The Benefits of Yoga for Sleep

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Yoga is an ancient practice that combines meditative movements, physical exercise, stretching, breathing, and attentiveness. It can have a wide range of health benefits, including better sleep. Because yoga can be relaxing and restorative, it is a great way to wind down from a busy day.

If you are spending too many nights tossing and turning, incorporating yoga into your daily routine might be helpful. This ancient practice can be a valuable tool for combating stress, so it is often particularly useful if your nighttime insomnia is related to stress. Yoga is a healthy way to combat feelings of anxiety and worry.

This article discusses some of the reasons why yoga can be beneficial for sleep, the best types of yoga to practice before you doze off, and poses to try. It also covers how to make bedtime yoga a regular habit. 

Why Yoga Is Good for Sleep

There are a number of reasons why yoga might help improve your sleep. Some of these include:

  • Breath awareness: Breathing is an essential part of yoga, so regular yoga practice can help you become more aware of your breathing and how it affects your mind and body. Deep breathing, in particular, can help relax your body and improve your sleep.
  • Mindfulness: Yoga may also be helpful because it is a mindful approach to physical activity. Mindfulness, which involves focusing attention and awareness on the present, has been shown to increase melatonin levels in the body, which can help improve sleep.
  • Physical activity: Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise can play a role in helping people sleep better. While you should generally avoid vigorous physical activity in the evening hours, light to moderate exercise such as gentle yoga won't interfere with sleep and can actually help you sleep better.

Recap

Yoga is relaxing and can help you wind down after a stressful day. It can also improve sleep by improving breath awareness, increasing mindfulness, and boosting physical activity levels, all of which have been shown to enhance the quality of sleep.

What the Research Says

Research also supports the use of yoga as a sleep aid. For example, studies have found that:

  • Pregnant women who practice yoga experience fewer sleep disturbances.
  • Older adults who practice yoga report having a higher quality of sleep. 
  • One study that analyzed the results of past research concluded that yoga had a beneficial impact on women who were experiencing sleep problems.

Some evidence also suggests that yoga might help relieve symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS), a disorder that causes compulsive leg movements that often interfere with sleep.

Best Types of Yoga for Sleep

There are many different types of yoga that you might try, but not all of them are right for helping you sleep better. Certain types of yoga can be more challenging and heart-pumping. For example, hot yoga or vinyasa are both forms of yoga that are higher-intensity. If better sleep is your goal, it is important to select an approach focused more on relaxation and stretching.

Here are the best types of yoga to do before sleep:

  • Restorative yoga: This restful practice invites the body to rest in poses held for upwards of 20 minutes each. The body is supported with the use of props such as blankets, blocks, and bolsters to ensure deep relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Yoga nidra: Also known as yogic sleep, this form of yoga is done laying down and utilizes guided relaxation to withdraw from the senses and drop into a deep state of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness.
  • Hatha yoga: This type of yoga is centered on different body positions, known as asanas. It is usually practiced at a slower pace and utilizes deep breathing, stretching, and controlled movements.

Yoga Poses to Try

Fortunately, you don't need to become a yoga expert to benefit from this practice. Learning a few simple moves and practicing them as part of your nighttime routine can ease tension and relax your body so that you can sleep peacefully.

Your nightly yoga routine should focus on poses that encourage relaxation. Talking to a yoga instructor can be helpful, but some basic poses you might try include:

  • Standing forward bend (uttanasana): This pose involves allowing your torso to fold over gently bent legs while in a standing position with head and neck relaxed towards the floor. Depending on your flexibility, you can rest your hands or forearms on your legs, the floor, or by clasping opposite elbows with opposite hands.
  • Happy baby (ananda balasana): This pose involves lying on your back, drawing your knees up to frame your ribs with feet flexed towards the sky, bending the legs at a 90-degree angle and, with hands on feet, gently pulling your knees down towards the floor while keeping your back rooted to the ground.
  • Reclined bound angle pose or butterfly pose (supta baddha konasana): This involves lying on your back and bringing the soles of your feet together, dropping your knees out to the sides.
  • Corpse pose (savasana): This pose is performed by lying on the floor with your arms relaxed at your sides and palms facing up. Your legs should be stretched out straight.

Recap

Focus on choosing yoga that incorporates light to moderate activity along with deep breathing and gentle, controlled movements.

How to Start

According to the experts, having a regular, predictable nighttime routine is a healthy sleep habit. While you don't want to do anything too invigorating in the evening hours, many yoga poses can help signal your body that it is time to rest. 

Before you climb into bed, consider spending a little time doing a few of these poses. Here are some tips to guide your practice:

  • Make it a habit: It matters less when you do yoga each evening and more whether you are making it part of your regular nighttime routine. It can be helpful to simply make it a habit along with putting on your PJs, washing your face, and other nightly rituals.
  • Create a relaxing environment: Sleep experts recommend reserving the bedroom just for sleep and sex, so it's best to practice yoga in a separate room if possible. Find a spot where you have plenty of room to move, but make sure to get comfortable. A carpeted area can be a great spot, but you can also invest in a yoga mat. Make sure to dress in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Focus on your breath: Because the deep breathing used in yoga is so beneficial for sleep, make sure you are focused on that as you perform your yoga poses. It's OK if you get distracted but work on gently bringing your attention back to your breath if you notice your mind wandering.

Recap

Careful body movements, gentle stretching, and controlled, deep breathing can calm your body and prepare you for a restful night.

A Word From Verywell

Sleep problems are a major concern for many adults in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night. However, 35.2% of adults in the U.S. report averaging less than that per night.

If you struggle with your sleep, yoga can be a great addition to your nightly routine. Good sleep is essential for both physical and mental health, so finding ways to address your sleep problems is essential for your overall well-being.

Yoga is not a substitute for other treatments, however. If you are still experiencing sleep problems after trying yoga and other healthy sleep practices, you should talk to your doctor. You may have a sleep disorder or another health condition, so discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional can help you get the appropriate treatment that you need.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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