Bedtime Yoga

Last Updated on: November 11, 2022

Far too many people struggle to get enough sleep. Hectic stressful days, bright lights, screen time and shift work are common causes of sleep problems. Pregnancy, sleep apnoea and many health conditions can also lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

We know what sleep deprivation feels like. Our body and brain can cope with a short night’s sleep occasionally, but when it happens too often - or all the time - we become more than merely tired. Everything we do feels more difficult. We can’t think clearly, can’t focus properly, and become irritable and anxious.

When we feel tired, we’re likely to choose less nutritious foods because we want a quick energy boost, and don’t want to waste our limited energy preparing better meals. We’re also likely to opt out of exercising due to feeling tired and lethargic. Both these tendencies can lead to deteriorating health due to poor nutrition, weight gain and reduced cardiovascular health.

Why we need good sleep

Scientific studies have found poor sleep to be linked to a higher risk for health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and poor mental health. Being short on sleep has been found to have effects on the brain similar to alcohol - we make poor decisions, and are more prone to accidents and injury.

Our bodies perform a lot of repair and maintenance functions while we sleep. This is one of the reasons why people who are ill or have recently had surgery tend to sleep a lot. The brain itself relies on sleep time to consolidate memories. There is also a special housekeeping function in the brain that only occurs during sleep - the brain’s version of the detoxifying lymphatic system (called the glymphatic system) activates during sleep and clears toxins and wastes out of the brain tissues and into the bloodstream for removal.

Put simply, the brain takes out the trash while we sleep. Good sleep is perhaps the most effective ‘detox’ we can practice.

How to Get Better Sleep

It’s important to have a range of strategies on hand to help our body and brain get the rest and recovery it needs. There are many steps you can take to shift you towards longer or deeper sleep. Use as many of them as you can build into your routine, including the relaxing bed-time yoga routine below. It will help you settle into sleep mode and sleep more deeply.

Plan your day for a better night’s sleep

  1. Start your day with a dose of sunlight. This helps to set your body clock to your sleep schedule, and lower your melatonin production during your waking hours. When your body is primed to recognize bright mornings and dim evenings, it gets better at producing sleep hormones to deliver good sleep at the time you want it.
  2. Stop caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Caffeine may not make you feel alert for that long, but it is still present in your brain, filling up some very important receptors that need to be free for our brain’s sleep chemicals to make contact. Remember that there is caffeine in chocolate, green tea and energy drinks as well as regular tea and coffee.
  3. Be physically active during the day, completing more vigorous activities at least four hours before bedtime. Physical activity leads to better sleep - this applies to various yoga styles and other activities like walking or strength training. As bedtime approaches, physical activity should be gentle and relaxing so that your body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate can lower in preparation for sleep.
  4. Practice stress management activities regularly. These should be activities that work for you. Hatha Yoga is an excellent option. Walking or relaxing in nature might suit you. Meditation and breathing exercises are also effective stress relieving practices. 
  5. Stop alcohol at least three hours before bedtime. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it interferes with your sleep cycle. With alcohol on board, you don’t get enough REM sleep or deep sleep. These sleep stages are vital for brain health and feeling refreshed after sleep.
  6. Avoid bright lights and electronic screens within an hour of bedtime. Light fools your body, lowering production of the hormone melatonin that should be helping you get to sleep. If you can’t avoid screens altogether, try using night-time filters on your devices, or buying some blue light blocking glasses.

Get the illustrated e-book 10 Yin Yoga Poses for the Upper Body by Ram Jain for free

Benefits of Yoga at Bedtime

A gentle, comfortable yoga practice at bedtime helps to prepare your body and mind for relaxation and rest. Yoga has proven effects on our physiology, including on the part of our nervous system that shifts us into “rest and digest” mode. 

When we are stressed, busy or feel threatened, our sympathetic nervous system activates the protective “flight or fight” mode that makes sleep impossible. We stay alert, ready to deal with the threat - even if the threat is a business meeting happening tomorrow. In order to sleep, we need to change the activity in our nervous system. We need to help our body to understand that there is no immediate threat, and it is safe to rest.

Gentle yoga and slow breathing exercises have consistently been found to be very effective in activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This is how relaxation begins. The parasympathetic nervous system over-rides the stress responses and shifts the body into “rest and digest” mode by triggering the body to make relaxing changes like lowering the heart rate and blood pressure.

