Non Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)
According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, our bodies need the restorative benefits of sleep, which is the best brain booster, stress reliever, trauma reliever, immune booster, hormone augmenter, and emotional stabilizer.
Still, as much as we need sleep, sometimes our minds race at night, making it difficult to rest.
Other times, in the middle of the day, we just find ourselves dragging…
While our reflex in those moments might be to stop at the coffee pot and “push through,” Dr. Huberman has another idea.
Take a rest… specifically, a Non-Sleep Deep Rest.
Dr. Andrew Huberman is a Stanford University neuroscience professor and popular podcaster making waves in the world of brain development and function. As a rule, he has 3 non-negotiable daily protocols each day: (1) view sunlight (while walking) for 10 to 20 minutes each morning within 60 minutes of waking, (2) Do 10 to 30 minutes of Non-Sleep Deep Rest, and (3) Do 45 to 60 minutes cardio or weight training.
According to Huberman, who coined the term “Non-Sleep Deep Rest” or “NSDR,” a 20 to 30-minute shallow nap can accelerate neural plasticity, or “the capacity of the nervous system to modify itself, functionally and structurally, in response to experience and injury.”
In Huberman’s words, neural plasticity is “how our brain and nervous system learns and acquires new capabilities.” According to Huberman, NSDR helps the brain retain information faster and store that information for a longer duration. In other words, short bursts of deep rest help your brain work better.
What is Non-Sleep Deep Rest?
Non-Sleep Deep Rest, also known as NSDR, is an umbrella term for practices that people use to direct their minds into a state of calm and focus.
NSDR protocols use specific forms of breathing to slow the heart rate down, moving the mind and body into a state of deep relaxation.
In many ways, NSDR is a practice of intentionally controlling which sensations we focus on. According to Huberman, we can shift our minds from a state of planning and anticipation to simply sensation and presence, and NSDR helps us make that shift.
Stress relaxation training generally “can be effective in improving relaxation states at both the psychological and physiological level,” according to a 2021 study.
NSDR specifically is gaining speed as a trend in the corporate world, with Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, sharing that he practices NSDR to relax in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The Two Non-Sleep Deep Rest Protocols: Yoga Nidra and Hypnosis
NSDR follows two steps: a self-induced state of rest followed by a period of directed, intense focus.
According to Dr. Huberman, there are two NSDR protocols or techniques to achieve and experience NSDR: (1) Yoga Nidra and (2) Hypnosis.
NSDR Protocol #1: Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation that doesn’t involve any warriors or 90-degree rooms. It can be done simply by lying on your mat or even in your bed. During Yoga Nidra “the body and mind rest and the consciousness is awake.”
Yoga Nidra—also known as “yogic sleep”—is an ancient practice that’s far more nuanced and complex than most ten-minute meditations you can find online. Short online Yoga Nidra meditations can, however, be a way to achieve Huberman’s NSDR.
NDSR Protocol #2: Hypnosis
The second NSDR protocol is hypnosis, a “waking state of awareness… in which a person’s attention is detached from his or her immediate environment and is absorbed by inner experiences such as feelings, cognition and imagery.”
Hypnosis is a trance-like state that allows people to experience deep relaxation and connect to their inner state. According to Huberman, hypnosis is a “state of mind that merges focus and deep relaxation and can accelerate neuroplasticity.”
Both Yoga Nidra and Hypnosis protocols work by guiding the user to intentionally focus internally and be present in the body, letting go of the thoughts of an anxious mind.
Benefits of Non-Sleep Deep Rest
In addition to more effective learning, Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) benefits include stress relief, improved sleep quality, enhanced focus, and mental clarity.
NSDR can be a great way to recharge part-way through the day. Think of it as a mind and boy “reset” in the middle day. NSDR can also help you achieve quality sleep in the evening by putting you into a deeply restful state that eventually allows you to drift off.
NSDR vs Meditation
Although NSDR can be achieved through a Yoga Nidra meditation, it differs from sleep meditations designed to put you to sleep. Instead, NSDR protocols are designed to keep you awake.
Although NSDR protocols allow your mind taken to a deeply restorative state, you are typically still alert and awake.
NSDR and the Yoga Nidra protocol are also often practiced lying down rather than seated. They are also typically entirely guided, which is different from meditations that attempt to still the mind with silence.
NSDR Apps That You Can Try Today
Huberman suggests Reveri, a research-tested self-hypnosis app. He also recommends free Yoga Nidra meditations on YouTube, including a 10-minute video (which he says he does daily) and a longer 30-minute video.
The meditation app InsightTimer also offers many “Deep Relaxation / Yoga Nidra (NSDR – Non Sleep Deep Rest)” options.
According to Huberman, “sleep is the foundation of our mental and physical health and performance in all endeavors.”
He acknowledges that no one will ever be perfect when it comes to sleep. His advice is to be mindful of sleep and the behaviors influencing sleep quality as much as possible but not to stress over one bad night. And if you do have a late night, catch up with an NSDR reset.
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