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Does Yoga Help With Insomnia? (Research Review)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Yoga is a great combination of exercise, mindfulness, and stretching, which all promote relaxation.

Since many cases of insomnia are caused by sleep anxiety and stress, there’s been more interest lately to see if yoga can be an effective treatment method.

Researchers are currently exploring the effects of yoga and other relaxation therapies like meditation and massage therapy.

I’m going to walk you through the current relevant research on how effective yoga is for improving insomnia symptoms.

The Effect of Yoga on Sleep Quality

A 2020 meta-study identified 19 studies with 1832 total participants that examined the effects of yoga on sleep and were of sufficient quality (1).

These studies looked at the effects of yoga on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) or Insomnia Severity Index (ISI). In both cases, a lower score is better.

Overall, yoga improved PSQI scores by an average of 0.54 points, and ISI scores by 0.13 points. While these are significant effect sizes, they are not particularly large.

Of the 19 studies, 16 had some level of positive result compared to the control group, while 3 did not.

We should note that the meta-study observed that yoga did not produce a significant improvement in women with breast cancer or in menopausal women. However, those are small subsets of studies, and they include some that do in fact show a positive effect on sleep quality for those groups (2).

SummaryYoga does appear to have a mild positive effect on sleep quality in those with insomnia. More research is still needed to identify which groups of people yoga can be effective in, which types of yoga are most effective, and ideal practice frequency.

Which Aspects of Insomnia Can Yoga Help With?

Most of the studies mentioned above simply looked at overall sleep quality using the PSQI or ISI.

One study had participants maintain sleep-wake diaries during an 8 week yoga intervention (3).

Using this data, researchers were able to derive a variety of sleep quality metrics:

  • Sleep efficiency (SE)
  • Total sleep time (TST)
  • Total wake time (TWT)
  • Sleep onset latency (SOL)
  • Wake time after sleep onset (WASO)

Statistically significant improvements were seen in all metrics, and seemed to improve further as time went on.

This also brings up a limitation of the meta-analysis we looked at earlier. Many of the studies in it were for a shorter duration, which may have not captured all potential benefits of yoga.

SummaryYoga may be able to improve multiple types of insomnia, whether someone is struggling to get to sleep (sleep onset insomnia), or is waking up often (sleep maintenance insomnia).

How Does Yoga Improve Insomnia Symptoms?

Exercise alone may help some people sleep better, but currently it appears that the biggest benefit of yoga is stress reduction (which is also partly a result of exercise).

A study looked at the effects of yoga therapy on stress and self confidence (which may relate to anxiety) in male patients with insomnia (4).

The study consisted of daily 90 minute yoga sessions for the experimental group, while the control group was given no therapy. At the end:

There was a significant improvement in the stress scores and the self confidence scores in the experimental group. There were neither any side effects nor any drop outs.

Stress levels improved by approximately 20% in the yoga group.

SummaryRegular yoga practice can significantly lower stress levels in those with insomnia.

Summary: Yoga and Insomnia

Yoga appears to have a beneficial impact on sleep quality for insomnia patients. Research shows that sleep quality improved steadily over 8 week periods, but no long term studies have been done.

However, research is still lacking and leaves us a few big questions:

  • Does yoga only work for certain populations with insomnia?
  • Which type of yoga is most effective?
  • How often and for how long do yoga sessions need to be?

Considering that yoga is safe and known to be a healthy form of exercise, it makes sense to add it as a supplemental part of an insomnia treatment plan.

References

  1. The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  2. Yoga decreases insomnia in postmenopausal women
  3. Treatment of Chronic Insomnia with Yoga
  4. The Effect of Yoga Therapy on Selected Psychological Variables Among Male Patients with Insomnia

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.