Yoga For Better Sleep: A Guide To The Best Exercises


Can yoga really help get a good night’s sleep? Well, that’s what the research is telling us.

More and more research is finding that yoga can help us get a better night’s sleep. By practicing gentle and restorative yoga poses, a nighttime yoga practice may be able to help us find a good night’s sleep. This article aims to detail a yoga sequence that may be able to help get better sleep.

I have also noticed this in my studio, especially after relaxing and calm yin yoga classes.

Yin yoga is a very gentle type of yoga that focuses on stretching and releasing tension. I have even had students fall asleep just as their head touches the mat for savasana!

Ok that may be an exception, but I will say I have seen many sleepy faces after savasana, especially after relaxing yoga classes.

So when I looked into the research on how yoga can help with better sleep, it came as no surprise to find that research has indeed found that yoga can help promote sleep.

First off, lets look into some common questions people have about yoga and sleep and then at the end of the article I will show you a yoga sequence had has been used in several studies to help improve sleep.

How does yoga improve sleep?

There has been a growing number of studies examining how yoga can help people get a better night’s sleep. A gentle yoga practice can help us release some of the tension we may have build up during the day. And this then helps prepare our mind and body for a calm and good night’s sleep.

If you have ever been to a yoga class you may have experienced the sense of calm after savasana (relaxation). Regardless of the time of day we practice yoga, we will most likely feel calm and relaxed after our yoga class.

As a rule of thumb, you may want to practice dynamic practices in the morning and calming practices in the evening.

Alternatively, if you are going to practice a dynamic form of yoga in the evening, try to add in at least 15 to 20 minutes of calming poses at the end, just before savasana. This will help calm down the nervous system and help you find a better sense of calm. And then ultimately, this will help prepare you for going to bed.

Does doing yoga before bed help sleep?

Doing yoga before going to bed can indeed help relax the body and calm the mind. More and more studies are finding that a gentle nighttime yoga practice can help people get a good night’s sleep. Naturally, you would want to focus on grounding and calming postures and avoid anything too dynamic.

Some examples of postures to practice before going to bed to help calm the mind are Pigeon pose and Baddha Konasana.

Poses you want to avoid before bed are backbends and generally chest openers. This is because they stimulate the nervous system and basically make going to sleep that much harder.

Can yoga be done at evening?

Yoga can be done at all times of the day! You may be able to notice that the body and mind are quite different throughout the day. In the morning the body is stiffer and the mind is calmer. In the evening the body is more flexible but the mind may be tired or tense from the activities of the day.

If you have a look at the schedule of your local yoga studio, you may notice that they have classes running throughout the day.

When I opened my studio I only had morning and afternoon classes. Due to demand, I started an evening class (9 pm) and to my surprise that was my busiest class!

I found that people wanted to come to that class to relax and unwind after a long and stressful day. And so I focused on doing many calming poses at the end of the class and a long savasana, so as to help people relax and prepare for, hopefully, a good night’s sleep.

What is the best time of day to do yoga?

The ideal time to practice yoga is whatever time works best for you. For example, Ashtanga yoga is traditionally practiced very early in the morning. This is not the case for other types of yoga which really does depend on the practitioner and what the local studio may offer.

A good idea may be to try out practicing on different types of the day and then see what works best for you and your schedule.

For example, in many 9-5 jobs, people may choose to practice yoga very early in the morning, such as at 7 am. Alternatively, you may choose to yo to yoga straight after work, or you may choose to attend an evening class.

As it is a personal preference work with what works best for you and your lifestyle.

Which yoga is best for sleeping?

According to the research I have come across, the best type of yoga for sleeping is that which is gentle and relaxing. So studies I have read have used either a gentle and slow Hatha class or a restorative yoga sequencing. The aim is to relax the body and mind and so both types may help achieve that.

Again though, this is up to you and what works best for you and your body. Below I have a sequence of postures that has been used in an academic study and has been found to help with sleep. So continue reading if that is something you are interested in.

Which yoga is best for relaxation?

The best yoga for relaxation is one that helps you relax. Some people prefer a dynamic type of yoga, as they want to release a lot of built-up tension and energy. Others may want a more soft and gentle practice. It really is a personal preference. Just remember to end your practice with savasana.

If you are looking for a simple and relaxing yoga practice to help you relax, then perhaps try a restorative practice and follow it up with a long savasana.

What does yoga for sleep research say?

Many studies are now linking yoga’s benefits to improved sleep. For example, a study carried out in 2013 had 410 cancer patients take place. Their results revealed that yoga was a “useful treatment for improving sleep quality and reducing sleep medication use among cancer survivors”.

Another study examined how yoga can help older adults with insomnia. The participants in this study attended yoga classes and also practiced yoga at home. The results of this study found significant improvements in sleep quality, efficiency, and duration were demonstrated.

Lastly, there was a study that was carried out and examined how yoga can help older people sleep. The reason behind this study was that: “Sleep in older persons is characterized by decreased ability to stay asleep, resulting in fragmented sleep and reduced daytime alertness.”

The participants of this study practiced a set sequence that was very similar the set sequence listed above. Each yoga session lasted 60 minutes daily and participants was asked to practice this every day, 6 days a week for 6 months.

