After a long, stressful day of work, it can be challenging to relax in the evening, and you may still feel too revved up at bedtime. Some people turn to an alcoholic drink or two to unwind, but that can actually make it harder to get restful sleep. A vigorous workout can help ease stress, but if done too close to bedtime, it can keep you up for even longer. Although some styles of yoga (such as vinyasa yoga with sun salutations) can be considered vigorous and should be avoided before bedtime, practising a few gentle, relaxation-inducing postures, along with deep breathing, can help you prepare for a good night's sleep. Keep a yoga mat rolled up by your bedside, and spend about 20 minutes before bed performing these poses.
1. Deep breathing
Although not considered a physical posture itself, the practice of breathing in yoga is a major factor in its calming effect on the brain and body. "To stabilize and strengthen the nervous system, I like to focus on the simple in and out flow of the breath," says Dr. Laurence Lisa Lebreton, a certified yoga teacher and holistic medicine practitioner. Before moving into your physical poses, take a few minutes to establish your breathing. Sitting in a comfortable position, breathe in and out through your nostrils up to 25 times, lengthening the exhalation as much as possible. Temani Aldine, a certified yoga instructor and vice president of communications at Dahn Yoga, recommends abdominal breathing -- drawing the breath deep into your belly, letting it expand with each inhalation and then exhaling completely so that your navel pulls in toward your spine.
2. Hero pose
Although its name sounds energizing, spending several minutes in hero pose before bed can help you relax. The pose is simple: Sit with your knees bent and your legs folded underneath you. The tops of your feet should be flat on the floor and your spine should be straight with your shoulders and head aligned over your hips. If this is too much pressure on your knees, place a block or pillow between your feet and rest your buttocks on it. "Hero pose is great for calming down," says certified yoga instructor, Temani Aldine. It helps stabilize you physically and emotionally. Aldine also says that sitting in the position stimulates pressure points on the tops of your feet that promote relaxation in the whole body.
3. Standing forward bend
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and fold forward at your hips, reaching your fingertips toward the ground. Keep a slight bend in your legs and rest your ribs on your thighs. Bend both arms and grab opposite elbows with opposite hands, letting your upper body completely relax. Next, Dr. Laurence Lisa Lebreton recommends using your fingertips to gently "brush off" the back of your head. "Manually remove the residue, the big stress of your day from your body. It's almost as if you could brush off the energy all around you," says Lebreton. If you have a lot of tension in your neck or shoulders or a tension headache, Lebreton recommends pressing your thumbs along the occipital bone at the base of your skull.
4. Cat-cow pose
This pose emphasizes relaxing and extending the spine, says certified yoga instructor, Temani Aldine. To do the pose, get onto your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. "Breathing is essential in this," says Aldine. As you inhale, gently drop your belly toward the floor as you lift your head and tailbone up toward the ceiling. Reverse the movement, exhaling deeply as you round your spine, tucking your chin in toward your chest. "In today's lifestyle, people hold a lot of tension in their backs," Aldine notes. "Any posture that can help you move your back and stretch your back is going to help you get deeper rest."
Related: How to do a cat-cow pose (VIDEO)
5. Plough pose
Certified yoga instructor, Temani Aldine, recommends a variation on plough pose that focuses on deep abdominal breathing. To get into this somewhat more advanced posture, lie on your back and bring your legs up and over your torso so that you can grab your feet or calves. You don't have to go all the way into the full plough posture, but Aldine says it's important to keep your shoulders firmly on the floor while lifting your tailbone. "The focus of your weight should be in the centre of your back, just below the shoulders, which is also an important pressure point," says Aldine. "If you open that pressure point, it favours deeper breathing and relaxation."
Related: How to do a plough pose (VIDEO)
6. Child's pose
"We need to teach this to everyone," Dr. Laurence Lisa Lebreton says about child's pose, which she recommends sitting in for several minutes before bedtime. To get into the pose, sit Japanese-style and then bring your knees apart very wide, keeping your big toes touching. Lower your torso down and rest your forehead on the floor. "Because we press our head down, it really soothes the nervous system," says Lebreton. Keep your core engaged and extend your arms out in front of you or along your sides. Lebreton also emphasizes that your buttocks should be touching your heels in this pose if possible. If that's not possible, take a pillow or bolster and place it behind the backs of your knees to elevate your sit bones.
7. Extended final resting posture
This may seem too simple to be effective, but a certified yoga instructor, Temani Aldine, ensures that doing this posture before bed will bring on a more restful sleep. To do this pose, lie on your back, extend your arms overhead and then point your index fingers. "You create a line from the feet all the way up the arms, elbows and those index fingers, and this really helps to relax the upper back," says Aldine. Many people hold tension in the upper back, so this can help release that tension and promote relaxation. Aldine recommends just breathing naturally in this posture, focusing on relaxing your arms above your head and feeling your shoulders relax. "The only thing you have to stretch is your index fingers. It really helps to relax the spine and upper back."
8. Legs-up-the-wall pose
In inverted poses, such as the legs-up-the-wall pose, the blood rushes back toward your heart and head, which Dr. Laurence Lisa Lebreton, describes as "clearing up your head" and says is very effective at relieving stress. To get into the pose, sit on the floor perpendicular to a wall. Swing your legs up so that your buttocks are square with the wall and as close to it as possible while resting your entire back on the floor. Extend your legs up the wall. You can put a pillow or bolster underneath your hips to make this pose a little easier and more supported. Extend your arms alongside your body with your palms facing up. Lebreton recommends staying here for as long as you can but says that five minutes is ideal.
Drawing on her background in holistic medicine, certified yoga teacher Dr. Laurence Lisa Lebreton recommends performing a twist to compress the spleen, which she says in traditional Chinese medicine is considered responsible for digestion "not only of food, but of your day, the digestion of what's going on." (In traditional Chinese medicine, the spleen can be more closely equated with the pancreas, rather than the western spleen, whose main function is simply to store blood.) Spending a few minutes in a twist, Lebreton says, can help you clear away some of the mental debris that makes it harder to sleep peacefully. To perform this twist, lying on your back, extend your arms out to either side with your palms facing down so that your body forms a "T." Draw your knees toward your chest and, keeping your shoulders on the floor, drop your knees over to the right as you turn your head to the left. Breathe here for one or two minutes and then bring your knees over toward the left side as you turn your head to the right. If your knees can't touch the floor without your shoulders lifting, place a pillow underneath them for support.
Related: How to do a yoga twists (VIDEO)
10. Final Resting Posture
In your final posture before bed, you'll let your body completely relax and allow the full benefits of the poses you've just done to take effect. Returning to normal breathing, lie on your back with your arms at your sides and a little away from your body, with the palms of your hands facing up toward the ceiling. Let your legs relax so that your feet fall out to the side. Close your eyes and let your body fully release, but don't fall asleep just yet. "In this [pose], what matters is to stay aware of what's going on without engaging into the process," explains Dr. Laurence Lisa Lebreton. "The mind and the body deeply rest, relax and renew."
What's Your Evening Routine?
After completing these postures, you should feel relaxed enough to lie in bed and fall into a deep, lasting sleep. However, keep in mind that the benefits of a regular yoga practice take time to achieve. You may find that if you do this practice each night, your sleep will become better and more restful over time. In addition to your yoga practice, you might want to make other lifestyle changes that contribute to a more restful sleep including reducing your alcohol intake, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening and avoiding eating foods that can disrupt your sleep, such as spicy foods, too soon before bed. Did you try these poses? Did they help you achieve a more restful sleep? Do you have a “bedtime ritual” or routine that helps you fall asleep? Leave a comment below and let us know.