Meditation is a large part of Zen Buddhism and I’ve been practicing meditation in some form or another for about twenty years or more. During this time, I’ve seen meditation do some amazing things; overcome pain, focus one’s concentration, fight insomnia and even control one’s cardiac rhythm. Some of it has a lot to do with the style and type of meditation one practices as, yes, there are a number of different ways to meditate. This has often led me to ask the question: Can meditation replace sleep?
The easy answer would be no, it can’t. But that’s a subjective opinion. I’ve found some sources that would indicate otherwise. And I’ll embarrassingly admit that there have been times when I’ve found myself falling asleep DURING meditation, and there are a number of logical, explainable reasons behind that. According to an article posted by HealthLine.com, proper meditation is a relaxation technique that helps to increase melatonin and serotonin, decrease blood pressure and reduce one’s heart rate. These are all early steps that one’s body goes through prior to falling asleep. So one could easily suggest that meditation can logically lead to sleep.
It stands to reason that when meditation is used as a relaxation technique, it will calm a person and help promote sleep. But that still doesn’t answer the question of whether it can REPLACE sleep. From a personal standpoint, I’ve found that often meditating for even fifteen minutes has had something of a rejuvenating effect and has created an increased state of alertness. But this could easily be attributed to the calming effects of the meditation as opposed to a lack of need for sleep.
I found an interesting article on Muse that suggests that although meditation can never completely replace sleep, there are a number of deep similarities between the two. However, the differences include the mind’s state of alertness where, while meditating, we’re always focused on SOMETHING, even when that something is nothing. Meanwhile, during sleep the conscious mind is taking a break, despite the fact that the body is performing a bunch of important tasks, including synaptic repair and memory organization. It’s also been said that there are tens of thousands of thoughts coursing through our minds while we sleep. Sleep is one of those things that continues to be researched, regardless of how many studies are put out.
There are some studies that show that ten minutes of deep meditation can replace about 44 minutes of sleep (ecoinstitute.org). These studies are usually inconclusive but if accurate, one could feasibly meditate for just short under two hours in order to reap the benefits of a full night’s sleep. Sign me the hell up! You know all of those times when you’ve uttered “there aren’t enough hours in the day?” Just think of what you could do if you suddenly gained six hours a day that you no longer needed to sleep through!
That EcoInstitute link I shared goes on to explain that “[…] as far as the body is concerned, meditation and sleep are two different things. While sleep is meant to replenish your energy and help you heal, meditation is designed to cancel out the stress that made you tired in the first place.” So the concept of meditating to replace sleep is a bit of wishful thinking.
There are plenty of articles and studies out there for anyone who is looking for more information. In all my years of using meditation, I can honestly say that I’ve had to succumb to sleep at some point. So I totally agree that they’re separate aspects of rest and one can’t replace the other. But I also know that meditation, used in the right context, can provide an increased level of alertness that can be useful for getting through that slump in your workday or even just helping yourself feel better. Even ten or fifteen minutes of meditation over one’s lunch hour can be beneficial. Now if only I could get Nathan to meditate… ☯
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