Insomnia has become an epidemic in modern society. A recent study found that one in five adults experience difficulty falling asleep each night. Yoga for insomnia can be an effective way of allowing deep sleep.
In this article, learn
- what insomnia is
- how yoga for insomnia can effectively address it
- 7 best yoga postures for insomnia
- three other ways to resolve insomnia
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep. It affects different people in different ways.
You may have difficulty falling asleep, struggle to stay asleep throughout the night, or have poor quality sleep, or wake up feeling sleep-deprived. Insomnia can be either short-term or chronic.
Insomnia has a variety of different causes, including stress and anxiety, a poor sleeping environment, lifestyle factors such as unsociable work hours, drinking, and excessive caffeine.
Other causes include light from screens late in the evening, or mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.
Medication can be used to treat insomnia in the case of mental health conditions and severe chronic insomnia, but in most cases, many medical professionals will suggest that you start by making changes to your environment and behavior, like trying yoga for insomnia to naturally improve sleep.
How Yoga for Insomnia Can Help
Yoga is a natural way to fight insomnia as it releases muscle tension, activates important sleep regulating systems – such as the parasympathetic nervous system and pituitary gland – and releases stress and anxiety through meditation.
A national survey found that over 55% of people practicing yoga found that it helped them get better sleep.
Yoga for insomnia aimed specifically at improving sleep has these benefits:
- Releasing muscle tension can help your body and mind transition into the relaxed state needed for good rest.
- Relaxed muscles mean that you are less likely to suffer from physical aches and pains when lying down that interfere with your ability to sleep.
- Slow yoga for insomnia flows and static postures are connected with a slower breathing pattern, and studies suggest that this enhances the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your body’s rest function.
- The meditative practice of connecting the body and breath also boosts melatonin levels, a hormone essential for good sleep.
Having a yoga practice in general can improve your sleep as regular practice can relieve stress and anxiety, enhance mental health, release muscle tension, and improve mobility and circulation, all of which address the underlying issues that can cause insomnia.
When and How to Practice Yoga for Insomnia
Yoga for insomnia is best practiced at night directly before bed. Ideally, leave yourself between 30 and 45 minutes to complete the practice.Below we have recommended seven yoga postures for insomnia, and we recommend doing all of these yoga postures in the sequence given below. But you may also choose to do just a few of the postures and still feel benefits when you lie down to sleep.
It is recommended to hold each of the poses for between 1-3 minutes while maintaining slow, steady breathing pattern like coherent breathing or gentle Ujjayi breathing. Remain as relaxed as possible and let gravity do the work of deepening your stretch into each position.
If you’re short on time and only have 10 minutes in bed, try this 10 minute guided pranayama and yoga for insomnia:
7 Yoga Postures for Insomnia
Big toe pose (Padangusthasana) stimulates the nerves in your spine, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect.
It has benefits over other forward folds because it also stimulates the big toes, which are reflexology points to stimulate the pituitary gland, which helps to regulate sleep and wakeful cycles through the release of melatonin, making it a powerful posture.
To get into the posture, stand with your feet hip distance apart and your toes pointed forwards. Keeping your back straight, hinge forward from the hips and reach down towards the ground with your head around the level of your knees.
Next, grip your big toes with your fingers. This may require you to bend your knees so that you can reach. Wrap your index and middle finger below your big toe, and close the circle with your thumb. Press down through the balls of your feet.
If you have space, you should bend your elbow outwards to get deeper into the fold.
When you are ready to come out of the posture, roll up to standing one vertebrae at a time, with the head coming up last.
Insomnia is often linked to stress and emotional anxiety. These feelings can be carried in the hips, so releasing the hips before bed can help reduce these feelings prior to sleep. Lizard pose is a gentle but effective way to open and release the hips.
To get into Lizard Pose, start in downward dog. Bring your left foot forward and place it between your hands and let your right knee drop down to the mat. You can now walk your left foot to the outer edge of your mat. If you wish, you can lower your elbows or forearms to the ground.
When you come out of the posture, return to downward dog. You might want to alternate bending your knees, walking your dog, before trying the other side.
Joint pain can often feel worse in the evenings, and the discomfort associated with it can make sleep challenging. The joints where most people carry tension are the lower back, hips, shoulders, and knees.
