Written by Lori Brand
Demonstrated by Jillian Mariani, RYT, Certified Sleep Coach
Photography by Paul Buceta
Fifty-five percent of women report trouble falling asleep (5). Add in a mix of merriment and increased responsibilities over the holidays and it’s a wonder the world doesn’t grind to a screeching halt. After all, poor sleep can lead to a host of maladies, such as daytime sleepiness, memory impairment, and mood changes.
So, what’s a poor sleeper to do? Your responsibilities aren’t going anywhere (and neither are all of those plans you’ve made to make up for the last two years celebrating without friends and family). Enter yoga, a mind-body practice that has been around for over five thousand years, and a natural way to turn off the mental chatter and relax.
Among its many benefits, yoga has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate, all of which are conducive to better sleep. In fact, a 2020 meta-analysis of 1,832 participants found that yoga significantly improved subjects’ sleep quality (1).
But add one more thing (and cost) to your already overflowing to-do list right now? Not to worry, you don’t have to own to a studio to get the benefits of this ancient practice into your life. Simply implement a short, soothing yoga sequence that you can do at home, in your snuggly pajamas, that will help you nod off into dreamland after a hectic, demanding day.
How Yoga Improves Sleep
Yoga helps prepare you mentally and physically for a good night’s sleep in a myriad ways. Here are four you can look forward to once you start getting into the habit:
1. Focuses on Breath.
By definition, yoga is the linking (or “yoking”) of breath to movement. This focus helps you learn to control your body and quiet your mind. In fact, yogis are often counselled to imagine taking in the new and fresh with each inhale, and send out that which no longer serves them on the exhale. In maintaining this focus, the breath is slowed, so that the inhales become deep and rich, and the exhales fully satisfy. Breathing this way promotes feelings of calmness, peace, and tranquility. In fact, a 2018 study of patients on sick leave due to burnout found that those who were treated with 20-weeks of yoga had improved health-related quality of life (2).
2. Increases Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is being present in the moment without judgment. By focusing on the moment, you stop turning over events that already happened and are therefore out of your control. Likewise, you quit fretting about the future, which has yet to arrive, and which you likely can’t do much about in bed at night. Being mindful allows you to focus on your breath, how it washes through and nourishes you. Additionally, mindfulness has been shown to increase melatonin levels (3). As you likely know, melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your circadian rhythm and promote sleep.
3. Improves Hormonal Profile.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your sympathetic nervous system (your “fight or flight” response) kicks in, increasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This is not a bad thing if you need to run for your life, but not so much when you’re in bed at the end of a long day, worrying about your never-ending to-do list.
By focusing on your breathing, yoga tames your sympathetic nervous system, allowing your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” response) to activate. This increases endorphins which reduce stress and improve mood; it tamps down cortisol and adrenaline levels. In fact, a study of 26 subjects, 16 of whom practiced yoga for at least three years, 10 who did not, found that the yogis had better cortisol levels and sleep quality. (4)
4. Loosens Tight Muscles.
When we’re stressed, we tend to tense up our muscles. Who hasn’t experienced a stiff neck or shoulders after a challenging day? Many yoga poses involve stretching, which helps relieve muscle tension and increase blood flow within your body, including to your brain, which may improve mood.
Start Silencing Stress
Set the Scene
Choose a quiet, safe space, such as your bedroom. Dim the lights. Change into pajamas or loose-fitting attire. If desired, play soothing music or nature sounds.
This is not the time for a vigorous vinyasa flow. Picking poses that promote slow and steady breathing and encourage your body to relax, like lying and sitting postures, are the way to go.
These poses are well suited to induce sleepiness. While performing, hold each pose for several breaths. Focus on being present. If your mind starts to wander, gently pull it back. Throughout your practice, cultivate self-compassion and love. Know—truly know—that whatever you are able to do, it is enough. And it is beautiful.
Legs Up the Wall
Just like how it sounds. Slide your backside close to the wall and send your legs up it. Rest your arms out to the sides, palms up.
Caterpillar with Pillow
Seated, stretch your legs out in front of you. Place a pillow (or two) on top of your thighs. Drape your torso over the pillow.
Reclined Bound Angle
Lie on your back. Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall to the sides. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart, and enjoy the rise and fall of your own breath.
Knees to Chest
Lay flat on your back. Hug your knees into your chest while keeping the back of your shoulders and head against the earth.
From Knees to Chest, place your right hand on your left knee and extend your left arm to the left. Gently roll your knees to the right, stacking your hips. Send your gaze to the left. Repeat on the other side.
Lay on your back with your arms and legs extended, palms to the heavens. Let your feet fall to the sides. Relax every muscle you have. Allow your practice to soak in.
Sometimes our bodies and brains need a little more help winding down. If you still find you're having a hard time falling asleep after trying these calming yoga poses, or you seem to be waking up in the middle of the night with "busy brain", these plant-powered formulas by Niyama Wellness--dedicated to good habits and self-care--may be your answer to getting a few more z's and feeling well rested. Niyama was founded by Jillian Mariani, registered yoga teacher, certified sleep coach, and self-proclaimed "natural wellness geek" as a result of her demanding 20+ year career in the corporate world.
Sleep Like Buddha
This melatonin-free sleep aid capsule is a natural health. product that helps you relax, fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer, so you can wake up and take on your tomorrow. With no diphenhydramine or any other potentially harmful chemical ingredients found in prescription or OTC drugs, you can feel comfortable that this product is both safe and non-habit forming.
A deliciously fresh, natural pineapple relaxation powder that helps you ease into your evening by combining four proven ingredients in perfect harmony to promote relaxation, including: magnesium bisglycinate to relax the mind and muscles; tart cherry for natural ingredients, tryptophan and melatonin, GABA to increase alpha wave activity in the brain, giving you that zen feeling; and myo-inositol to support modd, hormones, and neurotransmitter activity.
Sleep Like Buddha Bedtime Bath Soak
A soothing and relaxing addition to your bedtime sleep hygiene routine. These luxury bath salts with Dead Sea Salts and Magnesium Flakes that deliver real muscle relaxation benefits may be just what your peak performing physique is looking for. With pure organic essential oils of lavender, chamomile, and juniper downshifting into a relaxed state is easier so you can ready your body and mind for bed.
To learn more, visit Niyama-wellness.ca
1. The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis - PMC (nih.gov)
2. Effect of traditional yoga, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, on health related quality of life: a randomized controlled trial on patients on sick leave because of burnout - PubMed (nih.gov)
3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, Mindfulness, and Yoga in Patients With Breast Cancer with Sleep Disturbance: A Literature Review - PMC (nih.gov)
4. Subjective Sleep Quality and hormonal modulation in long-term yoga practitioners - PubMed (nih.gov)5. 23+ Sleep Statistics for Canada in 2021 [Infographic] (reviewlution.ca)