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Exercise can be useful for normalizing sleep patterns. Exercise not only burns calories and body fat, it also helps to reduce stress and raises body temperature, potentially promoting deep sleep at night. Engaging in yoga for sleep improvement, in particular, has even more benefits on your overall health.
An analysis of more than 2,600 men and women ages 18 to 85 showed that people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they meet the current U.S. physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise a week. After controlling for age, body mass index, health status, smoking status, and depression, the relative risk of often feeling overly sleepy during the day decreased by 65 percent for participants meeting the guidelines. Similar results were found for having leg cramps while sleeping (68 percent less likely) and having difficulty concentrating when tired (45 percent decrease).
The best time for exercise to maximize sleep is in the late afternoon or early evening (try a brisk walk after dinner) but avoid vigorous aerobic exercise within three hours of bedtime, since it can be stimulating and may lengthen the time it takes you to fall asleep. That said, yoga and stretching can be good nighttime exercises, because they can help relax you and enhance your ability to fall asleep. Stretching also can help relieve muscle tension and pain—two other sleep stealers.
How Yoga Benefits the Mind and Body
More than 36 million Americans practice yoga, and while it is widely touted as a stress-buster that boosts emotional well-being, it also offers wide-ranging physical health benefits. It increases muscle strength and flexibility and can improve balance and help prevent falls, as well as easing muscular aches and pains. Several small studies suggest that its combination of gentle stretching, slow, deep breathing, and mindfulness may improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure. Your brain also may benefit—yoga’s meditative exercises help to calm the mind and body, keeping distracting thoughts away. It is possible these processes may persist beyond yoga practice to assist you in performing mental tasks and day-to-day activities.
You also may sleep better if you regularly engage in yoga, particularly if lingering symptoms of menopause have been causing wakefulness. In a 2013 study, postmenopausal women who attended a weekly 90-minute yoga session reported improvements in their insomnia symptoms.
Go with the Flow
“Hatha yoga” is an umbrella term for forms of yoga, such as yin and vinyasa, that incorporate breathwork, active postures, and, in many classes, meditation. Yin yoga is more gentle, with positions being held for longer; vinyasa is more flowing, meaning that you move slowly but seamlessly from one posture to the next, matching your movement to your breaths. The result is relaxation, as you clear your mind of clutter. Over time, you develop a capacity to be less reactive to daily stresses by breathing through them.
Throughout a gentle yoga class, be sure to focus on your own body and not what other participants are doing. Each pose should feel comfortable and strong. Never push beyond the point of comfort, and don’t worry about how your pose looks compared to someone else’s.
What to Avoid When Practicing Yoga for Sleep
Steer clear of bikram, or “hot” yoga. Because this type of yoga is done in a heated room, it can cause problems for people with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular issues. And if you’re dehydrated going in—which is the case for many older adults—you can become even more dehydrated as you exercise, raising the risk of heat exhaustion. Hot yoga classes often push participants in ways that are potentially harmful and may not provide modifications to the standard moves.
Avoid doing yoga poses on your own, whether by following a DVD, the internet, or a book, unless you’ve already taken supervised classes and know how to do the poses. Working on your own without guidance increases your risk of injury. Remember, too, that your yoga instructor is a teacher and guide, not a health-care provider. If you hurt yourself in class or don’t feel right afterward, see your doctor, physical therapist, or other medical professional.
To learn about more about yoga for sleep, purchase Improving Sleep from www.UniversityHealthNews.com.