To say that quality sleep is “really important” is a massive understatement. True rest and adequate hours of sleep give the body and mind the restorative time they need to function at their best. Without a healthy sleep routine, there is a risk of experiencing physical fatigue, brain fog, a nagging sense of irritability, frustration, and melancholy. There are also many less-obvious sleep-related issues that can pop up, including poor digestion, a depleted immune system, and dehydration. And, this is just the tip of the poor-sleep-iceberg.
Luckily, yoga can help.
A growing number of scientific studies show just how beneficial yoga is for sleep. Research deduces that not only can yoga help us wind down physically, but over time, it can contribute to more regular circadian rhythms and a regulated parasympathetic nervous system (where our fight or flight response lives!)—thus fostering more restful evenings and brighter mornings.
Here are a few ways yoga contributes to better sleep:
Reduces stress: A routine yoga practice or even one-time breathing exercise are effective in dropping cortisol levels, reducing adrenaline, and smoothing out the parasympathetic nervous system. With this type of impact, yoga can help our bodies and minds become more equipped to drift off quicker and stay asleep once we’re out.
Relaxes muscle tension: There is nothing more frustrating than laying down after a long day and having a difficult time getting comfortable. When our muscles are sore or carrying too much tension, it can be extremely hard to truly “let go” and be able to fall asleep. Through asana (the physical expression and poses of yoga) we can reduce muscle tension, increase flexibility, and relieve sore or tight areas that disrupt peaceful rest.
Improves blood circulation: Poor circulation can be the culprit for many subtle and not-so-subtle nuisances. Tingly hands and feet, muscle cramps, or a general feeling of restlessness all could be due to a lack of adequate blood flow. Through pranayama (breathing) and asana (physical poses), we increase our ability to pass oxygen-rich blood to all areas of the body, including major organs like the brain and heart. This is also important for REM (rapid eye movement)—a sleep stage that is critical for important brain functions like memory.
Regulates breathing: Snoring, sleep apnea, and congestion are just a few common examples of how poor respiratory conditions can get in the way of catching the ZzZzs we want and need. One of the most important (if not THE most important) components of yoga is the breath—as the practice encourages us to take quality inhales, deep exhales, and develop a smooth breathing cycle to carry with us throughout our days. Additional benefits of yoga include building cardiovascular strength and endurance, which helps take pressure off our lungs and allows oxygen to flow more freely. Additionally, controlled breathing can have a soothing effect on our nervous system to help calm nerves, over-thinking, or anxiety that may keep us up tossing and turning.
Interested in improving your sleep with yoga but not quite sure where to start? Yoga Alliance offers a virtual Yoga for Beginners series that is a great option! Join Kevin Karas, MA, as he guides you through a relaxing restorative pose to help you wind down before you go to bed. During this 7-minute class, you’ll settle into the most comfortable option of supported reclined butterfly pose for your body, soaking in the benefits of relaxation and allowing yourself to be fully supported by the props below you.
Not in the mood for a whole class? No problem! Try laying on your back on the floor or bed and place your feet up against the wall. This pose, called Legs Up the Wall, will put your body and mind into a natural state of ease and help you transition into a happy, peaceful sleep.