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Trouble Sleeping? Try Yoga

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Can yoga really help cure insomnia? It seems impossible, but many studies indicate that yoga is effective at fighting insomnia. Find out how in the article below.

Insomnia can be triggered by a variety of conditions, diseases, and events in a person’s life. Common insomnia triggers include stress, illness, pregnancy, anxiety, depression, medication, poor sleep habits, and a variety of other conditions. Some cases of insomnia are temporary, while others can last for several weeks, months, or even years.

There are almost as many treatment methods for insomnia as there are causes of the condition. Treatments range from simple diet changes to medications and everything in between.

Since so many different things can lead to insomnia, not all treatment methods are equally effective for each person’s insomnia. However, studies have shown that one practice can lead to a reduction in a variety of insomnia symptoms.

Is Insomnia Really That Bad?

According to The Center for Disease Control, about 35 percent of Americans sleep less than 7 hours a night. Approximately 40 percent of Americans suffer from insomnia at least once a year. 15 percent of American adults have chronic insomnia. Although insomnia is a serious condition, many adults brush it off, not realizing the significance of a lack of sleep. According to numerous studies, insomnia can have devastating effects on your health. For example, chronic insomnia can lead to health complications like high blood pressure, greater inflammation in the body, heart attacks, brain damage, reduced cognitive function, anxiety, depression, obesity and weight gain, and a variety of other harmful conditions.

Side Effects of Insomnia 
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Heart attacks
  • Brain damage
  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obesity and weight gain

With so many health issues stemming from a lack of sleep, it is imperative that individuals with insomnia do whatever they can to improve the duration and quality of their sleep. A lifestyle that promotes healthy sleep is a lifestyle that promotes overall health.

Yoga for Insomnia

Yoga is a beneficial form of exercise with many benefits ranging from improved physical strength and health, breathing improvements, enhanced mental focus, and an overall reduction in stress. In addition to these studies, several studies have shown that yoga is effective at reducing signs of insomnia.

Study 1

A 2012 study conducted by the Universidade Federal de São Paulo in Brazil found surprising results after the researchers tried to determine if yoga was effective at reducing menopausal symptoms. Researchers found that women who practiced yoga regularly showed a reduction in insomnia severity and duration, as well as a variety of other benefits. The main purpose of this study from Brazil was to determine if yoga could have a positive effect on the mental and physical health of postmenopausal women who also were diagnosed with insomnia.

The study looked at 44 women between the ages of 50 and 65 with an apnea-hypopnea index of less than 15 with diagnosed insomnia. The women were divided into three groups: a control group, a yoga group, and a passive stretching group. Each woman filled out a questionnaire about quality of life, anxiety or depression, climacteric symptoms, the severity of insomnia, stress levels, and daytime sleepiness. The women filled out their questionnaires at the beginning and end of the 4-month study period.

By the end of the study, the women in the yoga group showed lower scores for insomnia severity and climacteric symptoms and higher scores for resistance to stress and quality of life. Women in the yoga group showed the biggest benefit over the control group and the passive stretching group. Study researchers concluded that yoga can be effective in reducing the symptoms of insomnia as well as provide other benefits to women.

Study 2

A similar study, also conducted in 2012, by Harvard Medical School, showed that yoga is beneficial for men and women suffering from insomnia. The study looked at how yoga could affect sleep for people with chronic insomnia. The researchers found that insomnia symptoms lessened when men and women engaged in daily yoga practices. The study looked at a variety of people with varying types of insomnia symptoms (primary and secondary). Primary insomnia develops on its own, not related to other health problems and sleep disorders. Secondary insomnia is insomnia caused by other medical conditions, like cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, substance abuse, or depression.

The researchers gave 20 subjects training in basic yoga positions and breathing techniques. Participants were asked to engage in yoga daily for 2 months. Participants kept a sleep diary for 2 weeks before starting yoga and throughout the 8-week study period.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that daily yoga benefited study participants in sleep time, wake time, how long it takes to fall asleep, and wake time after sleep onset.

Similar Study Results

Two additional studies looking at sleep disorders for individuals with various sleep disorders showed similar results. A 2006 study conducted by the University of Calgary in Canada examined the benefits of yoga on the sleep habits of 410 women recovering from breast cancer. The study found that engaging in yoga twice a week for 75 minutes improved quality of life, reduced feelings of fatigue, and reduced the frequency that the women used sleep medication.

Another study conducted by the University of Washington in 2011 looked at how yoga benefited women with osteoarthritis-related sleep problems. Women were asked to try evening yoga for 20 weeks with one 75 minute class a week. These women showed improvements in sleep efficiency and a decrease in the number of problem sleep nights.