And what did the results show?

Amazingly, “The Yoga group showed a significant decrease in the time taken to fall asleep, an increase in the total number of hours slept, and in the feeling of being rested in the morning after six months.”

The best yoga sequence to help you sleep

Studies that have tested whether yoga can help sleep all seem to follow a similar yoga sequence:

  • Physical activity – This is in the form of standing and/or just seated postures
  • Relaxation – This is the final savasana pose
  • Regulated breathing – This can either be counted breather and/or alternate nostril breathing
  • Philosophical aspects and/or visualization – This may involve a short discussion on key philosophical elements of yoga or it may involve a guided meditation.

The order of these elements may vary from practice to practice, however, these are the key elements.

And so the yoga sequence I am going to discuss is one that follows all the elements listed above and that is similar to the set sequence practiced in the 3rd study I discussed above.

However, bear in mind that the participants saw an improvement in their sleep after practicing 6 days a week for 6 months.

You may get to experience positive effects much sooner. I really hope you! If not, be patient and give it time.

1. Breathing exercises (5 minutes)

First, take a comfortable seat. This can be cross-legged or on a bolster. Bring you attention to your breath. Notice every inhale and every exhale. Start to notice the sound, the length, and the temperature of each breath.

Next, we will focus on the duration of each breath.

Notice the duration of your inhale and then of your exahle. What we will now do is count from 1 upwards and find out the duration of each inhale. So take a deep inhale.. 1..2…3…4…5…6… Remember your number.

What we will now do is try to exhale for the same count. So if your inhale was to the count of 4, your exhale will be to the count of 4.

When you get comfortable with that, we will add a pause in between if the same count. SO using the number 4 as our example:

Inhale 1…2….3….4

Pause 1…2….3….4

Exhale 1…2….3….4

2. Loosening exercises (5 minutes)

These are a set of movements, to get the body moving before any yoga practice or exercise. They can be very effective, especially if we don’t exercise much, or if we have been sitting in front of a computer all day and need to give the body a little head start before asking it to move into yoga postures.

Sun salutations can be considered as a form of loosening postures. This is because we are encouraging the big joints of the body to go through big movements.

An example of loosening exercises can be seen in this YouTube video:

Loosening exercises to be done before yoga practice

3. Physical postures (40 minutes)

  • Tadasana (mountain posture)
  • Padahasthasana (hand- to-foot posture)
  • Ardhakatichakrasana (lateral arc posture)
  • Ardhachakrasana (half wheel posture)
  • Viparithakarani (half shoulder stand posture)
  • Bhujangasana (cobra posture)
  • Shalabhasana (locust posture)
  • Mmakarasana (crocodile posture)
  • Vakrasana (sitting sideward twist posture)
  • Paschimothanasana (back-stretching posture)
  • Lateral extension with breath Prasaritta Padotanasana (forward stretch extended legs)
  • Bharadvajasana (seated twist)
  • Balasana (lateral arm child pose)
  • Janu sirasana (head-to-knee pose)
  • Spinal waves
  • Balasana (extended child pose)
  • Shashankasana (moon posture)
  • Vajrayana (diamond posture)
  • Ardha padmasana (half lotus posture)
  • Supine curl to floor
  • Jathara Parivartanasana (supine twist bilaterally)
  • Sethubandhasana (supine pelvic lift)
  • Suptapadangusthasana (supine leg stretch)

Plus add these Restorative poses

  • Supta Baddhakonasana (supported back bolster, belt, legs cobbler, blankets)
  • Adhomukha Virasana (supported child pose with twist)
  • Setubandha Sarvangasana (supported legs and back to shoulder blades, legs belted)
  • Viparita Karani (legs up wall, pelvis on bolster)

4. Relaxation (10 minutes)

  • Chandra anuloma viloma (left nostril yoga breathing)
  • And yoga-based guided relaxation

Here is an example of a 5 minute guided savasana:

Related questions

What is sleep yoga called?

Yoga sleep is actually called Yoga Nidra. During Yoga Nidra, we are encouraged not to sleep. Instead, we are encouraged to stay awake in order to experience the total relaxation this practice can offer.

At first, we find it very difficult not to sleep! With time it becomes easier to follow the teacher’s voice and instructions.

If however you have trouble sleeping and you have noticed that you fall asleep during Yoga Nidra, then by all means! Worry not and enjoy the sleep!

Here is an example of a guided Yoga Nidra session:

Can I do Yoga Nidra in bed?

You can indeed do yoga Nidra in bed! You may find it more difficult to stay awake in the comfort of your own bed. However, if you are having difficulty sleeping and have found Yoga Nidra to help you sleep, then, of course, do this practice in your bed. Another way to practice is on your mat after yoga.

The benefit of this is that you will already be calm and will have hopefully removed any built-up tension. And so this will make the relaxation process even easier!

Alexia Koletsou

Alexia Koletsou is a Level 1 Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher with a Ph.D. in Science Communication. She received her blessing to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2019, from the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, where she has had the honor of practicing with R. Sharath Jois multiple times over the years. She is the owner of her own Shala in Greece and now shares her knowledge on yogamyoldfriend.com and her YouTube channel Alexia K Yoga.

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