They say movement is medicine, but what positive effects can yoga have on your sleep quality and overall wellbeing?
With roots in ancient Indian culture, yoga has been part of humanity for thousands of years. In more recent times, it has taken the world by storm as a way to boost your health, stretch your muscles and calm your mind. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, the number of people subscribing to YouTube yoga teachers surged, with Live Yoga Teachers reporting that one in 10 online yoga users started during lockdown, and 36% practiced more yoga during lockdown than after it.
And it’s easy to see why yoga is so popular. Utilising breathing techniques, stretching, strength and meditation, yoga has been shown to promote numerous health benefits. One study from the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health found that yoga could help with pain relief, weight loss, stress and more, including improving your sleep.
Does yoga help you sleep?
By aiding both pain relief and stress relief, yoga tackles two of the leading reasons for sleeplessness. Alongside meditation, yoga is an effective way to wind down in the run up to bedtime, forcing you to focus on stretching and breathing, slowing down brain activity.
In one study by the CDC, more than half (55%) of yoga practitioners reported improved sleep and more than 85% reported lower stress levels. Yoga can support better sleep in people from all backgrounds and ages. Adult women are often reported to have more difficult sleeping than men, and one study published in Complement Therapies in Clinical Practice found that yoga reduced sleep disturbances, prenatal anxiety and depression in pregnant women. Older adults have also benefitted from yoga, with one study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry reporting that regular yoga helped elderly individuals enjoy better sleep and health overall.
How can yoga improve your sleep?
There are several key ways yoga can benefit your sleep health and help you rest easier at night. One of these, as many advocates find, is the ability to practice mindfulness during a yoga session. By focusing your attention on relaxation and breathing, yoga reduces stress levels and helps you wind down as sleep approaches.
This supports your brain’s release of melatonin, otherwise known as the sleep hormone. It also provides you with breathing awareness and regulation, and deep breathing is also a relaxation technique commonly used to induce sleep.
Yoga can also support your sleep health as a form of regular exercise, as frequent movement is an important element of good sleep hygiene. By engaging in moderate exercise like yoga several times a week, you can improve overall sleep. This can also help with effective weight management. While weight loss may not be the primary goal for some yoga practitioners, it can reduce a variety of sleep problems such as sleep apnoea.
How often should you practice yoga for better sleep?
While occasion yoga practice will likely improve your sleep quality more than not practising any yoga at all, long term practitioners experience better sleep quality. One study published in Biological Psychology found that those with more than three years of regular yoga practice under their belts experienced the best quality sleep of all participants.
So, if you plan to use yoga to improve your sleep, create a schedule to encourage yourself to practice regularly. This could include attending classes or putting aside a chunk of time in the evening to complete your daily practice.