Welcome to today’s article in which I’d like to discuss – Does Yoga Help You Sleep?
I guess I first started practicing yoga around 5 years ago.
My body had started to feel battered and bruised from years of pumping iron, pounding pavements, and spending hours at the sprint track.
My hips, hamstrings and lower back were constantly sore and I felt I needed to do something to improve my mobility and flexibility.
However, the more I learned about (and practiced) this ancient art, the more it became apparent to me that my daily practice was also healing my mind, as well as my body.
Now, after years of researching ways to improve my own poor quality of sleep, I had become acutely aware that anything that helped to calm my mind would hugely benefit me when it was time to go to bed.
So, I’d like to look in more detail at the link between yoga and a great night’s sleep.
1. Yoga Rejuvenates The Body
This was obviously my initial aim when I first started to practice yoga.
My body had been through many years of hard, intense exercise, and the signs had begun to show.
I walked with the occasional limp, my knees and hips literally creaked whenever I bent over, and my body as a whole acted far older than my tender years.
However, I had gotten to the stage whereby I was still able to train through injuries, or simply change up my routine to avoid certain aches and pains.
I typically complete a number of yoga stretches and holds as part of my cool-down routine, and often I perform a few poses an hour or so before bed.
Over a period of time my hips started to open out a little more, my hamstrings felt increasingly stronger, plus I was definitely feeling far more flexible and mobile.
With that being said, I had previously read that yoga also helps to release toxins that get stored in tissues and organs of the body. A detoxification process if you will.
So, me being me, I had to look into this phenomenon further.
It appears that the theory of yoga releasing toxins was first introduced to us by Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, although he was better known as B.K.S. Iyengar.
He was considered to be one of the most important yoga teachers in the world, and was the founder of the style of yoga known as Iyengar Yoga.
Iyengar proclaimed that by twisting the spine we compress the muscles and organs, which in turn blocks the flow of blood.
The theory is that once you release the “spinal twist” pose, blood will flow back into both the muscles and organs, thus improving circulation and flooding those areas with essential nutrients.
However, there is actually no real scientific evidence to back up this claim.
A Quick Science Lesson on How The Body Releases Toxins Naturally
The human body is literally releasing toxins and detoxifying every single second of the day, often without us probably realizing it. This is achieved through the lungs, kidneys, liver, and the digestive system.
Whenever you exhale, the lungs remove unwanted gases and chemicals from the body.
When food passes through the digestive system, more specifically the gastrointestinal tract, it will either be broken down to be used as energy by the body, or passed through the large intestine as waste.
The liver and kidneys process various toxins and excrete them from the body via urine or feces.
Back to the Yoga
In reality any physical exertion (not just yoga) increases the mobility and flexibility of the organs, which does help them to perform their daily function of detoxifying the body a little better.
Therefore, all exercise helps this process along, but don’t be fooled into thinking that yoga is the undisputed champion when it comes to releasing toxins from the body.
The main way yoga helps to rejuvenate the body (over other forms of exercise), as I see it, is through the various breathing exercises and techniques (pranayama).
I was always taught to breathe in a certain way while exercising, but this is taken to a completely different level with yoga.
In fact, there is a huge concentration on breathing whenever you perform yoga, and this will increase the circulation of oxygen, which in turn is essential for revitalizing the body.
On a personal level, yoga has been a far less intense and strenuous form of exercise than I’m used to (although I know there are varieties of yoga which are extremely advanced), but it makes my body feel more relaxed than it has done in years.
Yoga is great for the body in general, but as I say, so is all exercise. So, you have my permission to use the “releasing toxins” explanation above next time a yoga teacher preaches this to you.
Nevertheless, for this tired and battered body, yoga certainly made me feel physically better, which of course helped me sleep well at night.
2. Yoga Reduces Stress, Anxiety, Depression & Calms The Mind
I have alluded to this in my introduction and I can testify that the effects of yoga on my mind is simply awesome.
I’m sure that most of you are aware just how much of a factor stress and anxiety can be when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
I have often spoken of my own experiences of tossing and turning for hours in my bed, unable to drop off, and haunted by my overthinking ways.
