Yoga affects all aspects of your life but when it comes to sleep it can have a truly profound effect!
Up to a fifth of adults experience insomnia and almost 25% use sleep medication at some point in a year. There are many factors influencing how easy or not we fall asleep, how well we sleep, and if we wake up during the night. Many of them have to do with our mental health, stress levels and anxiety. Lack of sleep can result in tiredness, chronic fatigue, irritability, low mood, memory impairments, lower ability to learn and process information, and conflicts – which may then lead to yet more difficulties with getting enough sleep. It’s easy to get trapped in this vicious circle. And that’s where Yoga can achieve great results.
And the same applies to our mental performance – sleep is crucial for your brain to process and sort information and experiences, and to recharge its cognitive abilities. Research shows that sleeping only 4 hours a night has serious negative impacts on your reasoning, verbal skills, and overall cognition comparable to aging your brain by 8 years. The good news is, with getting 7-8 hours of sleep, you can bounce back very quickly – physically and mentally!
If you think you don’t need as much sleep as others, consider this – men who sleep less than 6 hours a night have smaller testicles than men who get 7-8 hours of sleep, and lower testosterone levels. In women, natural hormone fluctuations result in more sleep disturbances which is why women generally have a higher need for sleep – and if they don’t get it, it leads not just to physical but also mental fatigue. Too little sleep and disturbed sleep also make you (regardless of gender) more hungry and prone to overeating – your body isn’t rested and recovered enough and it asks for more energy. And the list could go on – we simply need our sleep, ideally 7-8 hours each night.
Even in highly stressful professions, Yoga can achieve great results. When Border Security Force personnel received just a few days of Yoga training, their anxiety levels decreased yet their vigilance increased. This was accompanied by improved quality of sleep. Yes, Yoga is that powerful!
Yoga practice helps to decrease your stress levels in a number of ways – the physical practice brings more oxygen into your tissues and stimulates the ‘happy hormones’ (endorphins and serotonin) release, it makes you breathe deeper and slower, and it also teaches you to be more mindful. Research shows that practicing mindfulness changes how your brain responds to stress – you have greater emotion control, are less reactive to stress triggers and recover from tense situations faster.
Yoga practice also includes various breathing techniques which significantly reduce your stress hormones and help you unwind. They won’t make you stress-free but can make a world of difference to your sleepy time.
Research on Yoga and sleep brings encouraging results – as one study showed, three Yoga practices a week can markedly improve the quality of your sleep as well as your mental wellbeing. But what if you don’t have time for three yoga sessions weekly? Worry not! Even two Yoga practices per week can help a great deal. As a study of hospital nurses showed, having regular, twice a week Yoga practice reduces stress and improves sleep quality so you wake up more rested.
If you suffer from chronic insomnia and think you need something stronger than Yoga to make you sleep – think again! Yet more research data suggest that regular Yoga practice can not only enhance the quality of your sleep but also makes you fall asleep faster. These results are supported by a large study which revealed that Yoga makes you feel better during the day, and sleep better and longer at night. Essentially, Yoga is a one-stop sleep aid.
It doesn’t matter when you do your Yoga practice, you will reap the sleep benefits regardless. However, if you do Yoga right before going to bed, avoid fast-paced and challenging sequences as they are too energizing – go for slower, more relaxing practice instead.
Whilst Yoga helps in general, you may want to introduce a little pre-sleep routine if you have trouble falling asleep. It may be simple – for example a seated forward fold for a couple of minutes, breathing deeply, followed by alternate nostril breathing for another few minutes.
Any forward fold position helps to calm the mind and pacify anxiety – you may also want to try Child’s pose, wide legged forward fold, or sitting cross-legged and folding forward. These positions followed by a balancing breathing technique stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system – that’s the part responsible for rest and relaxation. It’s the best preparation for sleep and will only take a few minutes of your time.
When we close our eyes and want to sleep, the mind is often very active, processes events of the day, worries or plans ahead. What works really well for many of us is a quick check-in when you’re in bed and ready to sleep.
By checking-in with your body, your brain automatically switches off some of its hyperactivity and it can help you fall asleep.
Sleep like a pro
Who wouldn’t want to wake up well-rested, recovered and energized? Yoga practice can be a great help in this aspect, along with bringing more mindfulness into your life. If you’d like to try a slow-paced stress-relief Yoga, we have just the thing for you – all you need is 20 minutes.
Whenever you can’t fall asleep, try one of the calming breathing techniques or curl up into Child’s position and do the physical check-in. It may seem like a small thing but it helps to quieten the mind and break its fretting.
Obviously where and how you sleep also has a big impact on your shut-eye time so you may need to make some adjustments there as well – a new mattress, different sleeping position, smaller pillow, opened window or earplugs. The tiniest changes sometimes make the biggest difference!
We are creatures of habit, whether we like to admit it or not. When it comes to sleep, creating healthy habits, including regular Yoga practice, might just be the key to sleeping like a baby. Get your subscription with the Skill Coach today to start building your habit,
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