yoga postures for better sleep

We hope you didn’t see the word yoga in the title and decide to skip this post. Yoga is one of the easiest ways to achieve relaxation at bedtime, and you don’t have to be super flexible, athletic, thin, or young to do it. (This blog’s editor is proof enough; she has had rheumatoid arthritis her entire life, but even she can still do the most basic yoga poses.)

The following poses truly are easy enough for nearly every person to do. These are poses that are meant to be taken slowly, incorporating simple, relaxed breathing. Yoga is meant to be practiced to your limitations; if you cannot match the form by the model in the photos, that’s fine: do what you can, and what feels good and right.

Included below are photos showing a series of poses as well as two common bedtime poses, one with alternatives. They can all be helpful for relaxing, relieving pain (a common enemy of sleep), and quieting the mind for sleep.

Some additional considerations

It may take several nights of practicing these yoga poses to generate relaxation effects. If you are new to yoga, it may be more difficult than you expect and the result may be more invigorating. Like exercise, you may wish to learn and practice yoga during the day before trying it in the privacy of your home at bedtime, after you know how to achieve the relaxation effects it offers.

Or, if you do some yoga poses at bedtime, you can “finish” by simply lying flat on your back, breathing gently in and out for several minutes in what is known as “corpse” pose… which is called this because of its restorative and restful stillness. Many people even fall asleep in “corpse” pose during yoga class! (This blog author included…)

Note: Even the simple act of practicing yogic breathing patterns can be beneficial for achieving bedtime relaxation. Ask your local yoga studio if they have classes. Or, you might be able to hire an instructor for a private session to teach you the many different kinds of breathing patterns that correspond with both bedtime and waking up.

Finally, it’s also important to remember that yoga is best practiced at least 2 hours after a large meal (such as dinner). If you are taking an evening class to help prepare yourself for bedtime, you may wish to consider if and when you will eat your evening meal, and in what portion. Eating an early dinner before class, or having a light snack after yoga class, right before bedtime, may be your best option.

The American Sleep Apnea Association wishes to extend its gratitude to Tiffany Berry for sharing, for use in this blog post, these selected, unmodified yoga position photos (2008) from her extensive Flickr album. [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


Happy Baby Series

Try this trio of poses in the order they’re shown below. Remember to breathe through every pose in a steady, normal fashion.

Figure 1a        
Photos by Tiffany Berry from her yoga poses album (2008) in Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Standing Half Forward Bend (pictured left) (into Standing Forward Bend, not pictured, optional)

The purpose of this pose

It’s easy to establish a gentle rhythm of breathing with this pose, which is critical for relaxation. You also have the option of reaching for your toes if you can or feel like you want to try to. This pose helps loose the lower back, a common area for tightness and pain that can make sleeping difficult.

Technique

From an upright position, while being mindful of your posture so that you focus on keeping your back flat, bend at the hips. You can place your hands on your hips if it helps you to visualize the bend. Stop halfway, pause, and straighten to standing position.

Breathing

Exhale as you bend over; pause; inhale as you straight back to standing position. If resting at any part of this pose, gently breathe in and out in a steady fashion.

Take it further

Once at half bend, inhale while in position, then exhale while reaching toward your toes into Standing Forward Bend. If you can reach your toes, that’s fine, but if you can only reach somewhere past your knees, that is fine, too. If you have yoga blocks, you might choose to use these to reach toward. You will discover, after doing several rounds of these, that your fingertips will eventually touch your toes as your lower back loosens up.

Happy Baby Pose (pictured center)

The purpose of this pose:

As the name suggests, this is a playful pose that calms the mind and relieves stress. It also helps stretch and relax the spine.

