If You Can't Sleep, NSDR Might Just Be The Key To Drifting Off
If you struggle with disrupted sleep like16 million others in the UK, you’ll likely have tried everything from melatonin to sleep apps to counting sheep.
But what about NSDR?
Non-sleep deep rest (or NSDR) is a rest hack developed and coined by Stanford University neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman that enables people to control the relaxation state of their nervous system.
It’s a hypnotic relaxation technique that’s easy to practice and helpful for improving concentration – there’s a big focus on breathing deeply, exhaling in through the nose and/or mouth, and out through the mouth, as well as practising relaxation exercises.
Dr Huberman uses NSDR as an umbrella term to encapsulate any restful exercise like yoga nidra, naps, hypnosis and meditation.
It’s said to be loved by tech giants and celebs alike, with Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai saying he uses the tool to help balance the mental load of his busy days: “I struggle to do meditation. I can go to YouTube and find an NSDR video. They’re available in 10, 20 or 30 minutes, so I do that occasionally.”
Katy Perry and Oprah Winfrey are also reported to be big fans.
Yoga nidra is a style of NSDR yoga where you lie down and are taken through a body scan, either by a teacher or a recording, according to Tracy Carson McCluskey, yoga teacher at Estrela Yoga.
“You often hear yoga nidra described as yogic sleep, but it’s not an actual state of sleep,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“In class, we’re looking for conscious relaxation. You could call yoga nidra ‘dynamic sleep’. It’s a method that includes total physical mental and emotional release.”
The trick with yoga nidra, she says, is to “relax with awareness, remain effortless and consciously relax the body and mind”.
“Also, in yoga nidra, we use positive affirmations to try to rid any negative beliefs and embrace contentedness and acceptance,” she says.
According to Dr Huberman, NSDR can help with:
Improving memory retention,
Enhancing rates of neuroplasticity, which can promote learning,
Improving cognitive function and sleep quality.
“This relaxation is hugely beneficial,” Dr Lila Varsani, a specialist NSDR hypnotherapist, tells Marie Claire. “When your mind stops and your body slows down, your body goes into a deeply restful state that helps manage stress, worry, and anxiety.
“During this phase of non-sleep deep rest, the body can focus its energy on bringing clarity to the mind, consolidating learning and memory and even repairing tissues and physical health.”
How can NSDR help me get better sleep?
“We generally have trouble falling asleep because we think we have to turn off our thoughts like a switch, but the transition to sleep involves allowing our thoughts to become fragmented,” explains Dr Huberman.
“It’s then that we become relaxed, and the brain enters a more fluid state that’s not under our conscious control.”
The process of NSDR lets you do exactly that – you regulate, relax and unconsciously start to unwind and let your brain accept sleep.
It can also be used in replacement of a nap, with those practising it claiming they feel rested and restored in 10 to 20 minutes.
Studies have shown that yoga nidra has a direct effect on reducing stress and helping with sleep, although more research is needed into NSDR specifically.
The comments on Dr Huberman’s NSDR videos also show how it’s working for people struggling with stress and sleep.
One user wrote: “Been doing this almost daily for a few months now, really has made such a positive impact on my life. Lower stress, better sleep, more focus. You wont regret adding this to your routine.”
Another said: “This is just amazing! I have been suffering from insomnia for years and tried so many things but this really works, even when I have to sleep at work. Thank you so much for bringing some quality back into my life!”
Some, however, question just how different NSDR is to guided meditation, which has been around for centuries.
Sara Mednick, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, told Fatherly NSDR is a “repackaging” of every meditation tradition that’s existed for hundreds of years.
“It’s literally 10 minutes of breathing into your body and becoming aware of your body, which has a long history in meditation,” she added.