Why You Should Try Bedtime Yoga

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For the estimated 70 million adults who experience chronic sleep issues, bedtime yoga may be an effective addition to your nightly routine. Yoga is a mindfulness practice that connects the mind and body through intentional breathing, physical postures, and meditation.

In addition to a wide range of other health benefits, research shows that yoga can help improve sleep. Yoga's relaxing and restorative components can be a great way to relieve tension, promote relaxation, and wind down for a good night's rest.

This article provides an overview on the practice of yoga for better sleep, outlines basic poses, and offers tips on making bedtime yoga a regular part of your routine.

A woman on the floor doing yoga poses before bed at night.

Cavan Images / Getty Images

Yoga and Sleep

Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that connects the body, breath, and mind. It combines meditative movements, stretching, breathing, and exercise, which can be beneficial for combatting stress, anxiety, and sleep issues.

One estimate from the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that 59% of surveyed adults in the United States said practicing yoga improved their sleep.

Other studies on specific subpopulations of people have pointed to similar positive results, including in people with chronic conditions, older adults, pregnant people, and people approaching menopause, to name a few.

Experts theorize there are a number of reasons why yoga might help improve sleep. In general, it's thought that the combination of breath awareness, mindfulness, and intentional body movements can help calm the body and mind for a restful night of sleep.

Types of Yoga for Sleep

To fully relax, save the heart-pumping hot yoga or vinyasa yoga session for another time. Better styles of yoga to practice pre-sleep include:

  • Hatha yoga, which focuses on basic body positions and stretching at a slower pace
  • Restorative yoga, which involves holding restful poses for longer periods of time
  • Yoga Nidra, a deep guided relaxation methodology also known as yogic sleep that's practiced while lying down

Who Needs It

Anybody can do—and is welcome to try—yoga, regardless of age, body size, gender, ethnicity, or fitness level.

Research has shown that yoga has the potential to benefit the health of people of all age ranges and improve their sleep. It was found to be particularly beneficial in the following people based on research studies:

  • Pregnant people who practiced yoga experienced fewer sleep disturbances.
  • Older adults with sleep disorders, such as insomnia and snoring, reported improved quality of sleep with yoga practice.
  • Women diagnosed with insomnia and people experiencing menopause found that yoga practice resulted in improved sleep, according to two different studies.
  • People with restless leg syndrome (RLS), a sleep disorder that interferes with sleep due to compulsive leg movements at night, were found to have improved symptoms after starting yoga practice.

Listen to Your Body

Yoga is generally considered to be a safe form of physical activity for most healthy people. But, as with all forms of exercise, check with a healthcare provider before adding to your workout routine, particularly if you are pregnant, have an injury, or have a serious health condition.

Stretches and Positions

Sleep experts have recommended breathing exercises and gentle stretches as part of your nighttime routine to signal your body that it's time to prepare for sleep. 

While there isn't one specific yoga pose that’s proven to promote deep sleep, you might consider trying the following poses for up to three to five minutes each just before bedtime to encourage relaxation.

Breathwork (Pranayama)

To clear your mind of the day's clutter, start your bedtime yoga practice with basic mindful or yogic breathing.

Conscious changes in your breathing pattern can activate the body's "relaxation response," helping you control stress and anxiety and potentially relieving insomnia.

For nighttime breathwork, practice the following:

  1. Either sit with your spine erect or lie on your back on the bed.
  2. Listen to your breath as it flows in and out. You may choose a sound or word to focus on, such as "peace" or "om," by repeating aloud or silently with the breath.
  3. As the mind begins to wander, gently redirect your attention back to your breath. This will help prepare you for the rest of your yoga practice.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

To perform the uttanasana pose:

  1. Begin by standing and reaching arms overhead, sweeping arms down on either side of the body to come into a forward bend from your hips.
  2. Allow your torso to fold over your legs, but keep knees in a microbend so they're not locked.
  3. Head and neck should be relaxed. Arms can hang loosely, or you can clasp opposite elbows with opposite hands.
  4. As your body releases into the pose, the hamstrings and calves are stretched and lengthened.

Forward bend is regarded as a relaxing pose that can help relieve sleep disturbances.

Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)

In yoga, this pose is known to calm and center you, relieving stress and fatigue. Think of how a "happy baby" joyfully grabs their feet while lying on their back.

This pose involves lying on your back, drawing your knees up alongside your ribs with feet flexed towards the ceiling.

  1. Lie on your back and draw your knees up alongside your ribs.
  2. Flex your feet towards the ceiling and bend your legs at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Place your hands on your feet and gently pull down toward the floor.

Feel free to use an exercise band or strap to loop over the arch of both feet if your hands aren't able to reach.

Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

To attempt the reclined bound angle pose:

  1. Remain on your back and bring the soles of your feet together.
  2. Drop your knees out to the sides. Support your knees with a pillow or several folded blankets under each side.
  3. Relax and anchor your back body into the surface of the bed (or ground).

