Making one small tweak to your evening routine could help you sleep better, increase your motivation and boost your confidence – at the same time as reducing sadness, anxiety and tension.

Read on and you’ll discover:

  • The specific yoga-based session shown to ease anxiety and boost positivity
  • How stretching and meditation will improve sleep and recovery
  • The positive changes you can expect in just two weeks
  • The value of measuring heart rate variability (HRV) levels.

If you're not sleeping well or you're feeling stressed and anxious, you're certainly not alone. In recent years, a 'lack of wellness’ has swept the planet, sending feelings of anxiety and depression through the roof.

According to the World Health Organization’s 2022 Mental Health Report, rates of depression and anxiety spiked by over 25 percent within the first year of the pandemic, adding to the nearly one billion people already living with a mental disorder. It’s estimated that one in eight people now live with mental illness. In the U.S. alone 50 million people report suffering from mental illness and 21 million American adults are living with depression.

The good news: there’s increasing evidence and understanding around how physical activity can reduce mental illness risk, while helping promote long-term mental wellness. A massive meta-analysis has found 89 percent of all relevant published research between 1990 and 2020 identified a statistically significant positive relationship between physical activity and mental health. Thanks to the latest findings, we now know the optimal exercise prescription for mental wellness, as well as specific types of training that will help ease negativity.

And sweating away stress isn’t the only answer. A life-changing study recently revealed a short pre-bedtime stretching and meditation session can improve sleep, boost positive feelings, and enhance recovery from mental, as well as physical stress.

A pre-bedtime stretching and meditation session can improve sleep, boost positive feelings, and enhance recovery from mental as well as physical stress. 

The benefits of this pre-slumber stretching became apparent when study participants completed a 20-30 minute sequence of stretches and 10-minute meditation based on the BODYBALANCE yoga program. They did this three evenings a week for just two weeks. During this time, researchers assessed their life satisfaction, feelings, sleep quality and their heart rate variability (HRV).

Six short sessions over two weeks is all it took to boost positivity, sleep, motivation and happiness. 

HRV is a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats. Tiny differences in the length of these intervals are a sign of a healthy cardiovascular system and show that someone is in an optimal state of recovery. Surprisingly, the more variability we have between beats, the better! The higher the HRV, the more likely we are able to shift from being stressed to being relaxed, meaning we’re better equipped to cope with the pressures of daily life. Studies show low HRV is correlated with anxiety and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The variation between heartbeats is controlled by part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which consists of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems – also known as the excitatory (“fight or flight”) and relaxation (“rest and digest”) components. By measuring HRV levels, scientists can identify imbalances between the two systems – which control vital things like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion – and observe how the nervous system reacts to the environment, emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

“Doing the session in the evening naturally creates a deep sense of calm at the end of the day, which leads to quality sleep and a more positive outlook.” 

Lead Researcher, Dr. Jinger Gottschall says that compared with the control group, those who did the evening yoga reported considerable changes across every variable – improved HRV, sleep quality, confidence, motivation, and reduced anxiety, tension, and sadness. She explains the significance of doing the session in the evening is that it works by naturally creating a deep sense of calm at the end of the day, which leads to quality sleep and a more positive outlook in the future.

Six short BODYBALANCE sessions (spread across two weeks) can increase Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and deliver the following key benefits:

  • 15% improved sleep quality
  • 39% increase in positive feelings relating to confidence
  • 39% decrease in feelings of sadness and negativity
  • 29% increase in motivation
  • 26% decrease in negative emotions; anxiety and tension
  • 18% increase in satisfaction with daily life

Les Mills Head of Research Bryce Hastings says these findings are good news for anyone who needs some recovery from the mental and physical stresses of modern life. “The increased popularity of “recovery” is often misdirected; it assumes that it is only something athletes and high-performance individuals need. The truth is, we all need recovery – from life, not just exercise.” He adds, “This study demonstrates that we can enhance recovery from everyday stress and exhaustion through simple and targeted movement and mindfulness training.”

Best of all, says Gottschall: “Transformation can occur with small but consistent changes that are accessible to anyone. You don't need to be a particular level of fitness to start BODYBALANCE and by doing it regularly, you can start enjoying the same benefits the study participants gained."

Read exclusive insights from Jackie Mills, Diana Archer Mills and Kylie Gates on BODYBALANCE 100.

This article originally appeared in Fit Planet.