June 09, 2023

Sleep Yoga: Poses, Breathwork, and Meditation for Better Sleep

Are you tired of tossing and turning all night, desperately seeking a way to fall into a deep sleep? Look no further! Introducing Sleep Yoga, a comprehensive guide to restful nights and energized mornings.

In this post, we will delve into the fascinating world of sleep yoga and how it can revolutionize your sleep quality. Sleep yoga combines the ancient practice of yoga with the science of sleep. It offers a unique approach to achieving a deep, rejuvenating slumber and, at the same time, exploring higher states of consciousness.

Sleep yoga combines the ancient practice of yoga with the science of sleep

From relaxing poses and breathing techniques to meditation and Yoga Nidra, we will explore a wide range of methods that can help you drift off into a blissful state of relaxation.

Say goodbye to restless nights and groggy mornings, and say hello to a well-rested, energized you. So, grab your yoga mat and get ready to unlock the secrets to a truly restorative sleep experience with Sleep Yoga.

The Importance of Deep Sleep

You know that feeling. 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. About 30 to 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.

While lots of people struggle to fall asleep, even more struggle to stay asleep, that is, to attain optimal sleep quality. To understand why this can happen we need to take a look at deep sleep, a crucial phase of the sleep cycle that plays a vital role in our overall health and well-being.

deep sleep is a crucial phase of the sleep cycle that plays a vital role in our overall health and well-being

During this stage, our body repairs itself, consolidates memories, and supports brain function. However, many people struggle to achieve deep sleep due to various factors such as stress, anxiety, and poor sleep hygiene.

Lack of deep sleep can lead to a range of issues including fatigue, decreased cognitive function, and a weakened immune system. That’s where sleep yoga comes in. By incorporating sleep yoga into your bedtime routine, you can enhance the quality and duration of your deep sleep, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

What is Sleep Yoga and What Are Its Benefits?

Sleep yoga is a unique practice that combines the principles of traditional yoga with techniques specifically designed to promote deep sleep. It involves a series of gentle, restorative poses and stretches, breathing exercises, and mindfulness practices that help relax the body, calm the mind, and prepare for a peaceful night’s rest.

Sleep yoga combines traditional yoga with techniques designed to promote deep sleep

The benefits of regular sleep yoga practice extend far beyond a good night’s sleep. Here are the most important ones:

  • Improved sleep quality: Sleep yoga helps regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle, allowing you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. It promotes deep, uninterrupted sleep, ensuring that you wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
  • Reduced stress and anxiety: The gentle movements, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices involved in sleep yoga help calm the nervous system and reduce stress and anxiety. By releasing tension and promoting relaxation, sleep yoga can help you let go of the day’s worries and prepare for a peaceful night’s rest.
  • Enhanced physical and mental well-being: Sleep yoga helps improve flexibility, balance, and posture. It also promotes mental clarity, focus, and emotional stability. Regular practice can help alleviate common sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome, leading to improved overall health and well-being.
  • Increased awareness and presence: Mindfulness practices embedded in sleep yoga cultivate presence and awareness. You learn to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This heightened awareness can foster a deeper connection with the present moment and spiritual development.
  • Deep meditation state: The techniques employed in sleep yoga often lead the practitioner into a state of deep meditation. This can facilitate a connection with the subconscious mind, allowing for self-discovery and profound spiritual insights.
  • Enhancement of prana: The breathing exercises in sleep yoga can help to balance and enhance the flow of prana, or life energy, in the body. This can lead to a feeling of rejuvenation and vitality, which is not only beneficial for physical health but also spiritual well-being.

Asana for Sleep Yoga

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. 

Practice slow-paced yoga styles before sleeping such as Hatha or Yin yoga rather than intense-flow styles

We recommend slow-paced yoga styles before sleeping such as Hatha or Yin yoga rather than intense-flow styles. Here are some tips that you can apply to any asana practice before bed.

  • Move slowly and mindfully.
  • Hold each pose for a few breaths or even minutes.
  • Let yourself relax rather than push your body.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Use supportive props like blankets, bolsters, and blocks to make the poses more comfortable.

Also, make sure you choose postures that provide support for your body. If back pain tends to keep you awake move your spine in “cat and cow” or practice a standing forward bend. When your hips are tight from sitting, try postures that stretch your groins, hip flexors, and inner thighs.

If you are looking for some inspiring sleep yoga classes, One Yoga Online Studio has a whole series dedicated to bedtime yoga: Evening Unwind. This collection will help you slow down after a long day and step back from the everyday stresses, calming the mind and helping you sleep better.

Or, if you’re just looking for some simple asanas, below you will find five postures that are ideal for sleep.

Child Pose (Balasana)

Balasana has a calming and grounding effect. It allows you to relax completely as you are supported by the ground below.

Practice Instructions:

  1. From a kneeling position, bring your big toes together and separate your knees.
  2. Exhale and let your torso rest on your thighs.
  3. Let your hands relax alongside your torso, palms facing up.
  4. Alternatively, you can reach your hands forward with the palms facing down.
  5. Rest your forehead on the ground or a pillow.
  6. 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.

Forward bends like Uttanasana have a calming and introverting effect

Practice Instructions:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart or a little wider.
  2. Bend to your knees slightly and hinge at your hips to fold forward.
  3. Let your hands rest on the ground or hold onto the opposite elbows.
  4. Exhale and lengthen your back, allowing your neck and shoulders to relax.
  5. Either let your belly rest on your thighs or sway gently from side to side.
  6. 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 an excellent antidote for tired legs.

Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) is a restorative pose that soothes the nervous system

Practice Instructions:

  1. Sit close to the wall, with one hip touching it.
  2. Using your hands to support yourself, gently lower your torso to the floor and simultaneously sweep your legs up the wall.
  3. Bring your buttocks as close to the wall as possible.
  4. Let your legs relax into the support of the wall, keeping the knees slightly bent if necessary.
  5. Take whatever arm position feels most comfortable.
  6. 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.

