Five yoga tools to help you fall back asleep in the middle of the night

By Monica Le Baron

Sleeping is important—more important than we can imagine. But it can be disrupted by anxious thoughts, physical pain, or those tedious trips to empty the bladder in the middle of the night.

Not being able to fall back asleep after waking up in the night can be very frustrating—especially if you need to wake up early the next day or if this is a consistent pattern. Research shows that disrupted sleep adversely impacts health and well-being. Studies have shown links between disrupted sleep and gene expression, hormone imbalance, mood, and even depression.

Photo by Ale Saldaña

For years, worrying and resentment would keep me up at night. Now, it only takes me 5–8 minutes to fall asleep and 10–15 minutes to fall back asleep after waking up at night. This journey toward improving sleep inspired me to become a yoga therapist who specializes in helping others get the rest they deserve. I’m hoping these yoga tools improve your sleep on World Sleep Day and all year long. Let’s get started. 

1. Realistic Goal Setting

When I work with a new client we first set a realistic sleep goal. I ask them how they want to feel at the end of our time together and how much time they’re willing to invest. Together we polish their goal and make it measurable, simple, and realistic. Yoga therapy is not about fixing people; instead, we meet clients where they are and work together to create conditions that support the body and mind to heal.

Here is an example of a realistic goal. If you’re waking up at night to use the restroom and it takes an hour to fall back asleep, then a realistic goal might mean taking 50 minutes to fall back asleep instead of an hour. I realize this might seem too simple or not worth the effort, but small steps will set you up for success. If your goal were to fall back asleep in just 10 minutes, this might add more pressure and anxiety to your night. And we don’t want that!

2. Balancing Breath

The nervous system is so vast that, if you were to place all your nerves in a direct line, that line would reach around the world 2.5 times.¹ Breathing skillfully can help balance the nervous system and support relaxation, and if you’re calmer it will be easier to fall back asleep when you wake up at 2 am.    

To help you relax, let your exhales be longer than your inhales. This action activates the parasympathetic nervous system (commonly called “rest and digest” mode), the part of the body’s autonomic nervous system that controls our natural ability to relax.

The more you practice this exercise the more your system can register this breathing pattern as something positive, potentially helping you fall asleep faster in the middle of the night.

3. Yoga Nidra 

Yoga nidra is the primary tool that got me sleeping again after years of insomnia. Yoga nidra is a yogic method that encourages sleep—a guided deep relaxation that works to release tension from the five layers of the being (in yoga, the panchamaya kosha). Research shows that this practice can help with both sleep and anxiety—and the best part is that you just have to lie down, press play, and listen to receive the benefits! This guided meditation supports your inner ability to heal by setting the stage for your body and mind. Yoga nidra can calm the racing mind, thereby reducing stress in the moment and creating the conditions for falling back asleep. 

I recommend trying different yoga nidra recordings during the day to find one you like. Be sure the recording is ready to use upon waking up at night.

4. Calming Mudra

Hridaya Mudra // Photo by Ale Saldaña

Clients I’ve worked with find mudras (gestures) fascinating. They are simple, portable, and can be very effective. A mudra is a symbolic gesture using your body, hands, and/or fingers to stimulate bodily systems responsible for processes like breathing, the flow of energy, and moods.

Hridaya mudra, the gesture of the spiritual heart, offers a calming touch in the moment. This simple gesture directs awareness and energy into the heart center, cultivating a sense of trust and safety. It can help release stress-related tension from the chest. Hridaya mudra is also said to instill a greater sense of confidence in meeting challenges, which reduces the effects of stress and supports the immune system. 

To try hridaya mudra now, simply place your right hand across your heart and your left hand on top of your right. Breathe naturally and rest your awareness on the calming touch of hands to heart. Rest here 1–2 minutes and enjoy the benefits your healing hands have to offer.

5. Feet Focus 

Mindfulness practice can reduce stress, and one way to practice mindfulness is by focusing on an area of the body. I find that because the feet are relatively far from the brain, focusing on them offers a nice buffer against distraction from all those stories that can keep one up at night. Breathe naturally and focus on your feet, letting yourself rest instead of trying to fall back asleep immediately. Sense your feet, bringing your attention back to your breath and feet any time you get distracted by thoughts.

As you integrate these tools into your sleep routine, give yourself time to explore, mixing and matching the tools that feel right. 

Monica Le Baron, MBA, C-IAYT, helps ambitious women simplify their wellness so they sleep better and have more energy to enjoy life.

1. Parker, S. (2013). The human body book. Munich: DK.

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