Yoga helps improve your sleep. FACT.
Studies have proven that yoga can have a positive effect on your sleeping pattern by easing your nervous system and helping you control your breathing. You can believe in science or try it yourself. There have been many studies that have proven that yoga can have a positive effect on your sleeping pattern by relaxing the nervous system and helping control your breath. Learning to breathe through your nose is an important factor as well to improve your sleep and your overall well being (just go ahead and read “Breath” by James Nestor for all the science behind nose breathing!)
There are multiple good articles with numbers and data of people who have improved their sleep via yoga, as well as lengthy explanations on how this works. Some of my favourites are "Insomnia Solutions", "Yoga & Sleep" & "Yoga e Sonno". For the purpose of this post, I prefer to share with you the story of my dear friend Daniela with whom I did my yoga teacher training. We met while I was going to university way back in 2005 in Rome and at the time we would party hard on the weekends together till silly o’clock in the morning. While I’d go to sleep till noon the next day, she would go home, shower and with barely any sleep go to work. In the beginning, it was cool, like a superwoman with superpowers in my eyes. We all envied that she could get away with no sleep but then realised it became exhausting for her. She suffered from severe insomnia and even when we would not go out partying, she still would not be able to sleep. She saw multiple doctors from a young age and experimented with various supplements to support her sleep, however it was not until one doctor advised her to try yoga that she finally resolved her sleeping issue.
Little did she know that not only was she going to start sleeping better but it was also the beginning of her yoga career. We ended up doing our training together, being roommates for a month learning and growing together as yoga teachers and she is now a brilliant teacher. And throughout the training, she was sleeping easily at night. And the day!
“When I started practising yoga, the benefits on my sleep were visible immediately. I was very young with no clue on what meditation was, however, I found a very peaceful state of mind while I was practising Hatha Yoga with a small group of old ladies. It was fun because I was the only teenager in the class, but from the very first class I felt so deeply relaxed and that well-being sensation, that I said to myself: I’m not going to stop doing this, whatever it is!
So, with the help of my teacher, I realized how good the final relaxation, Savasana, was for me. At night, even when I couldn't fall asleep, I would use yoga Nidra; there was no podcast or YouTube videos, so I used to guide myself into that deep relaxation. Scanning and releasing my body from toes, to crown of the head.. sometimes it worked, and by the middle of the meditation I was sleeping, other times it didn't which was still ok. I could just stop overthinking for a short time, but the resting feeling was almost the same as a nap. After years of practice, I just realised how to control that overthinking, and how important is the rest, not only for the body but mostly for the mind.
Nowadays, I still happen to have Insomnia, but it doesn't bother me, I put my legs up on the wall (Physically stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System) a Yoga Nidra recording, and I fall asleep in a couple of minutes.” Daniela Primerano
Now, to the facts you want to hear about: the reason why yoga helps improve your sleep is that there are various poses that help calm the parasympathetic nervous system. Others have “the ability to lower cortisol levels, aid a sense of relaxation to ease anxiety or depression.” Not only do the postures bring on these physical benefits, but the breathwork, where you oxygenate the body through asana practice, helps calm the mind which also supports better sleep.
Many Yoga postures stimulate the pineal gland, a small soybean size gland located in the brain. The pineal gland - which deserves a whole post for itself - is part of the endocrine system that is made up of the pituitary gland, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal and other reproductive organs and pancreas. The pineal gland is responsible for producing melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the different functions of the body. In the brain, melatonin acts like the inductor for sleep, diminishing the activity of the cerebral waves. It helps regulate sleep.
The world of yoga is great and diverse, and with many different styles and variations, one must be cautious on what type of practice they engage in before bedtime if they need support with sleep. An energising class such as a dynamic powerful class can be great in the morning all the way to the afternoon, however closer to bedtime if you need help with sleeping, a more relaxing, restorative slow class would be recommended as you need to slowly unwind from the day. Using a Yoga Nidra recording could also be a supportive way to help your sleep.
Want to try Yoga Nidra? Try this short 24-minute relaxation.
If you are short on time for a full practice, here is a simple sequence for you to do right before bed in your pyjama where no sweating is involved. Each posture can be held between 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Click here or the image below to download PDF
If you have trouble sleeping, try different yoga classes and breathing techniques till you find the one that your body responds to best and enjoy a good night's sleep.