Reclining Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana) opens the hips, which often feel tight at the end of the day

Practice Instructions:

  1. From a seated position, place a bolster at the base of your sacrum.
  2. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, creating a diamond shape.
  3. Lie back on your bolster.
  4. If your neck feels strained, add another pillow or folded blanket for extra support.
  5. Let your neck, shoulders, and legs relax.
  6. Stay in this pose for at least three minutes and longer.

Corpse (Savasana)

There is a reason why yoga teachers advise never to skip Savasana. A profoundly restorative pose, it helps you integrate the benefits of all previous postures, soothes your nervous system, and prepares your body for sleep at night.

Savasana is a profoundly restorative pose, it helps you integrate the benefits of all previous postures

Practice Instructions:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs at least hip-width apart and arms resting by your sides.
  2. 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.
  3. Allow your body to melt into the ground.
  4. Let your awareness rest in your breath.
  5. 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 for Sleep Yoga

Pranayama is one of the essential yoga practices. In simple terms, pranayama can be understood as a set of breathing techniques, although its true meaning stretches beyond that. To better understand what Pranayama is and how to practice it, read our Beginners’ Guide to Pranayama.

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.

Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques that 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, this pose is very effective in calming a restless mind and helping you transition into a relaxed state.

Chandra Bhedana is a breathing technique where only the left nostril is used for inhaling

Practice Instructions:

  1. Sit comfortably on your bed or the floor.
  2. Place your thumb over your right nostril and your ring finger over your left nostril.
  3. Blocking your right nostril, inhale through the left.
  4. Hold the breath gently, then exhale through the right nostril.
  5. This is one round.
  6. Breathe in again through the left nostril, hold your breath, and breathe out through the right nostril.
  7. Practice ten rounds. When finishing, take a moment to notice the soothing effects of your breath.

Bhramari Pranayama

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. The Humming Bee Breath also encourages you to breathe more deeply, which further relaxes the body and mind.

Practice Instructions:

  1. Find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and relax your entire body.
  2. Softly close your lips, keeping the teeth slightly apart, and bring the tip of the tongue to the space behind the upper front teeth.
  3. Raise your arms sideways, bending at the elbows.
  4. Plug your ears with your thumbs and gently rest the other fingers on your face.
  5. Bring your awareness to the center of the head, where Ajna Chakra is located.
  6. Inhale deeply through the nostrils.
  7. Exhale slowly while making a smooth, steady humming sound at the back of the throat – like the humming of a bee.
  8. The humming should be continuous and soft, without straining the breath.
  9. Practice five to ten rounds, observing the vibrations in your body.
  10. After the last round, release your hands and enjoy the feeling of inner calm.

Meditation for Sleep Yoga

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 enables you to 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.

Our Short Guided Meditations series on Online Studio will help you ease into simple yet effective meditation techniques that can be practiced anytime you need to calm your mind. The classes will introduce you to mindful exercises such as body scans, breathing awareness, loving-kindness metta mediation, and EFT tapping.

However, if you’re already familiar with meditation, you can try the following technique by yourself.

Practice Instructions:

While there are many different meditation techniques, the simplest practice is awareness of your breath, also known as Anapanasati.

  1. Find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and consciously let your body relax.
  2. After a while, focus on your breath.
  3. Notice the expansion of your lungs on the inhalation and the contraction on the exhalation.
  4. If you notice that you have become distracted, gently bring the awareness back to your breath.
  5. 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 Nidra

Yoga Nidra, often referred to as “yogic sleep”, is a powerful meditation technique that helps prepare your body and mind for deep sleep. It guides you into a state of conscious relaxation, somewhere between wakefulness and deep sleep.

This practice not only aids in falling asleep but also enhances the quality of sleep by calming the nervous system, reducing stress, and promoting a deeper connection to the inner self. Find out 8 good reasons why you should start practicing it now!

Yoga Nidra, or "yogic sleep", is a powerful meditation technique that helps prepare you for deep sleep

Integrating Yoga Nidra into your sleep yoga routine can provide a profound sense of peace and restoration, aligning your mind, body, and spirit for a truly restful night. For this technique, we refer you to our Step-by-step guide to Yoga Nidra, which covers all you need to know about this transformative practice.

Pre-Sleep Rituals to Enhance Sleep Yoga Practice

In addition to practicing sleep yoga, incorporating pre-sleep rituals can further enhance your sleep yoga practice and promote a restful night’s sleep.

Incorporating pre-sleep rituals can enhance your sleep yoga practice and promote a restful night's sleep

Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Digital Detox: Disconnect from electronic devices at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by screens disrupts melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. Instead, engage in relaxing activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing gentle stretching.
  2. Create a Bedtime Routine: Establish a soothing bedtime routine to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This could include sipping a cup of herbal tea, practicing gratitude journaling, or listening to calming music. Consistency is key, so try to follow the same routine every night.
  3. Limit Stimulants and Heavy Meals: Avoid caffeine and heavy, spicy foods close to bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep. Opt for a light, nutritious dinner and herbal teas such as chamomile or lavender to promote relaxation.
  4. Create a Sleep-Friendly Bedroom: Ensure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress, pillows, and bedding that promote good sleep hygiene. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or white noise machines to create a sleep-friendly environment.

Final Thoughts

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. On top of that, all the techniques mentioned above form part of a journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.

When practiced with a holistic approach to your personal growth, they nourish your entire being – body, mind, and soul – and help you return to an innate sense of health, vitality, and wholeness.

Unlike sleeping pills, sleep yoga becomes more effective the longer it is practiced