Yoga is a form of meditative movement that combines attentiveness and focused breathing with physical exercise. The practice began over 3,000 years ago and is grounded in Indian philosophy, however there are many schools or types of yoga. Each variation emphasizes different postures or exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation practices.
There are many positive effects yoga can have on wellness, including improved mental and emotional health and stress, relief of some types of pain, weight loss, and improved sleep. This article focuses on the relationship between yoga and better sleep.
Over 55% of yoga practitioners report improved sleep and over 85% report reduced stress. Many studies demonstrate that yoga can improve sleep for a variety of different populations. These studies typically focus on one’s quality of sleep rather than the quantity, as increased amounts of sleep do not necessarily correlate with quality sleep and overall wellbeing. While the definition of quality sleep varies among sleepers, it usually includes feeling energized for the day and a lack of disturbances.
Yoga has been shown to help benefit all age ranges and improve sleep. From children to the elderly, yoga provides numerous health and sleep benefits.
For instance, sleep disorders are common among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Yoga as a behavior intervention can lessen stress for children with ASD and improve their mental health, which can help with sleeping difficulties. It can also help parents and subsequently the well-being of the whole family.
Adult women in particular often have more difficulty sleeping than men. Studies have demonstrated that yoga can benefit many subpopulations of women. For example, pregnant women who practice yoga have reduced sleep disturbances in addition to reduced prenatal anxiety and depression. Women in menopause who practice yoga have also found similar outcomes; they have improved sleep and reduced depression and anxiety.
Elderly populations also often report having sleep disturbances. These disturbances range from snoring to insomnia to restless leg syndrome (RLS), which can affect one’s overall quality of life. Preliminary research has shown that elderly people who do yoga regularly have both improved quality of sleep and improved overall quality of life.
Occasional yoga practice will likely improve sleep quality more than no practice at all. However, regular, long-term practitioners experience better sleep quality.
If you aim to use yoga as a tool to improve your sleep, consider making a schedule where you regularly practice. This may include attending classes weekly, designating a certain time of day to practice at home, or a combination of both.
There are many ways that yoga can help improve the quality of sleep:
There are also particular sleep disorders that can be positively impacted by regular yoga practice.
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Insomnia can have many long-term effects, including daytime sleepiness and impairment, memory loss, and mood changes. Studies have demonstrated that yoga can be beneficial in managing sleep problems such as insomnia. Yoga can especially benefit particular groups of people with insomnia, such as postmenopausal women and women with breast cancer.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a compulsion to move the legs that is often unpleasant or even painful. This urge frequently happens during periods of inactivity, such as nighttime. RLS affects women more than men.
In a pilot study of women with RLS, after just eight weeks of yoga classes, their RLS symptoms were significantly alleviated. Sleep, stress, and overall mood were much improved as well. While further study is needed, these results suggest that yoga is a positive tool to improve sleep in patients with RLS.
There are many types of yoga that provide health and wellness benefits. During the day, any type of yoga practice is appropriate, so long as the user is comfortable. High-activity forms of yoga, such as vinyasa or hot yoga, are a good type of moderate to high exercise. Such exercise, when done at least several hours before bedtime, can help you sleep better at night.
Since high-activity yoga forms elevate the heart rate, it’s best to avoid these practices right before bedtime. People who wish to practice yoga nearer to bedtime will find a slower and restorative type of yoga more suitable:
Poses done before bedtime should encourage the body to relax and sleep. Recommendations among yoga instructors and physicians vary, but the following poses are commonly suggested:
Keep in mind that the sleep environment should primarily be used for sleeping; find another quiet location to do your yoga poses before you go to sleep. Be sure you are in a safe space free of any potential hazards.
If you have any concerns about your yoga practice, consult a yoga instructor and/or a physician. Remember that yoga is not a substitute for medical treatment. In the event of persistent sleep disturbances or other concerns, consult your physician to develop a treatment plan.