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Can Yoga Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep?

Having been a restless sleeper since my teen years, I went through most of my life feeling constantly tired; falling asleep was hard and anything could wake me up. I was exhausted.

Yoga before bedtime helps people sleep better by calming the nervous system and inducing muscle recovery. When focused on rehabilitation, a regular yoga practice allows restless sleepers, insomniacs and people with chronic illnesses get better rest by setting up the mind and body for relaxation.

Why Yoga for Sleep Works

Our contemporary lifestyles keep us in a state of permanent hyperawareness; it’s hard to disconnect from the news, work and stressful connections when they are ever-present in our smartphones.

This hyperawareness kicks your body into fight or flight response, releasing -among other things- the hormone cortisol: increasing blood pressure, blood sugar and suppressing the immune system in order to give you extra energy. This energy is great if you’re running away from a lion, but since we’re not in the wild the prolonged exposure to this hormone is detrimental to our health.

Additionally, being overexposed to blue lights from various screens and devices confuses the brain by giving it mixed signals about the time of day. This keeps your brain active way past the wee hours, leading to restless nights and fatigued days.

A Yoga routine before bedtime forces you to put the phone away, focus on the breath and stretch overly tight muscles.

By reducing the body’s natural stress responses, your central nervous system can finally produce and release the hormones necessary for deep sleep.  In general yoga:

  • Calms the mind
  • Relaxes deep tissue
  • Soothes the nervous system
  • Improves cellular regeneration
  • Lowers cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • Strengthens immunity
  • Reduces physical fatigue

When I read that people who suffer from insomnia or sleep disorders find that they fall asleep faster, sleep longer and return to sleep more quickly when they practice yoga on a daily basis I immediately started my own practice – only to find that I was doing the wrong kind!

The Yoga Styles that Improve Sleep

Like most people, when I first thought about a yoga practice I thought of a sweaty session with difficult twisty positions that would lead me to exhaustion and deep sleep; I soon realized it only made me more energized and wired. I did more research and found that there are multiple types of yoga and asanas (poses) suited for both sleep and energy.

If you want better sleep you have to choose restorative yoga styles, such as Hatha Yoga or Yoga Nidra and practice right before you go to sleep.

Hatha uses opposing forces to bring balance through tension, while Nidra seeks relaxation via total stillness – it literally means “yogi sleep”!

Hatha Yoga for Sleep

Now I know what you must be thinking – “I do hatha yoga at the gym!” –  and you would be correct, as it is one of the most commonly practiced yoga styles in studios and gyms across the western world.

However, Hatha Yoga, which is often translated as “sun and moon” or “forces”, combines movement (the asana poses), breath control (pranayama) and focus or meditation (dhyana) to bring balance to the mind and body – perfect for a good night sleep!

When used restoratively -that is to relax your muscles and mind- it harnesses the power of concentration required to hold an asana, while breathing deeply for a specific number of breaths or time (15 seconds to two minutes) to give your mind the time it needs to disconnect from the outside world, lowering your heart rate and stretching your muscles for deep release.

Only four to five hatha yoga poses are needed, for about 15 minutes total, to get a better night’s sleep!

Yoga Nidra for Sleep

You won’t find as many studios teaching Yoga Nidra as you will find for Hatha Yoga, because a regular Nidra practice requires you to lay down on the floor, completely still, for at least an hour while you listen to a guided meditation.

Yoga Nidra is a deep relaxation technique used to reach a deeper level of awareness that many yogis call “psychic sleep”. Since what we want is to actually sleep better, skip the guided meditation (unless it’s for deep sleep!) and simply lay down in bed trying not to move and just sink into the mattress.

For better results when practicing Yoga Nidra, lay with your feet a little more than hip-width apart and place your hands at your side, listening to your breath and trying to only focus on the air slowly entering and leaving your body. If you have trouble concentrating only on the breath try adding white noise, nature sounds or a soothing meditation to drift off into a peaceful sleep.

