Yoga originated in India more than 2,000 years ago and has since evolved into a mind-body practice employed by about 14% of Americans. Research has linked yoga to numerous improvements in physical and mental wellbeing. There is also evidence that yoga can benefit sleep. We cover the benefits of bedtime yoga and go over poses to try for better sleep.
- Research has shown that some yoga poses are linked to improved sleep.
- Yoga may be beneficial for older adults and those with chronic pain and insomnia.
- If you are new to yoga, take a class with a professional before trying at home.
- Avoid doing high intensity yoga poses before bed.
Benefits of Yoga Before Bed
Establishing a regular yoga practice—especially close to bedtime—has the potential to improve sleep in several ways:
- Reductions in Stress and Anxiety: Yoga may reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation, which might be especially useful at bedtime.
- Pain Management: Pain, especially when it is chronic, can interfere with sleep. Yoga appears to reduce certain kinds of pain—including back and neck pain, pain associated with fibromyalgia, and pain related to pregnancy.
- Improved Breathing: Yoga has been linked to improvements in symptoms and lung function for people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It also may improve snoring and obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
- Sleep Hygiene: Having a consistent bedtime routine, exercising daily, and engaging in relaxing evening activities are all healthy sleep habits promoted by a regular bedtime yoga practice.
Doing yoga before bed may be especially beneficial for some people. Research has linked yoga to improved sleep in:
- Older adults
- People with menopause symptoms
- Individuals with arthritis
- People with insomnia
- Individuals with cancer
Best Yoga Poses for Sleep
There are multiple styles of yoga, but most of them involve three foundational components.
- Poses: Also known as āsanas, these are physical postures that range from simple stretches to complicated balancing exercises.
- Controlled Breathing: While practicing yoga, people are instructed to breathe in a deliberate manner. This often involves taking slow, deep, rhythmic breaths—sometimes in sync with physical movements—but it can also include breathing alternately out of each nostril, holding and releasing breaths, and breathing rapidly.
- Meditation: This involves being aware of what is happening in the present moment without judging it as positive or negative.
Be sure to start with simple poses like the ones described here before attempting more advanced āsanas, some of which take years to master and may require supervision. If you are new to yoga, consider taking a class with a certified instructor before practicing alone at home. This can help you avoid injury and learn ways to modify poses according to your needs.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Yoga experts claim that Uttanasana provides a deep stretch to the spine and legs, allowing the body to release tension and relax.
Begin standing upright, with your feet separated about the width of your fist. Breathe in. As you exhale, allow your head and torso to drop as you slowly move toward your thighs, keeping your spine elongated and flat. You may rest your hands on your shins or on the floor, if they reach it without straining. Alternatively, you may fold your arms, taking hold of your elbows.
Keep your hips over your ankles. As you breathe in, allow your spine to elongate. As you breathe out, let your body fall closer to your thighs. You can also gently turn your head to the left and right to loosen your neck. Hold this pose for up to a minute before slowly rolling upward, bringing your head up last. You may wish to repeat the pose several times.
There are several possible modifications to this pose:
- If you feel tightness in your hamstrings or back: Bend your knees and allow your chest to rest on your thighs, but make sure your back stays straight.
- If you have trouble balancing: Rest your hands on a stool or blocks. Alternately, widen your stance so that your hands can reach the floor.
- If you are pregnant: Stand with your feet farther apart and fold forward only as far as comfortable. Avoid putting pressure on the abdomen.
- If you are unable to stand: Perform the pose while seated in a chair. You may put your hands on the floor, if they reach it, or rest your arms on your thighs.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is another common yoga posture that is believed to invite relaxation, relieve stress, and reduce pain—all of which can help with sleep. If you have a hip or knee injury, you may wish to forego this pose.
Kneel on a yoga mat or towel, and place your hands on the ground, slightly in front of your shoulders. Your knees should be beneath your hips or, if you prefer, even farther apart. Breathe in, and as you exhale, allow your body to sink backward until your chest rests on your thighs.
You can rest your arms next to you, with your palms face-up beside your feet, or—if you want a deeper stretch—you can reach forward with your palms face down. Breathe in and out, and as you exhale, let go of tension and allow yourself to sink deeper into the pose. If you wish, you can roll your head to the left and right to massage tension out of your forehead.
Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Legs up the wall pose may be particularly beneficial to people who experience swelling in their feet or legs. Yoga experts say it helps improve circulation and relieve discomfort. If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, you may want to skip this pose.
To do this pose, find an empty section of wall in your house, and place a yoga mat or towel with its short edge against the wall. Sit down with your left or right hip as close to the wall as possible. Then, as you recline onto the mat, bend your knees, lift your legs, and place your feet against the wall. Adjust your body so that the backs of your legs rest against the wall.
Breathe—and, if you wish, close your eyes—for about five minutes. You might try some of the following variations of this pose if you are uncomfortable or want to intensify the stretch:
- Placing a pillow beneath your head
- Sliding a block or bolster under your hips, or propping them up with your hands
- Spreading your legs in a wide V
- Placing your heels together, and letting your legs form a diamond shape
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Savasana—which is often the final pose in a yoga practice—may help facilitate relaxation and reduce feelings of stress, preparing you for bed.
To practice this pose, gently recline on a yoga mat or towel on the floor, facing the ceiling . On an exhale, root your tailbone and extend your legs. Then allow your feet to fall outward, toward the edge of the mat. Tuck your chin toward your chest, and let your arms rest alongside your body, palms facing upward.
Let go of tension and tightness, allowing your body to feel supported by the ground. Some people find it helpful to relax one part of their body at a time, beginning with their toes and moving upward. If your thoughts stray, simply redirect your attention to the present. Stay in this pose for up to 15 minutes. When you are done, turn onto one side and push yourself up.
If you are pregnant, or if you find corpse pose uncomfortable, you might try modifying it by:
- Resting your torso and head on an inclined pillow
- Lying on your side
- Placing a rolled up towel beneath your neck and knees
Ask the Sleep Doctor
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