What is Yoga Nidra and can it replace a full night’s sleep?
- Yoga nidra, also known as dynamic sleep, is a meditation practice that prompts the body to relax deeply while the mind remains inwardly alert.
- Research indicates that yoga nidra can help stabilize blood sugar levels, alleviate PMS symptoms, depression, and anxiety and help PTSD.
- Enter your email at the bottom of the email to receive a free Yoga Nidra audio file, and feel like you just woke up from your best nap ever.
There’s no substitute for a full night’s sleep, but there is a particular combination of meditation and yoga that comes close: yoga nidra. Yoga and meditation experts believe that one 30-minute practice of yoga nidra can be very restful for those who have trouble sleeping. While more conclusive studies are necessary to understand precisely why this is so, researchers believe it’s related to the brain-wave changes you undergo during yoga nidra meditation.
Read on to learn more about yoga nidra’s science-backed health benefits—including how it could make you feel like you just slept for hours (even though it can’t replace a healthy night’s sleep).
What is yoga nidra?
What is yoga nidra? Renowned author and yoga teacher Swami Satyananda Saraswati refers to it as “reaching the border between waking and sleeping states.” Also known as yogic sleep, this meditation practice prompts the body to relax deeply while the mind remains inwardly alert.
To practice yoga nidra, you begin by lying face-up on the floor in yoga corpse pose, otherwise known as savasana. Based on the guided meditation you select, you’ll be prompted to begin sensing your body for areas of tension. Breath awareness and mindfulness are also key aspects to achieving the deep relaxation response that yoga nidra offers.
How does this method of self-care work? And why do people look to yoga nidra for sleep benefits? What separates this form of meditation from standard yoga classes is that it balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (the “flight or fight” and “rest and digest” parts of the nervous system). This allows you to unwind into various, beneficial brain wave states resulting in deep rest.
How does yoga nidra work to achieve a hypnagogic state?
What happens in yoga nidra? The ultimate goal is to achieve a hypnagogic state between wakefulness and sleep. It’s that time just before you fall asleep when the body is in deep relaxation while the mind is still reasonably lucid. That’s what makes this practice ideal for nighttime meditation.
The delta state is considered to be the most restorative for the mind and body. Delta brain waves are a crucial part of REM or rapid-eye movement sleep, the deepest stage.
According to a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Neurology, yoga nidra practitioners showed significant differences in delta brain waves after only two weeks. Participants also reported that they slept longer and better – and fell asleep faster with less time spent awake in bed.
Yoga nidra aims to reset your mind, and the shift in brain wave activity allows stressful thoughts and tension start to fade away. Perhaps one of the most profound yoga nidra experiences occurs once you achieve the farthest depths of the delta state. Once you do, it won’t be long before you add sleeping meditation practices to your weekly (or daily) mental fitness plan. A feeling of “thoughtlessness” will wash over. This is one of the potential benefits of yoga nidra for sleep quality and overall restfulness, as you prevent yourself from being overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts when trying to rest.
Some studies have found that dopamine production increases during the practice. However, in the absence of sleep studies on each participant, it’s impossible to know exactly how a daily yoga nidra practice impacts P.M. sleep beyond self-reported improvements. Researchers do know that yoga nidra creates a state of “local sleep,” so that some areas of the brain change despite an individual remaining awake.
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What are the other science-based benefits of yoga nidra?
While researchers acknowledge that greater longitudinal studies are necessary to verify all of yoga nidra’s benefits, research is mounting.
- 150 participants with PMS symptoms showed improvement in symptoms after 6 months of yoga nidra.
- 100 women with depression and anxiety linked to menstruation benefited from yoga nidra therapy.
- Yoga nidra diminished stress and anxiety levels significantly in college students.
- Five days a week of yoga nidra for two months helped decrease depression, anxiety, and stress and improve sleep and heart rate variability in hypertensive subjects.
- Military combat veterans reported that yoga nidra alleviated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms like rage and anxiety and increased feelings of relaxation and peace, though more up-to-date research is needed.
How do you practice yoga nidra?
Want to understand how a yoga nidra session feels? Start by lying down in a comfortable position. This could be a way for you to learn how to meditate in bed, or you may want to find a place on the floor. You may desire a blanket to keep you warm or put a block under your knees for support. The goal is to make yourself as comfortable as possible because you’ll be in this position for at least 30 minutes.
First, set your intention for the practice. Think about a goal you want to achieve during the time you’ve set aside for yourself. You’ll then be asked to scan your body and notice sensations. You’ll become aware of your breath and the meditation will provide guided instruction as to how to breathe to drop deeper into your resting state.
You’ll also embark upon guided visualizations. It’s at this point when you calmly progress through the four states of brain wave activity.
At the end of the practice, you’ll reflect on the journey you’ve taken with your yoga nidra guide. Bringing awareness back to present reality, you’ll restate your intention, or Sankalpa in Sanskrit. You’ll come into a seated position again to honor the space you’ve created, feeling deeply at peace.
Don’t hesitate to give this relaxation technique a try. Enter your email below to receive a yoga nidra audio file to download.
Looking for another way to improve your mental and physical health? Learn how you can sleep better and manage stress with exercise.
This guided meditation will put you into a state of deep relaxation equal (in just 30 minutes).
Thanks to yoga nidra guide Sue Steindorff and Dayaalu Center for performing this meditation.
This article was originally published on March 31, 2022 and has been updated with new content.