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Sleep issue: How to use yoga to snooze better

If you struggle to nod off or find yourself waking in the night, yoga could be the long-lost remedy you’ve been searching for. Read on for poses, breathing exercises and other sleep-happy tips.
Lifestyle Hints & Tips
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Yoga isn’t just good for improving flexibility, strength and fitness, it can also help you sleep better. This is particularly true of people with insomnia, so if you’re fed up of gazing up at the ceiling night after night wondering when sleep will come, it might be time to give it a go. In fact, it’s been proven that when people with insomnia practice regular yoga, they not only fall asleep faster but get back to sleep much more easily if they do wake up in the night. Considering insomnia often hits us in the middle of our slumber (ever found yourself wide awake for no apparent reason at all?) it all sounds very promising indeed.

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Before we go on – let us just say that we know yoga is all sounding a bit ‘too good to be true’, and that if something seems that way, it usually is. But let us assure you. This is not a con. Yoga has been widely advocated in western society for decades and as a practice is thousands of years old (some researchers believe it dates back to over 10,000 years ago). And now it’s even being prescribed by western doctors for numerous ailments and health conditions – making us think there must be something in it, after all. Convinced? Good. Let’s get working on getting to sleep.

Choosing the right kind of yoga

If you’re new to the scene, you’d be forgiven for thinking any old kind of yoga is going to help you sleep. At the end of the day (literally) yoga is yoga, right? Wrong. There are many different kinds of yoga that suit different purposes, with a lot of practices being designed specifically to boost energy for the day. So, if you rock up at your local yoga centre after work and pick any class that’s going, you could end up buzzing and alert at 11pm, instead of sleepy and relaxed.

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But how to know which practice to choose? Well, it’s simple really. The clue’s usually in the name. Restorative yoga, for example, is designed to help you completely relax and rest. Its poses are generally held for five minutes or more, and include light twists, seated forward folds and gentle backward bends. The point of this slow-going practice is to help you adopt a slower pace, switch off from the day and reconnect with your body and the ‘here and now’ (instead of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘remember whens’ that keep us up at night).

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So how does it all work?

Gentle yoga poses that are designed to help us ‘switch off’ are very closely connected with the practice of mindfulness, which is why they provide a great way for us to tune out the day’s white noise before bed. But they also focus on breathing, which is key. This is because our breath is the only part of our nervous system that we can actually control – providing us with a real-life, physical gateway into the part of our body that often stops us from relaxing. By controlling our breathing, we’re able to trigger the relaxation response that prepares us for sleep. Clever, eh?

Can we give it a go now please?

We’ve covered the theory, now it’s time to get to the practical side of things. There are lots of great tutorials online, so simply search for these positions and give them a go before bed… and be prepared to welcome sleep like an old, much missed friend:

1. Downward Facing Dog

2. Locust Pose

3. Standing Forward Bend

4. Head-to-Knee Pose

5. Corpse Pose (morbidly named, extremely relaxing)

6. Seated Forward Bend

7. Reclining Bound Angle Pose

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And… Breathe

Now for the next really important bit – your breathing. Here are two super-easy breathing exercises to get you on your way to a happy slumber.

1. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Sounds simple – is actually ingenious. By breathing through alternate nostrils, you’re in fact balancing the right and left side of the brain and calming your nervous system. Simply sit comfortably on your bed, close off one nostril and inhale fully through the other for the count of four, then at the top of that breath close off the open nostril and open the other to exhale through (also for the count of four). Repeat as many times as you like.

2. Humming Bee Breath

Take a long inhalation through the nose and then, on the exhalation, create a humming noise – or the sound of the letter ‘M’ – from your throat. Sustain the sound until you need to breathe in again, then repeat. Practice for as long as it feels good.

3. 4-7-8 Method

Many swear by this sleep inducing breathing method where you breathe in for four seconds, hold it for seven, then breathe out audibly for eight. Repeat until you nod off.

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Other valuable tips for the sleep-poor

It should go without saying, but there are external factors that stop us from sleeping, and which many of us ignore – then wonder why we’re not nodding off. Your mattress, for example, could be hindering your ability to sleep without you even realising it. Think about it this way – you wouldn’t run a marathon or go hiking without the right gear. It’s the same for snoozing – it’s no good disregarding the importance of your sleeping equipment as it can deeply affect your ability to get a good night’s rest. Consider investing in a new, modern mattress like this Simba Mattress, which has springs that actually adjust as you sleep, plus a layer of memory foam that moulds to your body. Choosing a comfortable mattress is particularly important for those suffering with chronic back or neck pain, as research shows that disrupted sleep can not only be caused by the pain, but – in a vicious cycle – can exacerbate it too.

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Next, be sure to turn off all tech at least an hour before bed and ensure your room is cool and comfortable when it comes to going to sleep. Rooms that are too warm are harder to sleep in because this hinders the body’s natural cooling mechanism, which is what makes us fall asleep in the first place. Finally, if you find yourself getting easily disturbed by light and noise, invest in some high-quality ear plugs and a sleep mask to keep the pesky sunlight out (this is more applicable in summer months when it gets lighter earlier).

These small efforts paired with a sleep-focused yoga routine will have you nodding off in no time. So with out further ado, take you’re comfortable position, breathe, relax and let the ‘Z’s come.

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