Does Yoga Lead to Better Sleep Quality?
India’s civilization, and its cultural accomplishments, are very old and varied. Its people have produced several traditional medical systems. From the Ayurvedic system, the Charaka Samhita reads, “Happiness, misery, nourishment, emaciation, strength, weakness, virility, sterility, knowledge, ignorance, life and death — all these occur depending on proper or improper sleep.” Accordingly, it should come to no surprise that sleep should benefit from another Indian system (for which it’s more famous): yoga. Modern scientists are hard at work to figure out how.
It was only a matter of time before they got around to it, since Western medicine is motivated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Sleep Foundation declare that sleep’s a problem for millions: as many as two out of three American adults. They struggle with conditions such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome.
Our modern culture values the work ethic. We want to know: just how many man-hours does it cost us to be tired? What are the safety concerns of conducting daily affairs – like driving – with a sleep deficit that can make a brain behave like it’s drunk? And it’s ironic, since the virtues of industrious life are, in no small part, to blame for the stress, depression and anxiety that steal our rest.
Insomnia is our biggest problematic sleep disorder: in any year almost half of us will know. But we try to be stoic about it, and it goes dramatically under-diagnosed. That’s a mistake. It’s been connected to high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attack.
In general, the disorder takes two forms. Primary insomnia is an independent condition, which pops up on its own. Secondary insomnia arrives as the result of another problem: chronic pain or cancer, for example, or depression. Sometimes it’s another condition’s medication that causes the problem.
So, of course, we can be grateful for any “natural” assistance, some method that won’t meddle too much with body chemistry. That’s where yoga comes in.
The word yoga means “to bind”, which we interpret as something to which we bind ourselves – a discipline. Its tradition tells of an origin two millennia back, when a sage collected 195 statements that survive as a philosophy today, and many still find relevant. And while many practitioners focus on postures, yoga has other teachings as well: meditation, breathing, and other theories and techniques. Interestingly, the postures were devised to build the stamina for long bouts of meditation.
Yoga offers a variety of physical rewards in general, and no one could argue with calling them benefits: power and flexibility, better breathing and circulation, an improved metabolism, a trim figure – the list goes on.
And there are mental benefits that help sleep, as well. Stress ravages the body, and can manifest as varied symptoms: from physical pain to drug abuse, to a lack of sleep. Yoga’s breathing and meditation can relieve that stress. And with a better awareness of one’s body and state of mind, those who practice yoga can be better able to detect problems, and report them to their doctor.
Yoga simply encourages over-arching lifestyle changes that can offer sustainable benefits to sleep patterns. Better habits and a better physical condition (in particular, of the heart and lungs) can have a great impact on autonomic responses and circadian rhythms.
Tried and Tested
In a recent study, test subjects learned yoga and agreed to practice every day, for eight weeks. The subjects also kept sleep diaries: they noted their hours slept, how many times they woke, and so forth. Twenty of the subjects completed the trial. Based on those journals, researchers tracked a progressive improvement of sleeping patterns. They slept more, and more efficiently; once in bed, it took them less time to fall asleep; and once asleep, they woke up less often.
Polite conversation tends to shy away from any subject that hints at “personal” problems. Sleep disorders aren’t properly seen as medical concerns – they carry the faint suggestion of “personal” troubles. People suffer needlessly and, since they’re often up late, they suffer alone.
Sleep disorders, however, are very much a medical concern. Whether caused by physical or mental ailments, several steps can be taken – including yoga – to achieve better sleep quality. If you live in the New York area and find you are struggling with insomnia or any other sleep disorder, get in contact with sleep specialist Dr. Shukla. He’ll help you formulate a plan to normalize your sleeping patterns and get some much needed rest.