There are very few worse experiences than waking up and feeling you did not get enough sleep. You feel all worked up, grumpy, tired, just terrible. One of the commonest issues people deal with within our society today is the lack of sleep. Getting proper sleep, both in quantity and quality, is critical to how the day would go. That goes without saying.
However, getting proper sleep is easier said than done. Studies show that up to fifty percent of adults globally have trouble falling asleep. This has led to many people resorting to other means to try and replace sleep in the body. One of those means is meditation. But can meditation truly replace sleep?
This article will answer that and also shed light on several other sleep and meditation-related issues.
Meditation and sleep
Before we dive into whether meditation can replace sleep, it makes sense to examine the differences and relationships between meditation and sleep. The differences between the two will offer so much insight into whether you can replace sleep with meditation.
The same applies to the relationship between the two. Spoiler alert, there is a relationship between sleep and meditation, one that several studies and research have confirmed. But let’s take it one step at a time and start with the differences between sleep and meditation.
Meditation can influence sleep but it can’t replace the latter.
Differences between meditation and sleep
Meditation and sleep are not the same. While they have some similarities, the differences between the two are quite overwhelming.
To start with, the effects they produce on the body are different. When we wake from sleep, we naturally feel a little light-headed, sluggish, dull, and some may even feel a little fatigued. Fatigue, in particular, is very common when the sleep is of poor quality. These effects eventually wane with time.
The effects of meditation on the body are different. After meditating, one feels energized, relaxed, calm, and, generally, very good. During a meditation session, the body releases certain hormones, and the one responsible for the overly positive and energized effect after meditation is endorphin.
Endorphins confer a state of mild euphoria on a person. This state is quite addictive, which explains why many people get addicted to drugs that can stimulate this euphoric state in the body. This euphoric state is usually long-lasting.
Aside from the difference in immediate effects and how the body feels, meditation and sleep also differ in how long these effects last. The effects of sleep on the body immediately after waking last shorter than those of meditation.
We all have three states of mind, which are the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind. The conscious mind deals with awareness of thinking. This is the state of mind most commonly engaged through our daily activities.
The subconscious mind deals with deep thinking in the body. This state of mind is the most underrated of all the other states of mind. It offers a lot of benefits, like creativity, intelligence, calmness, and is generally relaxing. The unconscious mind does not deal with thinking at all. We are unaware of what is going on in and around us.
The states of mind sleep and meditation engages are different. During sleep, our subconscious and unconscious mind are called into action. Meditation, on the other hand, deals with our conscious and subconscious mind.
The state of mind common to both sleep and meditation is the sub-conscious mind, but we cannot reap the full benefits of the sub-conscious mind when we are asleep. We are awake during meditation, so we can fully engage the subconscious mind and become happier and more satisfied with life at any particular moment.
Physiological factors, like breathing and heart rate, differ in sleep and meditation. Our body is always working, even when we sleep. We still breathe, our hearts still beat, and other physiological changes still occur in the body. However, these physiological factors slow down when we sleep. So, while we still breathe, we don’t breathe as fast as when we are fully awake. The same applies to heart rate. When we meditate, these physiological factors also slow down, but to a greater extent. Drastically slowing down the body’s physiology leads to high relaxation and calm, as the body works much less than usual.
During sleep, our body repairs many injured or worn-out cells and tissues.
Relationship between meditation and sleep
Despite the differences between sleep and meditation, there is still a strong relationship between them. The effects of meditation can influence sleep. We are still going to answer whether meditation can replace sleep, but we will focus on another question for now – can meditation help with sleep?
Do you remember some of the effects of meditation we mentioned earlier, especially engaging the subconscious mind more to give a more relaxed and calm state? These effects can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels in the body, which, in turn, influence sleep, as the major sleep problems originate from stress levels in the body. When meditating, the heart and breathing rate drastically decreases, which also calms the body.
