You’ve tried melatonin and magnesium, taking some deep breaths after you crawl under the covers, and even committed to keeping screens out of your bedroom. Yet you’re still tossing and turning. One idea? You might benefit from a bedtime yoga practice.
That’s because of yoga’s superpower ability to relax both the body and mind. The way we’re thinking and feeling physically can each have an impact on our ability to fall asleep—and stay asleep. And doing a restorative form of yoga before bed is an expert-approved strategy to ease both racing thoughts and achy muscles.
How yoga can help with sleep
Yoga has been proven by research to improve sleep. As writer Saanya Ali previously reported for Well+Good about the science of yoga for sleep, “A 2013 study conducted on people 65 years or older found that participants who practiced yoga had better overall sleep quality, as well as fewer instances of disturbed sleep, and fell asleep more quickly. And yet more research found that people with chronic insomnia slept better with consistent practice.”
- Katie Hagel, ANFT-certified nature and forest therapy guide, Ayurvedic health counselor, and Kripalu Yoga instructor
- Kier Gaines, licensed therapist and mental health advocate
- Michelle Cassidy, yoga instructor
- Rachel Land, yoga teacher, educator, teacher trainer, and writer based in Queenstown, New Zealand
- Sarah Trahan, NMD, naturopathic physician in Arizona
What makes it so effective? Here are three of the top reasons yoga can be your ultimate sleep ally.
1. Yoga can reduce stress
As we know, stress is a major culprit when it comes to falling asleep and getting quality sleep. Luckily, yoga has been proven to reduce stress by calming the nervous system—which also needs to happen for a good night’s sleep.
“Sleep is a function of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system devoted to rest and digestion,” Katie Hagel, a yoga instructor at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, previously told Well+Good about the connection between yoga, sleep, and stress. “Not surprisingly, sleep onset and yoga are both associated with an increase in parasympathetic activity.”
By doing a yoga flow before bed, you’re giving your body a head start at transitioning from a stressful state (modulated by the sympathetic nervous system) to a relaxed state (the parasympathetic nervous system).
2. Yoga can ease aches and pains
The combination of movement and breath can help your muscles and joints work out their drama before you become hyper-aware of them when you get into bed.
“The movements or asanas provide an opportunity to modulate connective tissue heath,” Sarah Trahan, NMD, staff physician at the Neil Riordan Center for Regenerative Medicine who focuses on improving health through a natural approach, previously told Well+Good about yoga and pain. “Yoga positions stretch long chains of muscles and fascia, which can calm the nervous system which is largely involved in how we feel physically. Poor posture and muscle conditioning in addition to emotional stress contribute to everyday aches and pains as well as chronic pain conditions.”
Because of the way our circadian rhythms work, aches and pains can come rushing in at bedtime, making getting comfortable in bed feel like a tall order. A calming yoga routine can help you avoid this frustrating pattern.
3. Bedtime yoga can help you establish a routine
Having a ritual you do every night signals to your body that it’s time to make the transition from wakefulness to sleep.
“Passing out on the couch and preparing for bed conscientiously are not the same thing,” licensed therapist and OLLY ambassador Kier Gaines previously told Well+Good about sleep strategies. “Some people find relaxation in the ritual of a night routine.”
Anchoring that routine with bedtime yoga does double duty since both the routine, and the act itself, can help you prepare for bed.
How to do yoga for sleep
Yoga comes in many shades, from strenuous to relaxing. You’ll definitely want to choose a restorative yoga practice if you’re doing yoga for sleep, particularly if you’re doing it before bed.
“Restorative yoga aims to create deep mental and physical relaxation by down-regulating the nervous system,” Rachel Land, a Yoga Medicine therapeutic specialist once told Well+Good about restorative yoga. “[It] has the capacity to offer wide-reaching physical and mental benefits, including impacts on heart rate, blood pressure, breath rate, digestion, resting muscle tension, mental state, fatigue, and even perceived pain.”
Restorative yoga oses can sometimes be held for several minutes at a time. That results in a stretching and lengthening of muscles, connective tissue, and fascia. It also provides a relaxing “workout” for your mind while requiring you to focus on your breath.
When to do yoga for sleep
Timing is everything when using yoga for sleep. According to Michelle Cassidy, yoga instructor at Emily Sky FIT, you should try to make yoga the last thing you do before shutting those eyes. That means you avoid looking at your phone or any other screen during or afterwards, and don’t bite off a longer yoga session than you’re up for. A few minutes is all it takes.
The best bedtime yoga moves
As an experiment, Well+Good reporter Amber Sayer initiated a bedtime yoga practice for two weeks to see how it would affect her sleep. She ended up falling asleep in one third of the time it took her before starting to practice bedtime yoga! Here are the yoga expert-recommended moves she practiced, holding each for about 30 seconds.
- Child’s pose: Sitting on your knees, lower your forehead to your mat, walk your finger tips forward, and send your weight into your heels.
- Sphinx pose: Lying flat on your stomach, place your elbows under your shoulders and forearms flat on the floor, lifting up your upper body into a small backbend.
- Pigeon pose: Starting in downward dog, bring one knee forward and place it behind the wrist on the same side, then inch the back leg backwards and lean your upper body forward over the front shin.
- Legs up the wall pose: Lying on your back with your glutes next to a wall, rest your feet on the wall.
- Cat-cow: From a hands-and-knees quadruped position, slowly arch the spine lifting the head, then contract and drop the head down.
- Supine twist: Lying on your back with legs straight, bend one knee and bring it over your body to the opposite side and let it rest toward the floor while looking in the other direction.
- Bridge pose: Lying on your back with feet flat on the floor, lift your hips up until there’s a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
Prefer to follow along with an expert teacher? You can try this relaxing 18-minute evening yoga routine from Crunch group fitness instructor Liz Fichtner, designed for Well+Good’s Trainer of the Month Club:
Although Fichtner created this flow for seniors, truly anyone can benefit from its relaxing, sleep-inducing effects. You’ll even use a pillow to really help get you in the mood for bed. That’s what we call a smooth transition into slumber.