Nothing is more frustrating than snuggling in bed at the end of a long day, ready for a night of restful sleep – but your mind just can’t seem to power down. And understandably so. When life inevitably has its chaotic moments, it’s easy to get caught up in spiraling thoughts when you’re trying to sleep.
Practicing yoga as part of your evening wind-down routine can be the perfect way to soothe your nervous system after a stressful day (or any day). It can help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep for longer, and leave you feeling more energized for the next day. (1) Let’s take a look at why yoga can be so effective at promoting sleep, as well as our 10 favorite poses to help you catch those Z’s.
Calm Your Nervous System Before Bed
Many yoga asanas (poses) are known for being fiery and carrying the intention of cultivating energy and strength. Think chair pose, Warrior I-III, and chaturanga. But there are also numerous asanas that can help calm your body and quiet your mind by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. (2) These asanas typically fall into the inversion, folding, and twisting categories.
Some physiological benefits that come with parasympathetic activation include decreased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Unsurprisingly, these responses allow you to fall asleep with more ease.
Science also tells us that having a regular, long-term yoga practice makes it even easier to fall into a deep, restful sleep at the end of the day. One study found that subjects who participated in daily yoga sessions over an 8-week period saw improvements in sleep efficiency and total sleep time each night. (1) Experts believe this to be attributed to changes in the brain that occur over time. Studies have demonstrated that yoga can promote positive changes in the physical structures of the brain, protecting you from neurodegeneration of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and brain networks. (3)
Top 10 Yoga Poses to Help You Sleep Better
1. Ragdoll Pose:
Begin standing with your feet about hip-width apart. Bend your knee generously and hinge forward at the hips as you shift your weight forward. Let your upper body hang as your hands clasp your elbows. If you want to take a little movement and it feels good in your body, you can sway back and forth as you hang. Hold for 5-6 deep breaths
2. Sukhasana + Diaphragmatic Breathing
Sit with your legs crossed and your spine long; feel both hips grounding down evenly into your yoga mat. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Place one hand on your belly and one on your heart. As you inhale, breathe deep into your belly and feel your ribcage expand. Exhale completely out through your mouth. Repeat for 10 deep breaths.
3. Seated Forward Fold
In a seated position, extend both legs out long in front of you. Lengthen through your spine as both of your hip bones ground down evenly into your mat. Inhale to reach your arms up overhead, exhale to hinge forward at your hips grabbing your shins, ankles, or feet. Keep your back as flat as possible. After a few breaths, round the spine and fold over your legs. If you have tight hamstrings, bend your knees as generously as you need. Hold for 5-6 deep breaths.
4. Child’s Pose
From tabletop, bring your big toes together and your knees as wide as your mat. Send your hips back toward your heels as you reach your arms forward toward the top of your mat. Melt your heart towards the mat and rest your forehead down. Hold for 5-6 deep breaths.
From tabletop or plank, bring your right knee to rest on the mat behind your right wrist. Send your left leg out long behind you, keeping your hips square to the mat. Inhale to lift and lengthen the spine, and exhale to fold over your leg for a deeper stretch. Hold for 5-6 breaths on each side.
6. Bridge/Supported Bridge
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing down, and shoulders drawn away from your ears. Inhale, scoop your tailbone up towards the sky and slowly lift your hips up towards the sky. Pause for a moment at the top, then slowly lower your hips to your mat. Think about rolling down one vertebra at a time as you exhale. Repeat for 3 rounds of breath.
If you want the option for a more restorative bridge pose, grab a block. Lift your hips and place the block under your sacrum. Lower your hips onto the block and rest in this position for 5-6 breaths. For a deeper hip flexor stretch, extend your legs out long.
7. Legs up the Wall
Find a wall in your home with open space. Scoot your hips as close as possible to the wall and lay down on your back, perpendicular to the wall. Straighten your legs so they are resting up against the wall. Focus on diaphragmatic breathing, and hold the pose for 3-5 minutes.
Lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on your mat. Inhale to get ready, and exhale to draw both knees into your chest. If you want to add some movement, rock your knees from side to side or move them around in a circle. Hold for 5-6 deep breaths.
9. Happy Baby
From apanasana, grab onto your shins, ankles, or feet. Keep both shoulders and hips grounded down into your mat. Hold for 5-6 deep breaths.
This is your final resting pose before sleep. If you aren’t there already, consider doing this in bed so you can drift off to sleep as soon as you are done.
Lay down on your back with your legs extended long, and arms down by your side with your palms facing up. Begin to focus on your breath, letting it flow in and out at your natural rhythm. Clear your mind and focus on completely relaxing your body. Remain in this pose for 5-15 minutes. If you notice your mind wandering, gently guide your focus back to your breath. When you are ready to bring some gentle movement back into your body, start to deepen your breath and wiggle your fingers and toes. Start to expand your movement to ankle and wrist circles bringing awareness back to the sensations in your body. Or, maybe you’re already asleep, and that’s okay too. Mission accomplished.
1. Khalsa, S. B. (2004). Treatment of chronic insomnia with yoga: A preliminary study with sleep?wake diaries. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 29(4), 269–278. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-004-0387-0. Accessed 12 July 2023.
2. Physiology, 1Department of. (n.d.). Effect of long-term yoga training on autonomic function... : Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. LWW. https://doi.org/10.4103%2Fjfmpc.jfmpc_199_21. Accessed 12 July 2023.
3. Gothe, N. P., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E., & Damoiseaux, J. S. (2019). Yoga effects on Brain Health: A systematic review of the current literature. Brain Plasticity, 5(1), 105–122. https://doi.org/10.3233/bpl-190084. Accessed 13 July 2023.