Struggling to get the rest you need? Your practice can help. Here, three experts break down how yoga asana, meditation, and pranayama can improve your sleep.
Taking your head below your heart reverses the usual relationship your body has with gravity, focusing your attention and serving as a tonic for a tired mind. In inversions that require greater physical effort (think Headstand), the breath becomes modulated and spreads feelings of well-being and grounding throughout the body, which can help you sleep.
Try Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose), Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), and Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose). These can be done at any time of day, as people who experience sleeplessness tend to feel stress around the clock.
—Kim Weeks, E-RYT 500, YACEP, and Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher
The harder you try to sleep, the more stressed you become about your missed slumber . . . which makes you feel more frazzled and less likely to snooze. Mindfulness can help you notice and accept that discomfort so you don’t get caught in this vicious cycle. Here are two practices to try:
- Right before you’re ready to sleep, lie in bed with the lights off and your eyes closed. Do a body scan: Bring attention to different sensations from the top of your head down to your toes or vice versa. If you have trouble doing this on your own, listen to a guided body-scan meditation on an app such as Headspace or MyLife.
- Simply notice that you’re having trouble sleeping without judgment. Place your hands on your belly, and count your breaths from 1–10 (an inhalation and exhalation count as one breath). Every time your mind wanders from the counting, begin again at 1.
—Neda Gould, PhD, assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of its Mindfulness Program
Deep breathing may improve sleep by calming the body when it’s in a state of stressed hyper-arousal (a.k.a fight-or-flight), according to 2019 research published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. Slowing down your exhalation is one of the most effective ways to regulate and downshift your nervous system. Doing so slows your heart rate, which, in turn, signals to the brain that things are peaceful and that it’s safe to rest. This simple practice can help you fall asleep or get back to sleep if you awaken during the night:
- Inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 4 counts.
- Exhale through your nose for 8 counts.
- Repeat the sequence for 6–8 rounds. You can repeat, gradually increasing the number of rounds, until you fall asleep.
Ashley Neese, breathwork expert and author of How to Breathe: 25 Simple Practices for Calm, Joy, and Resilience