Yoga for Insomnia


   By: Danielle Spino

   2014-01-27 03:15 PM

Are you punching your pillow and kicking your sheets, succumbing to the overwhelming frustration that results from an inability to sleep? You’re not alone! 3.3 million Canadians are suffering from insomnia ( That is 1 in 7 Canadians who are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.


For those individuals struggling to sleep and looking for an alternative treatment to medication, some researchers are suggesting yoga. In particular, Dr. Khalsa, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has conducted some preliminary analyses, which suggest that yoga may be an effective treatment of insomnia. In his study, the 20 insomniac participants kept a sleep-wake diary for two weeks, recording their sleeping and waking habits. The participants were then trained in the particular yoga practice, and engaged in the yoga practice for 45 minutes a day before bed for eight weeks. Throughout this eight-week treatment phase, participants continued to keep a sleep-wake diary. Dr. Khalsa found statistically significant improvements in the participants’ sleep efficiency, total sleep time, total wake time, sleep onset latency and wake time after sleep onset at the end of the treatment phase compared to their baseline pre-treatment scores (Khalsa, 2004).


Dr. Khalsa’s findings support previous research, which has suggested that exercise aids in a better night sleep (King, 1997). In fact, Physicians have been encouraged to prescribe non-pharmacological interventions, such as exercise, as a primary treatment for insomnia (Holbrook, 2000; Ramakrishnan, 2007).


However, Dr. Khalsa proposes that the benefits of yoga extend beyond the physical exercise component. He explains that previous research has shown that insomniacs have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and a more active sympathetic drive. He reasons that yoga reduces stress levels by learning how to regulate attention, thereby allowing the yogi/yogini (male/female who practices yoga) for a better night’s sleep (Bascaramurty, 2010).  The particular type of yoga Dr. Khalsa examined is called nidra, or yogic sleep, or sleep with awareness (Levin-Gervasi, 2009). The practice involves guided imagery and body scanning by a trained teacher, to induce relaxation, and usually takes at least 20 minutes to 45 minutes. By concentrating on your breath and then sequentially focusing awareness on various parts of the body from the toes to the tip of the head and cognitively letting go of tension in each area, the body is able to be completely at rest with awareness.


While Dr. Khalsa’s research looks promising, his studies are still in preliminary stages. Future research will be able to further clarify the effects of yoga on insomnia.  




(November 16, 2005). The Daily, Study: Insomnia. Statistics Canada, (accessed on February 1, 2010)


Bascaramurty, D. (January 27, 2010). Can’t sleep? Try Yoga. The Globe and Mail, (accessed on February 3, 2010).


Holbrook, A. M., Crowther, R., Lotter, A., et al (2000). The diagnosis and management of insomnia in clinical practice: a practical evidence-based approach. Canadian Medical Association Journal,162(2): 216 – 220.


Khalsa, S. B. S. (2004). Treatment of Chronic Insomnia with Yoga: A Preliminary Study with Sleep-Wake Diaries. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 29(4): 269-278.


King, A. C., Oman R. F., Brassington, G. S., et al. (1997). Moderate-intensity exercise and self-rated quality of sleep in older adults. A randomized controlled trial. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 277(1): 32 – 7.


Levin-Gervasi, S. (February 28, 2009). In Need of Yoga Nidra. Yoga Journal, (accessed on February 3, 2010).


Ramakrishnan, K. & Scheid, D. C. (2007). Treatment options for insomnia. American Family Physician, 76(4): 517 – 526.

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