6 Yoga Poses For More Restful Sleep

If you've ever spent a groggy day at work nodding off at your desk because you couldn't fall asleep the night before, you are not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, some 40 million Americans aren't getting enough rest at night.

While too much caffeine, poor sleep habits or underlying health conditions can all lead to a restless night, health experts at the National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control agree that stress and anxiety play a major role in preventing a good night's sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that "nearly half of all those who have experienced insomnia blame the problem on stress and worry."

So what do you do if worries about your job, family, or health have you tossing and turning at night?

Research suggests that yoga and other forms of contemplative movement can provide some relief and help you get some quality Zs. A 2010 lit review, conducted at the University of Sao Paulo, states that "self-reported sleep was improved by all mind-body treatments, among them yoga, relaxation, Tai Chi and music." The lit review, which focused on 12 separate studies, showed that mind-body interventions have been able to improve not only sleep quality but overall sleep duration as well. In some cases, researchers even found that mind-body practices can "reduce the use of hypnotic drugs in those who are dependent on these drugs."

Yoga is more popular than ever, and you may be able to find a teacher or a studio near you trained in guided relaxation practices and other mindful movement disciplines. But if you're ready to get started right now, then practice this set of six postures at home for total relaxation and a better night's rest.

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Lie down on your belly, and prop yourself up on your elbows. Position your forearms so that they're parallel to the front of your mat, with the right forearm in front of the left. Criss-cross your arms by walking your hands sideways until both arms straighten.

To stretch your shoulders, make sure your arms are positioned just below your collarbones. Slide your shoulder blades toward your hips and gently lay your body's weight down on top of your arms.

Close your eyes and take ten full breaths.

Repeat on the other side with your left arm crossed in front of the right.

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To enter the twist, roll onto your back. Reach your arms outward to the sides at approximately shoulder's height. Once you've done so, bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor. Cross your left knee over the right knee. Shift your hips toward the left edge of your mat and allow your knees to drop across the midline of your body to the right.

Take ten slow breaths and repeat on the other side.

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After finishing the reclining spinal twist on both sides, square your hips with the center of your mat again. Bend your legs to ninety degrees and place your feet flat on the floor. Form a shape like the number four, by crossing your right ankle over your left leg.

Thread the needle by reaching your right arm through the space you've created, and interlace your hands on the shin of the left leg.

Keep the back of your pelvis anchored to the floor, and draw your left knee toward your chest as you press the right knee away to deepen the stretch.

Hold for ten slow breaths and repeat on the other side.

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Bend both of your legs and place your feet flat on the floor, just as you did in the previous pose.

This time extend your right leg upward into the air. Keeping your right knee straight, grab the back of your knee, ankle or foot with both hands. Slide your left heel forward along the floor and work toward straightening your left leg to deepen the stretch.

If straightening your left leg causes the right leg to shake or bend, practice with your left leg bent and your foot flat on the floor instead.

Hold for ten slow breaths and repeat on the other side.

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Roll over onto one side and come upward to a seated position. Straighten both legs completely. Once you've done so, bend your knees just enough to place your feet flat on the floor. Ideally, your heels should rest roughly three feet away from your hips.

Let you knees fall out to the side, and wiggle your feet together until your heels and the balls of your feet touch. Keep your spine long, walk your hands forward and place them near either side of you feet. Stay there, or relax more deeply into the forward fold.

If you get to the point where your forehead can rest on your heels with no force or strain, allow your head to rest on the feet.

Hold the pose for ten deep breaths.

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Come up to a simple seated cross-legged position. Place your right hand on your left knee, and your left fingertips on the ground behind you. Help your pelvis rotate in the same direction as the twist by sliding your left sitting bone backward slightly.

To initiate the twist, lengthen your spine upward on your inhales and gently twist left as you exhale.

Hold for ten slow breaths and repeat on the other side.

Model Credit: Julia Turner

Photographer Credit: Ian MacLellan


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