It’s no secret that meditation can help you increase awareness, improve health and reduce stress. But despite its many benefits, it can be a struggle to fit meditation into your busy schedule.
What if there were an alternative? Research is showing that meditation can actually replace sleep. Instead of trying to work it into your regular day, you can try meditating in place of sleep.
Meditation increases short term mental performance and reduces need for sleep.
This was the conclusion of a 2010 University of Kentucky study that looked at different groups of meditators.
The first part of the study found that after 40 minutes of meditating, novice meditators did better on a mental performance test compared to their normal performance. This suggests the participants were mentally well-rested after the meditation.
Interestingly, their mental performance returned to normal when tested again after one hour. They were also tested after a 40-minute nap, and their performance was worse than normal.
The second part of the study looked at the amount of sleep and mental acuity of experienced meditators compared to a group of non-meditators. Each of the meditators had at least 3 years of meditation experience and meditated for 2.3 hours per day on average.
Researchers found that the meditators slept an average of 5.2 hours per night, compared to 7.8 hours for the non-meditator group. The experienced meditators tested well on their mental performance and had no signs of sleep deprivation, regardless of their lower hours of sleep.
There may be a learning curve.
A study published by the New York Academy of Sciences concluded that Buddhist types of meditation practices may improve wakefulness and reduce the need for sleep, especially in long-term practice.
The researchers found that reduced sleep is fairly common during times of intensive meditative practice, such as multi-day silent retreats. Sleeping less is often considered a sign of meditative skill and progress. Buddhist texts suggest that proficient meditators sleep around 4 hours a night.
In addition, the study found that novice meditators often go through an adjustment period. For instance, they spoke to a meditator who had done a 3-month Tibetan-style shamatha retreat. She said she actually slept more than usual in the first two weeks of the intensive retreat. Then her sleep began to diminish to 1.5 to 3 hours per night by the eighth week.
This trend has been shown in many different studies, even for new meditators who start with short periods of meditation. It appears the effort involved in learning a new meditative practice may cause more fatigue at first. Then the later stages produce greater wakefulness during the day and a reduced need for sleep at night.
Suggestions for trying this at home.
To start out, Bruce O’Hara from the University of Kentucky recommends you only replace half the amount of sleep with meditation. For instance, replace one hour of sleep with two hours of meditation.
If diving into 2-hour blocks of meditation sounds intimidating, try starting with 10-minute sessions once a day. You can set your morning alarm 10 minutes earlier, and either sit up or continue lying down for a short meditation practice.
As the New York Academy of Science study showed, it may take a while to adjust to a new meditation routine. You might need more sleep at first. Pay close attention to how you feel during the day and how your body responds as you try out different schedules. You can slowly increase the length of your meditation sessions and experiment with shorter sleep times.
Which meditation practice should you choose? There isn’t one type of meditation that suits all people. You may need to try out a few in order to find one that you like and will enjoy practicing. Live and Dare has a good overview of some common types of meditation.