Healthier Sleep: How to Make the Most of Bedtime Yoga

05/11/2015 10:18 am ET | Updated May 11, 2016
RelaxingMusic/Flickr

Feelings of pain, tension and stress can make it difficult to get a good night's sleep. When your mind is stressed, it isn't always easy to shut down thoughts and mentally relax. When you physically hurt, it can be hard to get comfortable and stay comfortable throughout the night.

Pain and stress are both common causes of insomnia and sleep troubles. Recent National Sleep Foundation surveys connect pain and stress with fewer hours spent in bed and less restorative sleep. There is also evidence that stress can amplify pain and that pain can increase stress, each multiplying the effects of the other.

One way to help reduce both stress and certain types of pain is yoga. Certain positions in yoga help your body wind down and release tension, paving the way for more peaceful sleep. Concentrating on your body's movements and breathing can also help relax a busy mind -- a key idea behind the concept of mindfulness.

A few preliminary scientific studies also support the partnership between yoga and sleep. For example, a Harvard Medical School study found daily yoga practice helped reduce insomnia symptoms. Another study of older adults also showed improvements in several measures of sleep quality with yoga classes twice per week.

Adding Yoga to Your Evening Routine

Yoga is all about focus and relaxation, so environment and mindset can be important going in. Here are five tips to help you make the most of practising yoga before bed.

1. Set The Scene

Before you can settle into a relaxing bedtime yoga routine and comfortable sleep, it helps to ensure your environment is conducive to relaxation.

Lights should be fairly dim, as bright lighting can be too stimulating for pre-bed eyes. The temperature should be fairly cool, as cooler room temperatures promote sleep. You don't want to warm up your core temperature much with bedtime yoga.

Sound will depend on personal preference - some people will do best with absolute quiet, while others may find gentle nature, white noise or new-wave tracks help them focus on mindful yoga practice. A candle or essential oil spray with a calming scent like lavender can help further set the stage.

Your room should also be organized enough that you aren't distracted by clutter, and you should have enough space to do your moves. Keep a yoga mat nearby if your floors aren't comfortable enough.

2. Get Comfortable

Once your space is set, make sure you are physically comfortable. Your clothes should be breathable and non-constricting to move in. Not too tight, not too loose. If you want to sleep right after you finish up your yoga moves, don't forget to wash your face and brush your teeth beforehand so you won't have to get back out of your bedroom.

3. Ready Your Mind

Go into your bedtime yoga routine with a calm mind, and with a conscious intention of your goal (relieving stress, releasing tension, etc). Practice deep breathing or another relaxation technique for a minute or so if needed, and get your mind and body ready to focus on your practice.

4. Stay Focused

As you start your yoga routine, do your best to block out distractions. This is where calming sounds might prove helpful, especially if you live in a busy neighborhood or with roommates. Make it clear to others that this is your "do not disturb" time, and put phones on silent.

Keep your mind tuned into your body - explore how your body moves and how your muscles feel, staying focused on breathing deep and keeping your form. You don't have to worry about clearing out all thoughts, just let them flow and stay focused on your body.

5. Keep The Good Energy Flowing

Once you've finished up, continue focusing on your body's sensations and your breathing. Keep carrying this mindfulness with you as you get ready for bed, trying to stay in the calm and relaxed zone.

It might also help you to slip on earbuds and listen to a guided relaxation or visualization track, or perhaps continue the calming sounds you were playing before. There are also a couple of yogic breathing techniques like "bee breath" you can use in bed to re-center and relax yourself.

Good Yoga Routines for Bedtime

When you look for bedtime yoga routines, look for moves that are slow and simple - not too strenuous or difficult for your flexibility level. The goal is to relax and stretch, not burn calories or challenge yourself. Try different videos and routines to find ones that click with you - you may not mesh with every instructor or every routine, but don't get discouraged.

Here are a few good routines demonstrating moves designed to relax your body and prepare you for sleep.

  • Popular instructor Tara Stiles shows a few yoga moves you can do without even leaving bed in a short video. This routine is perfect for people with limited space or those having trouble drifting off.
  • Instructor Darcie Clark demonstrates a 20 minute pre-bed routine designed to stretch out your back, hips, and other areas that commonly hold tension.
  • Popular YouTube channel Yoga With Adriene also demonstrates a longer 30-minute relaxation session complete with breathing and other helpful tips for relaxing.
  • Yoga Journal has a searchable database of poses and instructions, helpful if you'd rather have a printout or written routine rather than watch a video.

If you want to find more helpful bedtime yoga routines, YouTube is a good resource for beginning yogis, as dozens of fitness instructors host videos providing detailed demonstrations of techniques. You can find all types of routines for different fitness levels and schedules. Local classes, fitness magazines and blogs are also helpful resources, and there are plenty of DVDs out there as well.

The key to making bedtime yoga work for you is to use it consistently and to adopt it as part a healthy approach towards sleep. Try to incorporate yoga as a part of a regular bedtime routine. Practicing the same behaviors and winding down at the same time every night tells your body what to expect, and consistency helps train your internal clock.

Do you have a favorite yoga move or video that helps you wind down? Share below!

Rosie Osmun is the Creative Content Manager at Amerisleep, a progressive memory foam mattress brand focused on eco-friendly sleep solutions. Rosie writes more posts on the Amerisleep blog about the science of sleep, eco-friendly living, leading a healthy lifestyle and more.