Have you ever felt intensely physically tired, yet your mind starts racing as soon as your head hits the pillow, leaving you tossing and turning for a long time?
If your sweet dreams seem to be floating just out of reach, a few minutes of gentle sleep yoga might be just what you need.
According to the CDC, an astounding one-third of adults report not getting enough sleep! Insufficient, interrupted, or disordered sleep can contribute to many other serious health issues (1).
Thus, anything you can do to get a better night’s sleep will benefit your health greatly in the long run.
The myriad health benefits of yoga extend far beyond a physical workout. Of these perks, one of the most often-mentioned is improving your quality of sleep.
If you’re curious to see for yourself how bedtime yoga can better the quality of your sleep, you can try it yourself at home—no need to drag yourself to a late-night yoga class.
Doing even a few yoga stretches in your pajamas before bed can help you achieve more restful sleep.
From total beginners to the most experienced yogis, we all can appreciate a good night’s rest!
Yoga, Stress, and Sleep
Psychologists suggest that having a routine in day-to-day life is important as it supports positive mental health and can improve your overall quality of life (2).
The same is true of having a consistent bedtime routine, and gentle yoga is an especially great thing to do before heading to bed!
One of the most significant impacts of yoga takes place in your nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system, which controls all involuntary bodily functions (think: heartbeat, breathing, etc.), includes two complementary systems.
The sympathetic nervous system activates under stress, sending out “fight or flight” signals to the body. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system works to calm the body down once it is no longer under distress.
Yoga supports the parasympathetic nervous system’s relaxation response to calm the body and the mind by relieving muscle tension and promoting deep breathing. (3)
Adopting a gentle yoga practice can reduce stress levels by promoting the parasympathetic response, thus allowing your body and mind to reach a more restful state of sleep.
Supported by Science
Over time, yoga can help alleviate chronic fatigue, while helping prevent insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
There is growing scientific evidence for positive correlation between practicing yoga, and improved sleep quality.
One study from Harvard Medical School found that participants who adopted a yoga practice reported sleeping better, longer, and needed less time to fall asleep (4).
The amount of time you sleep (or don’t) is a big contributor to daytime dysfunction, leading to drowsiness, restlessness, and fatigue (5), putting you at risk for accidents as a result of impaired daily function.
In a study group of elderly patients with insomnia receiving yoga intervention, researchers noted significant sleep-related improvements, including sleep quality and duration.
Moreover, participants in the yoga intervention group reported feeling less chronic pain and experienced better overall quality of life (6).
If you suffer from sleep deprivation, restlessness, or other sleep problems, adding a short yoga sequence to your pre-bedtime plan can help you achieve better sleep quality.
When Should You Do Yoga Before Bed?
It is completely safe to do yoga directly before going to bed, since this gentle form of yoga works to calm the mind and body, rather than energize you as other workouts do.
However, it is ideal to wait 1-2 hours after eating dinner before laying down to begin your nighttime yoga practice.
Can You Do Yoga on a Bed?
These bedtime yoga stretches are totally safe to do in your bed, and in fact, that may be the preferable location!
The type of yoga done just before bedtime is meant to be super gentle and relaxing, in order to send you off into a deep, restful sleep.
Therefore, you may not need some of the things typically associated with a yoga class, including a yoga mat! In fact, many of the yoga stretches for sleep can be done directly in your bed, making the transition to dreamland that much easier.
If you prefer the grounding effects of practicing yoga on the floor, you can use extra props such as pillows, a rolled-up towel or folded blanket, and bolsters for optimum comfort.
However, if you do choose to practice sleep yoga somewhere other than your bed, be sure you get there before your final savasana when you’ll likely feel too relaxed to make the move!
Which Yoga Is Best for Sleeping?
Yoga is quite a versatile practice, so it is important to choose an appropriate type of yoga to do before hitting the hay.
For example, styles of yoga involving vigorous, dynamic movement like hot yoga, Bikram, or vinyasa flow will increase your energy levels and likely keep you awake longer.
To help you get to sleep faster, try a slow form of hatha yoga or yin yoga, in which you hold postures longer, allowing your muscles and connective tissues to relax.
While laying in bed, you can make good use of pillows and blankets for a restorative yoga practice.
Yoga Nidra is specific type of yogic meditation often used to promote restful sleep, without performing any asana at all.
Similar to a guided meditation, yoga nidra takes your body and mind into a state of absolute relaxation, while the consciousness remains awake.
In this practice, your awareness passes from wakefulness into a dream state, leaving you ready to drift off to sleep at the end of a yoga nidra session. (7)
Best Bedtime Yoga Routine for Better Sleep
Try adding in this simple yoga sequence to your bedtime routine.
Each yoga pose included is beginner-friendly with low risk of injury, and are safe even for those new to a yoga practice.
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Mountain Pose is one of steadiness and stability. Stand tall like a mountain for a few breaths to ground your energy before beginning your bedtime yoga routine.
Upright mountain pose works to improve spinal posture and circulation and connects you with your body.
