Can doing yoga really improve your sleep?

Welcome to Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, where we’re taking a deep-dive into one of the most important (and elusive) factors in our day-to-day lives: sleep. To help us understand more about it, we’re inviting women to track their bedtime routines over a five-day period – and filing these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 49-year-old yoga instructor attempts to get back into her sleep routine.

A little about me:

Age: 49

Occupation:Yoga instructor and life coach

Number of hours sleep you get each night: seven

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: eight

Do you grind your teeth: yes, I grind my teeth and I have to wear a night guard

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): no

How much water you drink on average per day: 1.5-2 litres

How much exercise you do on average per week: five days a week

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Day 1

After visiting friends for an outdoor gathering, I get home at 8.15pm. Once home, I make a cup of tea and chat with a friend over the phone until 9.55pm.

I clean the kitchen and prepare for bed by brushing my teeth, putting in my night guard to prevent grinding my teeth, filling my water bottle up and taking a small drop of kava oil to support deep relaxation.

At 10.45pm I go to bed under my weighted blanket. The gathering left me feeling tired, so I fall asleep easily and soundly. 

Day 2

I wake up at 6am and doze for around half an hour and think about my dreams until 7.15am, when I actually get up. I teach a yoga class at 9am so end up having breakfast at 9.30am.

Sleep Diaries: “I wake up at 6am and doze for around half an hour and think about my dreams until 7.15am.”

I have a productive workday in my home office and choose to have a light dinner at 6pm. After dinner, I clean up odds and ends from work and then watch a comedy series on Netflix for a couple of hours. However, the distraction of the TV does not shake the agitation and stress I’ve got from work, so I go for an evening walk around the neighbourhood before bed in order to release it.On the walk, I bump into a friend on the way home and give them a big hug, so that’s nice.

I do my evening ritual of brushing my teeth, putting my night guard in and putting a drop of kava oil under my tongue. As always, when my head hits the pillow, I fall asleep. I feel like the kava oil really supports the quality of my sleep and works as a natural muscle relaxant.  

Day 3

I wake up at 4.15am to go to the toilet and then doze in and out of sleep until 7.30am. When I get up to go to the toilet in the morning, I do sometimes find it tough to get back to sleep – it is amazing how quickly the mind begins to turn, so I try to catch myself and focus on my breath instead of my thinking brain and that allows me to fall back to sleep again.

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I get up, put my yoga clothes on and leave for an 8.30am yoga class, getting home at 10am for breakfast. At 11am I join my friend at her family’s Fourth of July celebrations where I eat BBQ food and enjoy a beautiful, sociable time.

My friend and I go for a walk after we have our lunch, and I get home at 6pm. As soon as I get home, I make a fruit smoothie with some protein powder for my dinner before popping out at 9pm with friends to watch some fireworks.

I get to bed at 10.40pm. I am tired, this is a little too late for me – 10pm is better and it’s only now that I realise that. I do my normal bedtime routine and I fall asleep easily.

Day 4

I manage to wake up at 5am without an alarm and decide to start the day. It’s a Monday morning so I want to get a good start on the day and week ahead. I do some meditation and spend 10 minutes journaling before doing yoga practice and work all day.

Sleep Diaries: “The distraction of the TV does not shake the agitation and stress I’ve got from work, so I go for an evening walk around the neighbourhood.”

My girls have been at their dad’s over the weekend, so I picked them up from school at 5pm and made us all dinner at 5.30pm. We spend the rest of the evening hanging out together and at 7.30pm I get them ready for bed. I read them a story in bed at 8pm and my youngest falls asleep first, followed by my eldest daughter and me.

I woke up again at 9.15pm, so I was able to do a final clean of the kitchen before running myself a bath with Epsom salts and baking soda. I get to bed at 10.30pm.

Day 5

I wake up at 4.20am to go to the toilet and then go back to bed until my alarm wakes me at 5.20am. It’s really tough to get out of bed this morning, which means an early night is in store for me tonight – four nights of going to bed past 10.30pm is taking its toll on me. I record a yoga class and then start the day by getting the girls up, making breakfast, packing their lunch and sending them off to school.

The girls are at their dad’s this week, so I have dinner alone at 5.30pm. I spend my evening pottering about, listening to a podcast and reviewing my to-do list for work tomorrow. I go to bed at 9.30pm, which feels so good and I am extremely happy to crawl into bed under my weighted blanket, with the intention of getting back into my routine of being in bed at 9.45pm. I fall asleep quickly. 

So, what does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “What can I say? If it ain’t broke…

“Your lifestyle habits are exemplary, which isn’t surprising given what you do for a living. As per The Sleep Foundation, over 55% of yoga practitioners have said their sleep has improved as a result of their careers, and over 85% report reduced stress.

“In fact, many studies demonstrate that yoga can greatly reduce sleep disturbances, ranging from snoring to insomnia to restless leg syndrome (RLS), which can affect one’s overall quality of life. And, in his book A Journey Into Yin Yoga, renowned practitioner Travis Eliot describes the power of yoga for sleep, particularly when it comes to the relaxation-boosting child’s pose, noting that it ‘activates the nervous system’s relaxation response’.

“I wonder how your energy levels are in general? You don’t say but I imagine they are good given all of the great resources you have in place.”

Dr Nerina has 25 years experience as a sleep and meditation expert.

Dr Nerina continues: “I would just recommend that you avoid checking the time when you wake during the night. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, while it’s completely normal to wake up in the night, looking at the clock brings us into full awareness, which then makes it harder to fall asleep again.”

Dr Nerina finishes: “You’re doing the right thing using your breathwork to put yourself back to sleep, and your journaling is great for your bruxism (teeth grinding), as the more you release, the less tension you will hold in your jaw.

“To this end, you might also want to try doing more lion posture in your yoga practice with the emphasis on releasing sound when you open your mouth for the roar. Otherwise – great stuff! Keep up the good work.”

Images: Getty / Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

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