Once on a whale-watching cruise, when the ship was rocking from side to side and I was clinging to the gunwale for dear life, I watched an 81-year old woman walk down the center of the boat with nothing to steady herself. The secret to her amazing sense of balance, she said, was 60 minutes of yoga practice every day.
A growing body of research shows that yoga also has a place among alternative treatments for insomnia.
One goal of yoga, said Jonathan Halpern, lead author of a new study exploring the sleep benefits of yoga in older adults, is to put a stop to the fluctuations of the mind. “As primary insomnia is very often related to stress, anxiety and uncontrolled thoughts and emotions,” Halpern told me, “you can appreciate how reducing the fluctuations of the mind even to some extent would have a positive effect on insomnia.”
Yoga in this study also led to improvements in several areas of daytime functioning, including stamina and mood.
Highlights of the Study
Sixty-seven subjects ages 60 and above completed the study. Those who received training in yoga attended 12 weeks of classes twice a week and did daily practice at home. Treatment included practice in yoga postures and three types of meditative exercises. Subjects who stuck with the protocol made significant gains:
- In contrast to the control subjects, who received no treatment, the yoga subjects reported longer, more efficient sleep and improved sleep quality.
- Those who practiced yoga at least 25 minutes daily also experienced 11.5 percent more deep sleep. This is an impressive result. As humans age, we get less deep sleep, when the secretion of growth hormone and the synthesis of brain proteins occur. Any activity that promotes deep sleep is likely to make sleep feel sounder and more restorative.
- Yoga subjects also experienced improved daytime functioning: they reported managing better physically and socially, and feeling less depression, fatigue and stress.
“Daytime functioning is a general measure,” Halpern said, “but it probably results from the fact that people slept better at night, were less tired during the day and therefore could perform better physically, mentally and emotionally. Not at all rocket science,” he added. (For more on how yoga improves stress tolerance, click here.)
So if you’re older and open to alternative treatments for insomnia, yoga is worth checking out.
If you’ve tried yoga, what health benefits did you notice it had for you?