Yoga and Sleep

Why Sleep and Yoga Mean a Healthy Mind and Body

One in three American adults is sleep-deprived, meaning that they do not get the minimum seven hours required a night. Sleep quality and overall human health are inextricably linked, making it crucial that sleep deprivation is taken seriously. We have addressed how yoga has a positive impact on exercise, but research also shows that it is central to improved sleep. A survey by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health revealed that 55% of people who regularly practiced yoga slept better. Prioritizing yoga daily, as well as making your bedroom a peaceful environment that is conducive to sleep, will help your physical and mental health enormously.

Yoga as a sleep inducer

Falling asleep can seem tricky, particularly if you work irregular hours and need to sleep in the day. The meditative nature that prompts you to focus on your breathing increases oxygen flow around the body, helping you calm your mind. Try a 5-10 minute yoga session on your bed and ensure that your room is set up to promote sleep: quiet, dimly (but warmly) lit and uncluttered. These three aspects in particular help keep you relaxed and in the optimum frame of mind for yoga (and sleep). An effective pose to try is the nighttime goddess stretch. Simply lie back on the bed, with your legs in a diamond shape and soles together. Place your arms each side of you on the bed with palms facing up. Hold this stretch for two minutes, focusing on some gentle breathing as you do so. If this stretch is too tight, ease it by placing a pillow underneath your knees.

Sweet dreams: the benefits of sleep

The ability of yoga to help us sleep is significant because the benefits of sleep on our emotional and physical health cannot be overstated. They include the following:

 1. Sleep improves your mood:

Sleep regulates brain activity, particularly in the amygdala, which is responsible for our emotions. This activity means we are likely to feel replenished and in good spirits upon waking, rather than lethargic and relatively negative. The yoga stretches and focused breathing will have paved the way for the feelings of relaxation and positivity, with long-lasting effects.

2. Sleep improves your focus and concentration levels:

We are all familiar with the feelings of tiredness and foggy-headedness that follow a bad night’s sleep. It goes without saying that focusing properly on tasks is challenging to say the least. The same is true of trying to process information. This is all because of the lack of sufficient time the mind has had to sleep deeply and replenish itself in the process.

3. Sleep promotes muscle growth:

While you sleep, your body repairs muscle tissues in your body. Sleep stimulates the growth hormones testosterone and melatonin, strengthening your muscles in the process. This is what makes sleep such an important part of the recovery process after sustained exercise.

4. Sleep improves your memory:

Research suggests that memories are consolidated while we sleep – that is, our brains register short-term memories and make long-term ones. This process includes developing new skills and knowledge. A lack of sleep does not allow enough time for this process to happen, resulting in a hazy head and forgetfulness.

5. Sleep makes you eat fewer calories:

Studies show that sleep-deprived people are likely to gain weight. Sleep deprivation interferes with leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that regulate our hunger. Consequently, we consume more calories – often sugary ones for a quick energy boost.

6. Sleep boosts your immune system:

In the final stage before REM, your muscles are at their most relaxed and your breathing and heart rate slow right down. It is this which brings about feelings of restoration and energy upon waking. This process also strengthens your immune system, making it more likely that you will enjoy a spate of good health.               

7. Sleep is good for your heart:

It is particularly important that you sleep enough due to the potentially detrimental effect on your heart if you don’t. Sleep deprivation puts you at greater risk of heart disease and cardiac arrest. Research is ongoing as to the reasons for this, but it so far points to a negative interference with blood pressure and inflammation in the body, along with other human processes.

Make time for yoga before each bedtime:

Sleep is vital for our physical and mental well-being. We need to give it the same degree of attention we do to our diet and exercise. So be sure to make time for it every day, making yoga part of your daily bedtime routine and ensuring that your bedroom is conducive to sleep. This means having a quiet space that is cozy in its lighting (or lack of) and free of clutter. The rewards for your discipline will be worth it.

By freelance writer Jane Sanwood