Yoga is an ancient practice that can help promote better sleep and relieve stress. Here, we’ll show you how to build a nighttime routine around the best yoga poses for sleep.
by James Han
If you’re feeling short on sleep, you’re not alone — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35% of adults don’t get enough of it.
With increased stress levels and everything from bills, emails, texts, chores and more competing for our attention on a nonstop basis, it’s no wonder that our brains are struggling to tune out the noise.
While plenty of healthy habits or tricks such as journaling and avoiding tech before bed may indeed improve your shut-eye, research also suggests that gentle yoga and meditation can be a helpful addition to your nighttime routine. In fact, yoga, combined with other ancient Ayurvedic traditions such as essential oils, can lead to better rest and help restore physical and mental well-being. Here, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of sleep yoga and a few yoga poses for better sleep.
How To Use Yoga for Sleep
Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a newcomer to the mat, developing a safe and sustainable yoga practice involves trial and error as well as knowing the limits of your body. Though yoga for sleep is often gentle and involves stretches, breathwork and visualization rather than aerobic sequences or challenging tests of flexibility, the principle is still the same: Listen to your body.
We recommend including yoga at the end of your typical nighttime routine — after you’ve changed into comfortable clothes, brushed your teeth and finished all tasks for the day. That way, you can simply drift from your post-yoga relaxation into bed. Avoid caffeine, screen time and eating several hours before your practice and, again, pay attention to your body. If a pose is stimulating you, cut the exercise short and avoid it in the future.
Yoga Poses for Sleep
The following yoga poses for sleep can help calm your mind and relax your muscles. We recommend you start with a quick meditation. Sit quietly on a cushion, close your eyes and pay attention to your natural breathing as a way to settle into your practice and take a moment to set an intention.
Legs Against the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Viparta karani, also known as “legs-up-the-wall pose,” can help lower your heart rate, drain excess fluid build-up in the legs, relieve back tension and relax the pelvic floor. Simply set up your mat perpendicular to a wall, scoot your hips as close to the wall as possible and walk your feet up so that your body forms an L. Close your eyes and take deep breaths in and out through your nose for at least 3 to 5 minutes. You can even do this in your bed, if it’s against a wall.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Bridge pose is a great way to calm your brain and relieve stress. Simply lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, close together but not touching. Rest your arms by your sides, palms up. Keeping your shoulders and the back of your head and neck against the floor, press your heels into the mat and raise your hips. Breathe in and out through your nose at least eight times.
Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
Seated forward fold soothes the nervous system as well as stretches the entire back of your body, particularly your hamstrings and calves. To start, sit on the ground with your legs together and stretched out in front of you. Bend forward from your hips and crawl your fingers as far forward as they’ll go (reach for your toes). Hold, while breathing deeply, for at least a count of 20.
Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
Happy baby pose can help ease tension in the lower back and clear persistent thoughts from your mind. While on your back, bring your knees into your chest, grab hold of the outer sides of your feet with each hand and extend your knees wide. Hold this for at least 30 seconds and up to a minute. You can rock side to side on your back to give it a little massage, if you’d like.
Yoga Nidra and Visualization
Did you know that you can practice sleep yoga from the comfort of your own bed? Yoga nidra, an ancient technique that specifically helps with sleep (“nidra” means “sleep” in Sanskrit), is a meditation that draws your mind’s eye to different parts of your body and takes you on a journey of sensory experience and relaxation. You can find guided versions on YouTube to play while you settle into bed; and after a few times you can even try practicing it on your own, without a script.
You can also practice Deepak Chopra’s “recapitulation” technique, designed to help you release yourself from all the day’s events and baggage. While in bed, simply close your eyes and go back to the first thing you remember about your day. Then, as if watching a film, go through the events of the morning, afternoon and evening, letting yourself pass through the images without attaching yourself to them. This should only take about five minutes at most.
CBD and Essential Oils for Sleep
Yoga by itself is a powerful component of a nighttime routine, but there are additional natural ways to amplify its effects and help you get a better night’s rest. Certain essential oils, for instance, can help promote deep sleep, and cannabidiol (CBD) binds to receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system to help you find balance amidst stress. We recommend taking a dropperful of STOP tincture — formulated with chamomile, valerian root and lavender essential oils and amplified with CBD — right before your nighttime yoga practice. This will give it enough time to enter your bloodstream and ease you into sleep.
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James Han is a writer, editor and content strategist based in Los Angeles. When he’s not deep in a Google Doc, you can find him reading, rotoscoping and taking long walks.