Ahhh … the elusive 8 hours. Isn’t that what many of us dream of when we aren’t tossing and turning and trying to sleep? The study of sleep is a relative newcomer to the health and wellbeing arena, but studies show that adequate sleep can lower our risk of certain cancers, dementia, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and even the common cold. You might also feel less motivated and of course lack energy when you don’t get enough sleep.
Research also shows that people who get better sleep suffer less from anxiety and are more creative. No longer the late night high achievers boast of getting only 4-5 hours of sleep. The times are changing and people are realizing the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
When you drift off to sleep, your heart rate slows down, your breathing slows down and your muscles relax – sounds a bit like the benefits of yoga doesn’t it? In addition, during good sleep, your body goes into healing mode. In essence it’s when the trash collector comes and picks up certain proteins and other cellular debris your brain/body no longer needs.
The CDC says that ⅓ of adults don’t get enough sleep (CDC Online Newsroom, 2016).
Ram Rao, a neuroscientist and yoga teacher writes of six primary reasons to improve sleep:
- Sleep helps the brain sustain and preserve new information to memory;
- Sleep deficits contribute to accidents, falls and traffic mishaps;
- Sleep deprivation triggers emotional disturbances;
- Sleep disorders can be a cause of hypertension and irregular heartbeat;
- Sleep deprivation lowers immunity;
- Sleep deprivation triggers weight gain.
The National Health Sciences Statistics Reports on Wellness related activities (No. 85, Nov. 4, 2018) indicates that 55 percent of participants who practiced yoga got better sleep.
There are a number of reasons why yoga can help with sleep:
- Breathing. The breath is a big part of yoga and becoming more aware of your breath can help calm the mind and the body down. Deep breathing is beneficial for better sleep.
- Mindfulness/Meditation: Yoga encourages participants to stay in the moment, pay attention to what is happening right now in the mind and the body. Meditation can increase melatonin in the body (Meditation and Its Regulatory Role on Sleep, Ravindra P. Nagendra, Nirmala Maruthai, and Bindu M. Kutty,Frontiers in Nuerology). Melatonin can help with sleep.
- Movement: Regular exercise or movement has been shown to help with sleep in general. A regular yoga practice can also help with sleep although doing a vigorous practice before bed may not be the best idea.
As mentioned above, a vigorous yoga practice before bed might be stimulating rather than down regulating.
When thinking about what type of yoga to do before bed, consider any of these three styles:
- Restorative yoga: The body is supported with the use of props such as blankets, blocks, and bolsters to ensure deep relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing.
- Yoga nidra: Also known as yogic sleep, this form of yoga is done laying down and utilizes guided relaxation to withdraw from the senses and drop into a deep state of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness.
- Gentle yoga: Is a quiet practice using simple postures and breathing techniques to loosen the muscles and connective tissues.
Before bed pose for better sleep – Constructive Rest
- Props: sturdy chair, pillow or folded towel for under your head, calming music (optional)
- Place a chair on a carpeted area in your house or on your yoga mat.
- Sit down close to the chair with your legs on either side of the chair.
- Place your legs up on the seat of the chair so they are at a 90 degree angle with your knees and hips.
- Place your head on the folded towel or pillow.
- Close your eyes and breathe naturally.
- Try to relax your thighs and hips.
- Stay here for 10-15 minutes.
- To come out, bend your knees into your chest and roll to one side. Stay here for 4-6 breaths to let the blood re-balance in the body.
Note: if getting up and down off the floor is difficult, try this on your bed or sofa propping your legs up with a number of pillows.
Before bed breath practice for better sleep – Left Nostril Breathing
- Sit on a chair, in your bed or even lie down in your bed.
- Practice a few rounds of full yogic breathing (breathing into your lower belly, up through your ribs toward your collarbones, release completely top to bottom)
- Gently place your right thumb on your right nostril crease and slowly breathe in and out of your left nostril.
- Do this for 2-5 minutes and then release your thumb and breathe through both nostrils.
Jacci Gruninger is a Certified Yoga Therapist, Thai Yoga Massage Therapist, Focusing Coach and Facilitated Stretch Practitioner. She regularly helps clients manage the ups and downs of life with yoga, meditation, breathwork, focusing, stretching and bodywork. Her Wellness Center is located at 190 Central Park Square #212. For her in person and online teaching schedule and information on her other services, visit her website at www.highmountainwellbeing.com to find out more.
young man in bed with eyes opened suffering insomnia and sleep disorder thinking about his problemCourtesy image