If you have trouble relaxing before bed and find yourself struggling to sleep at night, a bedtime yoga practice could be the answer to your prayers. Not only will it help you stretch your muscles and release any tension from the day, but the mindful poses combined with focusing on your breath will also relax your mind, preparing you for the best night's sleep.
Despite being equipped with everything from the best pillow to a solid bedtime routine, around 20% of adults suffer from clinically diagnosed insomnia. Plus, many more have undiagnosed sleep issues that leave them feeling groggy, tired and unable to function properly. But why do we struggle to sleep?
“Your mind has a great deal of say in how your body feels, but it’s a two-way relationship,” explains Lisa Sanfilippo, yoga teacher and author of Sleep Recovery.
“Your body is designed to tighten against threats and protect you. The problem is that, long after highly stressful events have passed, your body can carry a lot of unnecessary tension, affecting not only your musculature but also your body’s hormonal functioning. In other words, tension sabotages your sleep by ‘breaking’ the mechanisms of relaxation.”
Learning how to relax properly before bed with some simple breathing techniques and gentle yoga poses could transform your bedtime routine and help you sleep better – every night. With benefits for both the body and mind, it's no wonder that yoga is one of the most popular hobbies for women and men in the world.
What is bedtime yoga?
In a nutshell, bedtime yoga is a series of yoga poses you can do just before you go to bed to help your body and mind relax into a calm state. Not all yoga poses are the same – some can be stimulating and energizing, while others promote relaxation. It's these slow, relaxing poses that are best if you want to do yoga before bed.
“Bedtime yoga is designed to be restorative, slow and therapeutic,” explains Maya Magennis from Yogaworks in the US. “Many of the bedtime postures are seated or reclining on your back and include gentle circular movements and held stretches that allow the body and mind to calm down to prepare the body for sleep.”
What are the benefits of yoga before bed?
For most of us, not being able to get to sleep is intrinsically linked to what’s happening in our minds – if your brains are whirring, your body can’t relax and get the quality sleep it needs. “We’re all chronically over-stimulated, which means it’s hard work for the body to properly relax into sleep,” explains Lisa. “Most of us who have trouble sleeping sidestep the discomfort of tiredness during the day by drinking caffeine or mentally charging up in ways that stimulate our internal stress response so that we can push through, rather than simply resting. Doing the pre-sleep yoga stretches cleans the gunk out of our body so it’s clear and spacious – ready for good rest.”
And it works. According to the Sleep Foundation, more than 55% of people who practiced yoga reported improved sleep, while studies have shown that yoga can help menopausal women improve their sleep and reduce anxiety and depression.
“Yoga before bedtime has benefits at a cellular level, muscular level and deep within your mind,” explains Maya. “It helps lower cortisol levels, which is the hormone that triggers the sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight response. Practicing yoga before bed teaches your body to instead trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest part, so you go to sleep faster and stay asleep.”
What's more, you can do bedtime yoga from the comfort of your own bed. Or, you could use one of the best thick yoga mats for extra join protection, to help you move seamlessly through the poses.
The best bedtime yoga poses
Before starting any yoga routine you need to learn to breathe properly. “The simple practice of slowing the breath while making the exhalations slightly longer than the inhalations calms the sympathetic nervous system, creating more favorable conditions for healthy sleep,” explains California-based yoga teacher Mark Stephens, author of Yoga for Better sleep.
To do the basic yoga breath, inhale through the nose, then exhale through your mouth with a gentle tone like a sighing sound at the back of your throat. Next, make the soft sighing sound on the inhale as well as the exhale by intentionally narrowing the back of your throat as you breathe. You could also incorporate a yoga nidra breathing element into your practice to really nail this technique.
Use this breath as you perform these simple bedtime yoga poses from our three experts. Hold each for three to five minutes.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Lie flat with the back and head supported on a bolster, and position your legs like a diamond, soles of the feet together, knees flopped down. Support knees with pillows or blankets for full relaxation.
Legs-up-the-wall pose (Viparita Karani)
For tight hamstrings, lie with your legs up the wall at right angles to your body. Use a folded blanket under the back of the pelvis and add a slight bend at the knees.
Seated forward bend (Paschimottasana)
Sitting upright with legs stretched out in front of you, gently fold forward over your legs.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Lie on your back, arms at your sides, palms upwards. For a sore lower back, use a pillow under the backs of the thighs.
Cat and Cow pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
Come onto all fours. Breathe in, arch your back and open the front of your chest. Exhale, draw your belly in and down, round your back and stretch between your shoulder blades.
Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Press your hips upwards and back to form an inverted V. Keep your arms straight and fingers spread evenly. Relax your neck.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
On all fours, bring your big toes together and widen your knees apart. Bring your bottom down towards your heels. If this is too much strain on your hips, roll up a blanket and place it beneath your bottom. Rest your arms by your sides and press your forehead into the floor.
Supported Little Bridge Pose (Setubandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on your back with your knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor. Lift your hips up, breathe into the center of your chest, and pull your shoulder blades together to expand your chest. Rest your lower back on a yoga block on its lowest setting and breathe for 1–5 minutes.
Clare Swatman is a journalist, author and copywriter who has written for a number of women's lifestyle titles, including Bella, Best, Woman's Own and Real People.
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