At this point in human history, lack of sleep and insomnia are becoming a worldwide pandemic.
According to Sleep Foundation, an adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep daily. Yet, 2016 press release of American Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of adults in the US don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis.
The issue is definitely present outside the US as well: new data from Sleep Cycle app has now shown that no country in the world manages to achieve 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis.
In 1942, that’s less than a hundred years ago, 8 hours of sleep was the norm, now 6.8 is the average.
One more statistic you should know about, this one is from the National Center for Biotechnology Information: 30% of the adult U.S. population suffer from Insomnia and 10% from chronic insomnia, making it the most common sleep disorder.
Close to 10 million Americans take prescription drugs to help them fall asleep. Yet, it doesn’t actually solve the problem as sleeping pills don’t induce “real“ sleep and we don’t get to experience the natural sleep cycles that restore the body and the mind. Rather, they sedate the body into sleep and are associated with a higher mortality rate and a 35% higher chance of developing cancer, according to British Medical Journal.
And one more fact: according to Loughborough University study, China is the most “sleep medicated” country in the world at the time I’m writing this.
Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as weight gain, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, irritability and negative moods, depression, low sex drive, lack of energy, problems with memory and concentration. Clearly, not something you want in your life, right? I’m not writing this to scare you, rather to help you recognise the importance of prioritising your sleep and improving its quality.
Lack of sleep also has a drastic effect on the brain.
When lack of sleep becomes serious, the brain begins to switch off sections that aren’t necessary for survival. As a result, brain function is massively impaired, and this affects every single process in our bodies.
While there are multiple strategies you could choose in order to improve your sleep (let me know if you’d like me to write about that more as it’s a topic I’m passionate about), one very effective practice that can improve sleep is yoga nidra.
The question is: how exactly does it work? How can one type of meditation be so much more conducive to sleep than others?
If you’re new to yoga nidra or you just haven’t really researched it, one curious thing about it is that it is quite different from other styles of meditation. So much so that many teachers say it shouldn’t even be considered to be a meditation practice to begin with!
Here are some of the distinctions of yoga nidra that set it apart from other meditation techniques.
While many other meditation styles make you more alert by speeding up your brain waves to a high frequency pattern, yoga nidra makes your mind and your brainwaves slow down. A lot.
To illustrate my point, I want to share with you a few studies. The first one looked at the brain activity of study participants practicing vipassana meditation. Their EEG (electroencephalography, or graph of brain’s electrical activity) showed an increase of high frequency brain waves (gamma). Gamma are in fact the highest frequency brain waves we as humans can produce.
Gamma brainwaves are associated with focus, peak concentration, high performance, a feeling of compassion and increased awareness through all five senses.
If we compare these findings to the brain wave signature pattern that we see in yoga nidra practitioners, we see a very different picture.
For example, in 1974 Swami Rama participated in a study that measured his brain waves while he was in a state of yoga nidra. Similarly to the previous study, they also used EEG in this research.
After passing through alpha and theta brain wave states that are commonly observed in people starting to calm down and prepare for sleep, something extraordinary happened. For 10 whole minutes Swami Rama was in a measured delta brainwave state and this is nothing short of extraordinary. Even more unique is that he was able to remain conscious while experiencing the depths of yoga nidra.
If you’re new to brain waves, let me explain. Delta waves is where we go during the deepest, most restorative sleep. Delta brain wave state is also where our body naturally produces an amazing cocktail of brain- and body biochemicals that have a restorative and rejuvenating effect. One of the hormones we produce in a delta brainwave state is HGH, or human growth hormone. I’ll go a bit deeper into the topic of hormones and neurotransmitters in the upcoming blog posts.
There has also been a multitude of further studies showing that as a practitioner starts to follow a yoga nidra practice, the brain waves shift from beta waves that are associated with stress and alertness of going about their day, to alpha that correlates with a state of relaxation, then theta that is associated with increased learning capacity and memory retention. Following that, experienced practitioners were able to attain a delta brain wave state.
So to sum it up, yoga nidra allows us to move progressively through the brain waves, shifting from fast to slow and eventually slow down the brain waves to a point where there’s fewer and fewer thoughts. as opposed to experiencing high frequencies of brain waves that have been measured in other meditation techniques. It makes yoga nidra an ultimate restorative practice where we can deeply replenish our resources and let the mind and body rest.
To bring it back to the topic of sleep, yoga nidra teaches your brain and your body to consciously slow down the thinking mind and to downregulate the nervous system as you shift into restful slow-wave brain wave states and let your entire being relax in-depth.
One benefit of learning to do this is that you can restore your inner resources if you’re sleeping poorly at night or have to wake up, whether it’s your baby or your work duties interrupting your sleep.
Recent studies and case reports have observed sleep-inducing properties of yoga nidra, even in senior practitioners who have been suffering from chronic insomnia for decades.
Lastly, yoga nidra is extremely effective for reducing stress and anxiety. Learning to deal with stress and anxiety is a prerequisite of being able to fall asleep easily and to obtain quality sleep. That makes yoga nidra an excellent tool for anyone experiencing stress and anxiety, ensuring that we can still get our sleep even during challenging periods of our lives.
Ready to give it a go?
If you’re a practitioner, you can download a yoga nidra meditation here for free.
And if you’re a therapist or yoga teacher, curious about becoming a yoga nidra teacher, you might be interested in a comprehensive yoga nidra teacher training I’ve created. Save your details here and I’ll reach out when the next training is about to open its doors!