Last updated on July 27th, 2017
Americans are overworked, overstressed, and overstimulated. We work longer days, take fewer vacations, sleep less, and retire later in life than the rest of the world.
With these facts in mind, do we really need to question why we are prone to chronic diseases, mental disorders, and premature death? Our mindset of going like the Energizer bunny leaves us little time to make ourselves a priority and get the adequate rest we need to do so.
Here, we’ll explore how lack of proper sleep goes correlates with stress and health issues. We’ll also discover how yoga and meditation can be powerful tools to combat this serious problem.
Why sleep is vital
One major issue that is beginning to get more traction is sleep deprivation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified this problem as a public health epidemic, with 50 to 70 million adults suffering from insufficient sleep. In fact, most Americans get less than an average of seven hours per night.
Sleep deficiency and stress go hand in hand. For those of us who struggle with insomnia or any other sleep disorder, our inability to get sufficient sleep and feel well the following day causes additional stress and anxiety, taking a toll on our mental wellbeing. It also reduces our efficiency and productivity and negatively impacts our judgment, mood, and ability to retain information.
Despite compelling evidence that suggests inadequate sleep results in serious health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, there is a lack of awareness and effective strategies to combat this rising issue.
How yoga and meditation can benefit your sleep
Before using prescription medications like Ambien to get adequate rest, there are several habits you can implement to help promote and improve the quality of your sleep. These habits include establishing a set sleep schedule, creating an ideal sleep environment, getting regular exercise, and incorporating yoga and meditation practices.
Yoga specifically offers a wide range of physical and mental benefits. The soothing, restorative practice of yoga reduces stress, relieves tension in the body, and quiets the mind, thus serving as a natural sleep aid.
The most powerful component of yoga is the Ujjayi breath, which is deep, controlled breathing in and out through the nose. There is proven scientific evidence that this style of breathing assists in relaxation and has positive effects on the heart, brain, and digestive and immune systems.
Combine the Ujjayi breath with the following poses, which you can try at home to induce relaxation and encourage a good night’s rest.
‘Child’s Pose’ (Bālāsana)
Most practices begin with child’s pose. You rest your forehead on your mat, reach your arms over your head, and take your knees wide so your hips can relax down toward your heels. Close your eyes and begin taking long, deep breaths.
Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
This gentle twist releases tension in the spine. Take a seated position, cross your right foot over your left knee, and connect your left elbow to the outside of your right knee, keeping your spine long. Deep, controlled breaths promote relaxation and more relief in this pose.
‘Legs up the Wall’ (Viparita Karani)
This pose is especially restorative and relaxing, as it releases tension from the legs and lower back, quiets the mind, and reduces stress and anxiety. Perform this pose by getting your hips as close to the base of a wall as you can and extending your legs up. Yogis recommend that you stay in this pose for at least five minutes, closing your eyes and focusing on your deep breathing as you do.
‘Corpse’ Pose (Savasana)
Savasana is typically the final resting pose in a yoga practice. Lie down on your back, either on the floor or a yoga mat. Completely relax your body, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. This pose promotes conscious relaxation as it encourages an inner awareness of the body and focus on breathing.
Yoga Nidra and Sleep
Yoga, however, is much more than a physical practice. Yoga nidra, often identified as “yogic sleep” is a form of guided meditation that brings awareness into the body, producing a state of deep relaxation and inner awareness. Meditation, in and of itself, has global effects on the body and brain, evoking a relaxation response, reducing anxiety and mind wandering.
Unlike the physical practice, yoga nidra is available to everyone, from children to seniors. It is done by lying down on your back and following a guided voice for as little as five minutes a day. For people who have difficulty falling asleep at night, this would be a highly beneficial practice to include as part of an evening routine.
If you’re noticing that you’re not getting enough sleep or quality sleep, it would be worth your time to try yoga and meditation as methods of relaxation. If those don’t work for you, there are a variety of tools you can use to get a good night’s sleep. It is a matter of trying different things and determining which works best for you.