Originating in ancient India, yoga has become the most popular complementary health practice in the U.S. Generally, yoga involves physical postures, breathing practices, and elements of meditation. Many people practice yoga in order to increase flexibility, reduce stress, or improve sleep.

Multiple styles of yoga exist, and they differ in terms of difficulty, movement, and the types of postures and breathing exercises practiced. Yoga nidra is an accessible form of meditative yoga intended to lead to a state of complete calmness. Research shows that yoga nidra may improve sleep in a variety of ways.

What Is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra is an ancient relaxation technique that involves being led through mental imagery while lying on one’s back. In yoga terms, this position is called shavasana or corpse pose. Although yoga nidra has ancient roots, it wasn’t introduced to the public until the 1960s. At that time, a yogi named Swami Satyananda Saraswati began publishing writings that clearly outlined steps involved in the yoga nidra practice. 

The phrase yoga nidra comes from the Sanskrit language and is often described as meaning “yogic sleep.” Yoga nidra is intended to produce a state of relaxation that is similar to sleep, but involves maintaining conscious awareness of the environment.

Scientific research confirms that yoga nidra can trigger what is called a hypnagogic state, in which a person’s brain waves slow and one may enter a state in which the body is essentially asleep while the mind remains aware. For this reason, researchers have suggested yoga nidra could help treat insomnia.

Yoga Nidra vs. Meditation

Yoga nidra and other forms of yoga typically involve aspects of meditation. Meditation is a practice of intentionally directing one’s attention in a specific way, or noticing things without passing judgment on them. 

Some researchers consider yoga nidra a form of guided meditation. Others, however, say yoga nidra differs from meditation in that it is practiced while lying down, not while sitting up. Yoga nidra also differs because it involves entering a sleep-like state, which does not always occur with meditation.

How Yoga Nidra Can Improve Sleep

Existing research suggests that yoga nidra may help people fall asleep faster and experience higher quality sleep. The practice may also promote deep sleep and potentially improve sleep by reducing stress and pain.

Experts have suggested that yoga nidra may improve sleep by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and dampening the effects of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers a stress response, while the parasympathetic helps restore the body. By reducing sympathetic and increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, yoga nidra may relax the body and increase time spent in deep sleep.

Other Benefits of Yoga Nidra

In addition to improving sleep, researchers have suggested yoga nidra may provide additional benefits. 

Anxiety and Stress Reduction

Multiple studies have found that practicing yoga nidra can reduce anxiety and stress in adults in general. It’s also been studied in specific groups of people, including college professors, college students, nursing students, people who have experienced sexual trauma, people with high blood pressure, and those grappling with COVID-19-related stress.

Yoga nidra likely improves stress and anxiety for the same reasons it improves sleep — by slowing the sympathetic nervous system and prompting the parasympathetic. Research measuring autonomic nervous system activity confirms that engaging in yoga nidra triggers a relaxation response through a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic activity.

Improved Mood, Confidence, and Self-Esteem

One study found that regularly practicing yoga nidra improved mood, well-being, and self-confidence in adolescents. Another study found that practicing yoga nidra improved the self-esteem of college students. 

Yoga nidra may improve a person’s confidence and self-esteem by reducing stress. Past studies have found that self-esteem and stress management are closely related. For example, people having trouble managing stress tend to have lower self-esteem.

Improved Menstrual Symptoms

Multiple studies suggest that yoga nidra could be a potentially effective treatment for unwanted symptoms related to menstruation. Those who practice yoga nidra may experience fewer cramps, less pain, fewer digestive symptoms, and less anxiety and depression associated with their period.

Yoga nidra may improve menstrual symptoms through the practice’s effects on hormones. Research has found that people who practice yoga nidra have reductions in menstruation-related hormones, such as prolactin, thyroid-stimulating hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and more.

Other Benefits

Initial studies have found that yoga nidra may provide other benefits such as:

  • Increased alertness
  • Faster reaction times
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Slower heart rate
  • Lowered blood sugar levels
  • Reduced pain and inflammation

How to Do Yoga Nidra

You may practice yoga nidra by finding an instructor in your area or following audio or video recordings available online. Yoga nidra often involve these steps:

  1. Lying in the shavasana pose, which is flat on your back with your hands apart 
  2. Affirming a short, positive statement, called a sankalpa 
  3. Mentally visualizing different parts of the body and becoming aware of where the body rests on the floor 
  4. Focusing on breathing by visualizing air flowing in and out of the body 
  5. Recalling sensations related to personal experiences, as well as opposite feelings, like pain and pleasure 
  6. Visualizing specific scenes and emotions, often in a space just in front of the eyes 
  7. Repeating the earlier sankalpa or positive statement 
  8. Gradually returning awareness to the body, the room, and the present moment

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment or medication. Always consult your doctor before taking a new medication or changing your current treatment.

Learn more about our Editorial Team

10 Sources

  1. Sharpe, E., Lacombe, A., Butler, M. P., Hanes, D., & Bradley, R. (2021). A closer look at yoga nidra: Sleep lab protocol. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 31(1), Article_20.

  2. Sharpe, E., Tibbitts, D., Wolfe, B., Senders, A., & Bradley, R. (2021). Qualitative impressions of a yoga nidra practice for insomnia: An exploratory mixed-methods design. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 27(10), 884–892.

  3. di Fronso, S., & Bertollo, M. (2021). The thin line between waking and sleeping in athletes: A call for yoga nidra in the sporting context. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 654222.

  4. Markil, N., Whitehurst, M., Jacobs, P. L., & Zoeller, R. F. (2012). Yoga nidra relaxation increases heart rate variability and is unaffected by a prior bout of hatha yoga. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 18(10), 953–958.

  5. Ferreira-Vorkapic, C., Borba-Pinheiro, C. J., Marchioro, M., & Santana, D. (2018). The impact of yoga nidra and seated meditation on the mental health of college professors. International Journal of Yoga, 11(3), 215–223.

  6. Pence, P. G., Katz, L. S., Huffman, C., & Cojucar, G. (2014). Delivering integrative restoration-yoga nidra meditation (iRest®) to women with sexual trauma at a veteran’s medical center: A pilot study. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 24, 53–62.

  7. Rajagopalan, A., Krishna, A., & Mukkadan, J. K. (2022). Effect of om chanting and yoga nidra on depression anxiety stress, sleep quality and autonomic functions of hypertensive subjects – A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, 10.1515/jbcpp-2022-0122. Advance online publication.

  8. Vaishnav, B. S., Vaishnav, S. B., Vaishnav, V. S., & Varma, J. R. (2018). Effect of yoga-nidra on adolescents well-being: A mixed method study. International Journal of Yoga, 11(3), 245–248.

  9. Yang, N. Y., & Kim, S. D. (2016). Effects of a yoga program on menstrual cramps and menstrual distress in undergraduate students with primary dysmenorrhea: A single-blind, randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 22(9), 732–738.

  10. Rani, K., Tiwari, S., Singh, U., Agrawal, G., Ghildiyal, A., & Srivastava, N. (2011). Impact of Yoga Nidra on psychological general wellbeing in patients with menstrual irregularities: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Yoga, 4(1), 20–25.


Learn More About Meditation for Sleep

Meditation for Sleep

By Danielle Pacheco February 26, 2024

What Is Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)?

By Jay Summer February 26, 2024