Non-sleep deep rest NSDR helps slow down your thought flow and brain wave frequency, allowing your brain and body to rest deeply. It can help with sleep, stress, anxiety … and even learning.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Google/Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai was asked about how he unwinds from his hectic Silicon Valley days. Does he journal? Meditate? Eat a quart of ice cream?
His answer brought attention to a practice that many people hadn’t heard of — or at least not the term Pichai used to describe it.
“I struggle to do meditation,” he said, adding that he relaxes by walking and also listening to podcasts based on non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR. “I can go to YouTube and find an NSDR video. They’re available in 10, 20, or 30 minutes, so I do that occasionally.”
Which left many people wondering, what is NSDR?
What is non-sleep deep rest (NSDR)?
NSDR, or non-sleep deep rest, is a term coined by neuroscientist and researcher Andrew Huberman, PhD, professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine and host of the Huberman Lab podcast. In fact, it’s just another name for a centuries-old practice called yoga nidra, which means yogic sleep in Sanskrit.
Non-sleep deep rest refers to a state of rest that is similar to deep sleep but without actual sleep. It is a state of profound relaxation where the body and mind experience restorative benefits.
Practicing NSDR has been described as a kind of meditation and it involves getting into a dreamlike state where our minds rest but we are not sleeping. You can use it at different times of the day to rest and recharge your mind, or to prepare it for sleep.
Huberman uses the NDSR as an umbrella for things like naps, hypnosis, and meditation, all of which are anchored to the same idea of allowing people to tune out of the thinking brain and achieve a state of calm.
What is yoga nidra?
Yoga nidra is the practice of accessing a conscious state of mind that falls somewhere between being awake and falling asleep. A deep state of relaxation with awareness. It involves two steps: a self-induced state of rest followed by a period of directed, intense focus.
It’s similar to meditation, but rather than sitting upright, you’re lying down, and following guidance from an instructor. You may be asked to scan your body for places of tension, bring awareness to different parts of your body, or focus on your breathing.
The goal is to enter a conscious sleep state and totally relax your brain, thereby releasing unwanted tension in your body and achieving calm.
How does NSDR work?
As the body enters this calmer state, your brain waves decrease in frequency, your thoughts can slow (from 35 thoughts per minute to 1-3!), and your body slows the production of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) as the parasympathetic nervous system kicks into gear.
“We know from work in my laboratory . . . as well as work from other labs that a state of a shallow nap or shallow sleep done in waking” allows the brain (i.e., you) to get better at turning off thoughts and falling asleep at night, Huberman said.
“We generally have trouble falling asleep because we think we have to turn off our thoughts like a switch, but the transition to sleep involves allowing our thoughts to become fragmented,” he explained. “It’s then that we become relaxed, and the brain enters a more fluid state that’s not under our conscious control.”
And those are skills we can teach ourselves.
The practice for me has “really helped reduce stress and allowed me to fall asleep more easily and control my state of mind late in the evening,” Huberman said.
Potential benefits of non-sleep deep rest
According to Dr. Huberman, non-sleep deep rest:
- Helps with memory retention
- Enhances rates of neuroplasticity, which can promote learning
- Relieves stress
- Improves cognitive function
- Improves sleep quality
- Enhances focus and mental clarity
- Potentially helps with pain management
NSDR and neuroplasticity
Because NSDR allows the brain to access states of deep rest — which can facilitate sleep and reduce anxiety and stress — according to Huberman, it also enhances brain neuroplasticity and learning. Neuroplasticity is the nervous system’s ability to change in response to experience.
The actual rewiring of neural connections happens during sleep and sleep-like states. “During sleep, there’s a ‘replaying’ or repetitions of neural activity at very high speeds,” which is why you learn in sleep, Huberman explains. “In sleep, you’re rehearsing and rewiring the brain so that a skill or some type of learning that was once hard, something that had to be done with intense focus, becomes reflexive.”
Two papers published in the last two years showed that about 20 minutes or so of non-sleep deep rest after intense focus or learning — skill learning or cognitive learning — accelerates plasticity by about 50 percent. So essentially, you are learning faster, and retaining that information lasts much longer.”
Tips to try NSDR or yoga nidra
To practice NSDR, you can follow these steps:
Find a quiet and comfortable space
Choose a peaceful environment where you can lie down comfortably without any distractions. You can use a yoga mat or lie down on a soft surface like a bed or carpet.
Get into a comfortable position
Lie down on your back with your legs slightly apart and arms relaxed by your sides. Use pillows or blankets if needed to support your body and ensure you are comfortable.
