Is meditation better than sleep?

Is meditation better than sleep?

Is meditation better than sleep? And what are the differences?

If meditation is better than sleep, could we replace our ideal seven to nine hours a night with a much shorter period of meditation?

While some of the benefits of sleep and meditation are similar – we definitely need to sleep, and most of us aren’t getting enough. During sleep, our bodies repair and recalibrate our physical and psychological systems. Sleep allows our brains to re-organise and filter what has gone on in the day. Without sleep, we are weaker physically, mentally and emotionally and aspects of everyday life become more difficult. In the long term, a lack of good quality sleep can lead to serious health issues.

Meditation is not better than sleep, but it can make sleep better.

Meditation can greatly enhance the quality and regularity of our sleep and support our natural circadian rhythm. Meditation brings other benefits too: it improves cardiovascular health by lowering the heart rate; it provides stress relief and lowers cortisol which reduces the ‘fight or flight’ response; it promotes calmness and compassion; it improves memory and concentration; it boosts creativity and our ability to gain new perspectives .

How does meditation differ from sleep?

We breathe differently during meditation and our heat rate slows down. When we sleep our breath and heart rate slow down too, but during meditation they slow much further. This slowing creates a sense of deep calm. Stress is also reduced due to the reduction in stimulating hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Apparently, there is a magic rate of six breaths per minute that creates a super restorative rhythm between the heart, lungs and brain. This rhythm is optimal for cardiovascular health and may also reduce perceptions of pain.

A key difference between sleep and mediation is how we feel afterwards. When I wake in the morning or after a nap, I often feel groggy or slow, and I know I’m not alone. Many of us rely on coffee or tea to get us moving and ready for action. After even a short 10-minute meditation however, I feel energised, clear-headed and calm.

Meditation increases the release of endorphins giving us a natural high, which may account for the energy boost. This mild euphoria may extend for hours after meditation and is the reason most people choose the morning for their meditation practice rather than before sleep. At the moment, I like to meditate in the early afternoon to counter the natural slump I feel. It gives me energy and clarity for the latter part of my working day.

How we experience our thoughts during mediation is very different from when we are asleep. When we’re asleep our conscious mind takes a rest while our unconscious is active, processing and organising our thought patterns and particularly our memory. In meditation however, we are aware and conscious of our thoughts. We use them to focus on an image, words or the sensation of our breath. With practice we find more of the time our minds are blissfully settled. However, to get there we enter different states and move from focused thinking to random and dreamlike thoughts until we find those special moments of inner peace.

Since I started making meditation a regular daily practice, I feel more productive, focused and procrastinate less. I am also sleeping better at night.

Are you looking for an easy way to start meditating?

If you are interested in trying meditation for yourself, I can recommend a starting point. I’ve outlined a method I found really helpful in my blog article Meditation Made Easy. It’s a gentle first step that you can try anywhere you can sit comfortably and undisturbed. Taking just 10 minutes a day for yourself can bring many benefits and the positive effects will increase over time. I think it’s worth trying, and really hope you will find it useful too.

Some people prefer guided meditation. If you’d like to try that approach, I have made an audio guided meditation available to everyone here.

I also run live online workshops for members and offer a choice of audio recordings of guided mediations and visualisations for members only. Learn more about the benefits of membership here.