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What Is Non-Sleep Deep Rest or NSDR?

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) is all the rage in the bio-hacking community at the moment as the solution to sleep deprivation and to increase focus. The term NSDR was coined by renowned Stanford neuroscientist and researcher Dr. Andrew Huberman in a recent podcast and has everyone talking about it.

Learn more about Yoga Nidra meditation in my Super Sleep Digital Guide and Non-Sleep Deep Rest Meditation

We need at least four 90 minute sleep cycles per night in order to wake-up feeling relatively normal in the morning, but some of us need 5 or 6, to feel great the next day. And of those sleep cycles, we need to have enough delta brainwave sleep which happens early on in the night. So even if you've gone to bed at 2am and sleep 7 or 8 hours, your body might not get enough delta brainwave sleep.

So if you’ve had a late night out or a heavy workload the night before, it can be difficult to get through the day without caffeine or some other stimulants.

However, NSDR could be the healthy solution to your sleep deprived state the next day. Most of us given the opportunity would take a long nap, yet this is time consuming and not very convenient in the office.

How about taking a nap on steroids? NSDR describes a meditation practice than many yogis know as yoga nidra meditation. As a specialist in this type of meditation practice, I’ve been using it for years to support my stressed-out clients sleep better and also help my clients integrate traumatic experiences.

How Does It Work?

NSDR works by slowing down your brainwaves, it mimics the same brainwave pattern of a 90 minute sleep cycle at night. Slower brainwave patterns activate the parasympathetic nervous system, your rest and digest system. In fact one 20-30 minute session of yoga nidra meditation can get you into delta brainwave state and is the equivalent of one 90 minute sleep cycle.

What happens to the brain during NSDR?

Stage 1 - Beta To Alpha

When we are in beta brainwave state, we are fully identified with our external world, our to do lists, emails and work etc. Most of us spend the majority of our days in this state unless we are in creative industries such as painting or art in which case you would be mostly in an alpha brainwave state (discussed below).

When you close your eyes and begin to move from the external world to the internal world, you move into alpha brainwave state and your nervous system begins to relax and you open up to the feelings and sensations in the body. It's in this stage that we do a body scan to fully relax the body.

Stage 2 Alpha Stage

During this stage your body is completely relaxed, but you're still somewhat alert. This relaxed Awareness makes you feel good - it produces serotonin and heart coherence. You may start to have more creative thoughts or ideas - maybe even solutions or ideas to the problems you have been facing.

Stage 3 Alpha To Theta Stage

After about 20 minutes the brain really begins to slowdown and enters into a theta brainwave state which is the similar to the brainwaves of REM sleep at night. The difference being that you are actually awake during this stage unlike sleep where you are not conscious! It's kind of like you're day dreaming... there's a screen in front of your mind and you might be visiting past memories or dream-like scenes flash in front of your eyes.

During this stage, you don't feel as identified with the experiences you are having, it could be something negative which arises yet you simply watch this screen with open non-judgemental Awareness. This is very healing for the mind as past memories and events can be processed without the emotional charge of stress or anxiety that you would have if you were in the beta brainwave stage.

Stage 4 Theta To Delta Stage

At a much deeper level is delta brainwave state which is the most restorative state we can enter, in fact, doctors induce this state when they put patients into a coma after a brain injury so that the brain and body can heal itself! This is the equivalent of deep dreamless sleep at night with the difference in Yoga Nidra meditation being that you are aware - you are not 'consciously aware of being aware.' You simply just have this inner awareness that most people come out of after a long practice feeling blissful!

The Benefits of Practicing NSDR

Not only will a 20-30 minute session of NSDR help you feel better after a poor night’s sleep it can help to reduce your sleep deficit amongst other benefits.

I’m trained as an iRest® teacher which is a specific type of yoga nidra meditation that combines psychological safety with the traditional practice that brings you through deeper layers of the mind-body construct. This can help people who have been diagnosed with PTSD or trauma integrate and come to terms with their experience.

As a summary just some of the benefits of yoga nidra meditation:

  • Helps with learning

  • Enhances rates of neuroplasticity

  • Relieves stress and anxiety

  • Improves cognitive function

  • Improves sleep quality and can alleviate insomnia

  • Enhances focus and mental clarity

  • Pain management

  • PTSD and trauma

I recommend that after a session, my clients work on something creative or problem solving because as you are coming out of yoga nidra meditation your brainwaves are in the more creative realms of theta and alpha which is conducive to big ideas.

So next time you’re on your lunch break… take a 30 minute nap on steroids.

Learn more about Yoga Nidra meditation in my Super Sleep Digital Guide and Non-Sleep Deep Rest Meditation

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