Kate Bennett, a yin yoga teacher and co-founder of yoga and fitness blog Starting Out Somewhere, believes that adding yoga poses to your bedtime routine can help you sleep more deeply.
Our evening routines have changed in recent years. It used to be that we left work, maybe watched an hour of TV, then went to bed with a good book. But now we’re replying to emails at any hour, scrolling on social media and letting just one more episode of that gripping crime drama automatically play.
Technology and its advancements have made it easy for us to get our fill of entertainment, but it’s having the opposite effect on our ability to get a good night’s sleep.
How to feel less stressed at bedtime
An unexpected email or a notification can trigger your stress response. It’s natural – the brain receives new information that requires immediate action, and so your stress hormones are released to help deal with the situation.
The same is true of that must-watch scary Netflix show – while you know it’s not real, your body will respond as though it is, trying to get you away from danger with those same stress hormones.
While your stress response isn’t a bad thing – we need it to help us get up and moving in the morning, or to perform well in that big presentation – having those hormones flying around before you hit the sheets has an impact on your shut-eye.
They stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, or our ‘fight or flight’ mode, preparing the body physically for a swift exit by accelerating your heart rate, increasing muscle tension and dilating your pupils to make you more responsive. So when you then lie down and shut your eyes, your body isn’t ready to rest, preventing you from getting the good-quality sleep you need.
Luckily, you can harness your hormone responses and use them to your advantage. Introducing a good bedtime routine can help you find calm before you snooze, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed.
Avoiding technological stressors is a start – we already know we’re supposed to have a 30-minute digital detox before bed. It can be really beneficial to use that time to do some gentle yoga instead, to wind your body down ready for sleep.
How does doing yoga before bed help you sleep?
Restorative is a type of yoga that’s perfect for the evenings. It uses floor-based poses that you might have done in a daytime ‘vinyasa’ class, but lets you stay in them for longer, encouraging you to let your body relax, aided by the support of bolsters, blankets and pillows.
This deliberate relaxation can help switch off ‘fight or flight mode’, stimulating instead your parasympathetic nervous system – the system that helps your body rest and digest.
Your bed is the ideal places for doing a few restorative yoga poses before sleep, helping you feel relaxed and comfortable, and you may even find that you drift off before you finish your practice!
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It doesn’t have to be whole body movement, either. Spending a short amount of time on massage can instantly soothe us and is so easy to do, especially while relaxing on the sofa after a long day, or even last thing before you sleep while you sit on the edge of the bed.
Your hands are a great place to focus – these days we use them so often for typing and scrolling, yet we rarely give them any love. Read on to find a few simple steps for stretching and self-massaging your hands. Adding a few drops of a relaxing scent to the massage oil will make the experience even more calming.
Breathing techniques for sleep
Something as simple as breathing can also have a hugely relaxing effect on your central nervous system. We often breathe rapidly and into our chest, particularly when we’re stressed and we need more oxygen.
But by trying to slow our breathing down, and thinking about breathing all the way into the belly, we can once again turn on that parasympathetic nervous system, instantly calming the body and preparing it physiologically for sleep.
The great thing about breathing is that it can be done anywhere and any time – it can easily be incorporated into your routine, such as when you’re getting ready for bed, or you can use it as a tool if you wake up in the night or are struggling to get to sleep.
Read on to discover Kate’s yoga routine for better sleep…
5 restorative yoga poses for sleep
This is one of our more active poses, so is a great place to start. It’s a gentle inversion, relieving your lower body and providing a calming effect on your central nervous system.
It’s also a lovely way to stretch out those hamstrings, which are often tight from standing or sitting all day.
Lie on your back, lifting and extending your hips and sit bones a little to make sure that your back is nice and long.
Bring your knees up to your chest, then extend the legs, so that they’re at a 90-degree angle to your body.
Your knees can be bent or not, depending on how your body is feeling. Bring your arms out to the side, close down the eyes and relax, breathing deeply for 10-15 breaths.
You can also do this pose against a wall or headboard, for a more restorative version.
This pose is super easy to come into from Waterfall, and is a lovely way to relieve tension in both the lower back and the mind.
From Waterfall, bring your knees back into your chest and grab the outside of the sides of your feet.
Extend your legs a little and bring your knees wide, letting your elbows fall inside your thighs. Push into your hands, feeling a nice stretch.
You can gently roll from side to side or forward and backward to give your lower back a little massage.
Have a little smile on your face as you do this pose (it is called Happy Baby, after all!) – this will invite a release of any stress from your day that you’re holding on to.
Hold for 10-15 breaths.
This is another great pose for your spine, twisting out any aches and pains that may have come from sitting at a desk or walking around.
It also provides a gentle massage for your internal digestive organs, which can help your dinner to go down before bed.
From Happy Baby, bring your legs down so that your heels are on the bed and your knees are pointing towards the ceiling.
Push through your heels, lift your hips and place them back on the bed, over to one side.
Bring your knees up towards the chest, stopping wherever feels comfortable, and then let them fall to the opposite side. You might want to support them with a pillow if this is uncomfortable.
Spread your arms or bring them to a cactus shape, then look in the opposite direction to your knees to also stretch out the neck a little.
Hold for 10-15 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
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This pose will help you to open through your hips, which can become closed and tight when sitting, as well as stretching through that lower back.
Slowly bring yourself up from Twisted Roots and bring the soles of your feet together in front of you, being mindful of your knees.
Your feet can be as near or as far away from your pelvis as feels good, and you may need to sit on a pillow to elevate your hips, or support your knees either side with pillows.
Inhale and stretch your spine upwards, then gently start to fold forwards, curving spine and neck to bring your forehead towards your feet.
Stop wherever feels as though you have found a good stretch, and stay for 10-15 breaths, breathing into your back.
Supported Child’s Pose
This is the perfect pose to end the sequence – not only does it stretch out hips and back one last time, but it’s also very soothing for our central nervous system, as it feels like a big hug.
Take a pillow (or a bolster) and sit on one end, with your thighs on either side and your sit bones against your heels.
Gently fold forward to come to rest on the pillow, with your head turned to one side, keeping your sit bones and heels together if possible. If not, pop a blanket or pillow between them.
Relax into the pillow, letting it hold your weight and try to let go of any thoughts that are still bouncing around in your mind.
Stay here for 10-15 breaths, then repeat with your head facing the other way, though don’t worry if you fall asleep before you get to the second side.
Easy hand stretches and massages to help you sleep
A great way to unwind before bed is to give yourself a calming hand massage. Try Melanie Barnes’ self-massage techniques as part of a short pre-bedtime routine.
Sit on your bed and dim the lights. To warm up your wrist joints, circle both hands outwards five times, and then inwards five times.
Interlock your fingers and stretch your arms out in front of you, palms away from you. Take three or four really deep breaths. Unlock your fingers.
With your right arm straight and palm facing up, stretch your fingers back with your left hand to stretch the inside of your wrist and forearm.
Place a few drops of massage oil in your left palm and work it into your hand using stroking movements. Apply a light pressure in a circular motion.
With your left palm facing down, hold your left wrist with your right hand. Use your right thumb to knead over the back of your wrist in small circles.
Interlock your fingers and turn your left palm upwards. Use your right thumb to firmly massage the centre of your left palm in a slow circular motion.
With your palm facing up, use your thumb to knead little circles. Start at the wrist by your thumb joint and work towards the finger joint, then back towards the wrist. Work across your hand.
Turn your left hand over and place your right thumb on the area between your left thumb and index finger. Press firmly, softening into the pressure point and take five deep breaths.