Yoga Nidra for Deep Sleep

Yoga Nidra for Deep Sleep

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

If you suffer with insomnia or poor sleep, you will know that this can quickly lead to sleep deprivation, affecting you on every level of being - it's miserable, and the longer it continues, the anxiety, stress and general ill effects escalate, along with despair about how to fix it.

Some of the mental/emotional effects of sleep deprivation are:

  • slower thinking, confusion
  • reduced attention span
  • declining memory
  • poor or risky decision-making
  • lack of energy
  • mood changes, stress, anxiety, irritability

Some of the physical effects of sleep deprivation include:

  • weight gain due to increased food/drink consumption
  • weakened immunity
  • hormonal imbalances
  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • cardiovascular problems

The Sleep Foundation website details on all of the above, along with the different causes and classifications of sleep disorders and advice on how to turn the situation around and enjoy the healing power of sleep, rather than it becoming a nightly battle.

How and why Yoga Nidra practice improves sleep

The focus of this article is on how and why Yoga Nidra is an excellent technique for undoing the effects of sleep deprivation and once again being able to sleep like a baby.  

It’s a practice everyone can do, either lying on the floor or a firm bed, or seated in a chair if lying flat is impossible. The aim is to systematically release accumulated stress and move towards a state of conscious deep sleep, via conscious deep relaxation. 

This is achieved by lying completely still throughout the practice, and moving the attention around the body as directed by one of the many recorded scripts available. As our awareness is focused in the body, it is distracted from the endless cycle of thoughts and accompanying reactions and feelings, which in itself is generally a huge relief. It’s one of the reasons Yoga Nidra practice works so well for many, including those who find seated meditation impossible. 

YN works with the autonomic nervous system (ANS), regulating the body processes that occur without conscious effort, such as heartbeat, breathing, digestion and blood flow. The ANS includes the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Whilst seated meditation practices calm the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, Yoga Nidra does this but goes deeper, activating the pineal gland.  This releases the hormone melatonin, which helps balance immune function, blood pressure, antioxidant and cortisol levels to induce restful sleep.

YN practice promotes deep rest and relaxation that is often considered superior to seated meditation practice (which many people find difficult for a variety of reasons). The stages of the body scan, rotation of consciousness, and breath awareness systematically calm the nervous system, leading to less stress and better health. Pratyahara literally means withdrawal of ahara or food; food refers here to anything we put into our bodies and minds, both physical and mental. This is the Sanskrit term for the process of withdrawing the senses from any external stimuli that our minds consume so readily.

The benefits of the practice are both immediate and cumulative – one session will lower stress levels and bring about relaxation; regular, consistent practice systematically reduces chronic stress, anxiety and sleeplessness. Years of accumulated anxiety tension habitual reactions take time to release.

If you haven’t fitted your practice into the day, do it in bed before sleep.  However, this should be the exception, not the rule, as you need to stay awake to reap the benefits and enter the state of Yoga Nidra.  For those with insomnia/sleep issues, it will help you fall asleep and restore sleep deficit, then enabling you to remain awake for the practice.


“The major work of repair of body tissue happens when the body is resting and breathing slows.  During the practice of YN the body is in a state similar to deep refreshing sleep. Whilst we remain awake and aware – in fact more awake than in the waking state – our bodies assume a sleep-like state, allowing us to become magnetised and revitalised.

Most people can partially magnetise their body through relaxation, but this skill improves enormously with regular and disciplined practice of YN. The major bio-energetic pathway coincides with the central nervous system and specifically with the cerebrospinal canal.  With a little practice we perceive these energies as warm, tingling sensations, which can become increasingly under our conscious control. At the same time the ability to suspend physiological activities increases and mental activity is reduced at will.”

Hathapradipika (Kevin and Venika Kingsland, my wonderful teachers, 1977 translation, Grael Communications)

Heart rate variability Yoga Nidra practice

Researchgate conclusions:

“More precisely, this practice, executed in supine position, naturally stimulates a hypnagogic state wherein an individual is physiologically asleep yet maintains an internal/external awareness (Sharpe et al., 2021); there is a withdraw from other senses, and only the auditory channel is open so that the participant stays aware of the directions coming from the instructor, but practices detachment from all other stimuli. YN interventions have been associated with significant improvements in sleep parameters such as sleep onset latency and sleep quality (Datta et al., 2017;Moszeik et al., 2020) because of a general parasympathetic dominance (Markil et al., 2012) and a subsequent high cardiac vagal control (Werner et al., 2015; see also YN Effects and Potential Benefits on Athletes); it first stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system increasing heart rate variability (HRV), or its high-frequency components (Markil et al., 2012), and alpha waves, to then demonstrate the symptoms of deep, non-REM sleep, including theta and delta brain waves (Parker et al., 2013). ...

... This would allow to better examine neural correlates of a passive recovery strategy. From a cardiophysiological perspective, as most of the studies reveal that relaxation produces a transient effect on HRV and long-term relaxation studies are scarce, ECG data and ad hoc trials could be used to clarify the nature of changes in HRV, as well as the physiological mechanisms underlying the increase in HRV induced by YN (Markil et al., 2012). Findings, while providing clearer data concerning YN mechanisms, may further shed light on the effect of an aware sleep state on sleep quality and on the usefulness of this kind of yoga technique for improving recovery in athletes. ...

... [27], [28], [29] Studies have found that the Yoga Nidra practice (or "state") appears to reflect an integrated response by the hypothalamus, resulting in decreased sympathetic (excitation) nervous activity and increased parasympathetic (relaxation) function. [30] Results show that there was a significant improvement in positive well-being, general health, and vitality in the Yoga Nidra group. The association of Yoga Nidra with a shift toward parasympathetic dominance [30] is also related to high cardiac vagal control, which, in turn, is related to reduced anxiety and better subjective and objective sleep quality. ...”

It is important to realize that Yoga Nidra, or Yogic sleep, goes a step further. During this state, we go into a deeply relaxed frame of mind. In turn, this allows us to connect with our subconscious wisdom. Yoga Nidra provides the most compelling evidence of inner calm - brain waves slow down, the body restores itself, and consciousness expands. Specifically, it is in the state of Yoga Nidra that we are able to create transformation and healing. 

 “Our essential nature is boundless consciousness.  We are rooted in it when the mind focuses and settles.” 

Yoga Sutras 1.3