In our fast-paced world, getting a good night's sleep can feel like a luxury. The demands of modern life can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and unable to unwind before bedtime. Fortunately, there's a natural and effective solution to improve the quality of your sleep, and it's one that's near and dear to my heart – yoga!
In this post, we'll explore the many benefits of yoga for sleep. As we're taking this deep dive, we'll place a special focus on Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra, two practices that have served me well in the most through even the most disruptive sleep phases of my life – from labor to raising tiny humans.
Restorative Yoga: Creating Conditions for Rest
The first teacher who introduced Restorative Yoga to me described it as "glorified napping". Why? In Restorative Yoga, we set ourselves up in shapes we could essentially fall asleep in, and then we hold them for 5-10 minutes to allow the body and mind to rest. Central to this idea is creating the conditions for rest.
What exactly are those conditions? "Quiet, warm, still, safe, and dark" are what can allow any body to fully relax, according to renowned yoga instructor Judith Hanson Lasater, whose teachings I have had the privilege to study in my work with YogaUOnline. These conditions are aimed to soothe the nervous system and prepare the mind to be set free.
When creating a space for Restorative Yoga or for sleep, it's beneficial to set aside a calm area of your home with dim lighting. Ensure an abundance of cozy things, such as blankets, bolsters, cushions, sandbags, and eye pillows. These props are essential to provide comfort, warmth, and support. Set up your yoga space as if you'd like to sleep there. Or better yet, allow your bedroom to be your yoga space and practice Restorative Yoga before falling asleep!
Yoga Nidra: Deep Yogic Sleep
What is Yoga Nidra? Often referred to as "yogic sleep," this is a powerful form of guided meditation and deep relaxation that offers numerous benefits to an anxious body and mind. The practice not only promotes deep relaxation but also can foster creativity and a connection with your deepest self.
While the goal is not to fall asleep necessarily, you are positioned in a way that you could easily fall asleep, and if sleep does come during the practice, then know that it's what your body needs most in that moment. But the goal is to ease into an altered state of consciousness – the one you may feel just as your body is beginning to fall asleep. We rest in this nearly asleep yet semi-alert state, following the guidance of a teacher or the structured sequence of meditation in your mind's eye.
Yoga Nidra can be practiced by individuals of all ages and levels of experience. It's often used as a tool for self-care, and it's beneficial for those seeking a simple and accessible way to reduce stress and promote inner calm.
Benefits of Restorative Yoga Before Bed
When is the ideal time to practice Restorative Yoga? Truly, there is no one right time of day. Whenever you can squeeze this practice into your day will be beneficial to your body and mind. But if the aim is to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply, practicing shortly before bed can have some specific advantages, including the following:
Relaxation and Stress Reduction: Restorative Yoga encourages relaxation through supported postures and breath awareness. By practicing Restorative Yoga before bed, you can intentionally soften the body and reduce stress levels before falling asleep. Fostering a sense of calm in this way can make it easier to transition into a peaceful night's sleep.
Preparation for Sleep: Restorative Yoga can serve as a deliberate and calming bedtime routine. Just as you brush your teeth before bed, practicing Restorative Yoga can signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Reduced Physical Tension: Resting in supported yoga shapes can allow us to become aware of and ultimately release physical tension from the lower back, neck, shoulders, and body as a whole. This can alleviate discomfort that may interfere with falling asleep or staying asleep.
Mindfulness and Mental Clarity: Restorative Yoga fosters mindfulness and mental clarity. By practicing mindfulness in the evening, you can notice and eventually release racing thoughts and worries, making it easier to fall asleep with a calm, centered mind.
Improved Sleep Quality: Restorative Yoga poses and relaxation techniques may promote better sleep quality by calming the nervous system and preparing the body for rest. Better sleep quality means you're more likely to wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the challenges of the day.
Incorporating yoga into your bedtime routine can be extremely beneficial to promoting a good night's sleep. By practicing Restorative Yoga before bed regularly, you can establish a healthy habit that contributes to better sleep quality and overall health.
Incorporating Restorative Yoga into Your Bedtime Routine
If yoga is new to you or something you've only practiced in a studio setting, it can feel daunting to start a home practice! When I first began practicing at home, I always felt like I was doing the practice all wrong. The good news is there's no right or wrong in yoga! It's not about how the shapes look. It's not about how many minutes you practice. It's not even about whether your practice is balanced enough or challenging enough or whether you've left enough time for a 10-minute Savasana. Ultimately, if the practice feels good for your body and mind, then you're doing it right.
