How Yoga Can Cure Insomnia — And 3 Poses to Try
“Yin yoga is like a magic eraser that helps the body relax,” says Sara Gottfried, MD, author of Brain Body Diet. “It’s been shown to lower the production of stress hormones and raise the production of calming neurotransmitters. It will make you feel good and clear so you’re likely to sleep better without worries.”
The proof: In a Harvard study, people with insomnia who practiced yoga daily for eight weeks saw a 27 percent decrease in total nightly wake time and improvements in sleep quality. And holding poses, like in yin yoga, can be extra effective. Dr. Gottfried explains, “Holding restorative poses resets the body’s sympathetic nervous system.” The result? Lasting calm. To get the perks, try yin yoga before bed with any of these options on YouTube!
“One of my biggest problems was that I couldn’t turn my mind off at night — it would just run and run. I’m a chronic worrier, so instead of relaxing and preparing for bed, I would worry about my school assignments, about how I wasn’t meeting my weight-loss goals, or even about whether or not I would be able to fall asleep. And if I did manage to drift off, I would sleep for only a couple of hours, which left me feeling groggy for the rest of the day.
“The main change I noticed was in my mood. I was crabbier than normal, frequently arguing with my husband and snapping at my son. Not to mention the fact that my house was a mess and I had no energy to cook. I was tired all of the time and taking it out on my family, which made me feel depressed and guilty. I found myself snacking late into the night — plus, I didn’t have the energy to exercise, so my goals felt totally unreachable.
“Between caring for my family, doing my schoolwork and running my blog, The Purple Almond, I didn’t have time to nap or recoup any lost sleep. I was stuck in an unhealthy sleep cycle.
“In my research about insomnia, I learned about circadian rhythms, and I realized that my rhythm was off. Maybe, I thought hopefully, all I need is a reset! I figured that the solution was similar to flying to a new time zone, when experts recommend you stay up and adjust to the new time, so I decided to do something drastic: I would stay up all night one night and into the next day to reset my rhythm and get some sleep.
“The first few days after the ‘reset’ were rocky. Staying up all night left me over-tired and wired, and there were nights during the following week when it was even harder to fall asleep than it had been before. I tried to stay positive, but I knew that if I didn’t establish a new routine fast, things would only continue to get worse.
Around that time, I remembered yin yoga. It uses traditional yoga poses, but instead of flowing from one position to the next, you hold each pose for up to five minutes to help the body relax. I had tried it once or twice and had written an article about it for my blog a few months earlier. I enjoyed the slow, calming practice, but I didn’t keep up with it. I decided to try it again.
“I found a video online of a 30-minute yin yoga routine for deep relaxation. Around 10:30, I set up my mat in the living room and put the video on. The simple poses and quiet, inward reflection helped me relax and shut off my mind instead of having the whole day running through my head while I was trying to get to sleep.
“After just a week or two of practicing nightly, I was falling asleep much faster. I was so relaxed that my tendency to worry began to drift away. My sleep became much deeper and more consistent, which meant I had more energy for more intense exercise — and exercise tired me out, so I was able to sleep even better. Once I was working out and no longer snacking late at night, I started to see changes on the scale too!
“I try to do my yoga routine every night, and I’ve been consistently getting to sleep around 11:30. It’s been almost six months since I’ve seen the clock read 4, and I’m happier and healthier because of it. I’m no longer moody in the morning, I don’t quarrel with my family — and my son has stopped avoiding my room before school!”
Relaxing in this pose helps release tension to calm the brain and promote restfulness.
To Do: Kneel on the floor, then spread your knees apart, keeping your feet together. Sit back on your heels. Lower your torso and forehead toward the floor, extending your arms out in front of you, and resting your head on the floor or on a folded blanket. Breathe deeply here for 3 to 5 minutes.
This reclined position loosens the muscles and prepares the body for sleep.
To Do: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right knee. Using both hands, grab your right calf or thigh and pull it toward you, letting your right foot come off the ground. Breathe deeply here for 3 to 5 minutes, then switch sides and repeat
This pose opens up the hips and decompresses the spine, plus turns your focus inward to encourage a meditative state.
To Do: Start in a seated position on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together or sit cross-legged. Fold your torso forward, letting your head hang toward the floor and resting your hands on the floor in front of you. Breathe deeply here for 3 to 5 minutes.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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