Yoga routine for good sleep

This yoga routine will help you gently stretch to relax your muscles, and shift your body into rest mode by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Start by getting ready for bed and turning the lights down. You can practice this routine in bed, so there is no need to get up and move when the routine is complete. Your gaze should be relaxed, or your eyes may be closed.

1. Half Saddle Pose

Half Saddle Pose

Half Saddle Pose

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight. You may like to rest your hands on your lower ribs or belly to focus on your breath while resting in each pose.
  2. Bend your right knee and draw your right foot upward to rest on the bed to the side of your right hip.
  3. Your right thigh should remain alongside your left thigh, but will be rotated inward.
  4. Hold the pose for 2-4 minutes.

2. Sleeping Deer Pose

Sleeping Deer Pose

Sleeping Deer Pose

  1. While in the Half Saddle Pose described above, lift your left foot and bend at the hip and knee to rest the right knee or lower thigh.
  2. Relax the left knee toward the bed.
  3. Hold the pose for 2-4 minutes.

3. Eye of the Needle Pose

Eye of the Needle Pose

Eye of the Needle Pose

  1. From Sleeping Deer Pose as described above, lift your left foot and place it on the bed, keeping the left knee bent and pointed towards the ceiling.
  2. Lift the right foot, turn the knee to the outside, and rest the right ankle on the left thigh close to the knee.
  3. Grasp the right thigh or shin, reaching the left hand through the ‘eye of the needle’ created by the crossed legs.
  4. Use your arms to draw the knee towards your chest, creating a gentle stretch.
  5. Hold the pose for 2-4 minutes.

4. Cat Pulling its Tail Pose

Cat Pulling Its Tail Pose

Cat Pulling its Tail Pose

  1. From Eye of the Needle Pose, unwind your legs and roll towards your right side.
  2. Create a twist with your hips facing towards the right side, while rolling your shoulders back so your chest faces the ceiling.
  3. Tuck your right foot towards your buttocks and grasp it with your left hand.
  4. The left leg is bent at hip and knee, with the knee resting on the bed in line with the hips.
  5. Your head may be turned towards the left to extend the twist further up the spine.
  6. Hold the pose for 2-4 minutes.

5. Sleeping Butterfly Pose

Butterfly Pose

Sleeping Butterfly Pose

  1. From Cat Pulling its Tail Pose, release your foot and come out of the twist by turning your hips to lie on your back.
  2. Bend your knees and draw your feet as close to your groin as possible, bringing the soles of your feet together.
  3. Hold the pose for 2-4 minutes.

Repeat

Repeat this sequence of poses for the other side of your body.

Easy abdominal breathing

Relax in a comfortable sitting position and observe the flow of your breath. Your breath should fill your lungs and cause your belly to expand and contract. Gently slow and deepen your breath so you are inhaling to a count of four, and exhaling to a count of four. This count should feel comfortable - if it doesn’t, adjust your count to a slow rate that suits your body.

Niyantrit Shwas (Regulated Abdominal Breathing)

This breathing exercise involves more control than the easy breathing, and focuses on lengthening the exhalation time. This helps to slow the heart rate and shift the body further into resting mode.

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Place both hands on your knees in Chin Mudra.
  • Breathe in gently and with control for a count of four.
  • Breathe out gently and with control for a count of eight.
  • Adjust your count if necessary, but keep it slow and maintain the ratio (the exhale is twice the length of the inhale). 

Complete eight to twelve rounds of Regulated Abdominal Breathing (Niyantrit Shwas)

Time to Sleep

Slowly and gently shift into your preferred sleeping position. Observe your slow natural breath. Consciously relax your body. You may know of areas you hold tension, such as your shoulders or the muscles around your eyes. Ensure all these areas are relaxed, and allow yourself to drift into sleep.

Get the illustrated e-book 10 Yin Yoga Poses for the Upper Body by Ram Jain for free

About the author

Ram Jain

Born into a Jain family where yoga has been the way of life for five generations, my formal yoga journey began at age of eight at a Vedic school in India. There I received a solid foundation in ancient scriptures, including Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras (to name a few).

In 2009, I founded Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. I see yoga as a way to master the five senses, so I named our ashrams 'Arhanta Yoga,' the yoga to master the five senses!

In 2017, I also founded Arhanta Yoga Online Academy so that people who can not visit our ashrams can follow our courses remotely.

At Arhanta, we don't just teach yoga. We teach you how to reach your potential, deepen your knowledge, build your confidence, and take charge of your life.

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