In Bed With Pilates

By Marguerite Ogle, adapted by Amit Younger

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‘It is better to be tired from physical exertion than to be fatigued by the “poisons” generated by nervousness while lying awake’. Joseph Pilates

How to sleep better is always a hot topic. So many people go through periods of insomnia or simply feel they need deeper sleep than they’re getting. This can be very frustrating, especially for those seeking natural sleep aids rather than pills. 

In his book Return to Life Through Contrology, Joseph Pilates provides definite advice on how to sleep better. There is much health advice beyond exercise in that power-packed little book, but for now, let’s look at some sleep tips and exercises Joseph Pilates recommended.

The environment: Pilates says the room should be cool, quiet, well ventilated, and dark. No big news there for those who have been seeking better sleep; but how many of us really follow these simple guidelines? How many of us sleep “kind of well” but not really…? How many of us wake up in the middle of the night too hot due to modern day heating systems? Making sure the room is cool and that the window is slightly open to allow some fresh air in can make a big difference. As for dark and quiet… those of us who live in big cities might find this very challenging, but there are some modern day solutions to help block out noise and light that might do you wonders. 

The bed: Joseph Pilates says that the mattress should be firm, that bulky pillows should be avoided, and that one should use the lightest covering it takes to be warm. I remember many years ago my Feldenkrais method teacher saying that you simply can’t recommend one mattress that would work well for everyone and that you always need to buy a mattress that you can return to the shop after 2 weeks if it just does not work for you. The truth is that a firm mattress works really well for me but at the same time I tend to agree with my Feldenkrais teacher as I know so many people who would swear by different sleeping solutions… I think it is really important to be aware of how you sleep and do your best to avoid awkward sleeping positions that exacerbate physical imbalances. Try to rest your body and fall asleep in a balanced position even if this will change after a while. As for bulky pillows- I think these work best as support under the knees to avoid over arching the back (when lying on your back) or over twisting the spine (when lying on your side)

Mental calm: Joseph Pilates thought that the most important element of better and deeper sleep is mental calm. A troubled nervous system (that would lead/contribute to troubled sleep), Pilates says, can be alleviated with exercise. Clearly his recommendation was his Contrology exercises… what we call today Pilates.

Regular exercise is frequently recommended by experts as a natural way of overcoming sleep problems, but what if you still can’t sleep? Pilates has this advice: Get up and exercise. And if you had to choose which exercises to do, Joseph Pilates specifically suggests the Spinal Rolling exercises for better and deeper sleep. The rolling and unrolling exercises, he says, massage the spine, relax the nerves, help cleanse the body and restore natural flexibility of the spine.

No piece about Pilates and sleep would be complete without mentioning that along with the many amazing pieces of fitness equipment Joseph Pilates invented, he also invented a bed. He claimed it was the most ergonomic and healthful for sleeping. The bed was basically a wide wedge. Maybe it was too unusual, maybe it didn’t work. In any case, it wasn’t a big hit…

If you are going to try some rolling and unrolling exercises for better sleep you can try the following exercises on

Pelvic clock

Roll Up

Rolling like a ball

Spine stretch

Spine twist supine

You may also want to try to following 2 classes that are short and relaxing:

Unwind with the Over-ball

Lower body leg stretches

Please keep in mind that Joseph Pilates tips do not necessarily follow guidelines from sleep doctors and that Amit is not a sleep expert. All the advice in this article is based on personal experience and should not be regarded as medical advice.