The modern world is a stressful place. Over-prioritization of hectic work schedules and deadlines, more traffic on the roads than ever before, and financial worries are just a few of the rising number of factors that are drowning us in stress. And among other things, stress has a negative knock-on effect on the quality of our sleep.
A recent study by the US. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that over a third of Americans are getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. A lack of sleep has far more damaging effects than merely leaving us tired and zombie-like in the mornings. Diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes are the big hitters among a number of other health problems that can arise because of insufficient sleep.
In the not too distant past, sleeping pills were seen as the most successful solution to deal with sleep deprivation and disorders such as insomnia, but a recent study has shed more light on the remarkable effects that an all-natural remedy has on sleep. The remedy is yoga.
In the study, researchers at the Harvard Medical School documented the effects of a routine yoga session before bedtime on participants suffering from insomnia. The participants first kept sleep diaries for two normal weeks before they were taught some basic yoga poses to practice before they went to sleep at night. The participants of the study then carried on their sleep diaries for eight further weeks in which they performed the yoga routine prior to bedtime.
The study concluded that performing even a brief session of yoga routinely before bedtime helps to improve not only the length of sleep, but the quality of it too. It’s thought that yoga aids sleep in several ways. It has been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – in the brain allowing the mind and body to “switch off” and fall asleep easier.
The breathing exercises associated with yoga are also believed to play an important part in better sleep. Yoga breathing exercises increase the circulation of oxygen in the body, effectively relaxing the body and mind.
Finally, practicing yoga on a regular basis before bedtime creates a healthy routine – an important factor of sleep hygiene. The additional advantage of yoga for better sleep is that, unlike sleeping pills, the practice has no side effects and doesn’t produce the negative effect of habituation.