If shuteye has been harder to come by these past several months, there’s a good chance you’re a human living on Earth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, when Sleep.com and Mattress Firm surveyed 2,000 Americans, nearly 1 in 3 said they slept worse in 2020 compared to 2019, averaging just 5.5 hours of sleep per night.
That’s...not great. But there is something simple that can help: doing gentle stretching or yoga.
Fifty-nine percent of people who do yoga say they’ve experienced improved sleep as a result of their practice, according to a large U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey.
Dig into why yoga can help you get better sleep — especially when it’s part of your bedtime routine — and then learn a simple sequence of yoga poses you can do without leaving your bed.
The Benefits of Sleep Yoga
An evening yoga routine can improve sleep by soothing the nervous system, clearing mental clutter, and making worries feel less all-consuming, says Niki Saccareccia, a teacher for Yoga Wake Up who specializes in restorative yoga and therapeutics.
This is due to yoga’s effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls bodily functions when a person is at rest.
“When we allow our mind and body to shift from 'doing' to ‘resting,’ we send a message to our nervous system that we are really ready for rest,” says Sacareccia. “Gentle yin-based yoga, which incorporates long holds and relaxed, deep breathing has been proven effective in shifting brain activity to encourage the alpha and theta waves that occur during sleep.”
The Best Bedtime Yoga Poses for Better Sleep
If you’re ready to start incorporating yoga into your wind-down routine, give this six-pose sequence from Saccareccia a shot. It's appropriate for all skill levels and can be done in a few minutes or extended for a longer, slower experience.
Start this routine within two hours of bedtime. Dim the lights, set your mobile phone to airplane mode (or turn off notifications and sounds for the night), and put your tech gadgets and any other distractions out of sight. Then climb onto your bed or sit on a yoga mat on the floor — this sequence can be done on either.
Seated wide-legged forward fold
Sit wide-legged on the side of your bed (or a chair) with feet pressed to the floor. Fold forward until your head and torso are supported gently between your legs. Take four deep breaths in this position. If you’re on a yoga mat on the floor this can be done standing and folding forward over deeply bent knees.
Seated forward fold
Sit in the middle of a bed or yoga mat with your legs stretched forward. Fold your torso forward over your legs. If this pose is uncomfortable, place a pillow under your forehead or your knees. Take four deep breaths in this position.
Start on your hands and knees. Press back until your arms are outstretched in front of you and your bottom is resting over your heels with the top of your toes pressing into the bed or mat. Allow the weight of your body to relax down into the bed. If you’d like, place a pillow under your forehead and torso, bringing your belly to rest comfortably on top. Take four deep breaths in this position.
Seated or reclined cobbler’s pose
Sit up straight with the soles of your feet together and your knees pointing outward to create a diamond shape. For additional support, you can place a pillow under each knee. Fold your torso over your knees. Take four deep breaths in this position.
Legs up the wall
Facing a headboard (or a wall if you are on the floor), lie on your back and scoot your bottom as close to the headboard as you can get. Stretch your legs up the headboard, allowing your feet to comfortably splay. Hold this position for as long as you’d like — ideally five to 10 minutes.
Lie on your back and gently close your eyes. Relax your neck and shoulders, then shake out your feet a bit and lay them back down to rest. Allow your arms and hands to flop open. Let your tongue and jaw slacken. Once you’ve released any other small movements or adjustments, bring your body to stillness. Take four deep breaths in this position.
More Bedtime Wind-Down Tips
Yoga in and of itself constitutes a great bedtime routine, but it doesn't have to be the only thing.
Saccareccia recommends enhancing the experience by misting relaxing essential oils on your pillow or taking a warm soak in a tub. You could also journal or listen to guided meditations.
Any calming practice is fair game as long as it doesn’t involve staring at a screen — the blue light emitted from many electronics can inhibit the production of the sleep-boosting hormone melatonin. What’s most important is that you make the practice routine. Over time, this helps signal to your brain that sleep is near.
“Indulge in the experience of winding down for sleep,” says Saccareccia. “Your bedtime rituals are sacred and they deserve your full attention.”
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