Is yoga a good strategy for helping with sleep?

As we recognise the increasing role of ‘hyper-arousal’ or difficulty switching off in sleep problems and insomnia, our focus is often on helping people find techniques that people feel can help them switch off or disconnect. Yoga is one such technique and emerging research supports its role in helping with sleep problems such as insomnia.

What is yoga?

Yoga is described as being a physical, mental and spiritual discipline that incorporates breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures.
The origins of Yoga have been speculated to date back to Indian traditions, most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BC. Yoga gurus from India introduced yoga to the west in the 20th century, and by the 1980s yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core. However, in the Western world, yoga is taught with varying focus. At times, the physical components are the focus with yoga being seen as physical exercise rather than meditation or having a spiritual component. Research on yoga has largely focussed on it as a form of light physical exercise rather than its other components.
Dr Giselle Withers, clinical psychologist and yoga teacher, discusses yoga, types of yoga and their use in sleep in this video.

Why should I consider yoga to help with sleep?

Over the last 10 years, research in the area of insomnia has shown that a large component of sleep problems for people is trouble switching off, or having a ‘busy mind’ during sleep. This can come about in a number of ways:
  • being overly busy or running on ‘nervous energy’
  • being exposed to stress on an ongoing basis
  • having a thinking style of a tendency to worry
  • worrying or getting anxious about sleep itself
See this video and blog post for a more detailed discussion on stress and its role in sleep.

How does yoga work for sleep?

Yoga has a number of effects, which can vary depending on the focus of the practice. With regards to sleep it is likely that the physical exercise component is helpful in promoting sleep, and the meditative component effective at reducing stress and adrenaline levels. During periods of yoga, much like meditation, focus on the the exercise such as breathing, movement or posture, disconnects the brain from over-thinking, planning, reflecting. This in turn reduces sympathetic tone and output of adrenaline, dopamine and seratonin levels, leading to reduction in tension.

Research on yoga and sleep

The largest research study on yoga for sleep was in 410 mainly female cancer survivors suffering from at least moderate sleep disruption after surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. They were randomly assigned to standard care or standard care plus the 4-week yoga intervention. The yoga intervention consisted of pranayama (breathing exercises), 16 gentle hatha and restorative yoga asanas (postures), and meditation. Those in the yoga group showed greater improvements in sleep quality, time awake during the night and had less use of medication for sleep.

Give yoga a try

If you’re having trouble sleeping, give yoga a try. Don’t get caught up too much in what sort of yoga, just find a class or instructor that you feel comfortable with and get started. As well as helping with sleep, yoga is a great tool for stress management and maintaining good physical and mental health.

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Need more information about how you can sleep better?

At Sleephub we understand the struggle people endure with sleeping problems which is why we have created a FAQs page with information for those seeking information about sleep disorders and potential solutions.

Check our resources or take our Sleep Wellness Quiz for a free assessment of elements that may be keeping you from a good night’s sleep.

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