I’d worry about things that had occurred earlier during the day and I’d constantly wind myself up about what was going to happen tomorrow.
All-in-all, I was thoroughly stressed out, and this of course impacted on both the quality and quantity of my sleep.
Yoga has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the brain, although the same can be said for most exercise.
However, cortisol levels can also be increased with particularly vigorous exercise, and especially if you’re over training, or going far beyond your means.
This will never happen with the type of yoga I perform, as the main focus is to relax and reinvigorate the brain and body.
By suppressing the levels of cortisol in the body, yoga can be similar in nature to other practices we find particularly soothing like meditating, or even things as basic as enjoying our favorite meal, or socializing with friends.
Yoga also helps to lower the heart rate, respiration levels, and blood pressure.
Something as simple as this will significantly lower your stress levels and can give you a far more positive perspective on life.
The results – you are less likely to spend hours awake at night overthinking and worrying about every insignificant little thing, and you’ll probably be a lot calmer and happier during the day.
3. Yoga Provides A Perfect Evening Routine
Something else I have spoken of many times before is the importance of having an evening routine or ritual.
In the modern day-and-age we are so used to leading busy lives, rushing around, stressing out, and never really properly relaxing.
Typically, after a hard day’s work, we come home, eat dinner, then spend a few hours on our electronic devices, before going to bed.
Once again, I often speak of the terrible consequences for sleep that living this almost non-stop lifestyle can have.
Plus, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how using various electronic devices before bed can impact on both the quality and quantity of sleep you have – but I will remind you again nonetheless.
The blue light emitted from devices such as your smartphone, tablet, laptop, e-readers, and even the TV can mess with the body’s production of melatonin.
We secrete the hormone melatonin, typically at night, and this signals to the brain that sleep time is fast approaching.
However, this process can be interrupted by the introduction of blue light, and almost “tricks” the brain into believing that it’s still daytime.
This in turn will make it far more difficult for you to fall asleep and get a decent night’s rest.
My advice is always to stop using these devices at least an hour or two before bed.
Additionally, I think it’s important to have a nightly routine that almost signals to the brain and body that bedtime is fast approaching.
In fact, this is a process that most of us went through as children, and yet something that we completely ignore as adults.
For me, I knew that once I’d had dinner, it was time for my nightly bath, and then I’d put my pajamas on. My mum or dad would then read me a bedtime story, which was followed by lights out.
This was a regular routine and it signaled to me that sleep time was just around the corner.
Why do we not do this as adults?
It’s something that I have reintroduced into my life and it has paid dividends in terms of getting a great night’s sleep (minus the Mickey Mouse PJs and someone else reading me a bedtime story).
Nowadays, it goes a little something like this:
- I stop using all electronics about 60-90 minutes before bedtime.
- I perform a relaxing 15-minute yoga routine.
- I read (a physical book) for around 20-30 minutes.
- I write in a gratitude journal and list a number of things that I was grateful for today.
- I will meditate for 10 minutes or so.
- Then it’s either time for a bath or I go straight to listening to some calming music (depending on what’s occurred in my day).
- And then I’m off to bed.
The result is that I’m totally calm, stress free, and my body is completely relaxed.
I can almost guarantee that I’m going to be fast asleep within 10 minutes of my head hitting the pillow.
I now always start my nightly routine with yoga, as I feel it sets the mood, and signals to my brain that I am going into relaxation mode.
Trust me, try a routine, such as the one above, but make sure it includes a relaxing few minutes of yoga, and see what a difference it makes to how you sleep.
Yoga For Bedtime
Does Yoga Help You Sleep?
Very much so.
There are many more wonderful benefits to yoga, but for me, I love the fact that it helps my mind and body relax, and it also signals that bedtime is just around the corner.
In fact, I will go as far to say that I ignored yoga for many years, as I just didn’t think it was something that suited me.
How wrong can you be?
I don’t know where I’d be without my daily practices, and yoga is definitely one of the greatest assets I have for helping me have a peaceful and restful night.