One of the biggest secrets to success is quality sleep and daily meditation, yet in pursuit of it we end up doing neither of the two as much as we should. Whether you are employed, starting/running your own business, or are a stay-at-home parent, sometimes it can feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done, let alone sleep. Lack of sleep is a common problem that spans across cultures and socioeconomic class. And, for those who have tried meditation before, that refreshed, alert, and calm feeling you get after wrapping up a session can feel like you just woke up from the best nap ever.
Can meditation replace sleep? Not quite. Sleep and meditation have a number of similarities like they are both important for resting the mind. Even so, they are still very different and neither can replace the other. To live a healthy and happy life, you need both quality sleep and daily meditation practise.
Sleep is one of man’s most essential needs but all the stress, anxiety, and tension that we gather during the day make it so difficult to disconnect and get a good night’s sleep. As a relaxation technique, meditation can quiet the mind and body while enhancing inner peace. Since these two seem to have the same effect, you may be tempted to wonder if you can catch up on sleep with meditation. After all, if a few minutes of meditation can replace hours of sleep, then you’ll have extra time on your hands to do other things. Well, today we are going to find out how these two are related, so stay with me till the end.
Sleep VS Meditation
The practise of meditation has moved mainstream in the last decade, but with more generalised acceptance, there has also been an ongoing discussion about the possibility of it replacing sleep. In the following sections, I’m going to examine each so you can fully understand the relationship between sleep and meditation and whether or not one can replace the other.
What Is Meditation?
It’s a mental practice that involves focus, awareness, and relaxation. It’s an ancient practice that can be traced back to 1500 BCE where it was used to help understand the sacred and mystical forces of life. But in modern times, meditation is gaining much popularity as more and more people discover its many benefits. You can use it as a way to increase self-awareness, reduce/control anxiety, improve imagination and creativity, enhance mental clarity, reduce stress, fight addictions or destructive habits, and much more. In short, meditation can help improve all aspects of life, including physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental being.
What Happens During Sleep?
Sleep is triggered by a complex group of hormones (Melatonin being a major one) that respond from cues from the environment and the body itself. During sleep, the body releases hormones that work to re-grow damaged tissue, form more white blood cells to help strengthen immunity, generate skills cells, process events and emotions through dreams, retain memory, and generally encourage a healthy body and brain. Needless to say, sleep is a vital part of our daily lives, just like eating. A typical adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep every night to function properly; unfortunately, many people don’t get that much sleep every day.
Can Meditation Replace Sleep?
Now that you know the similarities and differences between sleep and meditation, should you use meditation to try and replace sleep? No, you shouldn’t. Our bodies require sleep for repair and rejuvenation while meditation is an effective tool to help you unwind, relax, and acquire rest, all of which will help you sleep faster and longer. When used properly, sleep and meditation can complement each other. If you meditate frequently, you can sleep much better and when you sleep well, you can meditate much deeper.
How Meditation ‘Supplements’ Sleep
Lack of sleep is caused by a number of things and meditation can help with both physical and psychological causes. The first thing you need for a good night’s sleep is a calm nervous system, but given all the stress that life throws at us during the day, the constant worrying during bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. Meditation calms the body, releasing long-held mental and physical stress so you can feel much relaxed and fall asleep much faster.
Secondly, melatonin is a vital hormone for sleep. Unfortunately, stress, caffeine, and blue light from modern gadgets throw off the production of this natural hormone. This can affect your natural sleep-wake cycle, making it difficult to fall asleep and even achieve a deep state of sleep throughout the night. Meditation increases melatonin levels, allowing you to activate your natural sleep pattern and reach REM sleep quicker for a longer and more productive sleep.
Types of Meditation You Can Practise For a Good Night’s Sleep
Meditation is a simple practise that can be done anytime and anywhere, especially before bed to help improve quality of sleep. You don’t need special tools or equipment for it; in fact, it can be as simple as finding a quiet area and sitting or lying down. Then, close your eyes and begin to inhale and exhale deeply while focusing on your breaths and regulating them. After doing this for a while, slow down your breathing to signal the mind that it’s time to relax and fall asleep. If a thought pops up during this exercise, let it go and refocus on breathing.
That being said, there are a couple of specific meditation techniques that tend to work well for improving quality of sleep and they include mindfulness meditation, body scanning, visualisation, counting, guided meditation, and practising gratitude, just to name a few. These meditation practises are conducted differently so if you’re not sure how to get started, look for online classes and read up on each one. No one technique is suitable for everyone, so look for one or two that are easier, more beneficial, and more convenient for your lifestyle.
Meditation is not easy and on your first try, you’ll likely become flooded with all kinds of thoughts. Start by meditating 3-5 minutes and slowly increase to 15-20 minutes. Over time, you will learn how to quiet your mind.
How Much Sleep Can Meditation Replace?
There have been stories of ancient yogis and Buddhist monks practising deep meditation and as result sleeping for just an hour per night or no sleep at all. How is this even possible? There are many anecdotes of people needing less sleep once they start meditating. These people claim that meditation can decrease the metabolic rate four times more than deep sleep can, allowing them to have a more restful and restorative night, which is why they only need a small amount of sleep to feel replenished.
While expert mediators may be able to go deep that they require less sleep, the kind of dedication and skills required for mediation to replace even a few hours of sleep is out of the question for 99.99% of us.
If you’re still insistent on finding out if you can replace sleep with meditation, a limited study found that 10 minutes of meditation can replace about 44 minutes of sleep. But even in this study, they concluded that meditation cannot entirely or even half-way replace sleep. What it can do, instead, is help compensate and provide a degree of relief to those who are extremely stressed and sleep-deprived.
Dangers of Lack of Sleep
While you can substitute meditation for sleep up to a certain point (a very small one for that matter), this is not something that you should do in increments. If you have to, maybe stick to the 10 minutes of meditation for 44 minutes of sleep. This still leaves you with about 7 hours of sleep, which is still within the required 7-9 hours of sleep daily for an adult.
It would be very dangerous and irresponsible of you to completely replace sleep with meditation. Missing just one night’s sleep can make you irritable and even cause difficulty concentrating, higher anxiety levels, increased blood sugar, increased stress levels, and disruption in the body’s hormones, among other things.
Continued lack of sleep can weaken your immune system, which puts you at risk of serious health issues. It can also age your skin, make you gain weight, lead to anxiety and depression, impair your judgement, kill sex drive, affect your balance and coordination, increase your risk for accidents and injuries, and so on.
Given all these risks, I will conclude by acknowledging that nothing can replace sleep. However, what we can take from this text is that meditation can help you sleep better so you function well and live happily and healthily.