Yoga for a Good Night’s Sleep

sleepy

Does this sound familiar at all?

It’s 2 a.m. You turn over. Adjust the pillow. Tug on the blanket. Stare at the ceiling. Look at the clock. 2:05 a.m. Where the &#*!@ is that elusive sweet slumber?!

There are probably a thousand different things that cause insomnia. Overactive mind, stress, caffeine, medical conditions, change in activity levels, time change! It can all mess with your sleep cycle.

It is extremely frustrating when you want to sleep but just can’t, right? Last night was one of those times. I am not kidding! I had planned to write this today so perhaps it was some kind of (annoying) self-fulfilling prophecy. Please forgive any tired typos 😉

Insomnia has also hit my son periodically these past few weeks (which also translates to no sleep for me!) Poor guy comes down to my room several times throughout the night. Mom, Mom, are you awake? Do you have any ideas of how I can get to sleep?

We have tried a number of sleep-inducing tactics. Here are the ones that we have found the most helpful:

  • Reading before bed
  • Tea with valerian root and honey (I get the Big Chill from David’s Tea)
  • Lavender essential oil on pillows (and my dude’s favourite stuffed bunny – shhh don’t tell him I mentioned that part…)
  • Hot bath
  • Bedtime yoga

So how exactly does yoga fit in?

Insomnia usually indicates that your nervous system is turned up too high. The sympathetic nervous system is overactive.

Yoga helps to turn down the level of arousal. It shifts the balance from activation of the sympathetic nervous system (that controls “fight or flight” responses) to the parasympathetic nervous system (that manages “rest and digest” responses.)

In a nutshell, when you relax your nervous system, you put yourself in a lower state of arousal and responsiveness. And this is more conducive to sleep.

Yoga helps alleviate insomnia by:

  • Reducing high levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress.
  • Calming the nervous system and mind. Inversions, such as Downward Dog and headstand, are especially helpful.
  • Teaching acceptance – obsessing about not sleeping does not help you sleep any better!
  • Reducing muscle tension.
  • Focusing on slow deep breathing, which lowers blood pressure, slows the heartbeat, and clears your mind.

Yoga postures to seduce sweet slumber

According to yogis, every posture has an effect on the body’s energetic systems. It seems obvious that grounding and relaxing postures would help you sleep better. But postures that are mildly stimulating may be beneficial as well. They can help you digest and release the day’s happenings, both mental and emotional.

The trick is to find a good balance between active and calming practices that work for you. This will help you to both let go of tension and to relax.

A few yoga poses to try:

1. Forward Fold with gentle movement

Start in mountain pose. Take a deep breath in. Exhale; fold forward at the hips, keeping your spine long. Inhale and rise into a flat back position, hands on shins. On each exhale, fold forward. On each inhale, rise to flat back. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout. Repeat 5 times.

On the last exhale; remain in forward fold for 5-10 breaths.

2. Downward Facing Dog

Step your feet back into downward facing dog (like an upside down “V”). Keep you knees gently bent. The intention here is to relax. Walk your dog, lifting each heel. Allow your shoulder to move away from your ears. Come to stillness and hold for 3-5 breaths. You can use a pillow or bolster under your head for a more restorative effect.

3. Cat/Cow

Come onto your hands and knees. i) Drop your belly. Inhale. Bring your chest and gaze forward. ii) Exhale. Round your spine towards the ceiling tucking your chin. Move at your own pace repeating 3 to 5 times.

4. Child’s Pose

Come back to neutral on all fours (table top position). Sit back on your heels. Take a deep inhale, then as you exhale, fold forward (butt stays on your heels) and stretch your arms our in front of you. Rest your forehead on the floor. (For super deliciousness, place a bolster underneath your torso, turning your head to one side.) Take 5-10 deep breathes.

5. Legs up the Wall (the mother pose of relaxation)

Sit next to a wall so that the side of your hip touches it. Bend your knees to your chest. Gently lower yourself to the floor rolling onto your back so your legs are going up the wall. Relax your shoulders and let your arms rest at your sides, palms up. Soften your belly and breath deeply. Close your eyes. Hold for 5 minutes or as long as you like.

Do you have any favourite bedtime poses or routines? I would love to hear!

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