5 Science-Backed Yoga Poses for Insomnia Improvement.


As lonely as you may be tossing and turning late at night, you are definitely not alone. Recent studies show that between 30% and 50% of us suffer from chronic or occasional insomnia. One in five adults has trouble falling asleep every night. When you’ve exhausted other forms of sleep-inducing advice—or just slipped up and indulged in a late afternoon espresso—you can still try something. These science-backed yoga poses for insomnia cost nothing, have no unwanted side effects, and often provide relief within minutes.

However, alchemy is not simply holding yoga poses. Instead, effectiveness depends largely on how well you maintain your posture. Striving to intensify the stretch or cursing the fact that you’re awake just triggers more tension and stress, which compete with the restorative properties of each pose.

Instead, take a deep breath and exhale. Many studies related to yoga poses attribute insomniac poses to slower breathing patterns. Whenever your breathing rate relaxes, everything else relaxes. You can count your breaths or follow a prescribed breathing scheme that suits you. Or just allow yourself to breathe more easily than usual.

The following science-backed yoga poses for insomnia may lull you to sleep, especially if you practice them night after night.

5 Science-Backed Yoga Poses for Insomnia

1. Big Toe Pose

Why it works: Legendary among yoga teachers, forward bends can bring about calm. The forward-leaning motion stretches the back of the body, from heels to head, and releases built-up muscle tension. It also stimulates the nerves that run along the spinal cord and are thought to be responsible for activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which inspires calmness of mind and body. Additionally, the base of the big toe is believed to be a reflex point for stimulating the pituitary gland, which regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle by releasing melatonin.

How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, or, if you experience tightness or pain in your lower back, spread your feet wider. Gently bend forward from the hips, bending the knees as far as possible to experience a relatively comfortable stretch. Grasp each big toe firmly with your index, middle, and thumb, or place your hands on the floor or the back of your calf. Bend your elbows and actively press down on your feet, releasing the top of your head to the floor as you relax your neck in Padangusthasana. Take a deep breath and stay here for 1-3 minutes.

2. Bada Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Why it works: It’s well-documented that joint pain can lead to sleep disturbances. This pain has many potential causes, but if it’s related to muscle tension, stretching your lower back, hips, shoulders, or knees can help reduce discomfort when falling asleep and while sleeping. This single pose addresses each of these target areas. Be sure to consult your doctor if you experience chronic pain.

How to: From standing with a forward bend, come to a seated position, bringing the soles of your feet together and letting your knees out to the sides to release  Baddha Konasana. Keep your heels a comfortable distance from your hips. Lean forward from the hips, bringing the chest close to the wall in front of you. Place your hands on your ankles and bend your elbows. Notice if you grip and relax with your hands. Release your shoulders, and let your head drop if your neck is comfortable. Breathe and stay here for 1 minute.

Tip: For a more intense hip stretch, try Agnistambhasana (Fire Log Pose).

3. Utana ( Extended Puppy Pose)

Why it works: This relatively passive backbend counteracts the effects of prolonged staring at a screen by relieving tension in the upper back and shoulders. If you experience more severe shoulder pain that keeps you awake at night, this gentle backbend may help release tight muscles, especially if you suffer from muscle spasms. Be sure to consult your doctor if you experience chronic pain. In the yogic tradition, light pressing on the forehead is believed to stimulate the pituitary gland, which induces drowsiness.

How to: Start sitting with your body leaning forward on your hands and knees. Keep your hips stacked on your knees as you move your hands forward. Keep your elbows lifted while resting your forehead on the floor or pillow. Release the chest toward the ground in Uttana Shishosana. If you prefer, slowly rock your head from side to side to massage your forehead and relieve facial tension. Breathe and stay here for 1 minute. Slowly bring your hips back to your heels, resting in Child’s Pose for a moment.

4. Supine Twist

According to sleep researcher and Iyengar yoga teacher Dr. Roger Cole, inversions and reclining poses like this twist promote sleep by relaxing the baroreflex, the reflex that keeps blood pressure nearly constant. Studies have shown that impaired baroreflex sensitivity is associated with sleep difficulties.

Lie on your back, drawing your knees into your chest. Straighten your arms out to your sides, letting your knees drop to your left, stacking your right knee on top of your right. Release your right shoulder toward the floor and let gravity pull your legs toward the floor. If comfortable, turn and gaze over your right shoulder or close your eyes. Let your tummy be soft and breathe slowly. Stay here for at least 1 minute. Repeat on the other side.

5. Viparita Kalani (leg on wall)

Why it’s helpful: Even if you’ve never done yoga before, you can benefit from this restorative yoga pose. Fully passive inversions inspire calm by releasing muscle tension, which when combined with a slowed breathing rate stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and induces relaxation.

How to: Place a folded blanket or pillow a few inches from the wall. Sit with one hip against the wall and slowly lower the sacrum while lifting both legs about the hip distance away from the wall. Try to place your sit bones between the support and the wall. Relax your legs instead of trying to straighten them. Bend your knees comfortably if it helps. Put your arms beside your body and close your eyes. Exhale slowly here and rest here for 5-15 minutes.

Tip: You can also try this pose in bed—facing the wall, of course. If you feel any strain or pain in your lower back with your legs against a wall, try lifting your legs up onto a chair, coffee table, or bed and resting your shins on a surface for extra support.

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