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Can Meditation Replace Sleep?
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Sleep vs Meditation: Can Meditation Replace Sleep?

Most meditators feel calm and rested the more they are consistent with their daily practice. Vedic Meditation specifically allows the body to relax significantly more deeply than sleep even when thoughts are present. 

With all the extra rest in meditation and greater energy outside of meditation, it’s natural to wonder: can meditation replace sleep?

Vedic Meditation can help you have better sleep, more energy, and less tiredness. Though it’s a great supplement to your lifestyle, it cannot replace sleep. In this post, we’ll cover why it doesn’t work to do a meditation instead of sleep when you need to sleep, and how meditation does affect your sleep quality and sleep cycles.

Can meditation replace sleep

The body requires sleep every 24 hours

Our bodies require more than just regular rest or quick naps. When we’re horizontal for hours at a time at night, we give our bodies a chance to relax all of our muscles. With fully relaxed muscles, our blood can more easily filter through muscles and replenish or restore areas that need healing or attention. This makes a difference in our heart health since the heart no longer has to work against gravity to pump blood throughout the body when we’re lying down all night.

Deep sleep allows our bodies to perform multiple functions that they cannot do when we’re awake. Our digestion undergoes intense waves of contraction to move food from our system and clear it from the upper digestive tract. These digestive contractions would be painful if we were awake.

Is meditation the same as sleeping?

Though Vedic Meditation can sometimes feel like sleeping, it’s not the same for your body. The bija mantra slowly brings your mind to a quieter and quieter place, until the mind transcends thought altogether. This process of allowing thoughts while thinking the mantra eases the body into a state of restful alertness, which triggers an entire phenomenology of stress release in the physiology.

Though sleep can help the body restore physical stress, the restful awareness state available in Vedic Meditation allows stress release of a different kind. Every negative reaction or stress memory your brain has experienced creates a stress memory to help protect you from that kind of ‘danger’ happening in the future.

This can look like emotional stress, trauma, mental stress, and even memory associations like the smell of a certain ex’s perfume. Vedic Meditation allows the body to ‘clean’ out those embedded stress memories, so your brain doesn’t send you into fight-or-flight when you smell that perfume or hear a certain tone of voice.

Over time as we release more and more stress memories through meditation, we find we can handle more and we’re more resilient. We can adapt to challenges and changes in expectation more effortlessly. We’re not as susceptible to reacting negatively and have more volition over our behavior.

Releasing stress memories is a transformational process that sleep cannot offer. Though it may seem as if you transform from sleep deprived and grouchy to rested and vibrant… the rested and vibrant version of you would still be vulnerable to your stress memories if you haven’t released them.

The kind of rest available through Vedic Meditation creates a cumulative effect over time, the longer you are consistent with a twice daily meditation practice. Sleep is only cumulative in the negative, not in the positive. You can dramatically reduce your health and mental capacity by not sleeping enough for long periods of time. But you can’t sleep 10 hours a night for a year and then not need to sleep for a full week.

Can meditation replace sleep

How is meditation different from relaxation or sleeping?

The first difference is that with Vedic Meditation, you’re sitting upright with your head unsupported. You may feel as if your body sensations are lessening and your awareness of your surroundings diminishes, but those are signals of quieting and transcending the mind rather than signs of sleep.

Many meditators report experiencing a dreamlike state where they feel more creative, see or imagine imagery, or start to phase in and out of dreams. So long as the head is not falling or bobbing up and down, you’re more likely in the phase of meditation approaching transcendence.

Relaxation has all kinds of forms and different people have different preferences when they want to ‘chill’ or relax. For some people it’s a kind of mindless stimulation, like a puzzle or a video game. It can be entertainment, like reading a book or watching TV.

Some people find socializing relaxing and some people find drinking relaxing. Relaxing doesn’t mean permanently releasing stress from the body– it usually means either distracting the mind from stressful thoughts or down-regulating the nervous system from a heightened state.

Though going into a float tank or doing a workout may change your mental, emotional, and physical state at the moment, your body won’t be able to access that deep level of rest that bypasses the mind and allows stressful memories to leave the body permanently.

That’s not to say that Vedic Meditation should replace the things you do to relax– those activities are some of the pleasures of living. Vedic Meditation is an important addition to the right amount of sleep and relaxing for you. Your meditation practice ensures that you’re evolving and expanding your consciousness while you go about working, relaxing, sleeping, and all the other things you do to survive and thrive.

How do I know if I’m meditating or sleeping?

If you’re not sitting upright or you jerk awake, that’s a good signal that you’ve fallen asleep. Though it’s common for Vedic Meditators to slowly dip their head to their chest while meditating, they don’t bob or jerk their heads. Meditators don’t lose muscle function while meditating, which is what causes the head to jerk when we fall asleep.

One other way to know if you’ve reached the state of transcendence in your meditation is when you can’t account for time passing. When the mind enters the state of transcendence, it enters the field of Pure Being and there are no thoughts whatsoever. This means that no thought would occur noticing that there are no thoughts, or noticing how much time has passed.

Meditators often come out of the transcendent state within twenty minutes, since the body is used to a twenty-minute long session. With sleep, however, the body doesn’t recognize a session’s length. If you ‘come to’ long after your twenty minutes have passed, you may have fallen asleep.

