As a beginner of meditation, you might be having a tight schedule and wondering “Can meditation replace sleep?” The only time you are able to meditate is in the morning or before sleeping at night. Waking up 30 minutes earlier to fit in your practice robs you of another 30 minutes of sleep. Sleeping 30 minutes later to fit in a meditation session does the same. It is already hard enough for you to get your 8h of sleep so you are concerned whether you are getting enough sleep when you fit in your meditation session. So the question is:

Can meditation replace sleep?

What is sleep?

Sleep is a state of mind and body which typically occurs for several hours at night. The nervous system is inactive, eyes are closed, muscles relaxed, and conscious thinking is suspended. For sleep getting the vital hormone melatonin in your body is key. Melatonin is naturally released into the blood when the sun goes down. For insomniacs, this natural mechanism is disturbed which makes them lack this vital hormone.

One aspect that inhibits the body from producing enough melatonin is stress. Sleepless hours of thinking about today’s stress and tomorrow’s worries signal the body that it is time to think and not to sleep. This is a huge problem.

Signs you need more quality sleep

If you normally feel tired, drowsy or fatigued, you are likely not getting enough quality sleep. Those of us who spend sleepless hours staring at the ceiling tend to have a similar mental state as in anxiety or depression.
While losing a few hours of sleep here and there is natural and normal from time to time, long term sleep deprivation can leave you looking and feeling awful, draining you of your bright positive energy and health.

What is meditation

The act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed is defined as meditation. The type of meditation dictates where the attention goes to and also dictates the results.
Meditation continually resets metabolic functioning despite varying levels of stress
If you want to sleep like a log, then meditation can be exactly the remedy you have been looking for!

Meditation vs. Sleep: the difference

When we meditate, we are not sleeping. It is very important to make a distinction. Even though in both states, we are in deep relaxation, meditation and sleep are very different.

Meditation is not an alternative to sleep but rather a great tool to feel deeply rested and ensure the right frame of mind for sleep.

How meditation improves sleep

If we want to answer the question of whether meditation can replace sleep quickly, we can say no. 8h of sleep at night is vital for long term health and well being.  But there is more to consider. When it comes to sleep it is also a lot about the quality of sleep you get. You can have 8h of disturbed sleep, feeling drained and exhausted in the morning and 5h of amazing continuous sleep, feeling energized and vital in the morning. Or you can schedule 8h of sleep but it takes you 2h to fall asleep.

For this reason, we don’t want to replace sleep with meditation, although it is ok to wake up 30 minutes earlier to meditate. What we want to do is we want to improve the quality of our so that we fall asleep quicker and have an undisturbed restful night. 

5 Steps to improve your sleep with meditation

To improve the quality of your sleep and wake up feeling energized and productive, there are some steps you can take.

1. Limit artificial lights minimum 1h before sleeping.

Artificial lights are the enemy for your melatonin production. As said previously, melatonin production starts with darkness, if you disturb the production with artificial lights from your TV, smartphone or other electronic devices, you make your body believe it is still daytime.

Start using daylight filters for your electronic devices, switch of lights and turn candles on or just sit in darkness for some time. Look into nature and mimic the amount of light outside in your home.

2. Stop absorbing information. Switch of the TV, take out a book or a journal and take some time to slow down and absorb less.

In the information age we absorb so much information. TV, radio or online sources are filled with inforamtion that triggers you and that you immediatly want to consume. Every information you consume needs time to be processed in your mind. If you take in too much information directly before you sleep, your mind will process all that information when you are about to fall asleep. This typically results in the “ceiling staring and nagging thoughts” behavior.

3. Don’t watch, talk or think about anything emotionally charging (like a horror movie, politics,..).

Emotions need time to be processed. Anything that is emotionally triggering for you, like watching a horror movie or talking about a specific subject, will trigger emotional reactions. These emotional reactions need some time to be processed. The closer before sleep you do that, the less relaxed and calmed down you will feel. That is why you should avoid doing anything emotionally triggering before sleep. Cool down. Relax.

4. Take time during the day to reflect.

A very common theme among bad sleepers is that they have either a very busy and stressful life or a very busy and obsessive mind (or both ;)). The problem is that if you never rest during your day, the minutes that you lay in bed and you are about to sleep will be the only times you give yourself to rest and reflect. This often results in analyzing, worrying and obsessively thinking which robs you of your counted hours of sleep.

To counteract this you need to make time during your day to rest and reflect. Schedule at least a 10 minutes break of not doing anything, not even meditating, where you just sit and be. Allow your mind to think whatever it wants to think. Completely surrender and let go of control. This way you do what you do when you are in bed before already which gives you greater rest and peace in the actual sleeping phase.

5. Meditate or relax to reduce stress.

The mindfulness learned from meditation is the easiest and most effective way to re-train the ready-for-bedtime brain, making a deep, restful night of shuteye the standard. Spending 10-20 minutes before sleeping with meditation decreases your stress and makes a comfortable sleep more likely. When it is time to sleep, you can simply do a quick body scan meditation to relax all the muscles in the body. Start by bringing your attention to the top of your head, relaxing each area and then moving forward into your neck, shoulders, arms, chest,.. Taking enough time to relax each area of your body.

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