16 Poses for Better Sleep • Yoga Basics
Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep? Yoga is not just a great way to relax before bedtime—there are many poses that you can do to assist you in falling asleep and staying asleep. Even just a few minutes of deep mindful stretching with slow deep breaths can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep. Beware, not all asanas are equally relaxing, so knowing the best bedtime yoga poses is essential for a successful calming bedtime routine.
What is yoga for bedtime?
Bedtime yoga is the practice of calming and soothing postures that focus primarily on stretching and relaxing the major muscle groups, from your shoulders to your feet, before you go to sleep. A yoga for bedtime practice will wring out tension and allow your nervous system to relax, which helps you fall asleep faster and enables you to wake up feeling more refreshed in the morning.
Why practice yoga before bed?
A bedtime yoga routine not only improves your overall wellbeing and quality of life—it helps you to relax your mind and body and prepare for a deep restful sleep. Yoga poses are very effective in relaxing the body and the mind and reducing worry and anxiety. Holding just one gentle stretch with deep breathing can help you improve your sleep quality and help you wake up feeling refreshed and energized. Several medical studies have shown that yoga can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep by reducing stress, soothing your nervous system and helping you control your breathing.
Promoting good sleep is one of the most underrated benefits of yoga. Sleep is vital to our well-being. It helps our metabolism, recuperation, and physical and mental health. Without sleep, we run the risk of having a terrible or even fatal health condition. But, when we don’t get enough sleep, we have a harder time getting rid of stress and staying focused.
The effects of yoga on the quality of your sleep may take a week or two to appear. A regular nightly session will have the quickest and strongest effect on improving sleep and reducing stress. Be patient with yourself, but also know that you may need to experiment and make adjustments to your routine if you don’t find success right away.
When to practice yoga for sleep
For the best quality of sleep, practice poses and breathing exercises at least one hour before bedtime to prepare your body for sleep. If you are suffering from chronic insomnia, it is recommended to practice simple poses in your bed so you can transition directly from your practice to sleep. If you don’t have sleep issues you can practice evening yoga earlier, just make sure you don’t practice on a full stomach. If you wake up in the middle of the night, consider practicing a few poses in your bed to encourage you to fall back asleep.
What type of yoga to practice before bed
The best style to practice in the evening should incorporate gentle yoga poses and meditative breathing. A general hatha yoga class can work well, but for the most calming effects try a gentle, restorative or yin class. If you love to practice more vigorous styles like hot yoga, Bikram, power, flow, or vinyasa, make sure you practice several hours before bedtime and balance your practice with gentle stretches and restorative poses towards the end.
If you are new to yoga, we recommend you read our beginner’s guide on how to begin a yoga practice before bed.
Which poses are best for sleep?
Yoga before bedtime can help calm the body and the mind and help you get a deeper and more restful sleep. With so many options up for grabs, it’s hard to narrow down which poses are the best for inducing deep, restful sleep. Focus on restorative poses, gentle stretches, and relaxing poses. These are primarily hip openers and forward folds, but twists and side bends will also be calming and balancing. Overall, choose easy and simple beginner asanas that make you feel good, and allow you to breathe deeply. Hopefully, you will find benefit and healing by practicing a few of these poses for sleep.
- Cat / Cow — Flow between these two positions to release tension along the spine and to balance the nervous system. Repeat a few times until your body feels soothed and you feel the body warmed up and ready for more intense poses.
- Downward Dog — This classic asana builds upper body strength, and it is a great stretch for the muscles in the legs and back, especially for those of us who sit all day at work. Down dog helps to balance the mind and emotions and is perfect to practice letting go of a long day of work.
- Child’s pose — This is a simple yet very soothing stretch for the back of the legs and low back. Hold this position for several breaths to rest, integrate and soak up the benefits of your practice.
- Sphinx pose — This gentle backbend helps to decompress and relieve tension in the low back while opening the chest to encourage emotional release. It has a mildly energizing effect, so place this towards the beginning of your nighttime sequence.
- Pigeon pose — This is a great hip opening stretch to help combat the stress, worry and anxiety from a long workday. You will quickly get in touch with your emotions as you hold and breath deeply in this grounding pose, so come out early if you feel its adding anxiety to your routine.
- Dolphin pose — This pose is great for the physical and emotional release of anger and frustration that gets held in the shoulders and upper body.
- Seated Forward Bend — This calming asana is good to stretch and release tension in the low back and hamstrings. It also stimulates digestion and calms the mind.
- Seated Head to Knee pose — This is a hip opener and hamstring stretch that is good for all levels of students. It helps to balance the energy in the hips and the spine.
- Seated Yoga Seal — This posture provides a deep stretch in the muscles of the chest and ribcage, to help harmonize the emotions and increase lung capacity. It also stretches the spine, stimulates digestion and encourages detoxification. The full expression of this posture has a stimulating effect on the brain, so add this early in your sequence or skip if it is too energizing.
- Reclined Hero — This is a powerful and deep stretch to the hamstrings and hip flexors, so move into this asana slowly and carefully. Place a yoga block, folded blanket or pillow under your chest to add a gentle heart opening to soothe the emotions.
- Supine Twist — This is a simple stretch that is very effective at removing tension from the back and helping the spine maintain a healthy alignment. This is a perfect pose to practice after a long day of sitting, driving, or any activities that stress the low back.
- Plow pose — This a tricky shape to practice so if you are a beginner its best to have a yoga instructor teach you this pose. Moving your body weight onto your shoulders gives them a pleasurable release as well as stretching the neck, back and legs. This also promotes healthy circulation of blood and lymph.
- Supine Bound Angle — This hip opening supine pose is best placed this pose at the end of your sequence. Take several slow deep breaths here to feel your diaphragm fully expanding and focus on letting go of tension to release deeper into the stretch.
- Happy Baby pose — This is a great pose to end your practice with as it prepares you for sleep by calming the mind and it is an excellent stretch for the inner thighs and hips. Allow yourself to be playful and let go of the seriousness of your day by exploring movement in the legs and by rocking left to right to massage the spine and release low back tension.
- Knees to Chest — This is a simple and accessible asana to release tension in the sacrum and hip flexors. Also known as wind relieving pose, breathing deeply while holding this shape massages the abdominal organs which can help with digestive problems.
- Corpse pose — Make sure you end your sequence with this deeply relaxing pose. You may wish to transition from your yoga mat to your bed as you hold this position for 10-15 breaths and feel all the day’s tension and worry melt away.
Using a breathing technique
Incorporating a simple yogic breathing exercise in your evening routine has a powerful relaxing effect on your central nervous system. When we’re stressed, we breathe faster and up into our chest, which reinforces the stress response. When we use slow diaphragmatic breathing, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body and prepares it physiologically for sleep. You can incorporate pranayama into poses or practice these breathing exercises separately. Dirga Pranayama (three-part or complete breath) and Sama Vritti Pranayama (equal breath) are the two most calming techniques.