You are lying in bed, late at night. Even though you are tired, you cannot fall asleep. Tense thoughts are occupying your mind, as you are becoming more and more frustrated.
If you have sleep troubles, you are not alone. Almost 50 percent of adults across the globe regularly experience insomnia symptoms. For many people, sleeping troubles are caused by stress. That’s because stress can lead to anxiety and tension, making it harder to fall asleep. In some cases, stress can simply increase existing sleep issues.
But there is hope! Yoga offers many tools that reduce stress and improve sleep. When you find yourself tossing and turning at night, try these bedtime yoga practices: simple poses, breathwork, and meditation for better sleep.
Yoga postures (asanas) are a gentle way to unwind at the end of the day. They release stress and tension, help you become more present, and restore a sense of comfort.
There is no specific style or sequence that works for everybody. What matters most is how you approach your practice: Move slowly and mindfully. Hold each pose for a few breaths or even minutes. Let yourself relax rather than pushing your body. Breathe slowly and deeply. Use supportive props like blankets, bolsters, and blocks to make the poses more comfortable.
Furthermore, you can choose postures that support your body: If you are often kept awake by back pain, move your spine in “cat and cow” or practice a standing forward bend. If your hips are tight from sitting, try postures that stretch your groins, hip flexors, and inner thighs. Below you will find five postures that are ideal for sleep.
Balasana has a calming and grounding effect. It allows you to relax completely as you are supported by the ground below. From a kneeling position, bring your big toes together and separate your knees. Exhale and let your torso rest on your thighs. Let your hands relax alongside your torso, palms facing up. Alternatively, you can reach your hands forward with the palms facing down. Rest your forehead on the ground or a pillow. Gently roll your head from side to side.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Forward bends have a calming and introverting effect, which makes them ideal bedtime postures. Stand with your feet hip-width apart or a little wider, bend to your knees slightly, and hinge at your hips to fold forward. Let your hands rest on the ground or hold onto the opposite elbows. Exhale and lengthen your back, allowing your neck and shoulders to relax. Either let your belly rest on your thighs or sway gently from side to side. After one minute, slowly roll up to standing.
Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Viparita karani is a restorative pose that soothes the nervous system. It also is a great antidote for tired legs. Sit close to the wall, with one hip touching it. Using your hands to support yourself, gently lower your torso to the floor and simultaneously sweep your legs up the wall. Bring your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Let your legs relax into the support of the wall, keeping the knees slightly bent if necessary. Take whatever arm position feels most comfortable. Stay here for at least three to ten minutes.
Reclining Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This pose opens the hips, which often feel tight at the end of the day. With the support of props it becomes very restful. From a seated position, place a bolster at the base of your sacrum. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, creating a diamond shape. Lie back on your bolster. If your neck feels strained, add another pillow or folded blanket for extra support. Let your neck, shoulders, and legs relax. Stay in this pose for at least three minutes and longer.
There is a reason why yoga teachers advise to never skip savasana: A deeply restorative pose, it helps you integrate the benefits of all previous postures, soothes your nervous system, and prepares your body for sleep at night. Lie on your back with your legs at least hip-width apart and arms resting by your sides. If you like, slide a bolster under your knees to relieve tension in your lower back and place a folded blanket under your head for comfort. Allow your body to melt into the ground. Let your awareness rest in your breath. Stay here for at least five minutes or as long as you like. You can even practice savasana in bed – slowly drifting off to sleep.
Pranayama is one of the essential practices in yoga. In simple terms, pranayama can be understood as breathing techniques. How you breathe has a direct effect on how you feel: Shallow and rapid breaths create tension. On the other hand, breathing slowly and deeply has a relaxing effect on your nervous system. Therefore, you can use your breath to shift from an activated state (stress, restlessness, anxiety) to a state of relaxation. Numerous studies have shown how important this shift is in order to experience deep, restful sleep. While many yogic breathing techniques soothe the nervous system, the following two are especially useful for sleep.
Chandra Bhedana Pranayama
Chandra bhedana is a breathing technique where only the left nostril is used for inhaling. This activates the corresponding right side of the brain, which relates to receptivity, lunar energy, and the parasympathetic nervous system response. Therefore, chandra bhedana is very effective in calming a restless mind and helping you transition into a relaxed state.
Sit comfortably on your bed or the floor. Place your thumb over your right nostril and your ring finger over your left nostril. Blocking your right nostril, inhale through the left. Hold the breath gently, then exhale through the right nostril. This is one round. Breathe in again through the left nostril, hold the breath, and breathe out through the right nostril. Practice ten rounds. When finishing, take a moment to notice the soothing effects of your breath.
Another excellent breathing technique for soothing the nervous system is bhramari pranayama. Bhramari is the Sanskrit word for “bee” since this technique creates a soft humming sound similar to that of a bee. The sound vibrations stimulate the vagus nerve, the longest nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. Bhramari also encourages you to breathe more deeply, which further relaxes the body and mind.
Find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and relax your entire body. Softly close your lips, keeping the teeth slightly apart, and bring the tip of the tongue to the space behind the upper front teeth. Raise your arms sideways, bending at the elbows. Plug your ears with your thumbs and gently rest the other fingers on your face.
Bring the awareness to the center of the head, where ajna chakra is located. Inhale deeply through the nostrils. Then, exhale slowly while making a smooth, steady humming sound at the back of the throat – like the humming of a bee. The humming should be continuous and soft, without straining the breath. Practice five to ten rounds, observing the vibrations in your body. After the last round, release your hands and enjoy the feeling of inner calm.
Last but not least, one of the most powerful practices for improving sleep is meditation. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and pain – therefore calming the mind and body. When practiced before bedtime, meditation can help reduce sleep troubles.
While you meditate, various physiological changes take place, which help initiate sleep. Sleep problems are often rooted in stress and worry. Meditation helps you shift into the relaxation response. It also strengthens your parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces how easily you wake up.
According to researchers, meditation may also increase the sleep hormone melatonin, reduce heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and activate parts of the brain that regulate sleep.
Better sleep is just one benefit of meditation. When practiced regularly, meditation has many scientifically proven health benefits: relieve stress, increase concentration, improve cognitive function, control high blood pressure, improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and improve your outlook on life.
While there are many different meditation techniques, the simplest practice is awareness of your breath. Find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and consciously let your body relax. After a while, focus on your breath. Notice the expansion of your lungs on the inhalation, and the contraction on the exhalation. If you notice that you have become distracted, gently bring the awareness back to your breath. Start by meditating for five minutes before bed. Over time, slowly increase the time to twenty minutes.
There is no need to become frustrated with yourself for getting lost in thought. Every time you witness the activity of the mind and refocus on the breath, you are strengthening your awareness and concentration. This is the practice! Eventually, you may find that your mind becomes calmer – during meditation and after. This is the power of meditation.
Yoga offers many tools that not only manage the acute symptoms of sleeplessness, but also help to resolve the underlying issues by increasing your awareness and resilience to stress. Unlike sleeping pills, these practices become more effective the longer they are used. This way, regular yoga practice helps you maintain sound sleep in the long run. All of these practices nourish your entire being – body, mind, and soul – and help you return to an innate sense of health, vitality, and wholeness.