Some nights, getting your mind and body to calm enough to fall asleep seems like an impossible feat. It seems like almost no one is getting enough sleep these days, and endless levels of social and physical stimulation from your phone can make sleep even more elusive. But if you're a yoga-doer, you know that certain poses (and not just savasana) can relax you almost off to dreamland. These
yoga poses for better sleep can help even people unfamiliar with yogic practice.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, it might mean that your
parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) needs to relax. Often referred to as the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system, the PNS makes sure your body gets the signals it needs to do the things we don’t have to think about consciously to do (like moving our internal smooth muscles through digestive processes). But when we’re overstimulated or chronically stressed, the PNS can have trouble doing its thing — and we can’t sleep. Enter yoga.
Even if you’ve never practiced yoga, there are many
beginner yoga poses that can help release physical tension, help the PNS restore usual functionality, and sync up your breathing with your body to allow greater relaxation. Even with many different movements, your sequence can be as quick as 15 minutes long, but feel free to make it longer. And performing these poses an hour before bed can mark the beginning of an essential ritual for optimal sleep health: a nighttime relaxation routine to enhance your sleep quality. Here are 13 yoga poses to try an hour before bed for better sleep.
Dirga Pranayama (Three Part Breath)
To sink into your practice,
start with your breath. Find a comfortable position — you can be sitting or laying down, however you’d like — and place one hand on your belly and the other on your rib cage. Breathe as you normally would, and try to focus on the feeling of your belly and rib cage expanding with your inhales and dropping with your exhales. If touching your hand to your chest feels good, you can transfer your hand from your rib cage to your chest to feel that rising and falling, too. Focus on the rising and falling sensations, and hold the position for 15-20 breaths (or longer, if you’d like!).
Shift so that you are kneeling on your mat, bringing your big toes together behind you and widening your knees as much as feels good.
Exhale and slowly bring your torso toward the ground, between your thighs. Think of it as inviting, rather than demanding, your torso to drop. Lengthen your tailbone away from your upper body as you bring your hands along your torso to stretch above your head (palms up on the ground), letting your shoulders fall to the ground to stretch through your upper back. Stay here for 15 breaths (or more!).
Marjaryasana and Bitilasana (Cat and Cow Pose)
Settle on a mat on all fours with your hands comfortably under your shoulders and your knees resting underneath your hips. When you’re ready, inhale as you lift your chin, looking toward the ceiling as you arch your back so that you’re dropping your belly down toward your mat. Draw your shoulders away from your ears as you move through the motion. When you’re ready to exhale, draw your belly back up toward the ceiling, arching your back so that this time, you look like a cat stretching. Sink back into
cow pose when you inhale next. Repeat the sequence 10 times, or as many as you’d like.
Modified Sucirandhrasana (Figure Four Against the Wall)
Draw your mat toward an open wall and lay down on your back, with your feet closest to the wall. You’ll want your glutes to be about a foot away from the wall, so that you can comfortably bend your knees to rest your feet flat on the wall. Adjust as needed. When you’ve found a comfortable spot, cross your left leg over your right (keeping your right knee bent and planted gently on the wall). Keep your right foot flexed as your ankle rests on your left thigh. If you’d like to deepen this stretch — which will
open up your hips after a long day of sitting — use your right hand to push your right knee gently toward the wall. Take about six good, long breaths before switching legs and repeating.
Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)
Staying scooted toward the edge of your mat and still laying on your back, drop your hands to the ground on either side of your body, palms toward the ceiling with your arms extended. Using a supportive blanket or pillow if needed, shift so that
your legs are raised, as extended as you can make them, resting on the wall as though you’re sitting on the wall instead of on the ground. Breathe through this pose, closing your eyes if that feels good, for 10-15 breaths.
Apanasana (Knees-To-Chest Pose)
Still laying on your back, extend your arms and legs to let your limbs get a bit of a stretch. Then, on an exhale,
bring both knees up toward your chest and hug them close to you. If this triggers any dysphoria in you or if you can’t quite hug your knees, you can skip this pose or simply widen your knees, hugging your ankles or outer thighs toward your body, so that your chest is not involved so intimately in the movement.
Pawanmuktasana (Wind-Relieving Pose)
This pose follows the last in that you will be hugging your knees, but only one at a time. Start by hugging both knees, and on an inhale, transition into hugging only your left knee to you while letting your right leg extend toward the ground. Rest of extended leg on the ground and stay in that embrace for six breaths. When it’s time to switch legs, hug both knees to your chest one more time.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Again laying on your back, let your jaw relax and let your hands drop at your sides, palms facing the ceiling. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together so that your legs are forming something of a diamond shape. Do not feel pressured to
push your knees toward the ground. As long as you keep your leg muscles relaxed and your low back resting on the mat, your body will be giving itself all the inner thigh stretching it needs. Breathe through this position for 15 breaths.
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
Scoot back on your mat and sit up comfortably, extending your left leg straight in front of you before tucking your right foot close into your left inner thigh. With an exhale,
gently bend forward from the groin — not the hips — so that your belly comes close to the top of your left thigh. If your body wants to stop there, that’s OK! Stay there for six breaths before switching legs. If your body wants to deepen the stretch, gently lead with your lower body (without pulling on your lower back to force a deeper stretch) and bring your hands forward toward your feet as you drop your head over your leg. Don’t forget to breathe throughout the pose, and remember that it’s natural for one leg to be more flexible than the other.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Standing with your feet together on your mat, with your hands on your hips.
Exhale and bend down from your hips, rather than bending at the waist. Let your knees soften as much as they need to as you sink lower, letting your shoulders drop and your elbows relax and get heavy as they loosen toward the ground. Use your breaths to deepen the movement: with each inhale, lengthen your torso, and with each exhale, surrender a little farther into the bend. Your goal here is to breathe (again, about 15 breaths), stretch, and release tension, rather than getting as low as you can.
Ardha Bhekasana (Supported Half Frog Pose)
This time, you’re going to lie on your belly: if you want to, bring a pillow down from the bed and use it to support this position. Gently extend your right leg until it’s bent at a 90-degree angle, such that
your knee is level with your hip. Lengthen your left leg beneath and behind you, relax your jaw and stomach, and take six long breaths. Switch sides gently, and repeat.
Siddhasana (Perfect Pose)
Sit comfortably on the ground with your feet crossed and
your spine extended toward the ceiling. Let your shoulders relax and let yourself breathe slowly, keeping your chest full. Cycle through 15 breaths, reminding yourself to keep your shoulders, hips, and jaw relaxed throughout.
Transition back into laying on your mat with your belly facing the ceiling.
Check through your entire body to make sure that every muscle — from toes to jaw to fingertips — is relaxed. With your arms close to your body, palms facing the ceiling, and your toes relaxed and pointed away from your body, breathe deeply into this position. If you’d like, you can practice this pose in your bed itself — you might fall asleep just from breathing into this form of relaxation! Stay in this position for 15-20 breaths, or longer if you’d like. And you’ll be ready to sleep in no time.