Think you need an afternoon nap to recharge? Think again. There’s a technique that can give you the benefits of sleep without actually, well, sleeping.
That technique is non-sleep deep rest, which slows down your brain wave frequency and helps your body recharge without actually dozing off.
NSDR has recently made its way into the health and wellness zeitgeist, due in large part to Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a neurobiology professor at Stanford and host of the Huberman Lab podcast. Thousands of high performers, like Google CEO Sundar Pichai, include NSDR in their daily routines to recharge during chaotic days.
Spoiler alert: NSDR can’t replace deep sleep—you still need at least seven hours of sleep daily. It can, however, give you a much-needed mental boost that another cup of coffee can’t.
In this article we’ll break down the science behind NSDR and show you how to do it—all you need is 10 minutes.
What Is Non-Sleep Deep Rest?
Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) is a short, self-induced period of relaxation that restores your mind and body while still awake. NSDR mimics the effect of short-wave sleep (SWS) by slowing down your brain wave frequency, except you remain conscious and semi-focused.
The goal of NSDR isn’t to fall asleep. Rather, it’s a quick “recharge” for your brain to help you feel more calm, focused, and energized throughout the day. Think of it as a “conscious nap.”
Several different techniques fall under the NSDR umbrella, including meditation, hypnosis, and yoga nidra which have been practiced for thousands of years. But the term itself was coined by Dr. Andrew Huberman, who has touted several benefits of NSDR including memory retention, stress relief, and pain management.
NSDR can’t replace deep sleep, but it can be an effective sleep “supplement.”
5 Benefits of NSDR
Current research suggests NSDR can replicate some effects of deep sleep. Let’s break down five physiological benefits of NSDR.
1. Memory Retention
During sleep-like states, your brain replays neural activity at high speeds, which explains why people learn and form memories during deep rest.
A 2019 study found that daily, 13-minute meditation sessions (one form of NSDR) improved people’s working memory after eight weeks.
2. Accelerates Neuroplasticity
NSDR slows down your brain waves, which accelerates neuroplasticity: the ability for neurons to change and adapt in response to stimuli.
Two studies published in the last two years found that 20 minutes of NSDR following a session of intense focus or learning accelerates neuroplasticity by about 50 percent.
In other words, NSDR helps you literally “change your mind.”
3. Stress Relief
NSDR activates your parasympathetic nervous system, reduces cortisol levels, and slows your heart rate—all of which are crucial to achieving a state of calm.
Most of us are accustomed to racing thoughts throughout the day. However, NSDR can literally slow down your brain, by reducing your number of thoughts per minute from 35 down to 1-3.
4. Muscle Recovery
During slow-wave sleep, your body heals itself by releasing growth hormones that repair and generate tissue. NSDR replicates this process, albeit on a smaller scale.
In other words, minor aches and pains from your morning workout might benefit more from a 15-minute NSDR session than Tylenol.
5. Better Sleep
It might seem counterintuitive that resting during the day would put you to sleep in the evening, but it’s true. NSDR trains your brain to relax, which comes in handy if you have trouble falling asleep at night.
A 2015 study found that daily, 20-minute meditation sessions helped to fight insomnia and improve sleep quality.
NSDR has “really helped reduce stress and allowed me to fall asleep more easily and control my state of mind late in the evening,” said Dr. Huberman.
How to Practice NSDR
There are several ways to enter the NSDR state, from breathwork to self-hypnosis. However, the easiest and most accessible NSDR protocol is yoga nidra: a 10-20-minute meditation that induces a fluid state between waking and sleeping.
It’s best to find a guided yoga nidra meditation online to keep you on track, especially if you’re a beginner. Here’s how it works.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes
- Slow your breathing: inhale deeply through your nose and exhale completely with pursed lips (like you’re blowing through a straw).
- Go back to breathing normally.
- Scan your body and take note of how your abdomen rises and falls as you breathe.
- Watch thoughts come across your mind without judgment—don’t try to block anything out.
- When you finish, reflect on how you felt during the experience and slowly transition into your fully waking state.
Ideally, you should feel calm and recharged. Some people even say they feel like they got a full night’s sleep after one yoga nidra session.
There Are No Sleep Shortcuts
Up to 35% of adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the CDC. And while the evidence shows that NSDR sessions can replicate some benefits of sleep, they can’t replace eight hours of shut-eye.
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night has countless health benefits including weight loss, improved cognition, athletic performance, heart health, immune health, mental health, and more.
NSDR can be a powerful tool to boost your productivity (and your mood), but it’s not nearly as powerful as a good night’s sleep.