How meditation improves sleep quality

One of the great benefits of Vedic Meditation vs sleep is that you’ll likely experience improved sleep within the first few days or few weeks of starting your meditation practice. When we’re releasing the day’s stressors in our meditation sessions and allowing the brain to learn what transcending thoughts feel like, our quality of sleep improves.

Our bodies don’t need to mitigate the same amount of stress while we’re sleeping and can get straight to the work of restoring our physiology so we feel rested in the morning.

It’s very common for meditators to report getting better sleep than they’ve had in a long time or even better sleep than they’ve ever had shortly after starting their practice.

Meditate with susan

Can meditation help with a lack of sleep?

If you experience insomnia, Vedic Meditation will help you. Oftentimes insomnia is due to our bodies being stuck in fight or flight mode, where our nervous systems are over-activated and struggle to calm down at night. Racing thoughts, restlessness, and feeling fatigued but not sleepy are all signs of an overly stressed body that has trouble sleeping.

Vedic Meditation helps to release the stress that is keeping the body in fight or flight mode and brings the nervous system to a more regulated and normal state. Many Vedic Meditators who struggled with insomnia report having a much easier time falling asleep and staying asleep as their bodies release all that stress that was keeping them awake.

Changes Vedic Meditators commonly experience in their sleep cycles

One common sleep change that many meditators experience is that they notice they don’t need as much sleep to feel rested and have enough energy throughout the day. Meditators who are consistent with their practice will report feeling rested after only four or five hours of sleep, even if they used to require seven or eight.

It isn’t that their eyes snap open after four hours of sleep though. More often, meditators notice that on the days when they have a late night and an early flight or they were up with some task late into the night that they don’t feel tired the next day. They may still be able to sleep 7 to nine hours a night easily, but feel just as rested as the nights that they aren’t able to get as much sleep.

One way to attribute this phenomenon is that if Vedic Meditation offers rest 5x more deep than sleep (which was found in a series of studies by Thom Knoles), then 20 minutes of meditation may equal 100 minutes of sleep. The claim that 10 minutes of meditation is equal to 4 hours of sleep  is not necessarily provable… and any change in the body’s sleep needs is unique to that person’s physiology.

We then distinguish that consciousness may have a preference for being in bed and sleeping a certain amount of time, while the body only needs five or so hours of sleep. This phenomenon isn’t something we recommend meditators start doing… It’s a natural occurrence that many instructors hear their students mention as they progress along their meditation journey.

Rest deficit and catching up on sleep

On the other hand, there are some cases where a new meditator finds they are sleeping a lot more than they were before for a time. This usually occurs when the person has built up a deficit of sleep and rest and the body has been sustaining a high-stress mode for a long time.

When the person starts meditating, it starts to clean out the stress that was keeping them wired, which allows their bodies to come out of survival mode and enter recovery mode. They sleep a lot more and for longer as the nervous system resets and the body demands the recovery that their stress was keeping them from having before.

This kind of increased demand for sleep can also occur during a rounding retreat, where the body is releasing a lot of stress at once and the physiology occasionally responds with tiredness. This is why we say that multiple rounding sessions in a row should be reserved only for rounding retreats where there are qualified instructors to help you navigate any elevated stress release from the rounding practice.

Usually, this kind of increased desire for sleep doesn’t last long if the meditator is consistent with their practice. It may last a few days or up to a month. Then, though the meditator may have normalized a new habit of sleeping longer, they’ll find that they aren’t tired when they sleep less.

Is it OK to meditate at night?

The recommended rhythm of meditations per day is to start the day by getting out of bed and drinking water or brushing your teeth to wake yourself up, then immediately do your first meditation. This clears the stress from the previous evening and sets you up for your day.

The second session is recommended to be done in the afternoon, before eating dinner and shifting into the household demands of the evening. This session clears the stress from your morning and afternoon, and consistent meditators can also reach more deeply into the physiology to clean away stress memories from before that day.

The reason we recommend completing your second 20-minute meditation session in the afternoon is that it is often easier to schedule it at that time, and it’s best to meditate while you’re not digesting food. Digestion demands a great amount of energy and detracts from the rest available in sleep or in meditation.

It’s best for the body to finish eating four hours before bedtime, or at least three hours. That evening time often requires us to be present with our family, our partner, or social demands. We often want to relax in the evening and do things we enjoy as well. All of these factors conspire to make it less likely to meditate after the evening meal than before.

Since Vedic Meditation is so restful, some meditators report that they feel more awake and alert afterward. This means that a late evening meditation could wake you up before you go to bed, which is often unhelpful. Better to reinvigorate our minds and bodies during the circadian afternoon slump than to delay our bedtime or skip meditation because of household or social demands.

Many meditators ask what to do if they miss their afternoon meditation. We say that it’s best to still do a meditation before going to sleep but to do it for 10 minutes rather than the full twenty to avoid waking yourself up too much with a deep rest prior to going to bed.

Conclusion

Though Vedic Meditation cannot replace sleep, it may result in the body requiring less sleep to feel rested. Listen to your body and trust that your practice is helping your body know what it needs and optimize your sleep every night, so you can feel more vibrant and energetic in the daytime.

To receive your own mantra and begin to experience these benefits, sign up for an intro talk here. You’ll hear about the Learn to Meditate course and can ask any questions you have about Vedic Meditation.

About Susan

MEDITATION CHANGED MY LIFE…

I learned Vedic Meditation to feel more like myself again.

Before long, I began to feel present and relaxed, and all the years of pushing and stressing lifted.

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