”Sleep has been provided by nature to do the body’s healing work”
- Suzanne Somers
Many of us have experienced sleep troubles. Sleep disturbances can be caused by a variety of factors - from stress and anxiety to hormonal changes. According to CDC, adults need 7 hours of sleep to function well. Sadly, about a third of the US population (up to 44% of people in certain states) don’t get the recommended amount of sleep.
A lack of sleep, especially long-term, can have an adverse effect on one's health. You may struggle to maintain focus, feel groggy and agitated, and find it difficult to perform everyday tasks due to physical exhaustion.
Are you ready for the good news? Yoga can help! There have been many scientific studies to observe the effects yoga has on a person’s mental and physical health. A national survey from 2012 showed that over 55% of people practicing yoga reported improved sleep, and over 85% of practitioners reported reduced levels of stress as a direct result of regular yoga practice. In the overview of studies that focused on the relationship between yoga and sleep, Sleep Foundation found that most studies report a correlation between regular yoga practice and higher quality of sleep.
Why is yoga good for sleep?
Physical activity. With very few exceptions, moderate amounts of physical activity are great for cardiovascular health, stress management, and overall well-being. This includes movement of all kinds, such as a walk in the park and yoga. What makes yoga an even more attractive option is its accessibility. No matter your age, size, or physical fitness, the practice can be adapted to suit your needs.
Mindfulness practice. A significant part of yoga, mindfulness practice increases awareness of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and your surroundings. Learning to attune to the present moment sensations can help you achieve deeper levels of relaxation and reduce intrusive thoughts (like thinking about all the things you have to do the next day or the grocery list, or … did I lock the car door?). Learning simple mindfulness techniques can help you not only fall asleep faster but stay asleep during the night.
Tension release. Just as great at bringing awareness to the inner workings of your mind, yoga is great for building awareness of your physical body. Sometimes we have trouble falling asleep simply because we are too tense, holding on to stress in our bodies, and don’t even realize it! Yoga will enable you to better detect tension in your muscles and give you tools to release it more effectively.
Breathwork. Learning to control your breathing and make it work to your benefit is a huge advantage. In yoga, you learn to work with your breath, in movement, and in stillness. When you slow your breath, your mind follows suit. Certain breathing exercises can also help to regulate your nervous system and encourage the body to switch to the “rest and digest” mode, leading to much-needed relaxation.
How to get started
Find a slow-paced, gentle yoga class (have you tried our Tuesday class?). Whether you are practicing in a studio, or in the comfort of your own home, look for a class that is going to help you wind down and relax. A gentle, restorative yoga session tends to bring more focus to the meditative side of the practice, as well as featuring an extended relaxation in Savasana towards the end. The poses are held for longer, allowing your muscles to soften.
Create the right atmosphere. In order to set yourself up for a restorative yoga session, create a soothing environment. You could play some relaxing music or nature sounds, dim the lights or even light some candles. Bring comfort to your practice with blankets, cushions, a bolster, or any other yoga props you deem necessary. Practicing yoga in the comfort of your home does not have to mean that you do it all alone. You can book a private virtual yoga session or watch a recorded session and just follow along. Be sure to warn your loved ones about your practice to avoid interruption. Or, better yet, invite them to practice with you!
Practice before bed. When your goal is to prepare yourself for sleep, it’s best to practice towards the end of your day. That way, you can truly benefit from the level of relaxation achieved in your yoga session. Practicing in the evening also allows you to deal with any frustrations you may have experienced throughout the day, releasing physical and emotional tension.
Countless studies have shown that people who regularly practice yoga tend to sleep longer, fall asleep faster, as well as enjoying an overall higher quality of sleep. And nowadays, we are fortunate to have many studios, private teachers, and online resources to guide us to better sleep. If you would like to try but feel uncertain or timid about joining one of our yoga classes in Jacksonville, book a private yoga session or a virtual yoga class. However, you choose to practice, stay consistent and you will start experiencing better sleep in no time!
Priscila Norris, MS, MSW, LCSW, RYT
Psychotherapist, Yoga Teacher.
Big fan of sleep.