By opening up your pelvic region, this pose can help signal to the body to relax further.

Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

To attempt the supported bridge pose:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides, while keeping your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Press into your feet as you lift your hips and torso up.
  3. Support yourself by putting a pillow or two (or a few folded blankets) underneath your hips and glutes to keep your lower half slightly lifted.
  4. Keep your head in straight alignment with your face toward the ceiling to not twist your neck.

This gentle yoga backbend is a restorative pose that helps improve blood circulation. It opens up the front of the spine and chest, further helping calm the mind and reducing stress.

Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)

This exercise is a great stress-reliever to end a short yoga sequence.

  1. Seated, get as close to the wall as you can.
  2. Gently lower onto your back and swing your legs around so that they're up and supported by the wall.
  3. Aim for legs to be 90-degrees, but allow knees to bend as much as needed.
  4. Keep feet relaxed and arms resting comfortably at your sides. Feel free to use a pillow to support your lower back if needed.

This pose not only helps with swollen legs and tired feet by increasing blood flow to the core of the body, but it also gently decompresses the spine and provides a stretch to the hamstrings.

Corpse Pose (Savasana)

To perform the corpse pose:

  1. Lie on the bed (or floor) with your arms relaxed at your side and palms up toward the ceiling.
  2. Allow your ankles to roll open.
  3. Soften each body part beginning with the feet, and move up until you feel completely relaxed from head to toe.
  4. Breathe naturally and, if you're fully ready, stay in this position until you fall asleep.

Traditionally, nearly every yoga class will end with this pose, and it's a great way to end your day.

Vigorous exercise that gets your heart pumping right before bedtime is usually not helpful in helping you fall asleep. But a relaxing yoga sequence anywhere from 30 minutes to immediately before bed helps signal your body that it's time to rest.

Yoga Benefits

In addition to relieving stress and improving sleep, yoga's combined physical postures, breathing exercise, and meditation can help support overall health.

Studies have pointed to yoga's many therapeutic benefits, including the ability to:

Lack of Research Diversity

It's important to note that most of the current research on yoga in the United States has been conducted in predominantly White, higher-income populations with greater access to this physical activity. Because people from historically marginalized communities are underrepresented in yoga studies and have traditionally faced barriers to equitable health and wellness, these results may not accurately portray benefits or experiences that apply to all.

Tips

Ready to start bedtime yoga for the first time? Here are a couple of tips to help guide your practice:

  • Don't push yourself further than what feels comfortable: If you feel pain, pinching, or moderate discomfort, slowly and carefully come out of the pose. Consult with a healthcare provider if you have questions about specific physical activity.
  • Make it an evening habit: Try committing to practicing nighttime yoga every night (or a set number of nights per week) for the best sleep results. A consistent bedtime routine with positive sleep habits can make all the difference when it comes to your quality of sleep and feeling well-rested the next day.
  • Create a relaxing environment: Whether you invest in a yoga mat, or simply choose to do evening poses in your bed, try making your surroundings clutter-free without distractions. Dressing in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing (like pajamas or sweats) is helpful.

Summary

Yoga is an aligned system of breathing, exercise, and meditation. In addition to other health benefits, research shows that yoga can help improve sleep.

Practicing a short, basic sequence of restorative yoga poses just before bed can be a great way to wind down from a busy day, easing tension and relaxing your body so that you can sleep more peacefully on a regular basis.

Consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or have a serious health condition.

A Word From Verywell

While yoga can be a great addition to your daily exercise and mindfulness routine, it's not a substitute for other medical treatments. If you've already been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, or if you've recently started experiencing chronic sleep issues, consider checking with a healthcare provider to make sure this practice is right for you. Sleep disorders can sometimes be a sign of another underlying health condition, so getting appropriate medical treatment, if possible, is a priority before adding to your exercise regimen.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is hot yoga?

    Hot yoga (or bikram yoga) is an intense vinyasa flow. It traditionally involves a 90-minute series of 26 poses in a room that's heated anywhere from 95°F to 100°F. The goal is to warm and stretch the body, "detoxifying" through sweat. Check with a healthcare provider if you have questions about starting any exercise that involves extreme temperatures.

  • Where did yoga originate?

    Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India thousands of years ago. Rooted in Indian philosophy, yoga began as a spiritual practice but has also become a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.

  • How do you clean a yoga mat?

    Exercise surfaces like yoga mats can be breeding grounds for bacteria.

    Experts recommend using a clean towel to wipe off the mat first, moving in one direction and covering both sides. You can then use a disinfectant spray or wipe to sanitize. Yoga mat materials can vary, so you might want to check disinfectant product recommendations from the manufacturer.

  • How many calories does yoga burn?

    The number of calories a person burns during exercise depends on a number of factors, including weight, heart rate, age, and sex. You may expect to burn more calories during a Vinyasa-style yoga class vs. a slower-paced Hatha yoga class. Check a wearable fitness tracker for a more precise estimate, and remember that yoga's benefits extend beyond the caloric burn.

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By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.