I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective yoga and pilates can be for improving sleep.
HOW COULD YOGA AND/OR PILATES IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?
When I was a teenager, I remember thinking yoga was just for new age hippies. I stayed as far away from it as I possibly could. The funny thing is that it actually could have helped me a lot. I was a super stressed kid who generally worried about things and was way too hard on himself. Taking an hour out of my day to reconnect with my body and calm down would have done me wonders if only I gave it a shot. Instead, it wasn’t until I was 29 when I first tried it.
Of all the types of yoga, Bikram or hot yoga is probably the toughest I’ve tried. I was exhausted and dehydrated after the 90-minute session, and generally more relaxed, but mostly just relieved that the session was done. Yin yoga is the most relaxing that I have tried, and I even fell asleep for a little bit during a session the last time I tried it.
My first exposure was to pilates was a little earlier – probably 25. My mother bought a reformer machine after seeing it on a late night infomercial (she doesn’t sleep too well at times). I ended up using the machine more than she did, and found that it really did improve my core strength and reduce my lower back pain. I’m not too sure if it helped my sleep though.
For the first week, I was in the USA visiting friends and did 30-minutes of yoga for the first four days in the late afternoon/early evening and 30 minutes of floor pilates for the next 3 days in the late afternoon/early evening.
For the second week, I flew back from the USA to Melbourne and did no yoga or pilates for the week.
Let’s see if the yoga or pilates sessions had any impact on my sleep for the week…
Comparison: Yoga or Pilates vs No treatment
Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:
- The number of awakenings:
- Yoga/Pilates – 1.29 per night
- No treatment – 2.2 per night
- less is better
- Time in bed:
- No treatment – 7 hours 29 minutes
- Yoga/Pilates – 7 hours 19 minutes
- 8 hours is ideal for me
- Time to bed:
- Yoga/Pilates – 10:57 pm
- No treatment – 10:01 pm
- 11:30pm is ideal for me
- Total sleep time:
- Yoga/Pilates – 6 hours 46 minutes
- No treatment – 6 hours 42 minutes
- 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
- Sleep onset latency:
- No treatment – 10 minutes
- Yoga/Pilates – 12.86 minutes
- quicker is better
- Wake after sleep onset:
- Yoga/Pilates – 20 minutes
- No treatment – 37 minutes
- less is better
- Rise time:
- No treatment – 7:16 am
- Yoga/Pilates – 5:30 am
- 7:30am is ideal for me
- Sleep quality:
- Yoga/Pilates – 4.29/5
- No treatment – 3.6/5
- more is better
- Sleep efficiency:
- Yoga/Pilates – 92.51%
- No treatment – 89.53%
- higher is better
AND THE WINNER IS…
With a count of 7 points to 2 points, the week where I did yoga and pilates was better than the week of no interventions.
The most significant asterisk with this two weeks is me being on holidays for the first week in the USA, then flying back to Melbourne, and then going back to work for 3 of the 5 days in the second week. Coming back to work after a holiday usually means more stress, and flying back from the US usually means jetlag. Me having an average wake-time of 5:30am the second week is a good indicator of the jet lag I was experiencing, as this is much earlier than I would typically get out of bed in the morning.
Yoga and pilates seemed to improve my sleep, but it also could have been me taking things a little slower and relaxing while I was on holidays, plus I was enjoying spending time with American friends that I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s hard to know what led to the improvements in comparison to the week after.
IS DOING YOGA OR PILATES A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?
IS IT EFFECTIVE?
It seems to be. Like I said, being on holidays, having a less hectic day and in general feeling less stressed during the first week could have led to the better sleep, The regular yoga and pilates did seem to help me to tune into what I was feeling in my body, and this led to a bit better sleep that night.
I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy an 18/25.
CAN IT BE APPLIED?
Yes. Especially if you just type in yoga or pilates workout on youtube and you have access to a smartphone, it doesn’t cost anything and only requires 30 minutes a day. If you wanted to go to classes on a regular basis instead, it would become expensive and time-consuming quickly. This makes it a little bit less accessible than some other strategies.
I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 17/25.
IS IT SCIENTIFIC?
Yoga was shown to improve sleep quality, sleep efficiency, the time taken to get to sleep, total sleep time, fatigue, overall well-being, depression, anger, stress and vitality, as well as improved physical, emotional and social functioning in older adults (Halpern et al., 2014). It can also improve depression, posture and sleep quality in children with cerebral palsy (Gokcek et al., 2017).
A meta-analysis of eight English-language pilates studies showed that pilates produces a significant reduction in depression, anxiety and fatigue and significantly increases feelings of energy (Fleming & Herring, 2018). A 2014 study by Ashrafinia and colleagues found that 8 weeks of pilates 30-minutes a day, 5 days a week in postpartum women led to improved sleep quality, reduced sleep latency and improved functioning during the day. It can also enhance the quality of sleep in individuals with chronic heart failure (Naqadeh, 2017).
I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 37/50.
Overall, using yoga or pilates as a strategy to sleep better gets a score of 18/25 + 17/25 + 37/50 =
WHAT I RECOMMEND
Yoga and pilates both have a wide array of benefits for individuals who engage in these practices on a regular basis. If you haven’t tried them yet, and you struggle from pain, fatigue, reduced energy, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or sleep problems, give it a go for a month if you can, and see what type of difference it can make in your life.
Yoga and pilates are not the most recommended treatments for sleep difficulties or insomnia, but they can help by getting us to tune in and connect with what we feel in our body, which can lower our arousal levels and lead to better sleep at night.
For me, pilates using a reformer machine is fantastic, and yin yoga is super relaxing. Don’t be put off like I was when I was young. If you can go in with an open mind, there is a good chance that it could help you in some way.
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