We all need sleep to function properly, but unfortunately it doesn’t always come easily to everyone. Whether you’re still thinking about the day before, or worrying about the one ahead, sometimes your mind just won’t let you sleep even if your body wants to. One way to help catch some quality z’s is by doing yoga, which can help calm both your body and mind, release some tension, and set you up for a better night’s rest.
Ahead, you’ll find 11 expert-approved yoga moves to help you sleep more soundly, as well as some tips on how to incorporate yoga into your bedtime routine.
What Are the Benefits of Yoga?
There are obvious physical benefits to yoga, such as increased strength and mobility,1 but there are many mental ones as well. Sweat Factor trainer Jeni DelPozo also likes to consider yoga “an Epsom salt bath for the brain,” as it helps create calmness, stillness, and guides you to be more present.
Adds Valerie Ugrinow, a YogaSix master trainer, yoga is, at its core, a practice of awareness and nervous system regulation. “Through this practice, students can experience less stress, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as an overall greater quality of life,” she says.
Can Yoga Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep?
The short answer is yes, yoga can help you sleep better in various ways. In fact, a National Health Interview Survey found that most people do yoga for wellness reasons, with over 55 percent of yoga users reporting they experienced better sleep.
Ugrinow says that in general, people who engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity in their daily routine are more likely to experience better sleep,2 but what makes yoga a great option is that it has additional benefits of mindfulness and stress reduction. “You are less likely to lay awake at night with racing thoughts when you can take a step back and observe your thoughts rather than being consumed by them,” says Ugrinow. “Also, when you can better regulate your nervous system and levels of stress throughout the day, there is less to keep you up at night.”
DelPozo adds that yoga helps keep you focused on the movement in front of you and allows you to leave anything that is not serving you off of your mat. “When I’m feeling anxious, or my mind is running, yoga helps slow me down and shows me what truly matters in the moment,” she says.
What Type of Yoga Is Best for Bed, and Why?
While the morning and afternoon are great for more vigorous classes to help recharge and energize, says Ugrinow, the evening hours are opportunities to slow down, release any lingering energy from the day, and calm the body and mind.
DelPozo says some of her favorite types of yoga to do before bedtime are:
- Yin Yoga: a practice at a slower pace with asanas (poses) that are held for longer periods of time
- Restorative Yoga: a more restful practice that’s also very healing
- Yoga Nidra: also known as “yogic sleep.” Deep relaxation is the focus of this type of yoga, which can set you up for a great night’s sleep.
How to Incorporate Yoga Into Your Bedtime Routine
The good news is that you can incorporate yoga into your evening routine without it being a huge time suck. It doesn’t need to be a long, extensive practice, says Ugrinow. Spend some time in your body, slow down, and become more intentional in your breath to help you “energetically process your day and tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, which allows rest and healing to occur,” she says.
DelPozo recommends doing your yoga practice a couple of hours before bedtime so it sets the tone for the rest of your evening. One thing she likes to do after her practice is to write down in a journal how she felt—e.g., which parts allowed her to be present and which she struggled through. This helps her stay present for the rest of the evening and allows her nighttime routine to fall into place more easily.
11 Yoga Poses for Better Sleep
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, give one (or a few) of these yoga poses a try.
Box breathing can help center you, says DelPozo, who says she does most breathing out of her nose to get the most oxygen to her body as well as calm down her nervous system.
- Inhale for four counts, hold at the top for four.
- Exhale for four counts, hold at the bottom of the exhale for four counts.
According to DelPozo, this is a great pose for the back side of the body, but also to open up your heart.
- Place feet hip-width apart and parallel.
- Make sure your feet are right underneath your knees.
- Lift your hips up toward the sky. Clasp your hands underneath your seat. Keep your neck long.
- Tips: Keep your knees in line with hips by reaching your inner thighs toward your midline. Enjoy the stretch in your chest.
Do this pose to allow the blood to flow away from feet, says DelPozo.
- Lay onto your back and bring your knees into your chest, then reach them up toward the sky.
- Place hands under hips for support.
Seated Forward Fold
- Lengthen your legs out in front of you.
- Keep a bend behind your knees to truly lengthen out of your low back.
- Lift up tall, then fold over your legs.
- Keep the bend in your knees in order to keep the length in your low legs.
You can wring out all of the stress from the day with this pose, says DelPozo.
- Lay onto your back.
- Bring one leg across your body and stack your hips on top of each other.
- Then rotate your torso toward the opposite direction of your leg.
- Tip: Reach your hips away from your ribs to get the most length out of your lower back.
Standing Forward Fold
This act of surrendering soothes the nervous system, calms the mind, and relieves stress and the symptoms of anxiety and depression, says Ugrinow. “The more active and engaged you are in your lower body, the easier it will be to melt and release your upper body,” she says.
- Stand upright.
- Raise your arms above your head and fold your upper body over.
- Keep your knees slightly bent and know that it’s OK to bend them as much as you need.
- Hold for 5–10 deep breaths.
- Tip: If you want a greater stretch through your legs, just lift your hips up a little higher.
The cat-cow pose helps to lubricate the spine and work out any kinks, according to Ugrinow. “Pairing breath with movement is also a great tool to help you slow down racing thoughts and get out of your mind and into your body,” she says.
- Start on your hands and knees. Spread your fingers as wide as they can go, and grip your finger pads into the earth. This will activate the arches in your hands to better support your wrists.
- In spinal extension (cow pose), energetically pull your hands and knees toward the center to allow greater lift in your chest.
- In spinal flexion (cat pose), press the earth away and energetically hug your inner thighs toward the midline.
- Pair your inhales with spinal extension and exhales with spinal flexion. Slow down and lengthen your breaths so you use an entire breath per movement, creating a fluid transition pose to pose.
- Flow through 5–10 rounds of breath.
Child’s pose stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and deeply relaxes your body, mind, and heart, saw Ugrinow.
- Kneel on the floor with your knees apart and your toes together.
- Lower your upper body to the floor and outstretch your arms in front of you.
- Hold for a minimum of 5–10 breaths.
- Try out different variations in this pose to find maximum comfort. Your knees can be wide or narrow, your arms can stretch forward or wrap around your legs. For additional support, you can use a pillow or bolster under your chest, forehead, and/or hips.
Half Pigeon Pose
Ugrinow says this pose stimulates your digestive system and relieves stress and anxiety.
- Align your right knee behind your right wrist (anywhere from 40–95 degrees), and extend your left leg straight back behind you.
- Ground down through the pinky edge of your right foot to support your knee. You should feel the sensation more in your outer right hip than in your knee. For support and added comfort, you can use a pillow or block underneath your right hip.
- Think about lengthening your right hip and left leg back, and then melt your upper body to the support of a pillow or blocks or the earth.
- This pose can feel intense, so really focus on your breath and softening through your jaw.
- Repeat the other side.
- Hold for a minimum of 5–10 breaths per side.
Supported Bridge Pose
The supported bridge pose is a great way to balance out your hips, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, and aid in digestion, says Ugrinow.
- Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet about hips-width apart.
- Press down through your feet, shoulders, and head to float your hips and slide a block or thick pillow underneath the bony ridges of your sacrum.
- Allow the weight of your body to melt, letting go of any effort.
- For greater opening in your chest, stretch your arms out wide. Be mindful to avoid turning your head in this pose to protect your neck.
- Hold for a minimum of 5–10 breaths.
Legs Up the Wall
Ugrinow says this pose activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helps relieves stress and tension, and soothes swollen legs and feet.
- To set yourself up, scoot sideways until your hip is making contact with the wall.
- Swing your legs up and rest your upper body down to the earth. You may notice some tingling in your legs and feet—just remember to breathe and give yourself permission to release from the pose at any time.
- Hold for a minimum of 10–20 breaths.
Yoga can have both physical and mental benefits, which makes it a great calming activity to help you wind down and sleep better at night. However, yoga isn’t just about doing the body poses and movements. Instead, says Ugrinow, it’s about being present in your body without judgment, being mindful and intentional with your breath, and at the end of the day (literally!) being kind to yourself moment to moment.
Not all days will be the same, so sometimes, no matter how much yoga you do, you might not be able to slow down as much as you want. That’s okay though, and Ugrinow recommends to try to “let go of expectations of what this should look or feel like and practice honoring and being present with what is.”
Along those same lines, DelPozo advises, “If you ever find your mind drifting away from your practice, don’t get frustrated. Repeat to yourself, ‘I am here now.'”