We are all very well aware that sleep is necessary. A normal person needs to regulate sleep. Interestingly, evidence has suggested that long-term meditators need less sleep. Most Buddhists have stated that a full night’s sleep is equal to approximately four hours of proficient meditation.
Studies outside the Buddhist concept also support the idea that meditation does replace some of the time needed to sleep. People who are involved in long-term meditation and are indulged in traditional laboratory sleep studies have shown 30 minutes less sleep.
Regular meditation brings about changes in the body that normal sleep does. The feeling of restful alertness that is produced by meditation is because of the decreased heart rate, changes in the nervous system, and reduced metabolism is the same as reduced arousal we feel in sleep.
Neuroimaging studies also support the idea that meditation practice lowers sleep and promotes wakefulness as it progresses. When it is in the early stages where you meditate for one or two times per week, it gives you the sleep-promoting and relaxing effects. But as you meditate more, you will notice the reduced need for sleep. It all depends upon the period of meditation, the type of meditation you are doing, and the quality of sleep you experience.
What is the difference between meditation and sleep?
Meditation and sleep involve different stage and state of consciousness and leads to a more relaxed state. This is the reason why some people who meditate occasionally drift towards sleep and those who practice it regularly claim to have less sleep demand.
Meditation means to think or to reflect. It is an act of achieving a relaxed state through breathing and concentration. Meditation is seen to be reducing stress, depression, pain, anger, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Where sleep is the natural periodic suspension of consciousness where all voluntary muscles have inhibited that lead to reduced ability to environmental cues.
Here are some of the differences between meditation and sleep
Sleep mainly involves subconscious and unconscious whereas meditation involves conscious and subconscious. It is way easier and faster to shift from meditation state to the normal wakening conscious as compared to sleep.
Meditation lasts for only a few minutes mostly 30 and it can be done for several hours but for sleep, the recommendations are at least 7-8 hours.
When you are sleeping, there is no need for any posture or special position. But, while meditating there are certain postures required for each type such as Yogic, Zen, and Vedic meditation.
4. Transcendental Experience
As compared to sleep, meditation is more like a spiritual connection. People who claimed to have felt deep meditation experience have reported a vivid connection with cosmos and inner peace. Whereas, sleep doesn’t give you that sort of feeling.
Sleep has five simple stages i.e. light sleep, preparation for deep sleep, deep sleep, the continuation of a deep sleep, and REM sleep. Whereas meditation has numerous kinds like body scan, mindfulness, and Zen. Many of these have subtypes too.
Sleep is just an instinct of the body in need of rest and recuperation. Whereas practitioners need proper training and practice for any sort of meditation technique.
In meditation, lots of concentration is required because practitioners need to pay attention to their breathing and the relative processes to reach that cognitive stage. As compared to this, sleep is just a natural process that comes to people with very little effort.
Is meditation a substitute for sleep?
When we meditate, we are in a quiet, peaceful and relaxing place in mind. This is not the same for every experience and not for every person, but generally, people claim to be calm and restful while they meditate. It gets better with the passage of time. The more we meditate, give it practice, the easier it becomes to rest our minds.
Now, after meditation, do you feel like you have been woken by the sound of an alarm? How does it feel? Some people say that they wake up from sleep quite groggy and confused. Sometimes, they even feel more tired. It is justified because when we sleep, we are resting our bodies for a constant time. Our minds can be in racing mode, while our bodies are at rest. There is very little choice that we have when we sleep but in meditation, we get to rest our mind too.
So, meditation gives us the choice, we can make our minds calm by using less engaged thoughts and being less emotional at that moment. Meditation gives us the calming effect in lesser time and with more choice leading to a more peaceful experience. But, one cannot say how much meditation is enough to replace sleep. It depends on the practice and the person doing it. The body can reject the idea at first because it is used to fixed hours of sleep. But some top practitioners have proven that they can do that with lots of practice and consistency.
However, replacing sleep entirely with meditation is not a good idea. There are numerous benefits related to sleep that cannot be achieved by meditation. Such as:
- It boosts memory
- It improves the immune system
- It reduces stress
- It helps in weight issues
- It improves athletic performances
- It improves concentration power
- It improves learning performances
- It enhances creativity
All these benefits cannot be attained by meditation alone. So, it is better to have a healthy sleep along with mediation to have good results.
Take a look at this video by Krish Murali Eswar.
Can meditation reduce the need for sleep?
Mediation is all about rejuvenating your mind and it has a great impact on health. It helps in sleep-related issues, but it does more than that. The time of sleep we need to be refreshed varies from person to person and so the amount of meditation required also varies.
Although sleep is very important, sometimes reducing the hours doesn’t destroy the experience but rather gives you a better affect. You might feel more fresh and healthy with a lesser amount of sleep than you used to have in college. Meditation has some similar effects on sleep. It does reduce the amount of sleep required and furthermore, it has the following impacts:
- Mediation helps produce Melatonin level which is produced in sound sleep. Stress reduces the amount of melatonin in your body.
- Meditation provides a better experience of sleep by diverting the mind from the thoughts that occur at bedtime. It improves sleep efficiency.
- Meditation helps in reacting to external and internal stimuli. And because of less stress, you need less sleep.
Over time, meditation does reduce sleep and increases its efficiency which is overall very beneficial. The combination of sleep and meditation is best for sound mind and body.
Should I meditate if I can’t sleep?
There are times when you don’t seem to find your way around sleep. Whether it is because of the stress you are facing, or you are just tired, you just can’t sleep. In insomnia, we can often find peace in natural remedies, and if those don’t work, we can sometimes turn towards other kinds of drugs.
But, meditation can be the solution to this insomnia you are facing. It might be the things that you need right now. When we are worried, the body produces stress hormones, which can in turn light up the sympathetic nervous system producing the fight or flight response. In this scenario, we might feel worried, with high blood pressure, anxiety, and it keeps us awake all night.
To calm that anxious mind, meditation is found to be one of the most authentic approaches. And the good news is, that you don’t need any medication or that sort of stuff. It is just breathing and because it controls our stress, it can be effective in inducing the sleep that we require.
So, yes meditation seems to calm the diverted mind and reduce stress, so it is great to meditate when you are unable to sleep. It puts your mind and body at peace, and even if you get a small amount of sleep after that, it will create a soothing effect. It does the following things to induce sound sleep:
- It increases melatonin (the sleep hormone)
- It increases serotonin
- It reduces heart rate
- It decreases blood pressure
- It activates the parts of the brain responsible for sleep.
In conclusion, it can be said that meditation and sleep are a good combination of sound body and mind. However, there is evidence that meditation does reduce the amount of sleep required, but at the same time, it improves its quality and keeps your mind easy which is not a choice in sleep alone. Meditation is a great way of controlling your stress and providing peace to the whole body. It is just about the time you spend on it and the intensity you reach. The more effort you put in, the better you will be at it.