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SUNY Canton Adjunct Produces Research on the Positive Effects of Yoga Nidra on Sleep

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A SUNY Canton faculty member’s research linking yoga nidra with better sleep patterns and decreased anxiety has been featured in U.S. News and World Report.

Erica M. Sharpe, Ph.D., who teaches chemistry, botanical medicine and music at the college, has been studying the effects of the guided meditation practice as part of her postdoctoral fellowship, funded by an National Institute of Health Building Research Across Interdisciplinary Gaps grant at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) and the University of Washington.

Erica Sharpe practices yoga on a beach.

“While our work is preliminary, we have demonstrated initial evidence that yoga nidra can produce physical, mental, and emotional relaxation, decrease respiratory rate and anxiety,” Sharpe said. “The practice leads you through awareness of the body and breath, then asks you to create vivid mental experiences of your own memories and emotions, as well as several guided visualizations, before bringing you back to your own awareness of body and breath.”

Yoga nidra is different from a yoga practice or seated meditation because participants lay on their back, completely still and allow the teacher to fully guide them. The practice allows them to withdraw from all their senses, except listening.

Erica Sharpe leads a yoga class in the Kingston Mezzanine

Sharpe’s research included Southworth Library Building Manager Allan Cox, who began yogic sleep to help with feelings of restlessness. After several months of participating, he felt calmer and started sleeping better. He said the relaxation skills make him both self-aware and less impulsive when he completed a 45-minute yoga nidra twice a week.

"As far as stress reduction, that hour and a half a week gives me just as much benefit, probably more, than exercise does," Cox said. "Some days are not that easy, but I'm able to create a calmness, and I attribute that to yoga nidra."

According to an abstract Sharpe co-authored for the journal Sleep Disorders, insomnia and related anxiety affect 30% to 50% of the U.S. adult population.

Citing the U.S. News article, the abstract describes a study in which online yoga nidra was offered before bed. Seventy-four individuals joined the study, of whom 71% reported having insomnia and 74% reported having anxiety when they joined the study. After just one practice, 52% of respondents reported that it took them less time to fall asleep that night, and their overall state of anxiety also decreased by 41% immediately after the practice.

“Although participants are instructed to stay awake and alert during the practice, many people fall asleep several times during the practice, and emerge from it feeling rejuvenated, and like they learned something about themself,” she said. “The applications toward wellness are very broad, but we are interested in continuing research on yoga nidra in relation to sleep and insomnia, as well as mental health.”

During her time at SUNY Canton, Sharpe conducted studies on the effects of yoga on stress among college students and the antioxidant properties of mushrooms. She is currently recruiting for another research study, hosted by NUNM, on remotely delivered yoga nidra for mild to moderate depression. Those interested are invited to fill out a survey to determine if they are eligible to participate, and may contact Sharpe at esharpe@nunm.edu for more information.

About SUNY Canton

As Northern New York's premier college for career-driven bachelor's degrees, associate degrees and professional certificate programs, SUNY Canton delivers quality hands-on programs in digital design, engineering technology, health, management and public service. Faculty members are noted for their professional real-world experience in addition to outstanding academic credentials. As SUNY's leader in online education, SUNY Canton OnLine offers hundreds of flexible and convenient courses as well as 23 online degree programs. The college placed first in 14 categories in a SUNY-Wide Student Opinion Survey, most notably in career services, tutoring, library resources, and classroom facilities. The SUNY Canton Kangaroos 15 traditional athletic teams compete at the NCAA Division III level as part of the North Atlantic Conference. SUNY Canton also features varsity esports and cheerleading.