How Yoga Can Improve Your Sleep Quality

How Yoga Can Improve Your Sleep Quality (2024)

Last updated: 25.03.2024 Reading time: 5 Min.

Yoga has long been associated with rest and relaxation.

But, with a quieting of the mind, you’re also undoubtedly on your way to deeper, more restful sleep. 🧘

So, can incorporating yoga into your routine significantly improve your sleep quality?

Let's find out.

How Yoga Can Improve Your Sleep Quality

The science of sleep and yoga

Yoga [1], an ancient practice rooted in Indian philosophy that most people in the Western world are familiar with, has been shown to positively influence both the body and the mind, offering significant benefits for sleep quality.

Scientific studies [2] often show that regular yoga practice improves sleep quality by reducing stress and calming the nervous system.

This calming effect is partly attributed to yoga’s ability to decrease the production of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, thereby promoting relaxation and making it easier to fall asleep - and stay asleep.

Moreover, yoga’s impact on the nervous system through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “rest and digest” system, further facilitates a state of calm and relaxation conducive to sleep.

By reducing stress and balancing hormonal levels, yoga helps regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycles, which is important for the production of melatonin, the hormone directly responsible for regulating sleep.

melatonin and cortisol production
Melatonin is an important hormone in sleep regulation.

In addition to the physiological benefits, the psychological effects of yoga, including enhanced mindfulness and reduced anxiety, contribute to improved sleep quality.

The meditative aspects [3] of yoga encourage a focus on the present moment and help mitigate the racing thoughts that often hinder sleep.

By fostering a state of mental clarity and relaxation, yoga practitioners [4] can achieve a more peaceful mind, easing the transition into restful sleep.

Key yoga practices for enhancing sleep quality

So, which types of yoga should you be doing to snooze better?

It turns out that not all yoga is helpful for sleep (head to the FAQs for more on this), but there are some specific practices and poses that can help you achieve better sleep.

Gentle asanas

Incorporating gentle yoga poses into your evening routine can significantly improve sleep quality.

Try the following:

  • Standing forward bend (uttanasana): Stand tall, and then bend your torso down slowly over the front of your legs. Depending on your flexibility, your hands can rest on your elbows, shins, or the floor.
  • Child’s pose (balasana): Kneel on the floor with your toes together and knees hip-width apart, then lower your torso between your knees. Extend your arms forward, with palms facing down, and rest your forehead on the mat.
  • Reclined butterfly (supta baddha konasana): Lie on your back and press the soles of your feet together, letting your knees fall to the side.
  • Legs up on the wall (viparita karani): Lie on your back and rest your legs up against a wall so your body makes an L-shape.

These asanas help release physical tension, calm the mind, and prepare the body for rest.

Performing them with slow, mindful movements enhances relaxation and sets the stage for a good night’s sleep.

Pranayama techniques

Breathing exercises, or Pranayama, are crucial in regulating the body’s energy flow and calming the nervous system.

The following are particularly effective:

  • 4-7-8 breathing method: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds.
  • Alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana): Use your right thumb to close your right nostril, inhale deeply through the left nostril, then use your ring finger to close the left nostril and exhale through the right, continuing this alternating pattern for several cycles.

These breathing exercises balance the body’s energy channels and promote mental clarity, thereby aiding in sleep readiness.

breathing exercises for better sleep
Breathing exercises can help you sleep better.

Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness and relaxation are integral parts of any yoga practice, and integrating these into your nightly routine can improve your sleep hygiene and greatly enhance sleep quality by easing the mind into a state of deep relaxation.

meditation in bed
Meditation - part of a yoga practice and alone - can help improve sleep quality.

Practices such as guided sleep meditations or simply focusing on the breath can help quiet down racing thoughts and alleviate stress, making it easier to drift off into restful sleep.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra, often referred to as “yogic sleep”, is a powerful meditation technique that holds profound benefits for physical rest and mental relaxation.

Unlike traditional sleep, where consciousness drifts, Yoga Nidra guides you to a state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep, promoting deep relaxation while remaining fully aware.

This practice involves lying down in a comfortable position and following a guided meditation that progressively relaxes each part of the body.

By doing so, Yoga Nidra helps to release built-up tension, reduce stress, and quiet the mind, which are common obstacles to a good night’s rest.

Regular practice of Yoga Nidra before bedtime can facilitate a smoother transition into deep, restorative sleep.

Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga, with its focus on deep, prolonged stretches and meditative breathing, offers a unique pathway to improved sleep.

This gentle form of yoga targets the body’s connective tissues, encouraging relaxation and release of deep-seated tensions.

By holding poses for several minutes, practitioners activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is essential for initiating the body’s relaxation response.

person sleeping with sheep
The effects of yoga can help you drift off more easily.

The slow and introspective nature of Yin Yoga fosters a meditative state, helping to calm the mind and alleviate the mental clutter that can hinder sleep.

This combination of physical unwinding and mental tranquillity makes Yin Yoga an excellent practice for those struggling with sleep disturbances

Incorporating yoga into your nighttime routine

Incorporating yoga into your nighttime routine can seem daunting amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life in the UK, where long hours and high stress levels are common.

However, integrating yoga into your evening can be both simple and flexible, fitting into even the busiest schedules.

Start by setting aside just 10 - 15 minutes before bed to engage in a series of gentle asanas or a short mindfulness meditation.

