat classes are a great form of exercise since they do not require expensive equipment. Sessions range in difficulty from highly accessible beginner programs to advanced routines that can challenge even the most experienced practitioners!
A 2014 study set out to determine whether a Pilates program increases sleep duration and reduces the amount of time needed to fall asleep. The study involved 99 individuals between the ages of 40 and 60 years who were sedentary or undertook fewer than 30 minutes of leisure physical activity per day, enjoyed good overall health, and were not using sleep medications.
Half of the participants were allocated to a Pilates group and half to a control group. Individuals in the Pilates group underwent a program of 15 Pilates exercises twice a week, for one hour, for a total of 12 weeks. Sleep quality was measured using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) questionnaire and hip-worn accelerometers.
How Pilates affected sleep quality and duration
The average PSQI score for participants in the Pilates group before the intervention was 5.14. By the end of the study, the average score was 3.48. (A score of five or greater indicates poor sleep quality; below five, good sleep quality.) Furthermore, average time taken to fall asleep fell from 29.3 minutes to just 18.2 minutes, and sleep duration increased by 39 minutes.
The Pilates exercises that improved sleep
The specific exercises* used in the study were:
- Back lift
- Double leg stretch
- Half roll up
- Knee twist
- Leg stretch stance
- One leg tip
- Side flex
- Single leg stretch
- Spine stretch
- Stretching dog
- Tandem stance
- Side leg
Each exercise was repeated 10 times before moving to the next exercise.*
Advice from a Pilates instructor
In an interview with HealthCentral, Andrea Maida, owner of Pilates Andrea, pointed out that three components of Pilates help improve sleep. Specifically:
- Deep, full breaths
- Rolling and unrolling the spine
- Vigorous activity
Andrea told HealthCentral that she practices Pilates at night with great success when she has difficulty falling asleep and describes its effects as similar to a deep massage. She finds the following exercises to be particularly beneficial.
The Hundred Pilates exercise for sleep
Andrea said that the Hundred is usually the first exercise of a Pilates workout since it serves as a big warm-up for the body. It is one of the longest Pilates exercises and challenges you to control your breath. Typically, you inhale for a count of five and then fully exhale for a count of five. This continues until you have repeated the process 10 times — giving the exercise its name (five plus five equals 10, multiplied by 10 repetitions).
Rolling Like a Ball Pilates exercise for sleep
Andrea said that this exercise give the back, spine, and the entire nervous system a great massage and is fun to do, too!
Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull Pilates exercise for sleep
Andrea finds these two exercises to be particularly beneficial since they require the body to extend itself fully and then fold up as deeply as possible. They are also “wind-relieving” and give a massage to the abdomen and internal organs.
Spine Stretch Pilates exercise for sleep
Andrea said this exercise is a great stretch for the entire back of the body. It encourages restfulness even in its movement pattern of sitting up tall and lifted and then trying to keep all that lift as you reach and stretch toward your toes.
Andrea also created a short YouTube video featuring all these exercises.
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Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training. His online course uses CBT techniques to teach participants how to sleep better without relying on sleeping pills. More than 5,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.