(Hopefully) We all know sleep is crucial to our well-being, and it’s quality is a big determinant in how happy and healthy we are day to day – there’s no question we feel better after a good nights rest. However, most of us will encounter sleep disturbances through out our lives – in fact, one out of three people will experience insomnia at some point in their life.
A mere week of unrest or sleep deprivation can cause severe changes in mood: depression, decreases in emotional regulation, and obvious depletion. On the contrary, it seems that a good night’s rest can enhance the positive feelings and states of being. There’s really something to the idea of “sleeping off” difficult experiences.
So what does affect quality of sleep? Well, three common factors include stress, hormonal imbalances, and obesity. When you are experiencing one or more of these, your body is going to be operating more in the sympathetic nervous system state – also called ‘fight or flight”. This is a more heightened state of being, and it’s very hard for your body to relax, ‘let go’, enter sleep onset (the natural oncoming of sleep), and stay asleep through the night. You see, the body cannot tell the difference between an external and internal threat or imbalance – it only see that’s something’s not right and in order to survive, it must be switched on and ready to either fight or run away from the stressor.
How Yoga can improve sleep quality is that firstly, it helps move you into the parasympathetic nervous system – this is when you’re functioning more in a rest and digest state of being. The long slow breathing exercises, combined with stretching and stillness, help increase parasympathetic dominance. This is where stagnant energy has shifted, the mind has calmed, physical tension releases, and emotion dissipates. The stiffness has gone and in this state, its much easier to move into the natural onset of sleep.
Leading on from this, a second therapeutic benefit of yoga is that in this parasympathetic state, your body is more receptive to change and healing. Your endocrine (hormonal) system is gradually rebalanced, your muscular skeletal system is realigned and strengthened, leading to body transformation, and your mind-body connection is increased, improving awareness and confidence. You really do leave with a renewed mind and body, each time you come to a yoga class.
Researchers seem to agree. In one study on yoga and sleep, participants practiced Bikram yoga regularly over a two week period, and results showed they woke up fewer times in the night, a sign of better sleep quality.
A regular yoga practice can greatly improve your overall health, including the quality of sleep you achieve each night. Have you noticed any positive changes in your sleep or general health since practicing Bikram or Yin Yoga at our studio? We’d love to hear your stories and feedback!