Wednesday Bubble: Can yoga decrease insomnia, improve sleep quality?

Posted by on Nov 9, 2011 in aging, menopause, sleep disturbance, stress, yoga | 1 comment









I love that yoga practice continues to take center stage in Western medicine. Truly, this is mind boggling because rarely, if ever, has an alternative practice been given so much credence within the confines of a medical philosophy that allows little outside the box. However, just a few weeks ago, yoga made the headlines again with data showing that it might be useful for treating lower back pain than standard therapies.

In menopause, yoga practice has been explored for stress relief, to improve wellbeing and as a tonic for vasomotor symptoms. Notably, the latter are considered to be partially responsible for significant sleep issues that occur during and after menopause. Indeed, some data show that up to 81% to 83% of women may have sleep complaints and 52%, insomnia.

Yet, like many strategies, yoga is not a one size fits all practice and there are many branches and types, some being meditative and others breathing, and some more physical than others. These distinctions can make it difficult to standardize studies and apply their results. Still, I was thrilled to stumble across a study evaluating the effects of a specifics sequence of yoga on physical and mental health, and symptoms in menopausal women experiencing insomnia. Importantly, this study used a scientific, randomized controlled design to insure that test conditions were up to par with Western methodological standards.

Basically, researchers assigned 44 menopausal women diagnosed with insomnia to one of three group:

  • a control group who ingested 500 mg calcium daily
  •  a passive stretching group, who participated in two, one hour passive stretching classes a week (including stretching of back, stomach, ankles, knee, thigh, elbow, shoulder, wrist and neck) or,
  • a yoga group consisting of two, one hour sessions weekly. These yoga sessions were based on a sequence using stretching positions (asanas) with strong and fast breathing (bhastrika) followed by directed relaxation.

Women in these groups also took 500 m g calcium daily.

The study, which lasted for four months, showed that engaging in a particular sequence of yoga significantly reduced vasomotor symptoms and improved sleep/insomnia severity and mental health compared to passive stretching or simply taking calcium. Women who took the biweekly yoga classes also had higher quality of life scores and better resistance to stress. And while the passive stretching group certainly did not do as well, they did trend towards these benefits as well, especially with regards to the degree of reported stress in their lives.

The researchers believe that regular yoga practice, at least with these particular sequences, alters the nervous system and increases brain concentrations of a potent neurotransmitter – λ-aminobutyric acid – to help improve sleep patterns and reduce vasomotor symptoms. Likewise, stretching may lead to a state of calm that results in reduced metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and muscle tension, all of which contribute to stress (or stress reduction).

Granted, this is a small study but it was rigorously designed and suggests that yoga may help sleep issues associated with aging and menopause. I, for one, want to run into a yoga studio. I don’t recall the last time my zzzz’s were not interrupted.


One Comment

  1. 10-30-2012

    Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and new initiatives in the same niche. Blog gave us useful information to work. You have done an amazing job!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *