Lifestyle
Lifestyle

Yoga for Better Sleep: Benefits and Poses

Written by: Allyson Hoffman

Updated February 26, 2021

 

When you hear the word “yoga,” you might first think of fitness classes or even intense workouts. However, there are many different types of yoga. Some are more gentle. They emphasize attention to breathing and meditation and have fewer poses.

The gentleness of yoga nidra makes it a great, natural tool for helping you sleep better. Yoga nidra, sometimes known as bedtime yoga, is a form of yoga that’s often done while lying down (1).

Yoga nidra and other yoga forms provide numerous health benefits. Research has shown that yoga nidra, in combination with drug therapy, can help diabetics better manage their symptoms and fluctuating glucose levels (2). Additionally, yoga in general can alleviate pain in the neck or back (3). Engaging in yoga can also lessen symptoms of menopause, improve the health of those with chronic pain, and even help people quit smoking.

Plus, nearly 60% of Americans who practice yoga report sleeping better at night (4). So you might be wondering what effect yoga can have on you and your sleep. Yoga aids sleep by positively impacting multiple related health factors. Certain gentle yoga poses are especially useful before bedtime.

Yoga Reduces Stress and Anxiety

You’re probably already aware that stress and anxiety can greatly affect your sleeping habits. Sleep disorders such as insomnia are common among people who have significant stress, anxiety, or depression.

Because meditation is a large component of yoga, it’s no surprise that people who practice yoga find it helps reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, in a study from the Centers for Disease Control, over 86% of practitioners reported that yoga eased their stress or helped them relax, while 67% reported feeling better emotionally as a result of their yoga practice. Research has also shown that yoga can help relieve insomnia (5) and other sleep disorders often connected with stress.

Yoga Helps with Weight Loss

Obesity is a contributing factor to sleep disorders (6), such as sleep apnea. Such disorders can make it difficult to have a restful night of sleep. Because of the connection between weight and sleep, weight loss can improve sleep, sometimes even resolving disorders such as sleep apnea (7).

Numerous studies have shown that yoga can help people who are overweight or obese gradually lose weight. Yoga practice is most effective for weight loss when sessions are long and frequent. It also helps when yoga is practiced at home. A yoga-based diet can also help support weight loss. Over 40% of yoga practitioners reported they eat healthier.

Yoga Encourages Regular Exercise

In addition to its many health benefits, regular exercise is an important lifestyle habit that improves sleep. Yoga is a great way to develop an exercise practice. More than 63% of yoga practitioners report they exercise regularly.

Keep in mind that you don’t want to exercise too vigorously before bedtime if doing so increases your alertness and makes it difficult for you to fall asleep. Instead, choose a quieter nighttime exercise routine. Meditation and yoga nidra are great choices for better sleep because they help your body wind down and relax.

Yoga Nidra Promotes Sleep

Yoga nidra is a great tool for sleep meditation. This yoga practice can feel sleep-like, offering a very deep relaxation (8). Unlike sleep, however, you remain conscious the entire time you're engaging in yoga nidra.

During yoga nidra, you focus on your breathing. Some people choose to perform gentle poses to stretch the body. Others remain lying in corpse pose throughout the session. You also center your attention on different parts of the body. You may even visualize certain images or scenes that an instructor suggests.

Mindfulness meditation is another way to describe the focus of yoga nidra. In mindfulness meditation, you stay centered on the present moment. Your thoughts may wander, and that’s okay. You can acknowledge them without judgment before returning to your point of attention. Many instructors encourage you to identify a positive affirmation to repeat to yourself a few times. Statements can be as simple as “I am enough” or “I am resilient.”

Yoga Poses for Better Sleep

Multiple yoga poses can help promote sound sleep. The following poses can be done for three to five minutes each. The corpse pose can be done for longer if you wish.

There are many types of regulated breathing, or pranayama, you can incorporate into your yoga practice. A common breathing pattern for beginners is ocean breath or ujjayi (9). To engage in this type of breathing, inhale deeply through your nose. When you exhale through your nose, make a “ha” sound at the back of your throat. Keep your mouth closed. This slow breath will sound like ocean waves.

Corpse Pose

Some practitioners of yoga nidra remain in corpse pose for the duration of the session. Many other types of yoga involve multiple poses, then end with corpse pose.

The corpse pose, also called shavasana, is a simple one. To do it, lie down on your back on the floor. Spread your legs a little bit apart. Keep your arms slightly away from your sides and your palms facing up.

It is common to have your eyes closed while in corpse pose. From this position, you can begin the awareness and visualization practices. Consider finding a video with language to guide you until you feel comfortable doing this practice on your own.

Reclining Bound Angle

The reclining bound angle, or supta baddha konasana, relieves tension in the hips and groin. In this pose, you also lie on your back on the floor.

To try the reclining bound angle pose, place your feet on the floor with your knees bent. Slowly bring the soles of your feet together. Let your knees gently fall to the sides of your body. Your hands can remain at your sides, palms up. You can also put your arms above your head and hold your elbows. The stretch should be gentle, not painful. You can add pillows beneath your knees for support or move your feet further from your tailbone if that feels good.

Standing Forward Bend

The standing forward bend, uttanasana, is a gentle stretching pose. Stand with your feet apart. Then, bend forward slowly, reaching for your feet. The goal is to stretch, not strain. You can rest your hands wherever is comfortable, such as holding your elbows, knees, shins, or the floor. When you're finished with this pose, be sure to roll your torso up slowly to avoid a head rush.

Remember that yoga nidra is a practice you can adapt to meet your needs. You can take a class or watch a few guided videos online. Experiment to find what feels comfortable to you. Then, you can enjoy yoga nidra and the sleep and health benefits it offers.

 

References

 

  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-020-01042-2 Accessed February 25, 2021.
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19810584/ Accessed February 25, 2021.
  3. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know Accessed February 25, 2021.
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr085.pdf Accessed February 25, 2021.
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32357858/ Accessed February 25, 2021.
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3630986/ Accessed February 25, 2021.
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32003593/ Accessed February 25, 2021.
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21654971/ Accessed February 25, 2021.
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3655580/ Accessed February 25, 2021.