Yoga Nidra and Sleep Health

Constant mental stress takes its toll.  Quieting the mind when inundated with information and decision making can become almost impossible making relaxation and sleep difficult to access.  Yoga nidra has been a go-to practice to move out of the mental survival state of go-go-go and into deep relaxation. 

Practicing yoga nidra on a regular basis has all the potential to help you develop, change, or alter your routines and lifestyle for the better. 

What Is Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra, derived from Sanskrit, means yogic sleep and refers to a state of consciousness between wake and dream accessed through emotional, mental, and physical relaxation.  

While our bodies know how to go to sleep, often our thoughts intrude the process.  Yoga nidra utilizes body, breath, and awareness techniques to move focus from the external to the internal.  Using the sensations of the body and breath, we can move from thinking to being.  Allowing the mind to slow, resting becomes a state of awareness.  

The practice is generally done in a 20-30 min session lying on your back with eyes closed.  The external world fades in the duration. By reaching the state of shallow sleep in wake, it gets easier to move inward when turning off thoughts for restful sleep.

To get the most out of yoga nidra, set an intention.  Intentions work best when stated in the present tense and concisely.  Intentions can be started with “I am” and can end with “more and more” especially when first getting started. For example, “I am gracious, more and more”.  The intention is meant to become part of the state of consciousness.  Set aside time prior to the practice to allow the intention to come intuitively. 

Yoga nidra does not require prior yoga or meditation experience especially when guided with a certified instructor.

Pile of Rock Near Lake

Yoga Nidra and Brain Waves in Relaxation

Different from other meditation techniques, yoga nidra is a systematic process to move through stages of brain waves.

There isn’t a switch to move from lots of brain activity to sleep.  Instead, we move through brainwave states where our thoughts become fragmented and fewer until we reach sleep.  Yoga nidra takes us through the natural brainwave process.

When awake, alert, and focused the beta brain waves are active. When in this state for long periods of time, we notice symptoms of stress, anxiety, etc.  Sometimes, this state becomes our “normal” and there may become fear attached to entering a state of rest or calm which makes moving through the process to sleep even more difficult.

Shifting from beta to alpha brain waves occurs during relaxation.  The alpha state of calm allows the release of serotonin.  The mind isn’t concentrating on a task at hand.

After slowing down from alpha into deep alpha, we move into theta brain waves, known as the dream state or autopilot.  Here deep processing can occur as well as the release of emotions.

From theta, we move into delta which is the state of restoration and regeneration. In delta, the stress hormone cortisol can be metabolized and removed.  Delta brainwaves are in slow and deep relaxation.  While this is the most restorative state, it’s also the most difficult to reach resulting in poor sleep.

Yoga nigra assists in accessing quality sleep and deep relaxation even in people with chronic insomnia, anxiety, and PTSD.

woman lying in flowers

Benefits of Yoga Nidra

Because of the mental, emotional, and physical relaxation that occurs with yoga nidra, the benefits extend beyond its use as a sleep disorder intervention.

The states of relaxation and movement into delta brain waves reduce anxiety, alleviate depression, lower blood pressure, and reduce cortisol levels.  

By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, yoga nidra can also soothe the central nervous system and aid in pain management.  

Along with the physiological and sleep benefits in practicing yoga nidra, are the opportunities to change routines and take daily actions guided by an inner awareness.  In lifting the heaviness of stress and sleepless nights, our spirits are able to embrace creative pursuits and engage more meaningfully in our daily lives.  

With more restful sleep, a bolstered immune system, and enhanced mood, yoga nidra sets a pathway to the life desired by accessing the healing within.