Ready to get started? Here are a few tips to incorporate a little home practice into your bedtime routine:
Set Aside Time: You don't have to dedicate a full 90 minutes to a Restorative Yoga practice, but even one 5-minute posture can make a difference to your well-being. However long you have to spare, set up that time regularly before bedtime for your yoga practice. Consistency is key, so try to practice these techniques regularly.
Create the Conditions for Calm: Dim the lights, play soothing music or turn on a sound machine, and minimize clutter in your practice space to create a peaceful atmosphere for your practice.
Use Props: Get creative with all the cozy things you have at home – bolsters, blankets, sandbags, eye pillows, and even non-traditional props like pillows, sheets, and your mattress. Gather them into one room, and have them all available to you during your practice because you'll want plenty of options to feel supported.
Set your Screens Aside: You wouldn't text in class in a yoga studio, so it's equally important to give yourself space free from screens in your personal practice. This is crucial to allowing the eyes and mind to fully rest.
Create a Routine: If you only have time for one posture, choose your favorite. But if you have time to invest in multiple shapes, all the better. Whatever shape or shapes you choose, having a set routine can make it easier to consistently come back to the practice.
6 Restorative Yoga Poses + A Yoga Nidra Practice for Better Sleep
The beauty of Restorative Yoga is that it can be practiced just as easily in bed as it could in a formal practice space. The following yoga poses are ones can do either in bed or on a mat to help you unwind and prepare your body for a restful night.
1. Supported Child's Pose
To practice Supported Child's Pose (Balasana), start by laying out a blanket under your knees either on your mat or bed.
Start in a kneeling position with your big toes touching and knees wide apart.
Place a bolster, a stack of pillows, or a combination of these props in front of you.
Take another pillow or bolster and place it between your hips and heels.
Lower your torso over the bolster, allowing your cheek to rest to one side.
Optional: Place a blanket over the back body and/or set an additional pillow or sandbag over your lower back. This can feel especially nice if you're on your period or experiencing any lower back pain.
Stretch your arms forward or rest them alongside the props in front of you.
Close your eyes and take a few clearing breaths.
After 3 minutes have passed, switch the opposite cheek to rest on your bolster or pillow. Stay for an additional 3 minutes before easing out of this shape.
2. Supported Reclining Twist
Keep the same stack of props in front of you as you used for Child's Pose, but change the position of your legs so that the left hip rests on your bed or mat.
Stack your legs on top of one another, and place a pillow or bolster between your knees if this would bring more comfort.
Slowly lean your torso down over your bolster or stack of pillows, and let your left cheek rest down on the props.
Optional: Place an additional pillow or sandbag over the lower back.
Weave your arms through the pillows or bolster in front of you, hugging the props and taking in this sense of softness around the heart center.
Stay in this pose for about 5 minutes before repeating on the second side.
Finally, ease your way out the second side, and deconstruct your prop setup.
4. Supported Bridge Pose
To prepare for Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), place a bolster horizontally along your bed or mat, and set a pillow or blanket down for where you will place your head.
Lie down over the bolster and pillow, and position yourself so that the bolster rests underneath the sacrum (the lowest, boniest part of the spine) and the pillow lies underneath the back of your skull.
Start with your knees bent and the soles of your feet planted on your mat. But when you feel comfortable, you may play with extending one or both of your legs.
Start with your arms outstretched alongside your body, but after time, you may reach both arms overhead.
Stay in this pose for about 5 minutes, focusing on slow belly breathing.
When you feel ready, rebend your knees, rock your knees to the left, then rock your entire body to a fetal position on your left side, pausing for a moment before coming to a seat.
5. Stonehenge Pose
Create a stonehenge for your legs to rest on by placing your bolster on top of two yoga blocks. Keep the pillow or blanket where it was placed for the previous shape to go under your head.
Slowly lower yourself back down to the earth, and lift your calves onto the elevated bolster.
Relax your arms alongside your body, and optional: place eye pillows over each wrist.
Close your eyes or soften your gaze, and invite all tension to melt away from your body.
Focus on your breath, allowing it to become slow and natural.
Stay in this shape for about 5 minutes.
Finally, transition Savasana (Final Relaxation Pose) for your Yoga Nidra practice. Kick your Stonehenge props away or readjust them so the bolster rests underneath your knees.
Optional: Place an eye pillow over your eyes.
Allow your arms to rest softly alongside you with your palms facing up toward the sky.
