Let me paint you a picture. It’s 9:00. You just finished a cup of decaf tea while reading a chapter of your latest book. You fluff up your pillows, turn off your bedside lamp, and fall asleep within a couple minutes of your head hitting the pillow. You end up sleeping all night. You wake up, turn off your alarm without hitting the snooze button, and immediately start your day feeling refreshed and energized. Sounds nice, right? I think so! But does it sound like your typical night of rest? Probably not. Which is unfortunate, since we all know sleep is important. According to the CDC, sleep deprivation is positively associated with obesity, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, along with other medical conditions. Lack of sleep and fatigue are two very common problems in today’s society, and not just with people with medical conditions but seemingly “healthy” people as well. I’m a full believer in the importance of a bedtime routine to help with sleep, which may or may not include yoga. There are many resources out there to help establish your perfect bedtime routine and I encourage you to look into them. But for purposes of this post, let’s just stick to the benefits of yoga to help increase the quality of sleep.
A meta-analysis published in 2020 looked at 19 systematic reviews that investigated the effects of yoga on sleep quality for women1. Overall this study included nearly 2,000 participants and you know what they found? Of the 19 systematic reviews that were investigated, 100% of them found yoga to have a positive effect on women’s sleep quality. Need some more motivation to try yoga to help with sleep? Well, keep reading.
Who doesn’t love nurses? I may be biased because both my mom and mother-in-law are nurses, and I have worked with countless wonderful nurses over the years. But like anyone else, nurses need their sleep. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing2 found that nurses who practiced yoga for 50-60 minutes least 2x/wk after work demonstrated improved sleep quality and decreased work-related stress when compared to nurses who did not complete any yoga.
Yoga has also been shown to help individuals (both men and women) over 60 years of age who have insomnia3. After completing meditative-based yoga 2x/wk for 12 weeks, individuals in the study reported improvement in sleep quality. And not only sleep quality, but also “sleep efficiency, sleep latency and duration, self-assessed sleep quality, fatigue, general well-being” and many other factors.
Now, let’s add in people who have various medical diagnoses and/or are taking medications to combat various health conditions. It seems like sleep disturbance is a possible side effect for many medications. You can feel completely wired and have a challenging time falling asleep. Or some people feel the completed opposite and are so fatigued that they are napping during the day, and therefore completely messing with their sleep/wake cycle and routine.
One group of individuals I work with regularly who are generally on several medications are those who are currently battling or previously battled cancer. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology4 researched the effects that yoga had on sleep quality for cancer survivors. They identified 410 cancer survivors to participate in the study. Half of the participants completed two yoga sessions per week for four weeks (each session lasting 75 minutes) as part of their care, which included breathing exercises, gentle poses, and meditation. After only four weeks, individuals who completed yoga demonstrated significantly improved sleep quality, decreased sleep medication usage, and reduced “daytime dysfunction” compared to individuals who did not complete yoga. These findings are reinforced by another study coming out of the Cochrane Library showing that yoga helps reduce sleep disturbances in women who are breast cancer survivors5.
I’m a full believer in doing yoga and/or exercising in general when it works for YOU. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise. Choose a time of day that works for you and your schedule. If before bed is what works for you, you may need a different approach to yoga compared to someone who does yoga in the morning or afternoon. Bedtime yoga should not focus on strengthening or fast movements. In the majority of the population, this is just going to make it more challenging for you to fall asleep. Instead, modify your practice to be focused on restorative poses with low intensity and longer holds. Bedtime yoga is also a very good time to focus on your breathing, and trying different breathing techniques to help wind down from the day and prepare you for sleep. For more information on various breathing techniques, check out my previous blog post here.
My favorite poses for bedtime yoga
Reclined Pigeon Pose
Side-to-Side Extended Mountain
Pigeon Pose (with optional progression to back knee flexion)
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Please let me know in the comments if there are any other topics you would like to me address.
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- Wang, W.L., Chen, K.H., Pan, Y.C., Yang, S.N., & chan, Y.Y. (2020) The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 20(1), 195. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-02566-4.
- Fang, R. (2015). A regular yoga intervention for staff nurse sleep quality and work stress: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 24(23-24), 3374-3379.https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.12983.
- Halpern, J., Cohen, M., Kennedy, G., Reece, J., Cahan, C., Baharav, A. (2014). Yoga for improving sleep quality and quality of life for older adults. Alternative Therapies and Health and Medicine, 20(3), 37-46.
- Mustian, K., Sprod, L., Janelsins, M., Peppone, L., Palesh, O., Chandwani, K., Reddy, P., Melnik, M., Heckler, C., & Morrow, G. (2013). Multicenter Randomized controlled trial of yoga for sleep quality among cancer survivors. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 31(26), 3233-3241. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.43.7707
- Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Klose, P., Lange, S., Langhorst, J., & Dobos, G.J. (2017). Yoga for improving health-related quality of life, mental health, and cancer-related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 1(1), CD010802. http://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD010802.pub2