How Yoga Benefits Sleep

So, how exactly does yoga promote healthy sleep? Few studies have looked at precisely why or how yoga benefits sleep, but there are solid theories behind the known benefits of yoga that could explain how yoga promotes healthy sleep. Yoga benefits the body in a variety of ways. Yoga stimulates the nervous system and brain, which increases circulation throughout the body. This could trigger blood circulation to the sleep center in the brain, helping to increase the production of sleep-promoting hormones (like melatonin) and normalizing the sleep cycle of the body.

Calm breathing and clearing the mind helps remove stress from the body and increases oxygen to every cell. Physically letting go of stress can be an extremely powerful tool in promoting healthy sleep. When you put away thoughts that stress you or keep the mind awake, you are relaxed enough to listen to your body’s sleep cues. The practice of mentally focusing and clearing the mind helps you put away thoughts of stress and anxiety. Yoga can help you train your brain to let go of information and focus on sleep. Reducing total body stress will also make sleep more restful, leading to healthier, longer sleep.

In some cases, the stretches of yoga can also reduce how much pain you feel in your body from other conditions (like cancer, fibromyalgia, or arthritis). A reduction in pain levels will also make sleep easier.

Other Ways to Promote Sleep

There are a few other methods you can try that will help restore your normal sleep cycle and improve your overall health. Try adding these methods in addition to practicing yoga daily to get the best sleep of your life.

Add Supplements

A few supplements have been proven to promote healthy sleep habits. You will often find these ingredients in nighttime tea mixtures, but taking them in supplement form may provide additional benefits.

Magnesium: Did you know that magnesium is an essential mineral for sleep? Magnesium is essential for shutting down brain activity at night. Add a magnesium supplement to your daily supplement routine, or try eating magnesium-rich foods, like almonds, leafy greens, and wheat germ.

Hops: Hops are a sleep-inducing herb that can help you sleep easier at night. A 2005 study conducted by Université Laval in Canada showed that a daily supplement of valerian, hops, and diphenhydramine was effective at helping individuals with insomnia sleep easier.

Chamomile: Chamomile has mild sedative properties, which makes it the perfect supplements for promoting sleep. Researchers believe that it may be the flavonoid apigenin that binds with benzodiazepine receptors in the brain and induces sleep.

Lemon balm: Lemon balm is also a mild sedative that can help promote sleep. According to the University of Maryland, in one study, 81 percent of participants who supplemented with lemon balm and valerian slept better at night.

Valerian: According to the National Institute of Health, in a study of 104 people, those taking a mixture of valerian and hops each night showed a reduction in symptoms of insomnia.

Avoid Distractions

Distractions will prevent you from feeling sleepy at night. Has this ever happened to you? When you first arrive home after work, you feel exhausted. You try to get through your evening activities as soon as possible so you can get to bed quickly. Throughout the night, you start getting involved with something, like a TV show or video game, and suddenly, you’re up later than you wanted to be. But, you still have to get up again at the normal time the next day, so you get even less sleep. The routine may continue until the weekend where you may be able to squeeze in an extra hour or two of sleep, but not enough to catch up from your missing sleep from the week. So, you spend most of your days exhausted, irritable, and stressed.

Distractions like TV shows, video games, and other nighttime activities can interfere with your body’s natural sleep rhythms. The best way to prevent distractions from interfering with your sleep is by removing them from your sleep zone. For example, you could remove all electronic items from your bedroom. Or, you might try ceasing all electronic activity after 10 PM. Removing these sleep-fighting distractions can go a long way toward helping you sleep better at night.

Set a Routine

It turns out, routines are good for everyone. Just like how you probably go the same way to work each day, or sit in the same spot in every meeting or class, going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time each day is beneficial. A routine helps your body’s internal clock regulate, which helps you get the sleep that you desperately need. However, you should make sure that your routine allows you to sleep at least seven hours each night, which is the least amount recommended by The National Sleep Foundation.

A routine will also help your body prepare for sleep each day. Habits will make it easier to get to sleep each night. Try a brief session of sleep-promoting yoga poses for two months, and see if that doesn’t help you sleep better and encourage healthy sleep habits.

Promoting Healthy Sleep With Yoga

Yoga is a beneficial exercise program that not only benefits the physical body, but also improves the mind. Yoga is highly effective in reducing insomnia symptoms in a wide range of individuals whether they had primary or secondary forms of insomnia. If you want to sleep better at night, adding a daily routine of yoga for at least 20 minutes per night should provide multiple sleep-related benefits. For maximum effectiveness, however, a multi-faceted approach to encouraging sleep will help you sleep better naturally and avoid the need for dangerous sleep-inducing medications.





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