Sleep, glorious sleep!

Can yoga improve your sleep?


Do you find yourself mulling over all your worries when you’re trying to fall asleep?

It’s annoying isn’t it!? You know that the best thing for you right now is to drop off, but still your brain just won’t let you.

(It’s even MORE annoying if you have young children that wake you up a lot – so that when you have the opportunity to sleep, you really want to make it count!)

Well, I feel you. I’ve had it very often myself.

That’s why I thought that today I’d delve into a few studies to see if yoga can improve sleep! And I’ll go into my personal journey of how I am trying to improve my own sleep.


My personal story

I’ve never been a ‘good’ sleeper. There’s been periods in my life when falling asleep was really, really difficult. And the more I got frustrated about it, the worse it got!

I do the usual things like avoid caffeine after 12 noon and am even a little worried that chocolate will keep me awake. So no after dinner chocolate for me! (Plenty before though…)

I have noticed that the times in my life when I’m more mentally stressed definitely coincide with worse sleep. So, it naturally follows in my mind that a yoga practice that can effectively ease my stress might help with my sleep too!

I’m personally a little guilty of doing mostly the physical side of yoga. I love the way it tones my muscles and the feeling of ease it gives in my body. But, one of my aims is to work a little more on the mental relaxation side of yoga as well.

(More on HOW I plan to do this later in this blog!)

But first, let’s delve into a few studies on yoga and sleep…


Research on Yoga and Sleep

A quick search on Google Scholar immediately popped up a few recent studies on yoga and sleep!

Here is a quick and dirty summary of a few of them:

  • University students doing 8 weeks of either a slow-flow vinyasa class or a strenuous Ashtanga class 2 times/ week improved in their amount of reported sleep, stress and anxiety, compared with the control group (Street, 2020).
  • Health care professionals attending an 8 week ‘yogic mediation’ course improved their sleep quality compared with a control group. This was proven objectively, using a brain-scan (Guerra et al. 2020).
  • 16 experimental studies on yoga and sleep (out of the 19 studies) showed a positive effect of yoga on sleep in a systematic review by Wang et al. (2020). That said, this effect was only seen for healthy individuals who did not have cancer and were not in a peri-menopausal life-stage.
  • An 11-minute Yoga Nidra meditation (an audio file listened to at home) led to lower stress, higher well-being and improved sleep quality after a 30-day intervention, compared with a control group who did not listen to the meditation. This positive effect was still seen even six weeks after the intervention had finished! (Moszeik et al. 2020)

This is only a whistle stop tour of a few studies. If you’re interested yourself, I’d highly recommend browsing Google Scholar when you search for ‘yoga + sleep’.


Which type of yoga?

Yoga is a broad term and it includes a huge variety of movement (and non-movement) types. You might be familiar with a sweaty Vinyasa class, or perhaps a Yoga Nidra practice where you literally lie on the ground with your eye closed. Very different!

What I noticed in the studies on yoga and sleep is that they all focussed on adding the mindfulness aspect to the physical yoga poses or they used a non-physical ‘yoga mediation’ or the Yoga Nidra style (the lying down one).

So, HOW can this mindful side of yoga help with sleep?


Bringing back ‘Rest & Digest’

When we can’t sleep it is because our nervous system is fired up! Our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ system is active and it stops us from falling asleep.

The mental stress of the day, our ruminating thoughts, the high energy/violent impressions from the Netflix show we’ve just watched or the caffeine still flowing in our veins are all possible causes.

Even if you’re super tired, this survival drive will keep you up, because, instinctually, your body thinks there might be danger!

(How annoying is it when you’re tired to your bones, but you just won’t fall asleep!?!)

Well, a mindful yoga practice has been shown to help reduce the activation of your ‘fight or flight’ nervous system (the sympathetic nervous system), and increase the activation of its opposite: the ‘rest and digest’ (the parasympathetic nervous system).


Benefits not just after a yoga class…

What we aim for with a mindful yoga practice is that we not only get this ‘rest and digest’ benefit immediately after a session, but that at any time in the day it is easier to tap into this restful and peaceful state.

So, when you get stuck in traffic, you might be able to stay calmer by taking a slow breath and, in so doing, avoid a huge spike in adrenaline. Or when you’re watching an action film, you might be able to stay calmer in your body rather than letting yourself experience as much adrenaline as the stunt actors!

Studies on long-term yogis tend to support this outcome, as they show that yogis generally have higher mental wellbeing than a random selection of non-yogis (Morris et al. 2023).

(Have a look at my previous blog about Ashtanga and mental health here for more details about this).


How I am going to improve MY sleep…

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, I LOVE a strong and sweaty Ashtanga session! I love feeling my muscles work and that satisfied feeling after exercise.

My regular Ashtanga practice at home, does give me huge mental health benefits already, but recently I’ve been looking for something more.

Specifically… I’ve been reading more and more about Yoga Nidra. (I highly recommend the book ‘Practical Yoga Nidra’ by Scott More). And I’m starting to add this into my own yoga routine.


What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra is a non-physical form of yoga that is a mindfulness exercise. In a comfortable position, you bring your awareness to either your body, your energy, your emotions or your thoughts in an open and curious way. This is most easily done while listening to an audio recording.

It is translated literally to ‘Yogic Sleep’! And it can last anywhere from 2 minutes to 60 minutes!

And as you might remember, the study by Moszeik et al. (2020) found that 30 days of listening to an 11-minute Yoga Nidra audio recording improved sleep quality!

So this is my newest personal challenge…. Along-side my very physical Ashtanga Yoga practice, I will be adding a short and sustainable Yoga Nidra practice.

Would you like to join me???


New Yoga Nidra (Sleep) Challenge coming up!

In this personal Sleep Quest I am creating a series of Yoga Nidra audio recordings. (Guided by Scott More’s book: Practical Yoga Nidra).

And I’ll be inviting you to join me for this challenge when it’s ready! This will be available by Christmas this year (2023), so that you can either do it over the Christmas holidays or start it in January.

This will be a programme of daily 5-10 minute sessions, for which you just need to lie on the ground or sit on a comfy chair, and listen…. Easy! 😉

Watch this space my friends!


The take-away message?

If you’re struggling with sleep – then I FEEL your pain! It’s so awful and annoying and frustrating.

But the good new is… a yoga practice (of any type) might help you!

It can be super physical (like Ashtanga) or much more relaxed, as long as you bring in some mindfulness. This looks like including slow and conscious breathing and bringing your awareness to how your body, energy, emotions and thoughts are feeling in the moment, in an open and curious way.


We all deserve restful sleep!

Need a little help?

If you need a little help getting started with 15-20 minutes of mindful yoga at home have a little look at my classes… 😉

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Guerra, P. C., Santaella, D. F., D’Almeida, V., Santos-Silva, R., Tufik, S., & Len, C. A. (2020). Yogic meditation improves objective and subjective sleep quality of healthcare professionals. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 40, 101204.

Morris, B., Jackson, J., & Roberts III, A. (2023). Effects of long-term Ashtanga Yoga practice on psychological well-being. Mental Health and Social Inclusion.

Moszeik, E. N., von Oertzen, T., & Renner, K. H. (2022). Effectiveness of a short Yoga Nidra meditation on stress, sleep, and well-being in a large and diverse sample. Current Psychology, 41(8), 5272-5286.

Street, K. (2020). Effectiveness of Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga: Combating Anxiety, Depression, Stress and Sleep Quality. University of Arkansas.

Wang, W. L., Chen, K. H., Pan, Y. C., Yang, S. N., & Chan, Y. Y. (2020). The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC psychiatry, 20, 1-19.

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