Technique

From standing position, gently drop to the floor and rest on your back with your feet resting in a wide stance on the floor and your knees bent. Slowly bring your knees toward your tummy. Reach to the outsides of your feet (aim for the little toe) and hold them, opening your knees slightly wider than your torso. You really will feel like a happy baby when this happens! If you can’t reach your toes with your hands, try using a yoga strap that’s been wrapped around the middle arch of each foot, holding on to the ends with the hands for support. Feel free to wiggle and rock (side to side, or back and forth) if that is easy and comfortable for you. If you can flex your heels, you can do so to enhance the stretch. Pulling on your feet can also help increase the stretch.

Breathing

Inhale when you reach to grip your toes, then relax once you have them in hand. Continue gentle, easy breathing in and out as you wiggle and rock in this pose. If resting in this pose, gently breathe in and out in a steady fashion.

Rocking Exercise (pictured right)

The purpose of this pose

To loosen up any residual stiffness across the span of the back, from the tailbone to the shoulder and base of the neck. This massaging of the whole spine promotes calm in the central nervous system.

Technique

Release yourself from the Happy Baby pose by letting go of your feet and placing them on the floor. Hug the knees to the chest, then rock back and forth and side to side. If you struggle with Happy Baby, then skip it and just do this. It will feel great.

Breathing

Inhale as you rock backward and exhale as your rock forward. If resting inside the post, gently breathe in and out in a steady fashion.


Butterfly Pose

This is a classic hip-opening yoga pose that you can do while watching TV before heading off to bed.

    
Photos by Tiffany Berry from her yoga poses album (2008) in Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Butterfly Pose (pictured left, side view pictured right)

The purpose of this pose

This pose stimulates many internal organs and improves circulation while stretching the core and inner thighs. It’s said to relieve anxiety, depression, and general fatigue. Believe it or not, fatigue can make sleeping at night a problem, so battling it with counteractions like this yoga pose can actually help sleep. This pose is also said to help with breathing issues like asthma and high blood pressure, two conditions that can impact sleep.

Technique

Find a comfortable seating position on the floor; bend your knees and pull your feet toward your pelvis so that your heels make contact. If this is difficult, just bring your feet in, using your hands as gentle guides on the ankles or shins, as far as is comfortable for you. Make sure your posture is “tall,” with your back straight and head up. Once your feet have made contact with your hands or with each other, pull them in gently as far as is comfortable.

Breathing

Exhale as you bend over; pause; inhale as you straighten. If holding the pose upright, gently breathe in and out in a steady fashion.

Take it further

Keeping your back flat, drape your upper body over your feet as far as you are able to comfortably. You don’t need to lean forward to make this stretch work, but try it, if you can.


Child’s Pose

This should be everyone’s go-to pose at bedtime. Below are three versions you can try out.

        
Photos by Tiffany Berry from her yoga poses album (2008) in Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Child’s Pose (pictured left)

The purpose of this pose

This is classically used as a resting or restorative pose between more challenging poses in yoga. It helps release tension in the hips and thighs and relieves pain in both the neck and back. It is also great for calming the mind and relieving stress and fatigue. No wonder children prefer sleeping like this when they are young!

Technique

Rest on the floor on your knees. Drape your upper body over your knees to fold yourself in half. You may widen the space between your legs if this helps you to achieve this pose. Let your arms hand loose at either side.

Breathing

Gently breathe in and out in a steady fashion while holding this pose.

Variation

Rest the head on one cheek first, then the other, then on the forehead, to help loosen the neck.

Child’s Pose, Supported (pictured center)

If you struggle to touch the floor with your head, use a folded up blanket, small pillow, or yoga block to more easily rest your cheeks and forehead. To provide relief for tight shoulders

Child’s Pose, Extended (pictured right)

For a deep stretch that can help loosen the upper shoulders and neck, reach your arms forward as far as your body will comfortably allow, then allow gravity to help you lean back into your hips. You can also wiggle, side to side, to enhance the stretch in each shoulder.


A general disclaimer
The American Sleep Apnea Association assumes no responsibility or liability for any injuries or losses that may result from practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. The information provided in this blog is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor. All content providers contributing to this post make no representations or warranties with regards to the completeness or accuracy of information on this website. Always consult your healthcare provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program.