Sleep and meditation are both effective ways to reduce stress and revitalize the body and mind. However, the main difference between them is that while meditating, we remain alert, awake, and aware; whereas when we sleep, we lack alertness and instead fall into boredom and lack of awareness. If you're new to meditation, you may be wondering what time of day is best for it. 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 answer this question, we spoke to Kathy Carlson, professor of meditation at Franklin College. Sleep is like a scrub for the brain.
It helps the brain clean up many toxic byproducts, including a chemical called beta-amyloid that can cause Alzheimer's if allowed to build up. Experienced long-term meditators have been found to have shorter sleep duration when measured using both sleep diaries and actigraphy. Neuroimaging studies are beginning to suggest that a regular meditation practice promotes greater wakefulness and a lower propensity to sleep as it progresses in intensity. Therefore, in these studies, researchers 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 those that occur during sleep. The restful alertness experienced 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 out 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 experiencing the sleep inertia problems associated with longer naps.