We’ve all been there, tossing and turning in bed in the early hours of the morning completely unable to switch off and drift into a peaceful sleep. No matter which sleeping position we try or which side of the pillow we bury our heads into, we just can’t sleep.
Our minds race through every aspect of the previous day that we could have handled differently. Our ever-growing to-do lists mock us in the darkness.
For some of us, sleep deprivation is only an occasional torment, but for others, it is a consistent problem in the form of sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. Sleep disorders are often attributed to the stresses and anxieties associated with modern society and those who suffer try desperately to find sleep via medications and sleeping pills.
But now people are starting to overlook medication and synthetic aids for sleep deprivation and instead turn to a natural remedy and a healthy tip for sleep – yoga.
How yoga fits in with good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a term for a number of habits and environmental factors that can dictate how good a night’s sleep we get.
Some of them are basic and fairly common knowledge. For example, avoiding caffeine and nicotine before bedtime is a big ‘No’. But you already knew that right? Food can also play part in the quality of our sleep. Fried meals or foods high in fat can cause heartburn which will play havoc when it’s time to hit the hay. Instead, try to substitute them for healthy foods whenever possible.
What you may not have already known, is that light exercise before bedtime is also a key factor of good sleep hygiene and can work wonders for helping you to drift into sleep. And yoga can be particularly effective!
So how does yoga help you sleep?
As we mentioned earlier, stress is one of the most common causes for a number of sleep disorders, and it can stem from a number of sources. The busy commute to work, crammed onto the subway like a sardine, financial worries or arguments with loved ones. However it was caused, stress can build up throughout the day and keep us awake at night, no matter how tired we might be.
Practicing yoga regularly can help you to sleep better, by lowering the levels of cortisol, a.k.a the stress hormone, in the brain. After even a brief yoga session, you will feel more relaxed, less stressed and better prepared for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Additionally, merely developing a routine of practising yoga before bed can boost your sleep hygiene. You see, the routine is another factor for sleep hygiene. By carrying out the same activities around bedtime each night, they become synonymous with sleep and the brain begins to prepare itself for sleep when it recognizes them.
The effects of yoga are not unsubstantiated either. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School produced a study a few years ago to document how a daily yoga routine affected sleep patterns in participants suffering from insomnia. The participants kept sleep diaries for two weeks prior and eight weeks during a period of routinely doing yoga before bed.
The study found that yoga improved several aspects of sleep, including the total amount of sleep and the time it took to fall asleep.
The best yoga poses to aid sleep
Now that you’ve read about the potential benefits of yoga on sleep, not to mention the more well-documented boosts to mental clarity, core strength and flexibility, why not try it for yourself to see if it works for you? Everyone is different, and unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that yoga will help everyone overcome sleep disorders, but there’s certainly no harm in trying.
Now, before you grab your yoga mat and rush into the first yoga exercises you can find, it’s important to note that there are numerous styles of yoga, each with different benefits and applications.
In order to relax your mind and give yourself the best possible chance of a good night’s sleep, it makes sense to avoid dynamic yoga styles such as Vinyasa and Hot Yoga.
Instead, opt for more relaxing, breath orientated yoga styles such as Hatha and Nindra yoga. Here are a few poses you to try today!
Savasana or corpse pose
This pose is the ultimate relaxation technique.
- Step 1: Lie on your back with your legs outstretched and your arms about 6 inches away from your body.
- Step 2: Close your eyes and try to relay your entire body.
- Step 3: Hold the pose for about five minutes.
Legs up the wall
This pose is particularly great for beginners as it’s perfect for calming the nervous system and clearing the mind. Plus, it’s totally easy to do!
- Step 1: Lie on the floor facing toward the ceiling with your butt as close to the wall as is comfortable for you
- Step 2: Extend your legs up the wall, resting them on it.
- Step 3: Stretch your arms out in a T shape and focus on your breathing. Maintain the pose for anywhere between 2-10 minutes.
Salabhasana or locust pose
This pose not only promotes calmness but tones the abdominals too. Win-win!
- Step 1: Lie on your belly with your hands clasped behind your back. Inhale.
- Step 2: As you exhale, bring your chest and arms up and dig your toes into the floor.
- Step 3: Hold the pose and focus on your breathing. Continue breathing and holding the pose for up to one minute.
Another pose that can relieve stress, uttanasana is also great for flexibility. It can be tricky to master though, so take it easy to begin with
- Step 1: Stand shoulder-width apart and hold your elbows above your head.
- Step 2: Exhale and begin to bend down, bringing the crown of your head down toward the floor.
- Step 3: When you reach your limit, hold the pose and focus on your breathing.
Supta Padangusthasana or reclining big toe pose
Another yoga pose that should be easily attainable for most beginners.
- Step 1: Lie on your back, bringing your big toes together.
- Step 2: Raise your right leg into a vertical position, and grab the back of your thigh.
- Step 3: Hold the pose for around five breaths before switching legs.