5 Yoga Tips for Insomnia
Having trouble falling asleep? Here are some tips and tools that have worked for me.
I used to really struggle with falling asleep. I would lay awake for hours each night for a few years.
I have gathered here my Top 5 most successful tips to help fall asleep to share with you.
Tip #1 - Stretch 5 Minutes Before Bed
Stretching increases blood flow and can relieve muscle tension. These results can help you fall asleep faster and improve quality of sleep.
The more relaxed your body is before going to bed, the better your chances are for sleep.
So right before bed, stretch it out! You might do this IN bed even.
Special Bonus Tip: Forward Folds are your friend. Folding forward encourages relaxation, letting go, and inward focus. Some calming forward folds to try in bed are Child's Pose, Butterfly Fold (Baddha Konasana variation), Frog, and Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold with legs outstretched - keep a gentle bend in the knees for the before-bed version).
Tip #2 - Tense and Release Body Scan - (Guided or Self-Guided)
This is my favourite element of a Yoga Nidra or Yogic Sleep. If you've been to a yoga class, you might be familiar with the guided meditation that happens at the end of class while students lay in savasana - this is a Yoga Nidra.
And one part of a yoga nidra is a relaxation body scan.
This is where the teacher will guide the student(s) to bring attention to each body part individually and to invite relaxation to enter that part of the body. There are many many variations of this same idea - you might be invited to send your breath to certain body parts, you might be asked to visualize the muscles relaxing, etc.
The version of this exercise that I encourage people to try on their own at home (and the version that has worked best for me at home) is a Tense & Release body scan.
To practice a tense and release body scan, find yourself lying comfortably in bed. Dorsiflex the feet - that is, flex the toes up towards the shins. Hold this flexion for about 10 seconds. Don't hold your breath! You are still breathing while you keep this tension in your feet. Then relax the feet, let go of the holding. Try next pointing the toes (plantar flexion) and hold the feet in this position for about 10 seconds, then release. Observe the feet feeling heavier, more relaxed. Good. Now start to move up the body - engage the calf muscles, hold, and release. Raise the kneecaps and engage the quadriceps, hold, and release. Glute muscles next, and keep moving up the body. Don't forget the hands and arms. Make your way up to the face (if you're not asleep yet).
You might guide yourself through this process, or there are audio recordings of this process available.
Tip #3 - 4-7-8 breath! This is a game-changer.
Inhale for a count of four, retain the breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. Focus all your attention on this. Repeat.
Breathing in this particular pattern alters the state of the nervous system. It physiologically takes a person from 'fight/flight/freeze' to 'relaxation response,' activated by the vagus nerve.
This breath pattern changes the speed of the heart beat and therefore the amount of oxygen going to the brain.
I have been using this breath technique to help me fall asleep for a decade, and about 70% of the time I am asleep within 5 rounds.
Try it out and let me know if it works for you!
Tip #4 - Brahmari Pranayama - Bee Humming Breath.
This technique has a very calming effect on the mind. It may enhance the effect to gently cover the face with the hands while practicing this.
Simply inhale and exhale through the nose. On the exhalations, produce a humming sound that comes from the palate or throat (not the nose).
Continue as long as desired.
I personally use this in combination with the other methods listed here, especially if I feel excited or overstimulated before bed.
Tip #5 - left nostril breathing
This technique is from the ancient yoga texts and 'Svara Yoga,' the science of yoga.
I will keep this brief - know that there are multiple blog posts worth of valuable information that I am just barely touching on here.
In this philosophy, the left and right nostrils are each part of one of two main channels in the body: Ida Nadi, and Pingala Nadi.
Ida Nadi (left nostril) represents Yin - cool, calm, dark, feminine.
Pingala Nadi (right nostril) represents Yang - hot, energized, bright, masculine.
We all generally breath in and out of one nostril at a time. Go ahead and check which Nadi is currently active for you - hold a finger near the top lip and notice which side you feel more air movement coming from as you exhale.
The body automatically switches which nostril is active, every 60-100 minutes.
Now, it is absolutely possible to fall asleep while breathing through the right nostril - I myself have done it. However, one may find it easier or more successful trying to fall asleep if they breath through the left nostril - the calm nostril.
So, to encourage your breath to move through the left nostril as you lay in bed, roll onto your right side. Laying on the right will help to clear the left sinuses.
Next, use the right thumb to block the right nostril. Find a comfortable spot for your arm.
Breath in and out through the left nostril, keeping your breath as slow and smooth as you can. Invite the breath to become even slower, even smoother.
I use all of these techniques, sometimes combined, regularly with success. I wish success for you too.