People around the world have turned to yoga to cure what ails them – or at the very least, ease what ails them. From anxiety to insomnia, pain to digestive troubles, many have found yoga is improving their lives for the better.
The word yoga stems from the word union and is a mind-body practice. It is an ancient practice and one of the six orthodox philosophical schools of Hinduism. Yoga is thousands of years old and originated in India. It is believed the first yogi practices originated around 3000 BCE. The practice has adapted and evolved, and has become extremely popular in the Western world over the past several decades.
If you associate yoga with high-intensity exercise and extreme flexibility, you are half-right. And although some schools of yoga look like that, there are many different types of yoga that focus on alternative outcomes, spiritual practices, and physical movements. There are also different yoga states. Not all yoga is excellent for sleep. For example, hot yoga and vinyasa flow yoga styles are more likely to get your heart rate and temperature up, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Instead of these styles, hatha or nidra yoga is better for pre-sleep sessions.
Yoga nidra, for example, is a state of consciousness similar to light sleep. It’s the space between wakefulness and being asleep and is often referred to as mindful meditation. Unlike other forms of yoga, there is no to little movement involved. This form of yoga focuses on breathing and sitting or lying in restorative positions. It is more of a mental practice in a state of deep relaxation.
Scientific studies have found that when practicing yoga nidra, there is an increase in dopamine released in the brain and reduced blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and the subcortex. It has also been found to reduce pain like headache or abdominal pain, sweating, heart palpitations, and treat U.S. soldiers who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
One of the most renowned benefits of yoga is its effect on sleep. A regular practice can relieve both mental and physical tension, helping you fall into a longer, more restful sleep. So, if you want to feel more rested in the morning, you need to spend some time on your zafu meditation cushion before your head hits your millet pillow at night.
How will yoga help me sleep?
There are several ways that yoga helps you sleep at night. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits now.
1. Improves sleep quality
In 2013 a study was conducted on the impact of long-term yoga practice on sleep quality and quality of life in the elderly. The results revealed that daily yoga helped improve sleep quality as well as the quality of life.
According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 55% of people who practice yoga have improved sleep and reduced stress.
2. Increases weight loss
Weight loss can contribute to restless nights, sleep apnea, and even insomnia. When you practice yoga consistently, you can achieve weight loss and, in turn, sleep better. Yoga has been found to have a positive effect on weight maintenance and loss, making you more mindful of your eating. A number of studies have found that yoga effectively reduces obesity and helps individuals maintain a healthy weight as over 40% of yoga practitioners eat healthier.
3. Relaxes you
Mediation and yoga will relax your body and mind. After a busy day at work when tension and stress builds, you can decompress with yoga to put you in a better state for sleep. Yoga has been found to lower blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol. The same CDC report mentioned previously cited that over 85% of yogis reported reduced stress. Meditation and focused breathing are a large part of yoga, and they will reduce anxiety and stress to help you sleep.
4. Helps with insomnia
Insomnia makes it difficult for millions of people to fall and stay asleep. It can cause a number of long-term effects and reduce one’s quality of life. A 2019 study researched the impact of mind-body therapies on insomnia. The research found that yoga promoted better sleep and improved sleep patterns. Another study providing individuals with insomnia yoga training and then asked them to practice it every day for eight weeks. They found that it took these individuals less time to falls asleep, reduced the number of times they woke up in the night and increased the total amount of time they slept each night.
5. Increases mindfulness
When you sit on your zafu meditation cushion and meditate or practice yoga, you are increasing your mindfulness. Research has found that mindfulness reduces nighttime sleep disturbances and increases melatonin levels.
6. Unwinds your nervous system
Your central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord and is responsible for reacting to sensory stimulation. When you sleep, hormone levels change, and your central nervous system goes into a different state which is when you essentially become unconscious. Yoga will help move this process along by increasing the blood flow to your brain's sleep center and stimulating the release of hormones that are good for sleep.
7. Levels up your nighttime routine
We have stressed the importance of a solid nighttime routine for a good night's sleep on our blog before. Rushing to bed or working on your laptop or phone just before you go to sleep can leave you tossing and turning all night. If you have a habit of watching TV or scrolling on social media before bed, try replacing it with yoga.
8. Reduces neck, shoulder and back pain
If you have neck, shoulder, or back pain, you may find sleeping makes your pain worse. Your priority should be to ensure you have a supportive pillow that will keep you aligned, like a millet hulls pillow or a buckwheat hulls pillow. In addition to having the proper support, yoga has been found to alleviate pain in the neck and back which means you can enjoy a pain-free sleep.
Who is yoga for? Will I benefit from yoga and meditation?
Yoga can be modified and adapted to fit you and your needs and, therefore, it benefits everyone, regardless of age or experience. That said, specific demographics could particularly find yoga helpful before laying down on their buckwheat hulls pillow at night.
According to the Sleep Foundation, yoga can help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder sleep better. Sleep disorders are common in children with ASD, and yoga can lessen stress, improve mental health, and improve sleep.
Adult women are more commonly plagued with sleeping difficulty than men and can benefit from yoga and meditation. In 2012 a study examined 92 prenatally depressed pregnant women who were randomly assigned to a tai chi/yoga or control group for 22 weeks. The tai chi/yoga group practiced for 20mins in a group class once per week for 12 weeks. At the end of this period, they looked at their depression and sleep disturbance scores. The results revealed at those who practiced yoga had fewer sleep disturbances and depression.
Similar results were found in another study published a year later that examined the effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women. The researchers found that yoga intervention in women can be beneficial when managing sleep problems. Yoga can also help women experiencing menopause as research has found that it reduces anxiety, depression, and improved sleep.
The elderly are also more prone to sleep issues like sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome. Regardless of their current mobility, yoga and meditation can help ease these sleep troubles.
How often do I need to practice yoga to sleep better?
If yoga isn’t currently a part of your daily regimen, you don’t need to jump right in and start doing it every day (although if you want to, go for it!). The occasional 20-minute practice can make a difference. That said, research has found that for lasting improvements, a consistent and long-term yoga practice will give you the best results.
Try to incorporate it into your bedtime routine. Using a zafu meditation cushion and a yoga mat, put on some relaxing music, dim the lights, and either practice yoga nidra or a slow flow. If you are looking for some easy positions to try with your buckwheat pillow, take a look at our blog post Using a Buckwheat Pillow for Yoga and Meditation. Sleep experts recommend leaving the bedroom for sleep, so try doing this in another room where you will have enough space to spread out.
Tonight, before you crawl into bed and lay on your millet hulls pillow, engage in a relaxing 20-minute yoga practice and see just how much better your sleep is. Sweet dreams and namaste!