Yoga isn’t just beneficial for improving strength, flexibility and stress levels it can also help you sleep better especially if you suffer from insomnia.
Yoga for sleep
People who experience insomnia often find that when they perform yoga daily they sleep for longer. Also many people fall asleep faster and return to sleep more quickly if they do wake up in the middle of the night.
There is very good evidence that people with chronic insomnia have elevated levels of adrenaline. Some insomniacs have higher levels right before they go to sleep. By developing a yoga ritual, this can bring your nervous system back into balance and improve your sleep for good.
Yoga is a gentle and restorative way to wind down your day. Restorative or Yin yoga are the two best practice to help endues a deep sleep. You can use supportive props like bolsters, blankets and blocks to make poses comfortable so that you can stay in the pose for longer.
Breathwork is key to be being able to relax in the yoga poses. The breath in yoga is equally important if not more important than the physical poses. Use the yogic breathing technique described below (Ujjayi breathing), as it helps to calm the nervous system.
Know your timing
The first step to feeling well rested is to have a regular bedtime. Maintaining consistency will help keep your circadian rhythms, the biological changes that happen every 24 hours steady. Eventually, your body will naturally understand and crave sleep during these hours.
Although eight hours has long been considered the ideal length for a night’s sleep but it’s not just the number of hours you sleep that matters but the time of day you go to sleep that’s important. Our bodies naturally want to arise around 5 a.m., since humans started their day around sunrise before the advent of modern technology. So if you go to bed at midnight and wake up at 8 a.m. you’ll probably feel sleepy even though you’ve had the recommended eight hours of sleep. But if you go to sleep before 10 p.m. and rise before 6 a.m. you’ll likely feel refreshed and ready for the day.
Wind down before bed
The next step is to take downtime between your day and sleep. You can’t just expect to work until 9pm and fall straight to asleep. Turn off your television, computer and phone etc. Instead try playing relaxing music, lighting candles, putting on your favourite pjs. Withdrawing your senses will allow you to turn inward and switch off the business of the mind.
Don’t eat before bed isn’t always the best advice. Some of us benefit from night-time snack. When we sleep we repair. The body needs nutrition when it’s going into a state of healing. It’s ok to have a light snack before sleep. Advised bedtime snacks might include nuts, fruit . It’s also very important that during the day to eat healthy to promote rest at night. Sleep is what we call a yin process but when food has chemicals in it, it becomes yang and the mind goes into a vata state , alertness. A vata-balancing diet no matter what your type is advised. This includes foods such as fruit, milk, nuts, to name a few. If you want to sleep well, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine after 5 p.m.
Breathe for ease
Breath-work is another excellent addition to your nightly sleep routine. Every time you exhale, it slows your heartbeat and that helps calm you down.
Inhale and exhale deeply through the nose saying “ha” keeping your mouth closed. The exhalation should sound like the waves of the ocean (or like Darth Vader from Star Wars). Use this slow and steady breath to soothe yourself in each of these poses.
Keep a sleep diary
When it’s time to go to sleep do you start replaying the day’s events or think of what you need to do in the morning? A great way to calm a busy mind is to put your thoughts down on paper. Write down what’s on your mind to get all of your worries out before you hit the pillow.
After getting into bed, try a body scan as you lie in corpse pose or savasana in sanskit.
Lying down on your back with your eyes closed. Scan your body from your head to your toes. Tell each part of your body to relax or to let go of all effort. If you have trouble doing this on your own you can download an app for your phone that you can listen to or get a CD of meditation, guided imagery or yoga nidra which is a deep relaxation yogic practice.
Once you’ve chosen your specific night-time routine, repeat it every night to cue your body that it’s time for sleep.
A few restorative yoga poses to practice before bed.
Reclining bound angle pose
Lie flat on your back. Bring the soles of your feet together with legs bent. Place a pillow under both thighs and an optional pillow behind your head. Place your hands on your stomach. With eyes closed bring your awareness to your breath. Focus on feeling the rise and fall of your torso with each slow and deep breath you take. Stay for up to 3 minutes.
- Lie on your side with your knees bent towards your chest.
- Tuck a pillow under the side of your body and place another under your head.
- Focus on each slow, deep breath you take.
- Stay for up to 3 minutes.
- Bend your knees and sit back towards your heels.
- Rest your chest and belly on a stack of pillows.
- Relax an ear on the pillow with your eyes closed.
- Your arms can rest on the sides of the pillow.
- Breath slowly and focus your attention on your breath. Stay for up to 3 minutes.
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