Yoga For Better Sleep

Yoga for better sleep Mandala Yoga Dublin
5 min read
By Ece Ozkan

There’s a positive correlation between the presence of anxiety/ stress and sleep issues. Since the pandemic started, I’ve heard so many of my friends complaining about their sleep problems. With the lockdowns all around the world, these issues have increased further. The majority of us have issues around lack of sleep, be it not being able to fall asleep or waking up way too early. Yet some people have issues around too much sleep, or worse they sleep enough but are still tired all day.

Another sleep issue is related to a weird and sometimes scary reflex, which gives you the sensation of falling or an electric shock: hypnic jerk. All things considered, I’ll be diving into the issue of sleep in this post and after a brief intro on the most common sleep issues related to anxiety/ stress, their relation to anxiety and stress. I’ll finish with some solutions such as some effective yoga types and yoga poses for sleep.

Anxiety/ Stress and Sleep Correlation

“If you’re experiencing stress in your life, chances are that you might be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night. Your anxious worry about life and its problems may keep your brain from settling down, and the disruption of sleep is likely to keep you feeling more on edge the next day.” Kathleen Smith, PhD

We’ve all been there. Stressful day at work or home, and you just can’t sleep well which only makes the stress and anxiety worse. In pre-COVID19 days it was already common knowledge that anxiety in your life can cause sleep issues. Nowadays though, there are additional layers to this correlation: no downtime for office workers who are working from home, less motivation for people who got furloughed/not working, nd cabin fever for anyone living with more than one person in the same household.

So, what’s the solution?

Before diving into that, let’s look at some of the most common sleep issues related to stress and anxiety.

Common Sleep Issues

First of all, not all stress is bad. In fact, stress is a survival mechanism of our body, helping us to “fight or flight” in the presence of a perceived threat. That said, too much or constant stress in our life is the real problem. Stress response can be turned on when you are not really in a dangerous situation. Harmless conditions can be intensified by the stress response if it is active for too long or too intensely.

And this leads to a series of “side effects” such as increased heart rate, weight gain or loss, digestive issues, insomnia, agitation, racing thoughts… Let’s now look at a few common sleep issues related to anxiety and stress:

1.Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia

For starters sleep deprivation is not the same thing with insomnia. Insomnia is “one’s inability to get adequate and/or quality sleep, despite plenty of opportunity to sleep”. Lying in bed all night, counting sheeps, staring at the alarm clock are some of the features of insomnia. And the main difference from sleep deprivation is that people with insomnia do not choose it. In sleep deprivation though, there is a choice either because one needs to finish a certain task or they got used to less sleep over a period of time. 

2.Hypnic Jerk / Sleep Starts

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“Have you ever been jolted awake by the sensation of falling, just as you were drifting off to sleep? If so, you’re not weird; you’ve got plenty of company. These involuntary muscle twitches in the arms, legs, or entire body are called sleep starts, and they’re very common. Up to 70 percent of people experience them occasionally—but no one knows exactly what causes them.” – Sleep.org

This one is particularly interesting because most people haven’t heard the term but they have experienced it at least once in their lives, including me. For the last few weeks I was a bit anxious, and also I was probably drinking more coffee than I should. Then one night just as I was about to fall asleep I had this intense twitch, almost like an electric shock which scared me.

I tried to go back to sleep, and it happened again, and again until I finally dozed off somehow. It happened the next day, and on and off for a couple of weeks after. My online searches didn’t bring much since I did not know what it was or how to describe it.  I was somewhere in between a dream state and conscious state when these reactions happened. It was only recently I learned what these reactions are called, and what a relief that was 🙂 

“Hypnic jerks, or sleep starts, are normal physiological events occurring at the transition from wakefulness to sleep, often associated with sensory phenomena, such as a feeling of falling, unexplained alarm or fear, inner electric shock or light flash.” –  Sciencedirect.com 

Hypnic jerks, or sleep starts are somewhat mysterious events as we don’t know their exact cause. Yet they are mostly associated with caffeine and/or stress or anxiety. Cutting back on caffeine and using relaxation techniques usually help easing them.

3.Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Teeth grinding (at sleep) can have different causes but mostly associated with stress. As it occurs when one is asleep it might be hard to notice at first. Some signs of teeth grinding are sore jaw, a constant headache or changes in your teeth which might be noticed by a dentist. 

Yoga for a Good Sleep

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Some suggestions for improving sleep health  would be: reducing the caffeine intake – especially in the afternoon, creating a proper sleep environment (cool and dark room), limiting screen time closer to sleep time, and relaxation techniques. Regarding the last one, yoga and mediation are proven to be effective methods for improving sleep health. For lots more poses and ideas how to relax before bed read here.

Let’s look at some beneficial yoga poses if you are experiencing sleep issues. Practice the below poses before bed time:

  • Wide Knee Child’s Pose (Balasana): This pose is very calming, and the version suggested here (wide knees and arms by your torso) is great for releasing tension on your shoulder. Be mindful if you have knee of hip issues though. To get into the pose, kneel on the floor and bring your toes together, knees wide. Exhale and sink your torso onto your thighs. Let the hands relax alongside your torso towards the feet, palms facing up. Keep your forehead on the ground, and take slow breaths. Stay here 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani): This one is a great pose to recirculate your blood flow, especially at the end of a long day. Lie on the ground on your back and put the back of your legs up a wall (keep your legs straight), so your body is in an L-shaped pose. Relax into the position, hold it for at least 30 seconds and focus on your breathing.
  • Lying Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana): This pose is great for hip opening, releasing the tension. That said be mindful if you have knee or hip issues. To get into the pose, lie on the ground on your back. Press the bottoms of your feet against each other and let your knees fall out to the sides. You can put a pillow under your knees if this feels too strenuous.
  • Corpse Pose (Savasana): Lie on the ground on your back with legs straight, arms by sides, and palms facing up. Breathe slowly, focusing on your inhales and exhales.

Moving your body is generally suggested to have a good sleep, yet it is not advised to do intense exercises just before bed as your body would be too energized. Some more relaxed practices like Yoga Nidra is a great alternative practice before bed time. There are several studies around how Yoga Nidra improves sleep quality and reduces stress.

 

Last of all check out 15 proven tips to better sleep here.

I am planning to dive into Yoga Nidra further in another blog post but so far the below quote can give you some idea.

“It’s a deceptively simple practice. Because yoga nidra is most often taught lying down—initially guided by a teacher—it’s appealing to people who might feel intimidated by yoga postures or traditional seated meditation. A short version of yoga nidra can be introduced and practiced in less than 10 minutes. Yet its various elements, taken together and practiced regularly, make up a sophisticated set of mind-body tools that can help practitioners navigate some of life’s harshest moments.”  Yoga Journal

In sum, we can not avoid all stress as it’s a survival strategy. Yet we can, and need to, regulate our stress response in order to function properly which includes having a good digestion and quality sleep. Yoga has been one of the most recommended activities to reduce our stress and anxiety, and improve sleep quality. From relaxing poses like child’s pose to deep relaxation techniques like Yoga Nidra, there is a variety of alternatives you can choose from.

Have a good sleep!