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The Psychological Benefits of Yoga: Introducing Yoga for Insomnia

In the first article of this series, you read a small bit about how insomnia is one of the likely symptoms of depression, along with a few facts about Yoga that pertain to its neuroscientific benefits. You can, of course, have insomnia without having depression, but this article exists to shed a bit more light on what insomnia even is, exactly, on a neurological level, and then discuss the basics of how Yoga can help alleviate, or (in some cases) even cure it.

What is Insomnia?

Sometimes, depression can cause insomnia in a person, while other times, insomnia can trigger depression. These two psychological disorders often walk hand-in-hand with each other, though they are distinctly separate from each other in their own respective ways. By the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), insomnia is defined as when a person has noteworthy trouble getting and remaining asleep, as well as to suffer from sleep that doesn’t restore the person with energy upon waking up (continued fatigue) that hurts the cognitive functioning during waking hours, even though they’ve made for themselves an ample window of time to sleep. It’s considered clinically diagnosable when the symptoms of the disorder last for longer than four weeks. If the person is still able to function relatively well throughout their day, it does not constitute as insomnia.

There are two main types of severe insomnia: chronic and acute. Chronic insomnia occurs when a specific event happens that makes symptoms of the disorder worse for a short amount of time, less than four weeks. The catalytic event causing the stress can be anything such as (but not limited to): ill health, a change of medication or circumstances, or stress.

Acute insomnia occurs when such drastic symptoms occur for longer than four weeks, repeatedly (Cunnington, 2013).

What does insomnia do to the brain?

People who are clinically diagnosed usually report feeling like they have to work harder during the day to perform the same tasks as everyone else. Science has confirmed that people suffering from insomnia tend to have a problem shutting off certain sections of their brain when it comes time to sleep, which makes it difficult to access or stay in REM sleep (Rettener, 2013).
“REM” stands for rapid eye movement, and is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. It accounts for about 25% of the average person’s time sleeping and is when we vividly dream the most (Vitelli, 2013).

What acts as a hurdle for people with insomnia is that they’re not able to shut off certain parts of the brain in order to focus on certain tasks, even if they sleep for an average of 6 hours per night. Sean Drummond, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, took part in a study that explored this aspect of the mental disorder.

Twenty-five people with insomnia were put through the experiment and contrasted with a control group of 25 people without insomnia. Each group was given a series of progressively challenging tasks that tested the capabilities of different parts of the brain. When it came to testing the capabilities of their working, short-term, memory, the people without insomnia were able to turn off the portions of the brain involved with daydreaming. The people with insomnia were not.

What does insomnia do to the brain?

People who are clinically diagnosed usually report feeling like they have to work harder during the day to perform the same tasks as everyone else. Science has confirmed that people suffering from insomnia tend to have a problem shutting off certain sections of their brain when it comes time to sleep, which makes it difficult to access or stay in REM sleep (Rettener, 2013).
“REM” stands for rapid eye movement, and is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. It accounts for about 25% of the average person’s time sleeping and is when we vividly dream the most (Vitelli, 2013).

What acts as a hurdle for people with insomnia is that they’re not able to shut off certain parts of the brain in order to focus on certain tasks, even if they sleep for an average of 6 hours per night. Sean Drummond, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, took part in a study that explored this aspect of the mental disorder.

Twenty-five people with insomnia were put through the experiment and contrasted with a control group of 25 people without insomnia. Each group was given a series of progressively challenging tasks that tested the capabilities of different parts of the brain. When it came to testing the capabilities of their working, short-term, memory, the people without insomnia were able to turn off the portions of the brain involved with daydreaming. The people with insomnia were not.

What is Insomnia?

What acts as a hurdle for people with insomnia is that they’re not able to shut off certain parts of the brain in order to focus on certain tasks, even if they sleep for an average of 6 hours per night. Sean Drummond, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, took part in a study that explored this aspect of the mental disorder.

Twenty-five people with insomnia were put through the experiment and contrasted with a control group of 25 people without insomnia. Each group was given a series of progressively challenging tasks that tested the capabilities of different parts of the brain. When it came to testing the capabilities of their working, short-term, memory, the people without insomnia were able to turn off the portions of the brain involved with daydreaming. The people with insomnia were not.

To the layman, this may not seem like a big deal, but this can actually be life-threateningly dangerous depending upon what real-world task the person with insomnia is performing, such as (but not limited to): driving a car.

And in scenarios less extreme, it can be crippling when it comes to performing job related tasks of any kind, which can lead to the person getting fired, which can completely change everything about a person’s life.

How Can Yoga Help Insomnia?

There have been multiple studies all throughout the world performed to gain insight on how Yoga can positively influence the mind, especially in regards to insomnia. Researchers at Harvard Medical School, for instance, conducted experiments that confirmed significant improvements to yoga practitioners’ quality of sleep and quantity, recorded by journals they kept over an eight-week period (Breus, 2012).

The key to its effectiveness is two-fold: how physical fitness affects sleep, and how meditation affects sleep. Mindfulness meditation, for example, is the process of relaxing while mentally observing moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions. A randomized clinical trial featured by Harvard University and ran by JAMA Internal Medicine involved 49 middle-aged and older adults who reportedly experienced difficulty sleeping. Doctors were not surprised to find that the process of consciously relaxing the body and mind led to a repetitive ease in patients transitioning to sleep (Corliss, 2015).

Yoga is world famous for its methodology that helps people to develop their mental focusing abilities, but it actually does far more than merely that. Varying forms of Yoga build both the body and mind, and physical exercise has well-documented positive influences upon sleep.

Because Yoga is such a vast field that one can even acquire a Ph.D. in, a single article will never be able to do it justice and rob you of all that you could potentially learn. To continue this series, be sure to follow Kristina Kumlin on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for her online classes!

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