There are other important ways meditation also influences sleep, like raising the levels of hormones critical to sleep, like melatonin and serotonin. Meditation can also stimulate the centers of the brain that deal with sleep.
There are studies to back up these claims too. According to a 2015 study, meditation helped to combat insomnia and tiredness in adults. So, while sleep and meditation are quite different, they are related.
Can meditation replace sleep?
Then to the moment of truth. Can meditation replace sleep? Well, the simple answer is no. No, meditation cannot replace sleep. Meditation and sleep are different; you must know that by now. They both have different effects on the body.
Sleep has many functions in the body. It is during sleep that the body repairs many injured or worn-out cells and tissues. Many immune functions in the body take place during sleep. Sleep also, of course, help to rest the body and restore energy depleted during the day.
On the other hand, meditation is more concerned with the mind and reducing stress in the body. Since stress contributes to tiredness and fatigue in the body, we can imply that reducing stress will make the body less tired. And if the body is less tired, we wouldn’t need as much sleep.
Some experienced meditators claim that they need much less sleep than the average man, with some texts stating that they need about four hours of sleep a day. From all of these, we can conclude that people that regularly meditate need less sleep. However, how much less sleep?
According to a study, one can effectively replace close to 45 minutes of sleep with a ten-minute meditation session. But before you can attain this stage, you need discipline and consistency with your meditation practices. When starting, meditation may lead to more sleep, but the need for sleep will reduce with time.
To be clear, you should not replace sleep with meditation as sleep has many functions in the body that meditation cannot provide, but meditating regularly will reduce the amount of sleep time you need. Still, there is plenty more scientific evidence that recommends regularly sleeping 7-8 hours in order to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Each meditation technique have its unique benefits.
How to meditate
There are many meditation practices and techniques, each having its unique benefits and perks. Some common examples are mindfulness and guided meditation. The varying meditation types makes it difficult to give a general guide on how to meditate. However, there are still a few steps or tips that are common to all meditation types. They are:
- Look for a quiet and cool place to meditate. Meditation involves high focus and attention levels, which will be difficult to attain in a noisy and distracting environment. Many professionals can meditate anywhere because of years of practice, but for starters, look for a quiet and cool place.
- The next step is to assume a posture you are comfortable with. However, if you get too comfortable, you may doze off. Sitting is the go-to posture. You should not start lying down, as you can easily fall asleep, except it is at night, and you don’t mind falling asleep. After developing your focus and attention ability, you can assume any position you like.
- Take deep breaths and focus on the breaths. Be mindful and aware of how air enters your body, fills your lungs, and leaves your body. Aside from focusing on breathing, you should also focus on meditating. Block out other thoughts as soon as they pop up.
- The final tip to meditating is discipline and practice. You cannot become a pro in a day or week. You need to give your body time to adapt. If you fall asleep in your first few tries, don’t give up. Just keep practicing.
It is worth noting that people also meditate through yoga, which is an entire field on its own.
Benefits of meditation
Aside from its role in improving the quality of sleep, there are also some other benefits to meditating. Meditation has both physical and mental health benefits. In the physical aspect, meditation can help lower blood pressure, improve the body’s response to pain, lower inflammation, and lower stress. Mentally, meditation may improve mood and lower the risk of mental conditions, like anxiety and depression. You can get a more detailed breakdown of how meditation affects the brain here.
Meditation is also easy, and it has no side effects, so you have nothing to be worried about.
Meditation and sleep are two different entities with different effects on the body. However, there is a relationship between the two, as meditation can help to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia symptoms. But that’s it. You can use meditation for better and, possibly, shorter sleep, but not to replace it. Sleep is natural, and the body needs it, so let the body have it.
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Co-founder of MB Zen, digital nomad and freedom seeker. Loves developing projects that improve people’s lives. Functional training, yoga, and healthy eating define his lifestyle since he got his back injured. Fell in love with Yin yoga from the very first session though he won’t say no to any other kind of yoga.