This asana will help also you bring awareness to your physical space as you feel your feet connected with the floor, as the top of your head reaches up.
How to do it: At the front of your mat, stand with your feet hip-width distance apart with your weight distributed evenly. Pull the navel in and up to engage the core, which will support your back muscles and ensure good posture.
Broaden the collarbones and shoulder blades and lengthen the spine by stretching the crown of the head up towards the sky. Bring your arms at your sides, palms facing forward, and stand tall for a few breaths.
2. Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
The standing forward bend stretches the spine and back of the legs, improves blood flow to the brain, and can help turn your awareness inwards as you prepare yourself for bed.
How to do it: From Mountain pose, bow forward, bringing your forehead to your shins. If your hamstrings are especially tight, keep a slight bend in the knees.
Try the Rag Doll variation, taking hold of opposite elbows. Let your head hang and relax the back of the neck. Stay for a few breaths, allowing your lower back to release, then gently release your hands to the mat.
3. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
As an inverted pose, Downward Dog is great to do before bedtime to bring your body into a state of relaxation.
This posture creates space in the back of your body, especially lengthening the spine, calves, and hamstrings, releasing muscle tension.
How to do it: Come into the shape of an upside-down “V” by bending over and walking your hands forward.
Ground down equally into both hands and reach your hips high towards the sky. Press your chest toward your thighs and keep space in between your shoulder blades.
Draw your heels down towards the floor and straighten your legs, being sure to keep the alignment in your spine.
4. Cow / Cat (Bitilasana / Marjaryasana)
Moving a few times between Cat and Cow will help you connect with your breath, and can be helpful for those suffering from sleep apnea.
This combination of asanas helps open the chest and relaxes the neck and shoulders while bringing some gentle mobility to your spine.
How to do it: Come to a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
As you inhale, drop your bellow and draw your chest forward, lifting the gaze slightly for Cow. On your exhale, round the spine, contract the belly, and drop your chin towards your chest for Cat Pose.
Move through a few rounds, keeping the movement connected to your breath.
5. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is perhaps the ultimate restful pose. It helps calm the mind and invites you to turn your awareness inwards: take an opportunity to check in with your thoughts as you feel your forehead pressing into the floor or bed.
Physically, this pose lengthens the spine and relieves tension in the hips and glutes.
How to do it: From a tabletop position, sink your hips back towards your heels. Widen your knees and keep your big toes together.
Keep your arms and fingertips reaching forward, palms facing down. Feel length in your back body, from the tip of your tailbone all the way to the top of your head.
6. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Forward bending postures like Paschimottanasana are great to do before heading off to bed; this seated forward fold can help relieve anxiety, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
It stretches the hamstrings, hips, and spine, helping to relieve back pain and muscle aches.
Additionally, it stimulates the internal organs, aiding in digestion, and elimination of both physical and mental toxins.
How to do it: Come to a seated position with your legs extended out in front of you.
As you inhale, reach both arms up overhead and lengthen the spine. With an exhale, fold over your legs, reaching for your feet, ankles, or shins. Drop your forehead and relax the back of the neck.
You may keep a slight bend in the knees or place a pillow under them if you feel any pulling in your lower back.
7. Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
As another forward bend, Head to Knee Pose is very calming for the mind and thus a great pose to add to a nightly yoga routine.
In addition to stretching the back body and backs of the legs, it can relieve anxiety and fatigue and is beneficial for insomnia.
How to do it: Begin seated with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your left knee, bringing the sole of the left foot to your inner right thigh.
Reach your arms up as you inhale, and fold over your right leg, reaching for your right foot as you exhale. Bow your head down, eventually bringing your forehead to your left knee.
Surrender into this stretch for a few breaths and feel the back of your legs release. To exit the pose, lift your torso and extend your left leg in front of you. Switch legs and repeat the pose on bending your right knee.
8. Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Butterfly, or Bound Angle pose, offers numerous benefits to the lower body. It stretches the groin and inner thighs, releases tightness in the glutes and hip joint, and can alleviate sciatica pain.
This posture helps regulate blood flow in the body, normalize blood pressure, and decrease anxiety.
How to do it: From a seated position, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Hold on to your ankles or the inner arches of your feet.
Ground your sit bones down and sit tall, lengthening the front of your torso all the way up to the sternum.
Try this modification: place a bolster or cushion under each knee to make this posture even more restorative.
9. Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
After a long day, a spinal twist is a wonderful way to soften stiff back muscles and rinse out any excess energy.
This pose opens the front of the chest and helps release tension in the chest, upper back, shoulders, and glutes, especially if you spend some time to fully relax and surrender into the stretch.
Twisting the torso massages and stimulates the abdominal organs, promoting good digestion and elimination.
How to do it: Lying on your back, hug your right knee into your chest. As you exhale, bring your knee across your body to your left side, twisting the spine.
For a deeper stretch in your shoulder, open your right arm to the side and remain for several breaths, allowing your muscles and connective tissues to release.
