How do you know if you have insomnia? If you have trouble staying awake during the day but can’t fall asleep or stay awake at night, you’re among the numbered.
And boy, do you have plenty of company. 48 percent of us have occasional insomnia while 22 percent have the no-shuteye curse nightly.
Why Are You Still Awake?
Some factors that affect us include Sleep Maintenance Insomnia, which occurs when you fall asleep but wake up without being able to nod off again. Or maybe you have a Circadian Rhythm Disorder where your body’s internal clock is out of sync with the schedule you’re trying to follow.
Add in some depression, anxiety, and stressful life events like divorce or a job loss, factors which can certainly kick your stress hormones into high gear and rob you of sleep. Hypnotic, sleep-inducing medications can be harmful and addictive, but yoga poses are safe enough for just about anyone to do.
Yoga Can Help You Doze Off
Indeed, the right yoga poses can be good therapy for a good night’s slumber, agrees Dr. Timothy McCall, MD, author of Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing (Bantam, 2007).
One reason, for example, is that a common blood pressure reflex (the baroreflex) causes reclining and inverted positions to promote sleep, in contrast to standing positions which inhibit it.
So roll up your pajama pants, grab a bottle of water (no, not a beer, alcohol also leads to early morning waking and poor quality sleep), and get on your mat for these six poses to help you sleep.
Note: This sequence should be done at least 60 minutes before your bedtime, and don’t cheat yourself on the finale, the Savasana (Corpse Pose). That final 10 minutes of relaxation may turn into the real thing, especially if you’ve covered up with a blanket.
1. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Muhka Svanasana)
Kneel on all fours then press up into a pyramid shape, moving your hands ahead of your shoulders and creating length in your spine. Place a yoga block, a bolster, or rolled up blanket under your head as a support and to make the pose restful.
Let the support take the full weight of your head. Hold for a minute or two, then drop down onto all fours and sit back toward the heels. Repeat twice.
2. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Lie on the floor parallel to the wall. Lift your legs and swivel around so that the heels are supported by the wall and the hips are few inches away from wall. Slide a pile of folded blankets or a bolster under your lower back and open the arms into a cactus shape.
Relax your entire body, closing the eyes. If your legs become fatigued, slide the soles together and open the knees, or pull the knees into the chest for a minute, then repeat the pose. Hold for as long as is comfortable. To increase the restorative quality, place a scented eye bag or eye mask over your eyes.
3. Cross-Legged Forward Bend (Sukhasana)
Sit cross-legged with a bolster or folded blankets in front of your knees. Fold your arms and rest them on the support with the head down and eyes closed. As a variation, extend your legs and place the bolster just ahead of your lap, resting the arms and head on this support.
4. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet hip distance apart. Lift your hips and roll the weight onto the upper back. Under your lower back, place a bolster or a yoga block standing sideways or on its shorter side so that the prop is supporting the lower body.
Extend your arms alongside the body, cover the eyes, and relax. Alternately, you can extend your legs.
5. Supported Child’s Pose (Balasana)
On a blanket or yoga mat, start on all fours, then open your knees wider than the hips and slide a bolster or stack of blankets under the head and torso. Turn your cheek to one side and rest for a few slow breaths, then turn to the second side.
6. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Lie on your back on a comfortable blanket or rug, and open the arms and legs with the palms facing the ceiling. Roll your shoulder blades down the back and rock your head side to side to release the neck. Add a comforter or blanket. Cover your eyes. Turn on some soothing music and let go!
What are the benefits of calming or restorative yoga poses?
- Shift the balance from activating the sympathetic nervous system to relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system
- Lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that increases the effects of adrenaline surges
- Induce a feeling of equanimity, calming the mind
- Reduce muscle tension which positively effects quality and quantity of sleep
- Promotes slow deep breathing which raises levels of carbon dioxide, a natural sedative
Boost your sleep quality with meditation and Pranayama.
To maximize your chances of slithering from Child’s Pose into sleep, consider adding a little meditation and pranayama (breathing) before you (hopefully) call it a night.
Sitting comfortably on a folded blanket on a chair in a room without distractions, simply close the eyes, inhaling and exhaling through the nose, gradually lengthening your exhale breath. Set a timer, resisting the temptation to fidget or get up and become active again.
Begin with five minutes, lengthening your practice time each session. The mind will gradually begin to slow down in response to the moving wave of the breath.
A little calming Chamomile or Valerian tea on the nightstand can’t hurt either when you’re ready to move from the mat to the mattress. So go ahead and OM before you ZZZ!