Difficulty falling asleep? Frequent night waking? Racing thoughts at night? Waking too early? Ruminating on problems and worries in the middle of the night? Chances are you’ve experienced one or more of these at some point in your life, and it’s safe to say you’re not alone.
I’ve been working with one of my one-to-one yoga students on improving sleep quality recently so I thought I’d share some insights that might help you too.
Yoga is a well-known and evidence-based approach to balancing and calming the nervous system which in turn can promote better sleep. You can find lots of articles listing soothing yoga poses to try before bed, and I’ll mention a few here too. But one thing that’s often missing is strategies for knowing what sort of yoga you need on any particular night, and based on the particular type of sleep problem you’re experiencing. So here are seven tips from me to help you get a better night’s sleep.
1. Start where you are
My number one rule for yoga is start where you are. If you’re feeling tired and lethargic, start with slow movements and breath awareness. If you’re feeling energetic or wired, start with more high energy movement. This approach helps you work with your energy rather than battling against what’s going on. So although at bedtime we’re aiming to bring you to a state of calm, you might find you need to start somewhere else first.
2. Not sure where you are? Try this…
The goal for bedtime yoga is to help you sleep, so ultimately we’ll be moving towards calming poses. If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to go straight to that or if you need to burn off some energy first, come into child pose and rest there for 10 breaths. If you find that very difficult because of racing thoughts or buzzing energy, that suggests you need some movement first. If you find you settle into it, then keep it going or transition to some other soothing poses.
3. Calming poses
Here are a few calming yoga poses to try before bed:
- Child pose (Balasana)
- Legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani)
- Gentle supine twists
- Cobbler’s pose / butterfly pose (Baddha Konasana) – seated or lying down
- Seated forward fold over a bolster (Paschimottanasana)
- Lying on your back with knees to chest (Apanasana)
4. Feeling wired? Shake it off!
If you’re feeling wired or anxious you might need to burn some of that energy off and become more grounded. One fun and effective way to do this is to stamp your feet and shake your body all over (“shake it off”, as a certain Taylor Swift suggests!). Or you could do a few rounds of sun salutations. A few rounds of Lion Breath can also be brilliant for releasing anxiety or tension. Or come onto all fours and move your spine in all directions, just following what feels good for you, easing into all those areas of tension. Then gradually move into some of the calming poses above and see if they feel any easier to do now.
5. Find balance
Often we need to find balance before we can sleep well. So wherever you start, aim to move towards calm, quiet, and stillness, staying aware of your breath throughout.
6. Circadian rhythm meditation
Once you’re in bed, try this breathing exercise. It can help to keep your mind focused rather than racing, helping you to lengthen and deepen your breath ready for sleep, and reminding you that the cycle of your breath is like the cycle of each day and night.
As you inhale, visualise the morning sunrise, which peaks with a bright warm light at the top of your inhale. There’s a short natural pause there. Then as you exhale, visualise the sun gradually setting. At the end of your exhale visualising night falling with a calm quiet and soothing starlight. And notice the short natural pause there at the end of the exhale before the next breath.
7. Lengthen your exhale
The exhale calms and soothes the nervous system while the inhale is activating and energising. By lengthening the exhale you are sending a message to your nervous system that you are calm, safe, and ready for sleep. And in turn your nervous system will respond by making you calmer, helping you to gradually drift off to sleep. You can either simply focus on your breath, making each exhale a little longer; or you can count your breath – for example start with inhaling for a count of 4 then exhaling for a count of 6 and see how that feels.
I hope these tips are helpful – if you have other yoga tips for better sleep I’d love to hear them too!
Wishing you all restful nights,