Can you meditate instead of sleep?

Updated: 5 days ago

Well, it depends on what you mean by sleep.

If you're trying to omit sleep altogether by replacing it with some ungodly meditation routine lasting through the night to the early hours of the next day, then no. Probably not.

You'd likely fall asleep eventually but still, don't do that. Trying to replace nighttime sleep with meditation won't work, so this post will not be about that.

Instead, we'll look into a unique way meditation can improve your sleep hygiene.

How does meditation help with sleep?

According to a sleep study by Keck Medicine of USC, there is evidence showing that following a mindfulness meditation practice during the day can improve the quality of sleep in older adults who suffer from sleep disturbances at night. These disturbances include:

  • Trouble falling asleep at night,

  • Waking up in the middle of the night.

The participants in this study were separated into two groups: a group-based mindfulness meditation program and a group-based sleep hygiene program.

David Black, who was the author of this study, said he was "—surprised to find that the effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality was large and above and beyond the effect of the sleep hygiene education program."

The group in the mindfulness program learned how to use mindfulness techniques—including meditation—to arm themselves against disturbing thoughts and feelings they might have had during the day.

By the end of the trial, the mindfulness group was able to focus all their conscious attention on the present moment and reported feeling reduced daytime fatigue and depression: two huge factors contributing to poor sleep quality.

The group enrolled in the sleep hygiene program did report some improvement in sleep quality after the intervention, but reported much lower scores in:

  • Reduction of anxiety.

  • Nonreacticity.

  • And sleep-related daytime impairment.

This study basically proved that having a healthy relationship with your thoughts and feelings during the day is crucial for your sleep hygiene. And we don't need a scientific study to prove that insufficient sleep makes us miserable and groggy throughout the day. What a catch-22. But as far as meditation goes?

Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

Who would have known that doing something as simple as changing the way you react to the thoughts in your head could be your ticket to better sleep?

Take it from the participants in this study. They're snoozing. And they're snoozing well. Those are some pretty solid points for mindfulness in my book!

So, can you meditate instead of sleep during nap time?

Of course, you can! But that doesn't mean you have to be too strict about it. If you feel like you need to take a nap, that's okay. Snooze on, my friend.

Mount Fuji taking a nap
Mount Fuji taking a nap

But here's the thing.

You'll probably find that you feel more energized and refreshed after meditating, even after long meditation sessions. This is totally unlike napping where even after short naps you often feel groggy or dull.

There's a scientific reason for this.

Dr. Richardson from the University of Wisconsin found that mindfulness meditation increases brain wave coherence of theta and beta brain waves which improves the functioning of the brain.

Think of it this way. You need to complete a full sleep cycle to feel sufficiently rested. When you're taking a 15 to 20-minute nap, you'll wake up feeling groggy because you didn't even get close to a full cycle which is usually between 90-110 minutes.

Here's the cool part.

During deep meditation, your body enters into a profoundly relaxed state much like in deep sleep, but you remain completely aware of your surroundings.

Some dude meditating
"Meditation is like the flight to outer space, where there is no sunset, no sunrise—nothing!" - Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

You enter into a unique rest where the flurry of activities going on in your mind and body blur away. Your awareness—which should not be confused with your mind—now has the opportunity to observe (without judgment) everything going on around you in the present moment.

So basically, you’re sitting as pure indiscriminate awareness.

Isn’t that awesome? Imagine what kind of creative ideas you could come up with by embracing such a spacious state! Oh, and the wisdom you might stumble upon!

Great, but what is the difference between meditation and sleeping as a whole?

The important word to keep in mind here is alertness.

In ordinary wakefulness, the four yogic parts of your mind: the intellect (buddhi), memory (manas), unconscious mind (chitta) and sense of self (ahankara) are active and function as they normally would. When you go to sleep, you enter into a non-alert state. When you are dreaming, chitta is the only part of your brain that is still active. In deep sleep, all four states drop and you completely let go.

Buddha being buddha-like and stuff
Buddha being buddha-like and stuff

Deep meditative states are unlike ordinary wakefulness and sleep because the part of you that is receptive to your surroundings—awareness—stays fully alert while the intellect, ego and memory take a back seat. But unlike sleep, these states typically don't shut down completely—at least for most meditators.

If you don't know much about the yogic philosophy of mind, that’s okay.

"Wakefulness and sleep are like sunrise and darkness, while dreams are like the twilight in between. Meditation is like the flight to outer space, where there is no sunset, no sunrise—nothing!" - Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

The bottom line here is that when you meditate, your mind gets quieter. You're literally uncluttering and defragging your mind.

What happens if you meditate for a long time?

If you meditate for a long time, the benefits of all this uncluttering are boundless. As the space between your thinking mind and this quiet indiscriminate awareness gradually expands, you may begin to experience:

The benefits of long-term meditation practice don't end with these examples. To learn more about how daily meditation can have a profoundly positive effect on your waking life and your sleep hygiene, subscribe to my...

I'm kidding. You don't have to subscribe to anything. Just sit down and meditate.

Wrapping up

The ultimate source of wisdom and benefit where meditation is concerned comes from you! Try it for yourself. Get into your own routine! Meditate on your own terms in your own way. But just like any practice, you have to do it consistently if you want to see long-lasting results.

But consistent meditation doesn't mean long meditation. Consider trying out these 5 mini-meditations you can do in one minute if you really don't have the time. Just one mindful minute of your time every day can hack your brain into being in a default mindful state.

And as we've learned, being more mindful throughout the day drastically improves your sleep hygiene. It shouldn't replace sleep. That would be stupid. But it sure as heck acts as a boon—an upgrade—for our physical and mental wellness during the day and during the night.