This small investment of time can already significantly impact your sleep quality.

If you’re concerned about physical limitations, remember that yoga is highly adaptable - poses can easily be modified to accommodate any level of flexibility or strength, and all you need is a quiet corner and a mat - or even just a soft carpet.

By demystifying the practice and focusing on its accessibility, yoga can become a valuable and achievable part of your nightly ritual, leading to improved sleep and overall well-being.

So, can yoga help improve sleep quality?

Yes, absolutely - the right kind of yoga practices focusing on rest and relaxation can calm your body and mind sufficiently to help you drift off into a peaceful slumber.

Regular practice will even help you fall asleep more quickly and enjoy deeper sleep overall.

Frequently asked questions

  • Does yoga help with insomnia?


    Yoga has been shown to be an effective tool in combating insomnia [5], offering a natural and holistic approach to improving sleep quality.

    The practice of yoga addresses the physical, mental, and emotional factors that can contribute to insomnia.

    • Gentle asanas (postures) help release physical tension in the body.
    • Pranayama (breathing exercises) promotes relaxation of the mind, easing the kind of mental restlessness that often leads to sleeplessness.
    • The meditative aspects of yoga encourage mindfulness and stress reduction, which are key in mitigating the anxiety that can exacerbate insomnia.

    Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence support the positive impact of regular yoga practice on sleep patterns.

    Many individuals experience a decrease in sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), fewer nocturnal awakenings, and an overall improvement in sleep duration and quality.

  • Does yoga help with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?


    Yoga can be beneficial for individuals suffering from Restless Legs Syndrome [6] (RLS), a condition characterised by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations.

    The gentle stretching and muscle relaxation provided by yoga poses can help alleviate the symptoms of RLS by improving circulation and reducing muscle tension.

    Yoga practices focusing on relaxation and mindfulness can also help manage the stress and anxiety that often exacerbate RLS symptoms.

    While yoga may not cure RLS, it can be an effective part of a comprehensive management strategy, offering relief and improving the quality of life for those affected by the condition.

    Please note: It’s always recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new excerise regimen. We are not healthcare professionals and our articles are meant to serve informational purposes only.  

  • Which yoga is best for sleeping?


    Restorative, gentle hatha, and yin yoga are among the best styles to practise for improving sleep quality.

    These forms of yoga focus on relaxation, mindful breathing, and gentle stretching, making them ideal for preparing the body and mind for restful sleep.

    • Restorative yoga: This style emphasises deep relaxation, using props like bolsters and blankets to support the body in passive poses. Holding these poses for longer durations promotes stress release and mental calmness.
    • Gentle hatha yoga: Hatha yoga, in its gentle form, focuses on slow-paced stretching, basic poses, and relaxation techniques. It’s excellent for beginners and those looking to wind down before bedtime.
    • Yin yoga: Yin yoga targets deep connective tissues, holding poses for several minutes. This practice helps release physical tension and cultivates a meditative state conducive to sleep.

    You can also focus on incorporating individual poses, such as Forward Bend, Legs-Up-The-Wall, and Child’s Pose, to improve sleep quality.

  • Why can’t I sleep after yoga?


    If you find it challenging to sleep after practising yoga, several factors might be at play: 

    • The type of yoga you’re doing: Vigorous yoga styles, such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, especially if practised close to bedtime, can be energising rather than calming. These practices raise heart rate and adrenaline levels, which might keep you awake.
    • Timing: Practising intense yoga poses or engaging in a stimulating workout too close to bedtime can disrupt your body’s natural wind-down process. Allowing a few hours between your yoga practice and sleep is beneficial to let your body and mind settle.
    • Mental stimulation: Yoga can sometimes stir up emotions or thoughts, particularly if your practice includes meditation or introspective components. This mental activity can sometimes make it harder to fall asleep immediately afterwards.
    • Physical discomfort: If you’re new to yoga or returning after a break, some poses might cause physical discomfort or soreness, impacting your ability to fall asleep comfortably.
    • Overstimulation: Yoga increases awareness and sensitivity to your body and environment. If your practice heightens your alertness, you might become more sensitive to factors that disrupt sleep, like light, noise, or temperature.

    To mitigate these issues, consider practising gentle, restorative yoga or meditation in the evening. These practices can promote relaxation and prepare the body for sleep.

    Experimenting with the timing and style of yoga can also help you find a balance that supports better sleep.

    If sleep difficulties persist, consulting a healthcare provider to explore other underlying causes may be helpful.

  • Can yoga help me dream better?


    Yoga can indirectly influence the quality of your dreams by improving your overall sleep quality and reducing stress levels.

    By facilitating deeper, more restorative states of sleep, yoga can increase the likelihood of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the phase of sleep most associated with vivid dreaming.

    The mindfulness cultivated through regular yoga practice can enhance your awareness in both waking and dreaming states, potentially leading to more lucid dreaming experiences.

    While yoga itself may not directly change the content of your dreams, by promoting a healthier sleep cycle and a more relaxed state of mind, it can create a better environment for positive and memorable dreams to occur.

  • References

Nicky

Nicky Peters

Editor & Certified Sleep Therapist

Nicky is an experienced writer and editor with BA, BA(Hons), and MA qualifications. As a certified sleep coach, her interests lie in understanding how sleep problems arise from hormonal and environmental issues, particularly as part of stress and anxiety management.

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