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Just as you crawl into bed, you remember that you forgot to finish your Calculus assignment (now you’ll need to wake up early to do it). Then you start stressing about the presentation you’re giving in Social Psych. tomorrow. On top of that, you’re still annoyed at your roomie for using the last of your toothpaste without asking. Your mind is racing and your heart starts pounding; how are you supposed to sleep?

Sometimes slowing down the mind and body is the hardest part of getting to sleep. But your fellow students have some tips.

“Yoga breathing exercises and resting poses, like child’s pose, revolved abdomen pose, and corpse pose, relax me and make me feel sleepy. It may also help to have soothing sounds play and focusing on a sound or someone talking,” says L. M., a third-year undergraduate at Queen’s University in Ontario.

“Yoga poses that wind me down before bed help me sleep much better and faster. When I forget, I notice the difference,” says K. S., a third-year undergraduate at Husson University in Maine.

Nearly half of students say they’ve used yoga poses, breathing exercises, or mindfulness practices to help them relax before bed, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey. Next time you’re feeling antsy at bedtime, try this relaxation sequence.

Forward fold pose

Before you jump into bed, try this pose to increase blood flow to the brain and settle your body and mind.

Instructions:

  • Stand with your feet hips-width apart.
  • Bend forward from your hips and allow your upper body to relax completely toward the floor. Let your hands hang down or hold onto the opposite elbow with each hand.
  • Bend your knees slightly to release the pressure on your low back and to take tension out of your hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your thighs).
  • Close your eyes. Breathe deeply for three to four slow breaths.
  • When you are ready, roll up slowly, bringing your head up very last.

Don’t stress about making these poses perfect or getting too deep into a stretch if it’s uncomfortable for you. This is all about finding what works for your body and relaxes you.

 

Wide-legged forward bend with a twist pose

After doing a traditional standing forward bend, try this twisting variation to add an easy spinal stretch.

Instructions:

  1. Start in a wide-legged stance with your feet two to three feet apart.
  2. Bend forward from your hips and place your left hand on the floor directly below your face. Bend your knees slightly or widen your stance if the backs of your legs feel tight.
  3. Reach your right hand up to the sky and look up toward your hand.
  4. Take three to four deep breaths as you hold this pose. Each time you inhale, try to straighten and lengthen your spine. Each time you exhale, twist a little deeper toward the right.
  5. Repeat the sequence on your other side by placing your right hand on the floor and reaching up with your left hand.
  6. After you’ve finished both sides, release into a forward fold and roll up slowly, lifting your head last.

Don’t stress about making these poses perfect or getting too deep into a stretch if it’s uncomfortable for you. This is all about finding what works for your body and relaxes you.

 

Childs pose

Get down on the floor or onto your bed for this centering, restorative pose.

Instructions:

  1. Kneel and bring your big toes together so they’re touching. Sit on your heels and spread your knees wide apart.
  2. Walk your hands forward and bring your torso down toward the floor.
  3. Rest your forehead on the ground and reach your arms straight out in front of you.
  4. Press your hands into the floor as you press your backside down onto your heels. Feel your back lengthening and your shoulders stretching.
  5. Close your eyes and take three to four deep breaths.

Don’t stress about making these poses perfect or getting too deep into a stretch if it’s uncomfortable for you. This is all about finding what works for your body and relaxes you.

 

Seated forward bend

This forward bend will help release any tension in your lower back and the backs of your legs, while also helping to reduce stress and anxiety.

Instructions:

  1. Sit on the floor or on your bed with your legs straight out in front of you. Make sure that your toes are facing the ceiling and the inner thighs, knees, and heels are touching.
  2. Sit up straight and then exhale as you bend from the hips and reach toward your toes.
  3. Place your hands on your shins, ankles, or toes—wherever you reach most comfortably.
  4. Inhale and straighten your spine. Exhale and fold forward deeper into the pose. Try to keep your back straight while in this posture.
  5. Take three to four deep breaths. Continue lengthening your spine on each inhale and bending forward from the hips slightly more on each exhale.

