Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
You missed a night of sleep and are groggy and cranky; any task ahead of you feels like pure dread. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, our busy, always-connected lifestyle isn’t always conducive to getting quality sleep. In addition, long-term sleep deprivation can challenge both physical and mental health.
However, there may be a way you can get the benefits of a good night’s sleep even if you don’t manage to sleep well at night.
Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) – a term coined by Stanford University neuroscience professor Andrew Huberman – is gaining traction as a backup plan for those times you don’t get proper rest at night.
Diving into NDSR
NDSR is a practice that allows you to enter the deepest, non-REM delta wave ‘sleep’ while maintaining awareness of your surroundings.
By slowing down the brain wave frequency for short periods – similarly to what happens during slow-wave sleep (SWS) – it’s possible to achieve a deep, restorative relaxation that many believe is as beneficial as sleep. Some practitioners of NDSR claim that a 30-minute session can equal three to four hours of restorative sleep.
SWS is a type of rest where your body heals and rejuvenates by promoting the production of growth hormones. The importance of this stage is further enforced by its activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which positively impacts cardiovascular health. Outside of sleep quality, specific benefits of NDSR include:
- Improved memory retention and learning
- Stress relief
- Improved mental focus
- Improved cognitive functions
- Potential for pain management
How Do You Practice NDSR?
There are two ways to obtain NDSR: practicing yoga nidra or hypnosis. For practicality’s sake, this article looks at yoga nidra, a super relaxed form of yoga. However, unlike most yoga, the focus isn’t on various poses, as you’re asked to lie down.
It’s best to be in a quiet, comfortable space before you start an NDSR session. This space should be free of distractions – similar to an environment conducive to meditation.
Begin by focusing on your breathing, bringing awareness to different parts of your body, and then scan your body for any tension.
There is no complete substitute for a good night’s rest. Nature intended for sleep to be a restorative, healing, and recharging function that our bodies and minds need for optimal performance and health.
However, NDSR may offer hope for those of us who sometimes struggle with getting sufficient or good-quality sleep. And although more research is needed to fully understand the pathways in which this practice can give us the same benefits as sleep, there seems to be no harm in trying this method. You may just be pleasantly surprised at its effects.
- Parker S. (2019). Training attention for conscious non-REM sleep: The yogic practice of yoga-nidrā and its implications for neuroscience research. Progress in brain research, 244, 255–272. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.10.016
- Grimaldi, D., Papalambros, N. A., Reid, K. J., Abbott, S. M., Malkani, R. G., Gendy, M., Iwanaszko, M., Braun, R. I., Sanchez, D. J., Paller, K. A., & Zee, P. C. (2019). Strengthening sleep-autonomic interaction via acoustic enhancement of slow oscillations. Sleep, 42(5), zsz036. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz036
- Siegel, J. M. (2009). The Neurobiology of Sleep. Seminars in neurology, 29(4), 277. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0029-1237118