Non Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)
According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, our bodies need the restorative benefits of sleep. That's because sleep is the best brain booster, stress reliever, trauma reliever, immune booster, hormone augmenter, and emotional stabilizer.
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. He coined the term “Non-Sleep Deep Rest” or “NSDR." As a rule, he has 3 non-negotiable daily protocols each day:
- View sunlight (while walking) for 10 to 20 minutes each morning within 60 minutes of waking
- Practice 10 to 30 minutes of Non-Sleep Deep Rest
- Do 45 to 60 minutes cardio or weight training
In Huberman’s words, neural plasticity is “how our brain and nervous system learns and acquires new capabilities.” Huberman says 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?
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, this 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.
Stress relaxation training generally “can be effective in improving relaxation states at both the psychological and physiological level,” according to a 2021 study.
Benefits of Non-Sleep Deep Rest
NSDR can be a great way to recharge part-way through the day. Think of it as a mind and body “reset” that can also help you achieve quality sleep in the evening. Here are some example benefits:
- Increased Energy Levels: NSDR techniques, such as meditation and mindfulness exercises, have been shown to boost energy levels. By allowing the mind to rest deeply, individuals can experience a revitalizing effect that is comparable to a good night's sleep.
- Enhanced Cognitive Function: Engaging in activities that promote NSDR can improve cognitive function and mental clarity. Practices like deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation contribute to reduced mental fatigue and improved focus.
- Stress Reduction: NSDR methods are effective in reducing stress and anxiety. Stress is a common culprit behind various health issues, both mental and physical. By incorporating these practices into daily routines, individuals can promote overall well-being.
- Improved Mood and Emotional Well-Being: Activities such as yoga and guided imagery, which fall under the NSDR umbrella, have been linked to improved mood and emotional balance. These practices help regulate emotions and create a sense of inner calmness, contributing to a more positive outlook on life.
- Enhanced Productivity: NSDR does not only benefit mental well-being but also contributes to increased productivity. When individuals engage in restorative practices, they are more likely to approach tasks with a clear and focused mind, leading to improved efficiency and performance.
- Better Sleep Quality: Incorporating NSDR practices into a routine can positively impact traditional sleep patterns. Individuals who practice NSDR often report improved sleep quality and the ability to fall asleep faster.
- Physical Restoration: While NSDR primarily focuses on mental rejuvenation, it can also contribute to physical restoration. Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation can alleviate physical tension, leading to a more relaxed and comfortable body.
Sleep as the Ultimate Restorative Agent
Sleep is not merely a period of inactivity; it is a dynamic and essential process that enables the body and mind to undergo crucial restorative functions. During the various sleep cycles, the body engages in repair and maintenance activities, rejuvenating tissues, consolidating memories, and regulating hormones. These physiological processes are imperative for sustaining overall well-being.
The Brain's Nightly Maintenance
Dr. Huberman emphasizes that sleep is the best brain booster, allowing the brain to undergo neural plasticity, a phenomenon crucial for learning and acquiring new capabilities. Throughout the night, the brain engages in synaptic pruning, consolidating memories, and clearing out unnecessary information. Quality sleep is, therefore, indispensable for cognitive function, memory retention, and emotional stability.
Immune System Reinforcement
In addition to its cognitive benefits, sleep acts as a potent immune booster. Adequate, restful sleep enhances the immune system's ability to defend against infections and illnesses. As we navigate a world filled with various stressors, the role of sleep in fortifying our immune defenses becomes increasingly vital.
Hormonal Harmony and Emotional Stability
Sleep plays a pivotal role in regulating hormonal balance. It influences the release of hormones such as cortisol, which is crucial for managing stress. Disruptions in sleep patterns can lead to hormonal imbalances, affecting mood, stress levels, and overall emotional well-being. A good night's sleep contributes to emotional resilience and stability.
Sleep Quality vs. Quantity
Dr. Huberman encourages mindfulness about sleep quality and behaviors influencing sleep patterns. While the recommended duration of sleep varies by age, focusing on the quality of sleep is equally crucial. Creating a conducive sleep environment, establishing consistent bedtime routines, and minimizing stimulants before bedtime are key factors in optimizing sleep quality.
Non-Sleep Deep Rest as a Complement, Not a Replacement
While NSDR offers a valuable tool for managing daytime fatigue and enhancing cognitive function, it is essential to recognize that it complements, rather than replaces, the need for traditional sleep. Dr. Huberman advocates for the mindful incorporation of NSDR into one's routine, recognizing that quality sleep remains irreplaceable.
NSDR Huberman 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 protocols or techniques to achieve and experience these states:
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 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.
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 and alert.
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.
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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