We all know that it is so much easier to tackle the day ahead if we have just woken up from a restful night’s sleep. Having difficulty getting to sleep or frequently waking in the night, with a head full of thoughts can quickly turn a simple day into a day of nightmares. Even if you haven’t tried yoga before or you don’t practice regularly working through a few yoga poses in your pyjamas can be a great way to prepare the body for much-needed rest. For me sleeping is up there with my list of favourite things to do and I get so upset with myself when my sleep feels off….so how can yoga help?
HOW YOGA HELPS TO PREPARE THE BODY FOR SLEEP
The practice of yoga asanas – the yoga poses - focuses on moving the body in connection with your breathing. The Upanishads, some of the oldest yoga scripts, cite the use of the physical postures of yoga as a way to prepare our bodies for sitting still for long periods of meditation. Many yogis today will be familiar with the ‘savasana’ – the pose of total relaxation taken at the end of a yoga class. The sequence of yoga poses, whether in a vinyasa flow or held in more restorative yin postures are simply put, preparing the body for rest. For many of us, this can be the most beneficial and important pose of a yoga class.
By focusing on the breath and calming the body yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, lowers cortisol levels and can result in a more relaxed state of mind. In the traditional stages of sleep, this level of relaxation allows alpha waves to be produced in the brain. Naturally, the next step would be quiet sleep (non-rapid-eye movement). Logically it, therefore, makes sense to move the body gently, connect to the breath, and reduce the external stimuli and stressors to your body to prepare for the earliest phases of sleep.
ADDING YOGA TO YOUR BEDTIME ROUTINE
A good bedtime routine is vital, and fitting yoga asana poses into this can be a great addition. Keeping your yoga mat next to your bed can help as a gentle reminder for your practice, or you can even try the poses on your mattress. If you don’t have a yoga mat, try laying out a blanket, the main thing is to mark a little space for you. Most of us have a small space to the side of our beds and taking a few minutes for yourself can help regain time during the night….and the following day. Create that special moment for YOU. Do whatever you need to feel comfy, get into your favourite cosy pyjamas and woolly socks, light a candle or simply lower down the lights.
THE BENEFITS OF YOGA FOR POOR SLEEP
Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that insomnia is more common in women and that for many of us we will be more vulnerable to experiencing sleep issues at various stages of life, both linked to hormonal and lifestyle changes. The good news is that yoga can help. In a review on the impact of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia, no worsening of sleep problems or unwanted effects were observed, and the majority of studies showed an increase in sleep quality. Of the nineteen included studies, six were conducted in healthy participants. All of the studies included yoga postures, with some adding in meditation and breathing (pranayama) practices. When all studies were combined, the analysis demonstrated a significant improvement in sleep problems. This effect can be seen more clearly in healthy women and with a longer duration of practice.
WHAT TYPE OF YOGA WILL HELP SLEEP
While a high-paced vinyasa flow at the end of a busy day can boost your energy levels, yoga just before bed should focus on relaxation and unwinding. Try to spend 1-2 minutes in each posture, moving slowly as you transition to the next. Be gentle with yourself, remember this is time for self-care and compassion and to leave all expectations on the other side of the bedroom door. Be guided by your body and where you are that evening. Breathe and relax! Then when you are ready, climb under the duvet for some serious Zzzzzzz.
For some bedtime yoga try: 6 yoga postures for blissful sleep.
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 The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis Wang W et al. BMC Psychiatry 20, 195 2020. https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02566-4