This is why bound angle pose is an ideal yoga for insomnia posture, because it targets all of these areas with a passive stretch.
To get into Baddha Konasana, find an easy seated position where you are sat comfortably on your sit bones. If you can’t sit comfortably on the floor, you can elevate your hips a little by sitting on a block, cushion, or folded towel.
Bring the bottoms of your feet together and let your knees fall outward to create a butterfly pose with the legs and keep your heels as close to your hips as feels comfortable. Keeping your back straight, lean forward from the hips to bring your chest towards the floor.
Once you are in position, you can rest your hands on your ankles and bend your elbows outward. To finish, come back up to your easy seat.
Extended puppy pose is an excellent relaxed backbend to release the spine and shoulders. Releasing the upper back is important in the evening if you spend a lot of the day sitting in front of a computer.
In Uttana Shishosana you can also apply light pressure to the forehead, which again stimulates the pituitary gland and can induce drowsiness.
To get into the posture, start on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Keeping your hips stacked above your knees, walk your hands forward until you can place your forehead on the ground while keeping your elbows lifted.
To go deeper into the stretch, release your chest towards the ground.
While in this position, you may want to rock your head from side to side to massage your forehead. To release, return to tabletop position or child’s pose.
Deep twists like Reclined Twist Pose can release the baroreflex, which maintains blood pressure. An impaired baroreflex sensitivity is often associated with trouble sleeping. The reclined twist pose simultaneously relaxes and releases.
To get into Reclined Twist Pose, lie on your back with your arms stretched out to the sides and draw your left knee up towards your chest.
Allow your left knee to fall to the right side, letting gravity pull it towards the ground. At the same time, try to keep your left shoulder on the ground. If it feels comfortable, you can also let your head drop to the left.
Slowly come back to center and then repeat on the other side. When you are ready to leave the position, roll into the fetal position on one side and use your hands to push yourself up to seated.
Legs up the wall is probably the most well-known relaxation position in Yoga for insomnia sequences. This passive inversion releases muscle tension, which promotes calm. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
To get into Viparita Karani, place a pillow or a folded blanket next to the wall, and sit next to it with one of your hips touching the wall. Roll onto your back while rolling your hips onto the pillow and letting your feet extend up the wall.
Once you are in position, relax your legs. You may need to move your hips away from the wall just an inch to let your feet rest. Let your arms lie on the ground alongside your body. Stay in this position for 5-10 minutes before rolling out of the pose the same way you came in.
Finish your Yoga for insomnia practice with corpse pose to let your body realign itself and integrate the work you have just done. This is also an opportunity to clear your mind before heading to bed.
Follow our guide to Savanana to settle into deep rest.
3 other ways to combat insomnia:
Here are three other kinds of modalities I recommend in addition to Yoga for Insomnia to help you enjoy deep sleep:
Yoga Nidra is a lying-down form of meditation designed to help you draw your attention inward and consciously transition between states and wakefulness and sleep. Read our guide to Yoga Nidra for sleep here.
If you find you’re struggling with recurring and pervasive thoughts of fear or anxiety, try this Water Element Yoga Nidra to create safety and settle into deep sleep.
If you prefer not to engage in Yoga Nidra, a simple meditation where you clear your mind and put active thoughts to one side as they pop up is also an effective practice, such as this 10 minute guided humming meditation.
Meditation helps reduce stress hormones and gives you greater control of your mind, which can help you control anxious and “running” thoughts that prevent your brain from powering down and letting you sleep.
Tapping for Anxiety:
To prepare for your Yoga for Insomnia practice, an effective way to help release overthinking and anxiety before bed is Tapping for anxiety, which involves tapping on specific acupressure points on the body while focusing on a negative emotion or thought.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep at night, try this 5 minute tapping for anxiety video to help you release overthinking.
Yoga for Insomnia: Concluding Thoughts And Tips
If you are suffering from insomnia, introducing yoga for insomnia into your evening routine can be an effective technique as it relaxes the body and mind, releases hormones that promote sleep, and helps clear the mind and prepare it for restfulness.
Try our seven yoga postures for insomnia and see if it makes a difference to how well you sleep at night.