There are plenty of tried-and-true ways to fall asleep faster. You can turn off your phone, take a warm shower, put a few drops of lavender oil in a diffuser — and, in theory, be out like a light. But if you do all that and still struggle to catch Zzzs, consider trying yoga nidra for sleep.
Yoga nidra is often referred to as “sleep with awareness,” says Lauren Eckstrom, a yoga instructor and founder of fitness platform Inner Dimension TV. Instead of flowing through postures like downward dog and cat-cow, like you would in other types of yoga, yoga nidra involves you reclining on your mat to meditate. So you’re basically in savasana... the entire time. Sounds nice, right?
The goal of yoga nidra is to help you fall asleep — and even experience a deeper sleep — by teaching you to “consciously receive rest,” Eckstrom says. The guided imagery within a class can help you relax and avoid those unhelpful thought loops. And if you do it often enough, it can even help you learn how to slow your brain waves so that you can move into a headspace that’s more conducive to sleep.
When you’re wide awake, beta brain waves take over and trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which can make you feel stressed. But through the practice of yoga nidra, you learn to shift your brain waves to alpha waves, explains Eckstrom. “These are dominate when you are quiet and easeful, making meditation possible,” she says. Read on for more info on the practice along with how to try it yourself.
How Yoga Nidra Helps With Sleep
It’s pretty cool to think about brain waves and how you can essentially slow them down and fall asleep. But even the simple act of lying still for 30 minutes and giving yourself a proper chance to relax can make a major difference, says Brett Larkin, a yoga instructor and founder of Uplifted Yoga.
“Yoga nidra is not a substitute for actual sleep,” Larkin tells Bustle. “But this type of meditation can help people deal with everyday life. And with less stress and thinking about stressors, it is easier to fall asleep. Think of it as a form of self-care that has multiple benefits for your body and soul.”
If you find it tricky to meditate otherwise, lying on your mat as you're guided through a mindfulness practice and breathing exercises — as yoga nidra does — might be a better fit.
How To Do Yoga Nidra
To give yoga nidra a try, pull out a yoga mat or just lie flat on your floor. Eckstrom says you won’t want to be in bed for this — or even in your bedroom — if that’s possible. “It's important to remember that yoga nidra is a practice during which you attempt to remain conscious, even as your brain waves slow,” she says, noting that being far away from a place you associate with sleep will make that easier.
Do, however, make yourself comfortable. Put a pillow under your knees for support, darken the room, cover yourself with a cozy blanket, and put on warm clothes. Eckstrom says you’ll start to feel cooler as you slow your nervous system down. “This is a good sign that you are shifting from a stressful state to a regenerative state of rest and healing,” she explains.
Being comfy also helps you to fully focus on the practice without any distractions. “If you are too cold or too uncomfortable, your body and brain will fall back into faster brain wave states and will disrupt the healing benefits of your practice time,” she adds. That’s why you’ll also want to turn off things like your phone or TV, too.
Your best bet is to practice yoga nidra before bed to help you sleep, or during the day whenever you need to relax. Just make sure you don’t lie down right after eating, drinking coffee, or exercising. “Practicing at a time when your body isn't actively digesting food, caffeine, or the positive stress hormones from working out will encourage a deeper state of rest,” Eckstrom says. “For some people, this might mean practicing after work and before dinner, while for others it might mean practicing in the late morning or early afternoon.”
To get the most benefit from yoga nidra, do it a couple of times a week. “Through consistent practice, you will rewire the brain in a positive way for better sleep by becoming increasingly comfortable and familiar with deep states of rest,” Eckstrom says.
Step-By-Step Yoga Nidra
Lie flat on your back. Larkin suggests pulling your shoulders blades back and down to open the chest/heart. Then, close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. Tune into it, just like you’d tune into the frequency of a radio channel, she says.
Breathe deeply into your diaphragm by puffing your stomach up, then slowly breathe out through your nose. You can focus on a peaceful image in your mind in order to stay focused and ease into a state of relaxation.
If you don’t know where to start, try listening to a yoga nidra video, like the one from Larkin above. A yoga instructor can guide you through breathing exercises so that you’re able to fully relax while also focusing your mind. As you breathe in and out, you’ll find yourself falling into a meditative rhythm — and that’s yoga nidra. From there, you should be able to crawl into bed for a peaceful sleep.
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Moszeik, E.N., von Oertzen, T. & Renner, KH. Effectiveness of a short Yoga Nidra meditation on stress, sleep, and well-being in a large and diverse sample. Curr Psychol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01042-2.
Lauren Eckstrom, yoga instructor and founder of Inner Dimension TV
Brett Larkin, yoga instructor and founder of Uplifted Yoga