If stress is keeping you up at night, you’re in some good company. Insomnia is a national health threat in the USA affecting about 60 million Americans. Stress and insomnia are a highly related pair of problems. As one worsens, so does the other. Insomnia boosts stress; stress makes insomnia more likely.
Lack of healthy sleep leaves us stressed out, and so it goes, on and on. When people don’t get deep, restful sleep, performance in all aspects of life suffers. Insomnia contributes to the worsening of most major medical disorders and exacerbates mental illness. Not all insomnia is stress-related, but stress, especially chronic stress, is a big factor.
Yoga is good for a lot of things, but can it help you get better sleep? Actually, some experts say that it can. The number of ways in which yoga makes you a mentally and physically healthier person can help to give you healthier sleep patterns as well.
Stress is any state of elevated alertness, arousal, or awareness of the perception of a threat. Note that you don’t have to be under threat. An imagined or anticipated threat can be just as stressful as the real thing. Upon perception of a threat, your adrenal cortices leap into action. These small glands sit on top of your kidneys and release two powerful hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, directly into the bloodstream. Both hormones mediate your fight-or-flight response. In fact, that’s a lot of what stress is, as far as your body’s concerned.
Anxiety is the psychological manifestation of stress. We call it “nerves,” and that’s right on target because the nerves of the brain and body are more active—in all the wrong ways—when we’re anxious. Stress can be helpful, but anxiety never is. Chronic anxiety always asks the question “what if?” Try this little dose of ugliness: “What if I don’t get to sleep tonight, and I feel terrible tomorrow?”
When we’re stressed—even just a little—our bodies produce stress hormones. Those hormones cause our muscles to tense up in preparation to fight or flee. Overall awareness increases. Heart rate rises while the body shuts down several non-essential functions. Acute stress passes rapidly, but in modern American, chronic stress is the enemy of good sleep. Chronic stress endures day after day and is typically due to psychosocial problems and concerns. Everything from money troubles, relationship problems, and ongoing annoyances great and small are part of chronic stress.
That’s the insidious creeping part of chronic stress. It’s an accumulation of various troubles that keep our body’s alert system set to low or medium readiness. All day, every day. That ongoing stress wears us out. It doesn’t turn itself off at night. Chronic stress prevents us from sleeping, thus robbing us of physical and psychological regeneration.
Why Yoga Helps to Manage Stress
If your problems sleeping comes from stress, you should know that yoga can help you learn to manage stress.
Stress has both physical and mental symptoms, so the concerns of the day might keep your head busy after it hits the pillow, but it might also be disrupting your sleep rhythms so that even once you do fall asleep, your tossing and turning can leave you feeling tired.
Yoga helps people learn to focus on their body rather than on external stresses. It also helps you learn to relax the physical symptoms of stress in your body so that you can lie still and sleep well.
Yoga can help you deal with stress, but if you feel like you have an unusual or debilitating level of stress that is affecting your stress and other aspects of your life, consider talking to a healthcare provider about anxiety.
Apart from emotional stress that can come from a mentally demanding job, family problems, &c., there is also physical stress. This can come from anything from a physically demanding job to bad shoes or a bad mattress.
The long-term impacts of physical stress can leave your body in knots that make it hard to fall asleep, even when your mind is at ease. Fortunately, yoga can help with these physical pains as well by gently working muscles and stretching tendons and ligaments that can get tight throughout the day. Also, because of the slow and gentle pace of yoga, it won’t make it harder for you to fall asleep if you do it right before bed like other forms of exercise can. Just make sure that you don’t stretch too hard and hurt yourself any further.
Yoga can be a good complement to other approaches to pain management, but if your pain lasts for more than a couple of weeks or prevents you from doing normal activities, consider talking to a healthcare provider. Your pain could be a symptom of a more severe problem.
Even if you don’t have a great deal of physical or emotional stress, sometimes it can be hard to fall asleep. Trouble falling asleep can be caused by lots of things, like too much caffeine, dealing with jet-lag, being in a new time zone, or adjusting to daylight savings time, or just trying to fall asleep earlier.
Even when you don’t feel wound up, yoga before bed can be a great way to unwind a little further. If you’re not used to yoga, you might find it curing pains that you didn’t know you had!
Sometimes when you have trouble sleeping it can be because you are having trouble breathing. Sometimes this is the case because of mundane causes like an illness or poor posture. Yoga can help you understand and self-manage your breathing problems so that you can sleep better.
If breathing problems regularly keep you from falling asleep or if you wake up at night because of your breathing problems, consider talking to a healthcare provider. It could be a more serious condition like asthma or sleep apnea.
Depending on what’s keeping you up, yoga can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better by relaxing aches and pains and soothing your troubled mind. It can also help you understand your mind and body so that you can get to the bottom of why you are having trouble sleeping in the first place.