Yoga Practice for Better Zzzzzs

By Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, Certified Viniyoga Teacher & Yoga Therapist

Good sleep is necessary to our overall health and well-being, but it can be fleeting. On average, adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Children need more, especially at key developmental stages, ranging from 8 to 13 hours per 24 hours. 

What Is Good Sleep

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines good sleep in the following way:

  • You can easily fall asleep
  • You don’t wake fully during the night
  • You don’t wake too early
  • You feel refreshed in the morning.  

Sleeplessness vs. Insomnia 

Being a human being pretty much guarantees that you will experience some sleeplessness from time to time. In fact, 50 percent of adults say they have at least one sleepless night each month. About 20 percent of US adults struggle with sleep on a nightly basis. Interestingly, about 29 percent of 18-24 year olds in the US experience insomnia nightly while only 17 percent of adults over 65 report similar experiences.  (Source: Global Insomnia Statistics in 2022 & 2024, Helsestart.)  

Insomnia is persistent problems with falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia symptoms can include waking too early, daytime fatigue, mood changes, difficulty paying attention, focusing or remembering, and being more prone to accidents or mistakes. Other common sleep disorders include sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.   

Chronic sleep deprivation impacts health in a variety of ways, including weight gain, hypertension, diabetes, depression, heart attack and stroke.  (Source: NIH) 

Many conditions and situations can cause a poor night’s sleep.


Stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia. And while stress is part of being a normal human, prolonged and high stress can cause ongoing sleep issues.

Travel and Work Schedules

Schedules can disrupt our internal clock or circadian rhythm. Shift workers in particular can have long-term difficulties with sleep that impact their health. 

Medical Issues and Treatments

Medical issues and medication treatment use may impact sleep. Sleep issues can occur with pain, hormonal changes such as menopause, urinary issues such as an enlarged prostate, sleep apnea, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), certain thyroid conditions, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Mental health conditions like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression also can impact sleep. 

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors that impact sleep include inactivity, lack of regular meals and bedtimes, using electronic devices late into the evening, eating too late, drinking alcohol, using nicotine, and overuse of caffeine too late in the day.  

How Yoga Can Help 

For a good night’s sleep, we need to be able to elicit the relaxation response to fall asleep or get back to sleep. Yoga breathing techniques can help one to use the breath to regulate the nervous system. 

Yoga practice can be calibrated to what an individual needs.  

For people who have stressful and demanding jobs and family life, yoga practice for better sleep may be a process that helps wind down stress in advance of getting into bed.  

One of my mentors taught me to ask the question, “What’s done and what’s left undone?” A first step is often attending to something that absolutely has to get done so that you can let it go. 

Relaxing chores like folding laundry, prepping for the next evening’s dinner, doing dishes, reading to kids, or walking the dog may be a good start into the unwinding process. Watching relaxing TV, reading, having a cup of herbal tea, or taking a bath or shower may help. 

A yoga practice with more physicality may be needed on high stress days. Start with doing a few standing postures, then transition to kneeling, then onto the back.  

For others, a few simple movements paired with lengthening exhale and a seated breathing practice may be enough to help the nervous system power down into calm.  

For people who are exhausted, crawling into bed and doing a few simple and focusing postures on the back, then stretching out and doing a breathing or guided relaxation may be helpful. If the body is tired but the mind is still very active, sleep can be fleeting.  

An important idea is giving the mind something to rest on (other than social media, which is often activating). A posture done focused on the breath or done with contra-lateral movement, or a balance posture, all serve to help focus the mind. Focusing the mind on breathing, especially lengthening the exhale, is one of the best techniques, since breathing also helps shift the nervous system into calm. Focusing the mind on an object in meditation furthers this process of giving thoughts and emotions that have accumulated during the day a landing strip. Once you have touched down, you can drift more easily into sleep.  

For access to a 15 minute in bed yoga practice for better sleep, view here   If you don’t have a Punch Pass account with 5 Koshas, you can get access by setting up a free account.  

When to Seek Additional Help

Opinions on when to see a doctor related to sleep issues vary, ranging from 1 to 3 months from the onset. A stressful situation or event may be short-lived but if sleep issues continue, you may need some help in breaking the cycle. This becomes especially important for people who operate heavy equipment, drive trucks or a school bus, or work in environments that have safety risks. Sleep apnea can present in a variety of ways but some common symptoms that should be evaluated include:  snoring, having episodes of no breathing, having nightmares, or feeling excessively tired during the day

Stress-Reduction Yoga 

We offer a variety of stress-reduction classes at 5 Koshas. Some people with sleeping issues will benefit from a morning practice that gets them out of bed and into the morning sunshine, uses large muscles, and deep breathing.  

Other people will need more of that late afternoon, early evening or before bed yoga practice to release the stresses of the day. Sometimes the socializing of an in-person or online live class is helpful for stress reduction. For others, a video-on-demand program such as our “How to Calm Down with Yoga” may work better for those with busy or irregular schedules. 

Mary Hilliker offers yoga teacher training—RYS 200, RYS 300—classes, workshops, retreats, and individualized yoga therapy. For more information on classes, click here

Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist and Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness Center and River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in Wausau WI. Mary offers individualized Yoga Therapy and nutrition counseling. She teaches therapeutic and wellness yoga classes, mini-retreats, workshops, webinars and yoga teacher training.