A good night’s sleep

People who suffer from insomnia struggle with sleep—and with the anxiety and fear cycle that can perpetuate the trouble of getting enough quality rest. Stress is a prime reason for insomnia, and as sufferer and IAYT-certified yoga therapist Charley Hickey says, “I feel like it is something you have to keep managing.”

Yoga is her go-to tool for keeping her insomnia in check, and research supports this approach. According to an article from Harvard Medical School yoga may help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and sleep more soundly—without the negative side effects of medication.” 

Charley shares that yoga is a long-term approach to managing insomnia. Teaching yourself how to drop into a relaxed state and then fall to sleep (and stay asleep!) takes practice. Consistency and patience while you learn the practices are important. Management of insomnia with yoga means creating a consistent routine to regularly reinforce relaxation and sound sleep.

The anxiety-fear-sleeplessness cycle

Often when we’re trying to fall asleep, our minds jump around or fixate on problems. Then the fact that we’re ruminating instead of sleeping adds another layer of anxiety, which can turn into fear that we won’t be able to sleep or sleep for long enough. Before we know it, we’re caught in a self-perpetuating cycle.

Yoga therapy can offer clever solutions for interrupting this cycle.

How yoga helps

Yoga’s most heralded health effect is its ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system—our relaxation response. When we are relaxed, we are not anxious or fearful—two emotions that have the ability to override our rational mind telling us we should be sleeping. Yoga has many practices, from physical movements to breathing practices and a wide variety of meditation techniques, that can support the relaxation response.

The key is finding practices that work for you—and sticking with them. The Harvard article notes impressive improvements in sleep after a daily 30-minute practice for 8 weeks. The positive impact on sleep—improving how quickly a person nods off, how long they sleep, and whether they awaken during the night—was even more substantial in people who practiced yoga daily for 2 years or more.