Yoga for Better Sleep
A quiet and calming restorative yoga session can leave you in that liminal space between sleep and wakefulness. If you’re practicing in the evening, why not build on that momentum? Let your yoga practice guide you right into a peaceful night of sleep.
Sleep Restores Us
Let’s talk about sleep first. We all need it, and if we’re getting enough, we’ll spend about a third of our lives asleep. Every process in our bodies is affected by the amount and quality of sleep. From strengthening our immune system to processing our memories, sleep does it all. If you’re looking for a way to increase the quality of your life, start with the quality of your sleep.
Maybe you’ve used a sleep app or a fitness tracker that provides information on your sleep. For now, let’s forget about those and tap into your intuition. Do you feel well-rested in the morning or are you way too tired throughout the day? Does it take you a while to fall asleep at night or can you doze off easily? If you’re getting the sense that you’re not getting enough shut-eye, or that your ZZZs could be a little stronger, you might consider adding yoga to your bedtime routine (or, starting a bedtime routine if you don’t have one yet!).
(We do want to note that if you have chronic sleep problems, you should talk with your doctor. This article is meant to be about our personal experience with the relaxing effects of yoga before bedtime, and should not be taken as medical advice. Carry on!)
While yoga isn’t a silver bullet, it can help us calm our minds and bodies, leading us to a peaceful night of sleep. You can tap into the power of your yoga practice to support your nighttime routine and access a place of deep rest. So, how do you incorporate yoga into your nighttime regimen?
Developing Your Bedtime Routine
Having a bedtime ritual is a beautiful way to transition away from the day and into a tranquil zone that supports good sleep. Sleep experts recommend consistency, particularly around going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. You have probably noticed that you need a period of time to wind down before bed. If you’ve been on the go all day and then you hop right into bed, you’ll probably still be feeling too activated to fall asleep quickly and easily.
That brings us to the importance of a steady bedtime routine. Think of it as a bridge between your waking and sleeping life -- a way to signal to yourself that the work of the day is done, and now it’s time to rest. Knowing all that sleep does for us, setting yourself up for a strong night of sleep is the ultimate act of self-care. Start by putting the electronics away and engage in some relaxing, soothing activities that will signal to the body that it’s time to rest.
Now, you can incorporate yoga into this period of winding down. We’re talking about gentle or restorative yoga here, not the legs-behind-the-head pretzel shapes that you might be accustomed to seeing on Instagram. Grab your Alma Yoga mat, some pillows, and some blankets, and let’s get ready for bed!
Yoga for Bedtime
A slow, gentle practice is a great way to wind down for the night. Dim the lights, find your coziest props, and let your body know that it’s time to call it a night.
We recommend staying away from too active practice late at night. It may seem like a vigorous flow would leave you exhausted just in time for bed, but it’s more likely to keep you feeling too activated to fall asleep. Exercising too close to bedtime can keep the core body temperature up as you try to sleep, which can make it difficult to drift off into your slumber. Instead, we want to cool the body down.
Put on some comfy clothes, come to your mat and find your easy seated pose (sukhasana) or a laying down position -- any position that allows you to arrive in your practice with ease. Start with a pranayama (breathwork) practice. Close your eyes and focus on your breath, noticing the rise and fall of each inhale and exhale. Place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest to really feel into your breath. Begin to extend your exhales to be longer than your inhales. You can use a count (for example, inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of 6), or just let your breath move with your intuition. A slow, measured exhale signals to the body that it’s time to slow down. In fact, it even decreases the heart rate. Let your breath come easy here.
For your asana practice (physical poses), try some light stretching and restorative postures. You can move intuitively here; think about what would feel good in your body. Take your time and luxuriate in each posture that you choose. There’s no rush or hurry here -- our only goal is to feel good! Here are some of our favourite poses and movements:
Come to a comfortable seat. On your inhale, bring the shoulders up towards the ears; on your exhale, move the shoulders back and down. Take this sequence a few times, linking your movement with your breath. Feel the space build between your shoulders and your ears and notice the tension release in your upper back.
Sit up tall, then bring the chin down toward your chest. Roll right ear to right shoulder, and pause here. Feel a stretch through the left side of your neck. To deepen this sensation, walk your left hand out to the side, keeping the fingertips tented on the ground. Stay here for 3-5 breaths, then come through center and move to the other side.
Seated Forward Fold
Sit with your legs extended out in front of you, knees slightly bent. On your inhale, sit tall; on your exhale, hinge at the hips to fold your torso over your legs. Then, allow the shoulders to round, dropping your head toward your legs. Only fold as far as feels good - there’s no pressure here!
Come to tabletop position on your hands and knees, with a neutral spine to start. Inhale as you move into cow, dropping the belly low as you lift the gaze high; exhale as you move into cat, rounding the spine and bringing the gaze inward toward the belly. Let these movements be slow but deliberate. Come through 5-7 rounds, moving with the breath.
Extended Child’s Pose
From your tabletop position, bring your big toes together and sink your hips back toward your heels. Bring the knees out toward the edges of your mat. Rest your forehead on the mat and bring your arms out long in front of you, palms facing down. Rock your forehead gently side to side, signaling to the body that we’re here for rest.
To set up for supported bridge, lay down with your back on the mat and soles of your feet on the ground, knees pointing up toward the ceiling. Bring your heels in toward the body, just close enough so that you can brush them with your fingertips. Press your heels into the ground to lift the hips up and slide Alma Cork Block underneath your sacrum, the base of your spine. Rest your hips onto your prop, and let your weight sink down into the prop and your mat. Relax here for 10-15 minutes.
Begin your transition to stongehenge by lifting your hips just high enough to remove your prop. Slowly make your way up to your seated position, and take your time to get there! The time in between each posture is just as important as the posture itself. To set up for stonehenge, stack several pillows, blankets, or bolsters at the end of your mat. Place your calves on top of the props, and scoot your hips toward the props so that your knees are somewhere around a right angle. Then, slowly lay down onto your back again.
Take the time to set your props up so that you feel fully supported; you should be able to rest in these poses for ten to fifteen minutes without any holding or tension in the body. As you settle into the pose, let go of any muscular effort, and feel your body sink down into the mat and props. Notice each physical sensation here -- your contact points with the ground, the sound and feeling of your breath moving in and out of your body, and gentle closing of your eyelids. Try out some different poses and see what feels best for you. As you continue to practice, you’ll be able to fine-tune your routine by knowing what props work best for each pose and what postures offer you the deepest rest.
Practicing in a softly-lit space will enhance your time on the mat as your transition into bedtime. A salt lamp can provide some nice ambiance, or you might even practice with the lights off. To further block out light and prepare the body for sleep, drape an eye pillow over your closed eyes as you rest in each restorative posture. If you don’t have an eye pillow, a soft scarf or a washcloth make a great substitute.
When you feel relaxed and ready for the waves of sleep to wash over you, make your way into bed. Once you hop under the covers, you can come into savasana, or just drift right off to a night of sleep.
Are you doing yoga before bedtime? Has it helped you relax and unwind? Let us know in the comments!
Prepared by Laura Birdsall
Laura views yoga as a practice of coming home to herself. She offers studio and private classes, and aspires to support others in deepening their yoga practice. Find Laura on Instagram at @lauraabird