Meditation vs. Sleep: What’s The Difference?
One of the most commonly felt benefits in the early days of your mediation journey is improved sleep. As busy people, we tend to burn the candle at both ends. We get to bed too late and rise when, if we’re honest, we really feel like staying horizontal for at least an hour longer. Over time, this can have a profound effect on our health, productivity, and relationships.
We often eat dinner late, then sit watching television or scrolling through social media, even though we know that going to bed with a full stomach and a brain that’s overly stimulated by blue-screen activity is going to diminish our chance of getting deep and nourishing sleep.
Why We Need Sleep
Consistent unbroken sleep of around eight hours has been shown by recent research to be essential for our mental and physical wellbeing.
Poor sleep compromises the healthy functioning of the body and brain. It demolishes the immune system, leading to cardio-vascular and weight gaining issues, and the brain is unable to clear out beta-amyloid, which increases the chances of dementia and Alzheimers.
Sleep is the bedrock upon which rests exercise and diet. Without consistent and effective sleep these two important elements are severely compromised.
Recent research now shows that the second part of sleep, which we’re more aware of through dreams, is when all the information we have received during the day is processed and integrated through NREM and REM sleep.
Both the cellular repair and stress-processing parts of your sleep cycle are essential to maintaining good physical and mental health. If these are compromised by poor sleep patterns and lack of a routine, our mental and physical health deteriorates.
We need to find something to address the balance. Vedic Meditation does this.
How Meditation ‘Supplements’ Sleep
By meditating just twice a day for twenty minutes, research shows your body rests very deeply, up to 2 to 5 times deeper than the deepest part of sleep. Long term body fatigue melts away and the mind de-excites and deeply rests, releasing long-held stress. Meditation can help us feel well-rested and energised, which in turn makes us feel less stressed and anxious, gives us better focus and productivity, sharpens and de-clutters the mind, and makes us feel calmer and more relaxed.
The second meditation of the day, taken before dinner, processes the stress taken on during the day and this ensures that when you head for bed you will be less likely to be woken and troubled by recurring thoughts in the middle of the night.
I prefer to take my first meditation shortly after rising. I meditate once I am fully awake, after my shower, and always before any coffee or tea and breakfast. My second twenty-minute meditation of the day is taken once lunch has digested and before I get hungry for my evening meal. This is usually sometime between 2.30pm and 7.30pm, which allows me to be flexible if I have a busy afternoon.
The reason for meditating before a meal isn’t just that meditating on a stomach which is trying to digest and process food is an uncomfortable experience. When we are in our meditative state the body and mind are resting at a very deep level. We don’t want to interfere with that state by asking the body to carry out actions which will affect our metabolism. We want to meditate in a fully relaxed and resting state to feel the most benefit.
Meditation vs. Sleep
It’s important to make the distinction that when we meditate, we are not sleeping. However, the body is resting at a deep level with a much lower breath and heart rate than in the eyes-open state. There are moments when it might appear that we are no longer meditating, that the mantra has disappeared, and nothing is happening. We are not aware of this at the time, but usually just afterwards, when we become conscious that we have been in a transcendental state, a point between being fully conscious and asleep, when we have moved beyond the range of normal perception. The brain has stopped presenting and processing thoughts, and everything is very still and calm.
It is not uncommon for your first meditation of the day to be thought-filled, and your second to be a bit more ‘sleepy’. The second meditation deals with the fatigue and stress accumulated during the day, since your first meditation. By repeating two meditations daily we re-energise ourselves at a profound level, stripping away accumulated stress which has been clouding our responses and reactions.
Meditation is not an alternative to sleep, but rather a wonderful tool to feel deeply rested and ensure that when we get into bed we are in the best possible frame of mind to get a full night of nourishing ‘shut-eye’.