The brain in deep sleep and samadhi Therefore, our brain behaves similarly in deep sleep and deep meditation. Another physiological similarity between sleep and meditation has to do with its effect on heart rate and breathing patterns. In both deep sleep and meditation, both heart rate and breathing rate tend to decrease. But why? We know that a regular practice of meditation can cause changes in the body that are similar to the changes that occur during sleep.
The restful alertness that you may experience with meditation is associated with a decrease in heart rate, reduced metabolism and changes in the nervous system that reduce the arousal that occurs during sleep. These results suggest that meditation provides at least short-term performance improvement, even in novice meditators. In long-term meditators, several hours spent meditation are associated with a significant decrease in total sleep time compared to age and sex controls who did not meditate. Research is being done on whether meditation can really replace part of sleep or pay off sleep debt.
What would happen if there was an alternative? Research shows that meditation can replace sleep. Instead of trying to incorporate it into your normal day, you can try meditating instead of sleeping. The daytime sleepiness that follows can make you feel unwell and undermine your productivity, and may even harm your health. Now, a small study suggests that mindfulness meditation, a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment, can help.
The study reported that older meditators spent more time in slow wave sleep (SWS) with higher theta-alpha power with background delta activity, along with a reduced electromyogram (EMG). During your meditations, please don't try to find out if you were sleeping or meditating deeply at certain times. Instead, it is better to think of sleep and lack of brightness during meditation as the release of fatigue and stress. Vipassana meditation practices would have activated the anterior cingulate cortex and therefore modulated parasympathetic activity during sleep.
While sleep is meant to replenish your energy and help you heal, meditation is designed to cancel the stress that tired you in the first place. In fact, according to some Buddhist texts, a full night's sleep is about four hours among competent meditators. In addition, the evaluation of heart rate variability during REM sleep showed greater sympathetic activity in meditators than in controls. A major difficulty in assessing whether meditation can replace a part of sleep is that sleep functions are not well understood and there is no direct measurement of the need for sleep.
Although sleep and meditation share some common characteristics, they have slightly different effects on the body and mind. Falling asleep in meditation could also mean that your mind is releasing layers and layers of emotional charge, a process necessary before a true meditative state (i). This tendency has been demonstrated in many different studies, even for new meditators who begin with short periods of meditation. For starters, Bruce O'Hara of the University of Kentucky recommends replacing only half the amount of sleep with meditation.
This latter study can help address whether meditation (or even simple rest with closed eyes) can be used to pay off some of the sleep debt, either through the neural synchronization observed by the EEG or through some other mechanism. Vipassana meditation appears to preserve SWS, suggesting that meditation could prevent age-related changes in slow-wave generating mechanisms. The second part of the study looked at the amount of sleep and mental acuity of experienced meditators compared to a group of non-meditators. Sleep deprivation produced a slower initial reaction time (RT) in PVT that still improved significantly after a period of meditation.