Choose Yoga Poses for Better Sleep

In my experience, it’s better to use both styles of restorative yoga before you go to sleep to wake up fully refreshed and experience deeper rest. Hatha Yoga prepares the body for the Nidra experience, giving you plenty of time to stop thinking about the day thus far or the to-do list for tomorrow, and concentrate on your body’s needs.

By the time you hit your last asana (corpse pose), you’re already in a pre-meditative state that makes the transition into stillness smoother and faster, ideal for Yoga Nidra.

The only equipment you are likely to need is a yoga mat, and maybe some yoga blocks and straps if you are new to yoga. These will help you considerably until your flexibility and strength improve.

 

Some yoga poses to choose from: Try some or all of these poses before you go to bed.

1. Standing Forward Fold, or Uttanasana (Hatha)

To get into this pose, simply stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly bring your upper body forward to the floor, keeping a straight line from the top of your head to the tip of your tailbone. Bend your knees generously and let your hands and head hang loose. Take several deep breaths for at least 15 seconds. You can straighten your legs a little  on the inhale and bend on the exhale for a deeper hamstring release.

2. Sitting Forward Fold, or Paschimottanasana (Hatha)

For this asana, sit down on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, keeping a straight spine and hugging the ribs in towards your chest. Avoid rounding your back. Flex your feet and stretch upwards with your arms straight, then bend your knees and bring your chest forward with your arms. Relax the weight of the head at the end and feel that deep stretch in the lower back and neck.

3. Happy Baby, or Ananda Balasana (Hatha)

Coming from your sitting forward fold, lay on your back, bring your knees towards and grab your feet with your hands. Then kick your feet up while separating your knees, like a baby. To maximize the stretch keep your chin up, your back flat on the ground and pull your feet inward with your hands as you kick forward – opposing forces! Rock side to side to massage the spine and concentrate on the feeling, not how it looks.

4. Legs Up the Wall, or Viparita Karani (Hatha)

Literally just lay on your back and put your legs up the wall, try to place your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Start with bent knees and straighten your legs slowly. If you can handle it, open your legs as far as you can without experiencing pain for deep hip release. If you need to separate yourself from the wall to avoid back pain, that’s ok. Bonus: it can be done in bed!

5. Extended Corpse Pose or, Savasana (Hatha/Nidra)

Everyone’s favorite! Take your recently stretched body into bed, lay down flat on your back with a comfortable pillow for your neck and head, separate your legs wider than your hips letting your feet fall side to side. With your arms on the sides, palms facing up and your eyes closed, take deep breaths slowly, concentrating profoundly on long inhalations and long exhalations. Try to hold the breath for one beat before exhaling and seek to even out each breath, taking as long to inhale as you do to exhale. Hold for 15 minutes or until you drift off to dreamland.

Work Yoga Into Your Bedtime Routine

To wake up refreshed after a long night, it’s important to make these poses part of your nightly habits. Start by switching off your phone or going into airplane mode, let everyone know you are off and go on with your night routine, whether it’s a quick face wash or a full moisturizing session, complete it before you start to stretch out.

Start taking deep breaths from the first stretch and hold each asana for as long as you feel comfortable. Move slowly and deliberately like you’re taking part in a sacred ritual, because you are –  it’s bedtime.

Make sure that this routine is as important as brushing your teeth and try not to skip it, not even for a day! After a few weeks of a regular practice, you’ll find yourself calmer, more rested and rejuvenated. Above all, be patient; you’re tackling weeks or years of restless nights. Slow progress is still progress. Be kind to yourself, you and your health deserve it.

Hopefully, you found this post useful. Try these asanas and report back to us in the comments below – we’re dying to know how it worked for you! Share with a friend that needs better sleep.

Sweet Dreams!

If you are looking for more beginner poses to transform your body with yoga, then look no further than our

Beginners Guide to Fat Loss Yoga

It has everything you need to get started, including comprehensive instructions on how to perform all the poses correctly, a six week workout schedule, diet advice, plus core strength, flexibility, balance and posture guides!

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