Stay in Savasana for 10-15 minutes, or for as long as you are practicing Yoga Nidra.
7. Yoga Nidra for Deeper Sleep
As you are resting in Savasana, you can either turn on a guided Yoga Nidra track, or you can simply do this practice in your mind. The following. is an example of where you can take the mind in your Yoga Nidra practice:
Focus Awareness Inward: Begin to focus your awareness inward by listening to the sounds around you in the room. Observe the sound farthest away from you, such as cars driving in the distance. Observe something closer to you, such as the sound of soothing music or a fan in the room. Finally, observe the sounds within, listening to the sound of your own breath and heartbeat.
Set an Intention: Set an intention for this short practice. This could be as simple as "I intend to relax deeply and enjoy a restful night's sleep."
Body Scan: Next, bring your awareness to your physical body. Starting at the toes, slowly and gently scan your body from head to toe. As you do this, release any tension or discomfort you may be holding in each body part.
Rotation of Consciousness: Now, mentally repeat the following phrases as you bring your awareness to each part of your body: Crown of the head, forehead, third eye center, temples, nose... continuing with each body part until you reach your pinky toes. Get especially detailed with the parts of your face, and spend time visualizing each finger and each toe.
Opposites: Imagine and visualize sensations of opposites in your body. First, feel the body hot, then cold, then hot and cold simultaneously. Next, feel the body heavy, then light, then heavy and light simultaneously. Finally, feel relaxation in the body, then feel the body fully alert, then feel relaxation and alertness all at once.
Breath Awareness: Shift your attention to your breath. Notice the feeling of the air on your nostrils. Observe the natural rhythm of your breath without trying to change it. Now, notice the gentle rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you breathe. Begin to count each inhalation and exhalation. Start with the number 11 and count backward to 0. As you do, allow the soothing rhythm of your breath to calm your body and mind. If you forget which number you are on, start again at 11. If you make it to 0, spend a moment resting in stillness there.
Fast Visualization: Let your mind rapidly move through images from the day or from your lifetime without questioning what comes up or pausing to take it in. Allow the images to be seen and pass by quickly in a dream-like fashion.
Slow Visualization: Now take your mind to a place that feels peaceful, where you feel completely safe and relaxed. This could be a beach, a forest, your childhood home, or any place that brings you comfort. Visualize yourself in this place, taking in the sights, sounds, and sensations.
Sankalpa (Positive Affirmation): As you emerge from this visualization, ask your highest self what you need. Use this information to create a Sankalpa, or positive affirmation. Repeat your Sankalpa three times in your mind's eye, telling yourself "I am at peace," "I am calm," or "I am ready for a restful night's sleep." Feel the affirmation deeply in your body and mind.
Coming Back: Slowly, begin to bring your awareness back to your physical body. Feel the surface beneath you and the weight of your body. Gradually, become aware of the room around you. Gently wiggle your fingers and toes, allowing movement to return to your body. Stretch your arms and legs, and when you're ready, slowly come up to a comfortable seat.
Closing: Bring your hands to heart center, taking a moment to express gratitude to yourself for taking the time for this practice of self-nourishment and self-care. Carry this sense of calm with you as you prepare for a restful night's sleep.
This Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra practice is such a sweet way to help you relax, reduce stress, and prepare your body and mind for a peaceful night's sleep. This practice will help calm your mind, relieve physical tension, and prepare your body for a restful night's sleep. Enjoy the tranquility it brings to your bedtime routine!
Coming Soon! See You At My Upcoming Workshop: Restorative Yoga for Sleep
I'm so happy to announce an upcoming workshop on this very topic – discovering the transformative power of Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra for a better night's sleep! Join me for Restorative Yoga for Sleep at Urban Breath on Friday, November 3 from 7-9 p.m.
In this workshop, we'll move through a soothing Restorative Yoga sequence designed specifically for deep relaxation. We'll practice calming breathwork and move through a restful Yoga Nidra practice, all tailored to encourage deep and restorative sleep.
Ready to embrace the gift of restorative sleep? Sign up through Urban Breath to secure your spot!
Restorative Yoga + Yoga Nidra: Sweet Medicine For Your Bedtime Routine
Incorporating Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra into your bedtime routine can be a sweet medicine for a restful sleep. These practices offer a holistic approach to calming the mind, reducing stress, and preparing the body for a restful night's sleep. By exploring these practices, you can take steps toward a healthier and more balanced life, one night of peaceful sleep at a time. Sweet dreams!