If you’ve been practising meditation, you’ll know the relaxing and calmness it brings, as well as the other benefits it grants you, like improved concentration and decreased stress levels.
Sleep has similar restorative effects on both the mind and body.
However, unlike sleep, meditation isn’t a mandatory part of life. So, the question remains — can meditation truly be used to replace sleep?
What Are The Similarities And Differences Between Meditation And Sleep?
Although meditation and sleep are undoubtedly different in numerous ways, given that they both provide some much-needed rest along with decreased breathing and heart rates, it’s easy to see why many are tempted to think that sleep can be replaced with meditation.
Similar to sleep, research has shown that meditation also involves lowering the frequency of our brain waves, from high-frequency, active “beta” waves to more relaxed and lower-frequency “alpha” and “theta” waves, as you flow into a deeper meditative state.
This order of progression is quite similar to sleep and is why meditation can be used to at least partially replace some portions of sleep.
However, unlike meditation, sleep is necessary for our bodies to function. This is because our bodies need delta waves — “ultra-low” frequency brain waves produced only in deep sleep — to repair muscles, cells, and tissues and to revitalise the brain.
It’s only in long and very deep meditative states, identical to those achieved by experienced yogis and monks, that you can experience super-low frequency delta waves during meditation.
This type of serious meditation has the ability to replace even the deeper and restorative portions of sleep.
However, this is something that’s extremely difficult for the average individual to achieve. This is why most of us will still need at least 5 to 6 hours of sleep, even if we meditate 1-2 hours a day, to function optimally.
Nevertheless, supplementing sleep by incorporating a habit of meditation is still a good idea because it can boost overall sleep quality and may even reduce the overall requirement for sleep — at least to some degree — in the long run.
At the bare minimum, you’ll at least have greater energy and focus throughout the day. Plus, since studies have shown meditation to help greatly reduce stress, it might even be possible to resolve sleep issues like insomnia with regular meditation!
How Does Meditation Help Decrease Our Need For Sleep?
When practicing meditation to enhance and boost your sleep, you’ll need to work on it slowly and consistently.
Certainly, studies have shown that meditation can lead to lasting changes in improving the non-REM — deeper and restorative — phases of sleep if done properly and regularly.
As the non-REM stages of sleep are those in which our bodies get the highest level of rest and relaxation, you’ll start feeling more well-rested and energised when you wake up.
Once your sleep cycles involve longer and enhanced non-REM phases, you’ll start getting deeper and better sleep at night. Eventually, you might even find yourself not needing as many hours in bed!
You’ll start feeling much more rejuvenated and full of energy just after 6-7 hours of sleep instead of 9. Simply put, your body starts needing fewer hours of shut-eye to recharge your body and mind.
This doesn’t mean that meditation can completely replace sleep. This is because the chemical and physiological reactions that occur during these two processes are vastly different.
Therefore, you shouldn’t try to completely replace one with the other. Generally, to thrive and for optimal memory, renewal, learning, and health, most experts recommend sleeping on average 7-9 hours each night, independently from your meditation routine!
How Much Meditation Is Equal To One Hour Of Sleep?
Can you swap out an hour or two of sleep with a few minutes of meditation? Maybe. A study by the Oregon State University found that 10 minutes of meditation was more or less equivalent to 44 minutes of sleep in exhausted entrepreneurs.
However, this doesn’t mean meditating for 2 hours can replace a full night’s slumber. Recall those essential, ultra-low delta waves?
Unless you’re an accomplished yogi or a true master of mindfulness, you’re not going to get those delta waves in large enough doses with just meditation.
Instead of trying to trade out sleep for meditation, a more reasonable and healthier way is to add a few minutes of meditation into your daily routine. Maintain your normal sleep schedule and see if over time you start needing less bedtime.
However, if you run into the occasional sleepless night, for sure take out the time to meditate an extra 15 minutes or so. No one wants to start off their day feeling drowsy, confused, and tired!
Final Thoughts: Can Meditation Replace Sleep?
Thanks to millions of years of evolution, the human mind and body have developed an effective and efficient way to revitalise themselves, through the sleeping process.
It’s difficult to deny the power of evolution and it is true that ultimately, meditation can’t completely replace sleep.
However, even if meditation can’t fully replace sleep, at the very least, frequent meditation does have the potential to significantly improve global sleep quality and can help you stop feeling like a zombie when you do experience the occasional sleepless night.