Exit the stretch by moving yourself slowly back to the center, and placing your right leg down. Repeat the spinal twist on the opposite side with the left leg.
10. Reclined Pigeon Pose (Supta Kapotasana)
Any variation of Pigeon Pose is suitable for a bedtime yoga routine, but this reclined modification is a great way to open up especially tight hips.
Similar to other hip openers, it gives a nice stretch for the glutes and can help relieve sciatica and lower back pain.
Energetically, a reclining pigeon is beneficial in releasing pent up anger and frustration, the emotions associated with the gallbladder and liver meridians in the yin yoga tradition.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, both feet on the floor or bed. Cross your right ankle over the left thigh, making a triangle between your right knee, left knee, and the pelvis.
Place the left arm on the outside of your leg. Bring the right arm through the opening of the legs.
Lift your left foot and draw your legs in toward your chest as your right knee opens to the side.
If you have experienced a knee injury, be incredibly mindful and back out of the pose if you notice any pain or pulling sensations. Stay for several breaths as your hips soften. Then, release and uncross your legs, and switch sides.
11. Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
A happy baby is an especially good stretch for the hips and lower back. This yoga posture calms the mind and helps relieve stress and is said to release negative emotions held in the hips through releasing physical tension.
You will also feel a nice stretch in your groin, hamstrings, and inner thighs.
How to do it: Begin lying on your back. Hug both knees in and bend the legs to a 90-degree angle, so the soles of the feet are facing the sky.
Grab onto your big toes or ankles and draw your knees down. Maintain the natural curves of your spine and reach your pelvis down towards the floor.
If you feel your lower back rounding into the floor, try the modification of holding onto your inner thighs instead.
Stay in Happy Baby for several breaths, long enough to feel your hip flexors soften.
12. Waterfall Pose/Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Legs Up the Wall is one of the most restorative staff pose variations and will certainly assist you in achieving a good night’s sleep.
As an inversion, it encourages your blood to circulate from your lower extremities to your head, which soothes the nervous system and lowers stress.
This posture is beneficial for reducing pain or swelling in the legs and feet and restores balance to the entire body.
How to do it: Begin seated next to a wall, with one side of your body touching the wall. Slowly roll down onto your back as your legs come up; your body should make an “L” shape, bending at a 90-degree angle with your legs extended up along the wall.
If you feel any discomfort in your lower back, scoot your buttocks a few inches away from the wall. Keep a slight bend in your legs to avoid locking your kneecaps.
Take several deep breaths and remain in this posture for several minutes. Ground your upper body into the floor, mat, or bed.
You may choose to cushion your upper back, shoulders, and neck with a folded blanket to ensure optimum comfort.
13. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Savasana is perhaps the most important and restorative yoga pose, bringing your whole body to a state of release.
It helps you fully relax tight muscles, calms the mind, and prepares you for a deeper state of rest sure to improve your quality of sleep.
Spending some time in savasana supports the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing balance into the digestive and immune systems especially.
How to do it: Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Let your entire body become heavy and completely relaxed.
Release any final tension you may hold in your face, jaw, and throat. Feel your heart rate begin to slow down and breathe naturally.
If you are practicing this bedtime yoga sequence on your mat, you may choose to move yourself to your bed for savasana, allowing yourself to transition more easily into a state of slumber.
To fully experience all the benefits of nighttime yoga practice, try ending with brief pranayama, or breathing exercise.
This can be as simple as mindfully observing your breath and noticing the gentle rise and fall of your inhale and exhale. Pranayama is particularly beneficial if you struggle with symptoms of sleep apnea.
Improving your quality of sleep can do wonders for your quality of life. If you already practice yoga, try swapping your daily practice to the nighttime and see what differences you notice throughout your day.
If you are a beginner in the world of asana, sleep yoga is a great way to familiarize yourself with some popular poses while still receiving many benefits of yoga.
Whether you suffer from sleep disturbances or would just like to feel a bit more rested the next day, a few easy poses can do the trick.
Put on some soft music and swap out a few minutes of social media scrolling for a short but effective yoga routine at the end of the day.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “CDC – Sleep Home Page – Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html.
- Plata, Mariana. “The Power of Routines in Your Mental Health.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 4 Oct. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-gen-y-psy/201810/the-power-routines-in-your-mental-health.
- Publishing, Harvard Health. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, Harvard Medical School, Mar. 2011, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response.
- Breus, Michael J. “Yoga Can Help With Insomnia.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 4 Oct. 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201210/yoga-can-help-insomnia.
- ABC News. “’Short Sleepers’ Have Daytime Dysfunction, Study Says.” WCVB, WCVB, 7 Oct. 2017, www.wcvb.com/article/short-sleepers-have-daytime-dysfunction-study-says/8247834.
- Halpern, J, et al. “Yoga for Improving Sleep Quality and Quality of Life for Older Adults.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24755569/.
- Fennel. “What Is Yoga Nidra?” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 14 Sept. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-yoga-nidra/.