Both reduce stress and help revitalize the body and mind. The main difference between sleep and meditation is that in meditation, we stay alert, awake and aware while we sleep, we lack alertness and, instead, we fall into boredom and lack of awareness. If you're new to meditation, you may wonder what time of day you should meditate. Should you meditate in bed while trying to fall asleep? Or can a daily meditation ritual at any time of the day help you sleep better? To get an idea of what time sleep seekers should meditate, we spoke to Kathy Carlson, professor of meditation at Franklin College.
Sleep is like a scrub for the brain. Sleep helps the brain clean up many toxic byproducts, and a chemical called beta-amyloid that can cause Alzheimer's if allowed to build up. It's not uncommon for your first meditation of the day to be full of thoughts and for the second to be a little more “asleep”. In experiments with experienced long-term meditators, sleep duration was measured using both sleep diaries and actigraphy.
Neuroimaging studies are beginning to support the idea that a meditation practice promotes greater wakefulness and a lower propensity to sleep as it progresses in intensity. Therefore, in these studies, we assess whether meditation leads to an immediate improvement in performance in a well-validated psychomotor vigilance (PVT) task and, secondly, whether prolonged meditation sessions can alter the need for sleep. A common practice for measuring sleep is through the electroencephalogram (EEG), where researchers can detect electrical impulses in the brain. But why? We know that regular meditation practice can cause changes in the body that are similar to changes that occur during sleep.
The restful alertness you may experience with meditation is associated with a decrease in heart rate, a reduction in metabolism, and changes in the nervous system that reduce the arousal that occurs during sleep. While sleep is meant to replenish your energy and help you heal, meditation is designed to cancel the stress that made you feel tired in the first place. A major difficulty in assessing whether meditation can replace a part of sleep is that sleep functions are not well understood and there is no direct measure of the need for sleep. Not only could these meditation episodes reduce the accumulation of sleep debt, but people could also benefit from the short-term performance improvements mentioned above, without the sleep inertia problems that occur with longer naps.