Yoga is a type of mind-body therapy that combines mindfulness, physical postures, and breath control. Research has shown it can improve sleep, particularly in older adults, during pregnancy, and during menopause.
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Yoga can help reduce stress, which is a common cause of insomnia. Since yoga can help with managing stress, it may help with insomnia.
In this article, we will discuss how effective yoga is for stress-related insomnia, different types of yoga and poses to try, and how to start regularly practicing yoga for sleep.
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on conscious breathing, flexibility, and strength. It aims to improve spiritual, mental, and physical health.
People can practice styles of yoga that include spirituality or styles that do not. Similarly, some types of yoga focus more on stretching and relaxation, while others are more physically demanding.
Not all of the studies in the analysis found that yoga had a positive effect. Yet, they did find that yoga had no adverse effects. As a result, yoga may be a fairly low risk strategy to try for sleep before trying other treatment options.
A 2019 research review found that mind-body therapies, including yoga, significantly reduced the severity of insomnia in previous studies.
Not all types of yoga help improve symptoms of insomnia. Hot yoga and Vinyasa are high intensity types of yoga that can increase the heart rate, which may not be helpful before bed.
Instead, people can try low intensity forms of yoga for sleep. Some examples include:
- Gentle Hatha yoga: Hatha yoga encompasses a number of subtypes of yoga, but in general, they all involve slowly moving the body through different postures in synchronization with the breath. Gentle hatha yoga can be slower and less active, which may make it a good option before sleep.
- Restorative, or Yin, yoga: This type of yoga focuses on deep stretching and involves holding the same position for a long time rather than moving the body in a flow.
- Yoga Nidra: This form of yoga involves lying down and inducing a state between waking and sleeping. The aim is deep relaxation. A 2020 study found that a daily 11-minute yoga Nidra practice improved stress and sleep after 30 days.
A few yoga poses that may help a person relax before bedtime include:
Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
To perform this pose:
- Sit sideways against a wall, with the legs straight out in front of the body.
- While exhaling, lower the upper body down to the floor and swing the legs up and over the body so they rest against the wall.
- Keep the arms at the sides, palms facing upward.
- If desired, place a cushion under the sacrum for lower back support.
To stretch the inner thighs, a person can also allow the legs to fall open while against the wall in this pose.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
To perform this pose:
- Kneel on the floor, allowing the tops of the feet to flatten against it.
- Make sure the knees and feet are together, with the big toes touching.
- Sit on the heels of the feet.
- Lean forward, folding the spine over the legs so that the forehead touches the floor or is close to it. Use a block underneath the forehead if desired.
- Either rest the arms at one’s side or extend the arms in front of the body, with the palms facing down.
A person may wish to widen the knees and allow the upper body to rest down between the thighs. Keep the big toes touching.
Rest here for as long as it is comfortable, focusing on the breath.
Reclined Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
To perform this pose:
- Lie down on the back, with the legs and arms out straight.
- Bend the knees and draw the feet toward the pelvis, so that the soles of the feet touch each other.
- Interlock the fingers and rest them on the stomach.
Stay in this position while staying mindful of the breath.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Finish the routine with Corpse Pose. This can be a good pose for meditating at the end of a yoga session.
To practice this pose:
- Lie flat on the back.
- Straighten the legs and arms.
- Keep the hands open, with the palm facing upward.
- Allow the ankles to fall open.
- Take a deep breath and relax the muscles.
- Continue focusing on the breath.
When a person wants to finish, they can flex their hands and feet to wake the body back up, then slowly roll onto one side and sit up.
Even short yoga sessions can be helpful for reducing stress and improving sleep. To get started:
- Choose a regular time: Choose a specific time to practice yoga, not long before bed, and try to stick to this every day. For example, a person might want to do yoga half an hour before they go to sleep, after they have gotten ready for bed.
- Create a calm environment: A person may want to dim the lights, play ambient sounds, or diffuse essential oils while they practice yoga. This can create a relaxing mood and may also help with building an association between yoga and sleep.
- Wear loose nightwear: Rather than getting changed in and out of yoga clothes, it may be better to wear loose nightwear, so that a person can go straight from gentle yoga to sleep.
- Start slowly: If a person finds it difficult to focus for long periods or is new to yoga, they may prefer to start with short sessions. Later, they may want to build on this and work up to longer sessions.
Yoga is a safe mind-body therapy that can reduce stress, which can help with stress-related insomnia. There are many forms of yoga, but if a person wishes to practice before bed, then styles such as Yin yoga or gentle Hatha yoga may be the most suitable.
People can practice any yoga pose that helps them relax, but some good options to start with include Butterfly Pose, Child’s Pose, and Corpse Pose. Try practicing at the same time every day, shortly before bed.