Are there any benefits of yoga for sleep? One of our email subscribers recently wrote in to ask how yoga could help them to overcome insomnia.
I wanted to create an authoritative answer to that question. And so I asked numerous experts—including yoga teachers, psychologists, and therapists—how yoga can help you get to sleep at night.
And it turns out, there are many ways yoga helps with sleep.
“Yoga is recommended as one component of sleep hygiene [you can also use meditation for sleep], as the gentle physical activity and the breathing techniques are beneficial for winding down to a calm state before bedtime,” says Patricia Celan, M.D. “The best routine for sleep involves going through a slow yoga practice involving several stretching poses that do not raise your heart rate too much, then ending with a relaxing horizontal pose such as corpse pose (savasana). After the stretches release endorphins and oxytocin, you can recline in a horizontal pose and drift off to sleep more easily.”
Some types of yoga are better for sleep than others. The slower styles like Yin and Hatha can be particularly helpful because they are so relaxing.
Benefits of Yoga for Sleep
Research proves that yoga helps you sleep and improves sleep quality [source].
Why exactly does yoga help you sleep?
According to Kamini Desai, PhD [Executive Director, Amrit Yoga Institute], it’s all a matter of brain waves.
“Think of alpha brainwave activity as the bridge into sleep . The alpha brainwave state occurs when we are awake, yet restful, just about to fall into sleep or in the early stages of dream sleep. As we age and if we are chronically overstressed, we do not produce enough alpha brainwave activity to fall asleep. By boosting our alpha brainwave activity while awake, through certain yoga poses and other yogic techniques, [and alpha meditation] we can enhance our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.”
Sound great. So what are the best yoga poses for sleep? What sequences should you use?
Yoga Poses For Sleep
Alex Savy [Certified Sleep Science Coach and the Founder of SleepingOcean.com] suggests that the following at the best yoga poses for sleep:
- Legs on the wall, or relaxed Viparita Karani. You can do it right there in your bed. Lay flat on your back with your legs straightened up against the wall (so your body should create a 90-degree bend). This pose helps relax the muscles and the lower back. You can also place a rolled towel under your lumbar section for a bolstering effect.
- Child pose, or Balasana. This one can also be performed in bed (if your mattress is firm enough and doesn’t allow for too much sinkage). Kneel down and bring your feet together. Put your knees hips-width apart and gently bend down, sinking your torso onto the thighs. Your hands can be placed alongside the torso (pointing to the back of the room) or extended in front of you with the palms touching the yoga mat (or the bed surface). This pose is great to reduce tension in the hips and the lower back.
- Happy Baby, or Ananda Balasana. This one may seem ridiculous, but it’s a good way to let go of some steam, stretch your thighs and legs, and massage your spine. Lying on your back, bend your knees and raise the legs up. Try to grab onto your feet (or the ankles, or your calves, if you can’t reach the feet). You can roll gently from side to side to massage your lower back (and kind of rock yourself to sleep).
- Corpse Pose, or Savasana (my personal favorite). Lay flat on your back, with your legs and arms stretched away and relaxed. Your feet should be hips-width apart, and the arms should rest alongside your body (palms facing up). Relax your shoulders away from your ears and enjoy. This is probably the most chilled-out yoga pose you can think of, and it’s a great way to calm down and prepare for sleep.
A Yoga Sequence For Sleep
Yoga expert Kesia Parrish recommends the following yoga sequence for sleep.
- Start in Siddhasana but let your eye fall towards the floor, and for 10 breaths try to slow your inhale and exhale, making sure to inhale and exhale fully. This will center you and bring your attention and focus to the present moment.
- Still in Siddhasana gently twist to the right, using your hands to assist, Take 5 slow and complete inhales and exhales before moving to the other side. With every inhale make your spine longer, with every exhale gently twist a little deeper. Twist creates more space and freedom of movement in the spine and can serve as a “wringing out” of stress at the end of the day.
- Cat/Cow pose. 5 times. Cat/Cow stretches your spine and help release any tension in the neck and shoulders.
- Press back to Down Dog and hold for 5 breaths. If your day requires a lot of sitting for you, this is a great way to create space and ease those lower back muscles and actively create space in the spine.
- Gently lower the knees and come to Child Pose, resting your head on the floor or a pillow. Take 5 breaths here. Child’s pose is grounding and creates stillness, calmness and a sense of stability. Resting your head on a surface is supposed to encourage your brain to relax.
- Lay on your back with your legs up the wall or headboard if you are on your bed. Hold for 10 Breaths. Legs up the wall pose helps with recirculation and the drainage of the lymphoid behind the knee and in the groin. It offers calmness and eases pressure on your lower body. Something needed if you spent your whole day on your feet.
- Hug your knees into the chest and do Supine twists right and left. Take 2 breaths on each side.
- Move away from the wall into Supta Baddha Konasana. Hold for 5 breaths. This will release any tension left in the hip or groin and opens the chest and shoulders.
- TheLast pose is Svasana. Close your eyes and take as many breaths as you deem necessary. Svasana works to calm the brain, lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety and insomnia.
Using Yoga When You Wake Up At Night
Finally, a tip for when you wake up in the middle of the night.
According Renee Manzari [CEO and founder of LivityYoga], “aking up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning can be cured with half froggy pose. It instantly releases the hip and allows the body to relax.”
Yes, yoga can help you get to sleep at night, as well as offering myriad other health benefits. And unlike many forms of yoga, when you’re using yoga for sleep, you don’t even need to put too much effort in, because the slow an relaxed poses are the best ones.
I just want to thank all our experts for their help on this article. Why not thank them in a comment below.