Tips: For this pose, it may help to place a folded blanket underneath your backside. You can also place a strap or towel around the balls of your feet and pull on both ends with your hands to assist you in reaching toward your toes.

Don’t stress about making these poses perfect or getting too deep into a stretch if it’s uncomfortable for you. This is all about finding what works for your body and relaxes you.

 

Legs-up-the-wall pose

Elevating your legs above your head will help reduce any swelling in your feet or legs caused by standing for long periods of time, running, or hot temperatures.

Instructions:

  1. Find a place where you have open wall space for this pose. Scoot to the edge of your bed or floor to where it meets the wall.
  2. Lie sideways against the wall and then swing your legs and feet up to rest against the wall. If the backs of your legs feel tight, scoot away from the wall until you no longer feel the tightness.
  3. Bring your arms to your sides and allow the muscles in your feet and legs to relax as they rest against the wall.
  4. Close your eyes, taking long inhales and exhales.

Tip: You may start to feel “pins and needles” in your feet or legs during this pose. This is completely normal, but if it makes you uncomfortable you can take breaks and bring your legs down into a cross-legged position.

Don’t stress about making these poses perfect or getting too deep into a stretch if it’s uncomfortable for you. This is all about finding what works for your body and relaxes you.

 

Relaxation pose

Now for everybody’s favourite pose: Savasana (the one where you get to just lie there).

Instructions:

  1. Lie down on your bed in a comfortable position.
    You may want to get under the covers in case you fall asleep.
  2. Spread your feet about hips-width apart. Lay your arms along your sides with your palms facing up. Scoot your body around until you find the most comfortable position.
  3. Close your eyes and allow your body to relax completely from head to toe.
  4. Focus your attention on the weight of your body against the bed. Allow yourself to feel heavy. If your mind starts to wander, bring your attention back to the sensation of your body sinking into the bed.

Breathing exercise

Breathing exercise

Add in this breathing exercise to help your mind let go of any thoughts or worries.

Instructions:

  1. While lying in Savasana (relaxation pose), place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly.
  2. Take a deep inhale and feel your belly rise. Then take a deep exhale and feel your belly sink back down. Repeat this exercise, paying attention to the expansion and contraction of your abdomen with each breath. 
  3. Imagine the air filling your abdomen with each inhale. Imagine the air slowly flowing out with each exhale.
  4. Each time you find your mind wandering somewhere else, bring your attention back to your breath going in and out.
  5. Practice this for a few minutes and feel yourself slipping into a deeper state of relaxation.

Stay in Savasana for five minutes or until you are relaxed enough to fall asleep. 

Don’t stress about making these poses perfect or getting too deep into a stretch if it’s uncomfortable for you. This is all about finding what works for your body and relaxes you.

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Article sources

Photography by Joanna Carmona.

Ally Carlton-Smith, MS, 200-hour Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor; editor of Student Health 101 high school.

Conboy, L. A., Noggle, J. J., Frey, J. L., Kudesia, R. S., et al. (2013). Qualitative evaluation of a high school yoga program: Feasibility and perceived benefits. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 9(3), 171–180.

Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., et al. (2014). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2013. MMWR Surveillance Summary, 63(Suppl 4), 1–168.                 

Kudesia, R. S., & Bianchi, M. T. (2012). Decreased nocturnal awakenings in young adults performing bikram yoga: A low-constraint home sleep monitoring study. ISRN Neurology.

Serwacki, M., & Cook-Cottone, C. (2012). Yoga in the schools: A systematic review of the literature. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 22(1), 101–110.

Yoga Journal. (n.d.). Yoga poses. Retrieved from http://www.yogajournal.com/category/poses/

Ally Carlton-Smith, MS is executive editor of Student Health 101. She has a master’s degree in health communication from Tufts University School of Medicine.