The Yogi's Way to a Good Night's Sleep

Self-Care & Mental Health

Catching my nightly Z's has been getting more challenging during my life after 50. What about you? Is your mind racing when your head hits the pillow? Still experiencing menopausal night sweats? Is your body exhausted?

Since yoga has helped me to lower my stress levels during the day, I asked my friend Alene Brennan, health coach and yoga instructor, if she had any yogic advice that might work during the wee hours of the night. Here's an excerpt from our chat:

J: What principles do yogis follow in regards to sleep?
A: Yogis follow Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga and one of the world's oldest healing systems. Ayurveda offers simple routines that can create balance and a restful sleep.

J: I've always wanted to learn about Ayurveda—tell me more.
A: A good night's rest begins with the time that you wake up each morning. According to Ayurveda, there are cycles of energy in nature throughout the day, and the more you synchronize your daily routine with nature's clock, the better balanced your energy will be throughout the day.

J: So what time does nature awaken?
A: Ideally you want to rise by 6 a.m., or before sunrise. This is known as Vatta time when the energy is fresh and full of renewal. Rise and shine to welcome the new day and sync your internal clock and energy with that of nature.

J: When I was working full-time, I used to rise at 6 a.m. Now my alarm goes off at 7:30 a.m. Sounds like I may have to make some adjustments.
A: Yes, but do it gradually. With Ayurveda, you want to ease your body into things and avoid the stress caused by force and strain.

J: What role does exercise play in Ayurveda?
A: Daily exercise is a vital part of the Ayurvedic morning routine. It improves circulation, strengthens digestion and helps to manage stress—all of which lead to a sound night's sleep. Choose an exercise that you enjoy—walking, yoga, dance, tennis, etc.—anything that gets your muscles more limber and your heart rate pumping.

J: What is a yogi's diet like? Does it impact sleep?
A: Yogis eat breakfast. The body goes through a natural detoxification throughout the night, so breakfast is a time to nourish your body with fuel for your day.

By lunchtime you've entered into the Pitta cycle. The sun has reached the middle of the sky and energy is high. This high energy is reflected in our body with strong digestion. According to Ayurveda, this is the time to eat your largest meal of the day.

Around 6 p.m. you're entering Kapha time, when we naturally begin slowing down. Enjoy a light meal in a relaxed environment. After dinner, close the kitchen. Late-night snacking can interrupt sleep and the natural detoxification process that your body goes through.

J: Sounds like I may need to adjust my eating patterns and my after-dinner snacking. How else can I pamper myself?
A: Dedicate the hour leading up to bedtime to relaxation. It will signal the body that it's time to transition into rest. Turn off the electronics and dim the lights to set the mood, and pamper yourself with this special time. Brew a cup of chamomile tea, take a warm bath, journal your gratitude in a beautiful journal.

J: What stretches will help me to relax my body?
A: There are yoga practices that can prepare the body for sleep. Forward folds such as child's pose (balasana) and reclined poses such as legs-up-the-wall (viparita karani) are especially calming to the nervous system. Other practices such as nidra or yin yoga are beneficial. Mindful breathing can be relaxing. Click here to watch my mindful sleeping video.

J: What's the best time to go to sleep?
Snuggle into bed no later than 10 p.m. Kapha time. According to Ayurveda, you're likely to get a second wind around 10:30 p.m., making it harder to fall asleep, so the time at which you go to bed makes a difference. If this time greatly differs from your current bedtime, gradually adjust. Start going to bed 15 minutes earlier until you arrive at your desired time.

J: Any other tips for a good night's sleep?
A: It's equally important to feel comfortable in your bedding. If needed, treat yourself to room-darkening shades, soft sheets, new sleepwear—whatever will make you feel relaxed.

Nighty night!

This post originally appeared on


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