Sleep is extremely important in order for the body to function properly; This includes getting enough sleep, though this is rarely the case in today’s world. When we sleep, our body is completely relaxed and our mind goes into an altered consciousness, which then strengthens the immune, muscular, nervous, and skeletal system.
Unfortunately, due to societal pressures and our busy, hectic lives, most of us do not receive a full night of peaceful rest. Luckily, doing yoga before sleep can greatly improve the quality of your sleep.
Before We Begin: What is Sleep?
When we sleep our mind goes through two phases: non-REM and REM.
When in non-REM, your body slows down and your temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and energy are all reduced. Meanwhile, your brain waves are getting bigger and slower. There are three stages of non-REM sleep.
- In the first stage of non-REM, you are in a relaxed wakefulness—your eye movement starts to slow down.
- In the second stage, there is no eye movement at all.
- In the third stage, your body goes into a deep sleep—also known as REM.
When you enter REM, your body is completely paralyzed with your heart rate and breathing being irregular. It is during this stage of sleep that people will dream, as the brain experiences high EEG waves that are not unlike being awake. An adult is in the REM state, on average, every 90-minutes once in a deep sleep, or stage three of non-REM.
The amount of time that we sleep is controlled by your circadian clock, which is essentially, a natural, internal clock that tells you when to wake up naturally on your own.. It is based on the time of the day, with our bodies and brains automatically going into sleep mode—or a relaxed state—when it gets dark or after a long day.
An interesting thing about the circadian clock is that it turns off your desire to sleep in the day. It actually controls when the optic nerves cross with the visual cortex, keeping your eyes open and alert in the day while on sleep mode at night. It also influences the temperature of the body, which is known to drop at night.
The circadian clock is also influenced by light, as it tells your body what time it is. This is why it is often said that it is not good to use electronic devices before sleep, as blue light has the strongest effect on sleep.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
Sleep is extremely important for both the mind and body. It is a way for both to shut down and regenerate—for the brain to process and the body to restore and strengthen.
Sleep is an necessary part of everyday functioning and without it we cannot function properly. It is vital in storing and processing memories, repairing tissue, growing muscle, and synthesizing hormones. Sleep also regulates breathing, eating, and drinking; thus, playing an important role in your overall well-being.
Lack of sleep is detrimental not only for the mind, but for many other things. It affects appetite, sex drive, decision-making capabilities, and concentration. It is not only extremely important for your health, but also to achieve the goals that you want in life.
Unfortunately, nowadays few people actually get enough sleep and we find ourselves in a bit of a sleep crisis. Much of this has to do with society and the fact that people have become workaholics, as working hard seems to constitute a better life in the minds of the general public.
In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 45% of all Americans say that lack of sleep has in some way affected their daily lives. This number is probably actually quite higher, though on average, most adults get around 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Even though this is the recommended number of hours that one should sleep, most Americans find that they still wake up feeling tired and having experienced a poor quality of sleep.
The Center of Disease Control believes that sleep deprivation not only affects the individual, but also the general public. This makes a lot of sense, because having insufficient sleep puts drivers at a higher risk of having a car accident, those in the medical profession making errors, and those in the labor workforce causing accidents or disasters. Lack of sleep also contributes to mental health issues like depression, and physical health problems like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
According to Ariana Huffington, many Americans don’t even get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night, as they believe that this means time wasted.
It can be such a cut-throat world and some people truly believe in the phrase “you snooze you lose,” or have a serious case of “FOMO.” So rather than sleep, they chose to live life working or partying. This then promotes stress, exhaustion, and overall incompetence.
Yoga and Sleep
Studies have shown that yoga is a great, natural, drug-free way to aid in sleep deprivation and help promote a restful sleep.
The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School did a study with 20 participants with breathing techniques (“pranayama”), mantra (sacred sound recitation), and meditation.
They were taught these techniques and then practiced them on their own for 8 weeks before going to bed, with telephone follow-ups being conducted on a regular basis. Each participant kept a diary of their sleep patterns during this 8 week period, keeping track of their total sleep time, total wake time, sleep efficiency, sleep onset latency, number of awakenings, and wake time after sleep onset.
These numbers were then averaged out over 2 week intervals. At the end of the study the participants found that doing a simple daily yoga sequence every night before bed was highly effective in treating insomnia and promoting a restful sleep.
Another study was also done on the effects of yoga on insomniacs at the Departamento de Psicobiologia, Universidade Federal de São Paulo. This study also found that a simple yoga sequence was highly effective in aiding in sleep deprivation as well as giving participants a better quality of life.
The Sleep Division at the Massachusetts General Hospital did a 14 day study on the impact of Bikram Yoga, where some days the participants practiced and other days they did not. In the end, the conclusion was that Bikram Yoga had a positive impact with those in the study have less sleep interruptions throughout the night. Meaning the sleep quality of the participants greatly improved.
Doing just one, short yoga sequence before bed can greatly improve your sleep quality, which in turn, ensures a better quality of life. Depression, anxiety, obesity, nourishment, heart disease, and plenty of other mental and physical ailments can greatly improve when you get a proper amount of quality sleep.
An 8-minute Yoga Sequence to Improve Sleep
This short, gentle yoga sequence should be done in the bedroom with the lights off just before going to sleep. If done every day the benefits will of course be much greater.
The first asana is a seated half-moon pose (“ardha chandrasana”), which is great for focus, upper body stability, and stress relief. It also opens up the chest and hips, which promotes healthy, deep breathing. Start by sitting in a chair or at the edge of the bed, with your arms on your legs and palms facing up. Take deep breaths.
The second asana is a seated forward bend (“paschimottana”). This asana is great for calming the brain, relieving stress and insomnia, and reducing depression. It is also great for women’s issues such as menstrual pain and menopause. This pose stretches the spine, shoulders, and neck, as well as the hamstrings.
Once “paschimottana” is completed, slowly roll up one vertebrae at a time to a seated position for humming breath (bhramari pranayama). This breathing exercise is highly effective for calming the mind and aiding in sleep. It is a great technique for reducing stress, anxiety, and frustration, and has been used as a sleeping aid for centuries.
The yoga sequence ends in corpse pose (“shavasana”), which is to be done lying on the bed, with arms to the sides and palms facing up. This asana calms the brain, relaxes the body, and aids in meditation. It also reduces headaches, depression, and of course, insomnia. This is done while chanting a mantra, until you fall into a deep sleep.
It is important to do this yoga sequence right before going to bed, after all normal routines are completed, like brushing your teeth and using the restroom. This way you are in a deep sleep once the sequence has been completed and don’t have to worry about getting up again to complete these tasks.
The whole point of doing a yoga sequence to promote sleep is to help you fall asleep, and, hopefully, stay that way. This short yoga sequence is highly recommended for those with insomnia or those that cannot regularly get a restful sleep.
To watch the full video detailing each pose:
For a recap of the information mentioned above, here is a helpful infographic:
And to get more information on how to further fight your insomnia, read this.