Set an intention
Before beginning the practice, set an intention. This can be a positive affirmation or a personal goal that you want to manifest or work on during the session. Repeat your intention silently to yourself a few times.
Follow a guided NSDR or yoga nidra recording
There are various guided yoga nidra recordings available online, in the form of audio or video. Find a reliable source or a teacher whose voice and guidance resonate with you. You can use these recordings to help you navigate through the practice.
Relax your body and follow the instructions
Once you have started the guided recording, focus on relaxing your body and releasing any tension. The instructor will lead you through different body parts, asking you to bring your awareness to each area and consciously relax it.
Follow the breath and visualization guidance
During the practice, you will be guided to observe your breath and engage in visualization exercises. These may involve imagining different scenes or sensations that promote relaxation and calmness. Follow the instructions given and allow yourself to fully experience the guided imagery.
Maintain awareness and stay present
Throughout the practice, try to remain aware and present. Although the practice induces deep relaxation, it is important to maintain a subtle level of consciousness and observe any sensations, thoughts, or emotions that arise.
Conclude the practice
The guided recording will eventually guide you back to a state of wakefulness. Take your time to transition back, slowly bringing your awareness back to the present moment. Reflect on your experience and any insights you may have gained.
NSDR vs. napping
While taking a nap can be a rejuvenating experience, practicing yoga nidra offers several advantages over a regular nap. Here are some reasons why you might choose to do yoga nidra instead of taking a nap:
- Deeper relaxation: yoga nidra is specifically designed to induce a state of deep relaxation, often deeper than what is achieved during a nap. It systematically guides you into a state of profound rest, allowing you to experience relaxation at a physical, mental, and emotional level.
- Conscious awareness: Unlike napping, where you may fall into a deep sleep and lose awareness, yoga nidra maintains a state of conscious awareness throughout the practice. It provides an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness and observe your thoughts, emotions, and sensations while deeply relaxed. This can lead to increased self-awareness and personal growth.
- Time efficiency: Yoga nidra sessions typically range from 20 to 60 minutes in duration. In comparison, naps can vary in length, and if they exceed a certain duration, they may interfere with nighttime sleep. yoga nidra allows you to experience deep rest and relaxation within a specific timeframe, making it easier to incorporate into your schedule.
- Stress reduction: Yoga nidra is known for its stress-reducing benefits. It activates the relaxation response, which helps calm the nervous system, release tension, and reduce stress and anxiety. If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, yoga nidra can offer a targeted practice to alleviate these feelings.
- Intention setting: Yoga nidra often involves setting an intention or a Sankalpa at the beginning of the practice. This can be a positive affirmation or a personal goal you wish to manifest. The focused attention and deep relaxation during yoga nidra can help imprint this intention on a subconscious level, supporting personal growth and transformation.
- Accessible anywhere: While napping typically requires a suitable place to lie down and sleep, yoga nidra can be practiced anywhere you have a quiet space and a device with guided recordings. It can be done at home, during a break at work, or even while traveling, making it more accessible and adaptable to different environments.
Ultimately, the choice between yoga nidra and napping depends on your personal preferences, needs, and circumstances. Both practices have their benefits, and you can experiment with both to see which one best suits your relaxation and rejuvenation goals at any given time.
Is NDSR the same as meditation?
No, NSDR and meditation are not the same, although they share some similarities. NSDR refers to a state of rest that is similar to deep sleep but without actual sleep. It is a practice that promotes profound relaxation and rejuvenation.
Meditation, on the other hand, encompasses a wide range of practices that involve training the mind to focus, redirect thoughts, and cultivate awareness. While relaxation can be a byproduct of meditation, the primary goal is often to develop mindfulness, clarity, and a deeper understanding of oneself.
Meditation practices can vary, including focused attention techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, where you focus your attention on a specific object or sensation, and open-monitoring practices, where you observe and allow thoughts, emotions, and sensations to arise without judgment. Some forms of meditation may involve visualization, chanting, or movement.
While NSDR can induce a deep state of relaxation, it is not inherently a meditation practice. However, it is possible to incorporate elements of meditation, such as breath awareness or visualization, into NSDR or combine NSDR techniques with meditation practices to enhance relaxation and promote greater self-awareness.
Using these tools to rest your mind
Now that you understand what NDSR is and how it works, you can try it for yourself. Experiment with different places, environments, and lessons to see what works for you. As with most practices, the impact is rarely instantaneous. It will take some time and a regular routine of sorts to get the full benefit of this type of restorative practice. So test it out and see how you can let your mind find peace, even for a few minutes.