Your guide to non-sleep deep rest
When we think about the benefits of rest, we usually think about sleep. But there’s another form of rest that you should know about — non-sleep deep rest. Read on to learn what non-sleep deep rest is, how it helps you recharge more effectively, and how you can start practicing it today.
What is non-sleep deep rest?
Non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR for short, is a method of deep relaxation. It was developed by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. In the form of guided meditation, NSDR combines mindful breathing and body scanning to bring you into an aware, yet relaxed state.
Non-sleep deep rest is a powerful tool to not only help you de-stress, but to also demonstrate that you have conscious control over your perception. As Dr. Huberman teaches, “It takes advantage of the fact that specific forms of breathing place us into a state of deep relaxation by slowing our heart rate down. It also takes advantage of the fact that we can control our perception — that is, which sensations we are focused on, and by doing so, we can shift our brain state from thinking, from stress, from planning, from anticipation of any kind — positive or negative — to one of pure sensation and deep relaxation.”
What’s the difference between non-sleep deep rest and yoga nidra?
Although the term NSDR is relatively new, it has its roots in an ancient practice called yoga nidra, or yogic sleep. NSDR and yoga nidra both involve self-directed relaxation. However, you’ll often find intentions and mantras during a yoga nidra meditation. You won’t find those in an NSDR video or audio clip.
“What we’ve done is we’ve stripped out intentions or any kind of the verbiage related to what some people might perceive as kind of related to the yoga community or specific to kind of new age-y type techniques,” explains Dr. Huberman. “Not because we don’t like yoga nidra… but sometimes the complicated language can be a separator and can discourage people from taking on these protocols that are extremely useful. So NSDR is intentionally generic.”
If yoga nidra sounds like something you’d be interested in, I Am Yoga Nidra is a great resource for 20-30 minute yoga nidra meditations.
What are the benefits of NSDR?
A little peace and quiet could be all the convincing you need to practice NSDR. However, there are so many other advantages that NSDR has to offer, way beyond relaxation.
- Enhanced learning and memory. Whenever you learn something new, you’re effectively changing your neural circuitry. That’s called neuroplasticity, which is the ability for the brain to literally create new connections between neurons. NSDR can actually enhance your learning retention, because it’s during a period of sleep or rest that your brain strengthens those new neural pathways. But that’s not the only way NSDR benefits cognitive function.
- Improved focus. In the Huberman Lab podcast, Dr. Huberman explains that practicing NSDR has “neurochemical replenishing effects.” Specifically, NSDR can restore levels of dopamine, aka the motivation molecule. Dopamine deals with drive and determination, helping to concentrate when you need to. “NSDR can rest our ability to engage in the world in a way that’s very deliberate,” says Dr. Huberman. (More on this in the next section!)
- Better sleep quality. If you have difficulties falling asleep when you want to, NSDR can help. NSDR activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that deals with rest and digestion. The more you practice NSDR, the better you become at regulating your ability to relax. That means you’re better able to fall asleep at night and stay asleep. You can couple daytime NSDR with a sleep meditation at night to really help you out in the sleep department.
- Creativity boost. There’s research that suggests non-sleep deep rest can increase dopamine in a part of the brain called the nigrostriatal pathway. This is an area that’s been linked to divergent thinking, an important part of creativity. The same study also found that non-sleep deep rest also increased theta activity in the brain, the brain wave frequency associated with creative states. If you want to enhance your creativity, try NSDR.
- Fitness performance. In this episode of the Huberman Lab podcast, Dr. Huberman shares that he practices NSDR to keep him on track with his fitness goals, particularly when he’s feeling stressed or didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Non-sleep deep rest gives him that energy boost he needs to not skip a workout.
Can NSDR boost productivity?
As we mentioned above, NSDR can help you focus, which in turn helps your productivity levels. Now let’s dig into the neuroscience behind it. First of all, we all know that we don’t perform well — physically and mentally — when we’re exhausted. NSDR can enhance your ability to focus, simply by helping you feel refreshed and fully restored. Although you should never use it to replace sleep, NSDR is definitely a tool that you can use when you’re in a pinch.
Secondly, non-sleep deep rest triggers the release of dopamine. The mainstream understanding is that dopamine is the feel-good hormone. While that’s true, it’s also a bit more complex than that. Dopamine is the neuromodulator that’s responsible for drive and determination. If you find yourself needing a little productivity boost in the afternoon, try NSDR to replenish your dopamine levels.
Pro tip: Dr. Andrew Huberman has a great episode here, all about dopamine.
How to practice NSDR
One of the reasons we love NSDR is that it’s easy. Like we said above, practicing non-sleep deep rest involves listening to a guided meditation. Don’t let the word “meditation” intimate you — even beginners will find NSDR relatively easy to pick up. Another thing that makes NSDR is that it’s free, making it accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
Here are the main components of non-sleep deep rest:
- Laying still
- Body scan
If you’re new to mindfulness, a body scan is when you focus your attention on your body, usually starting from your feet and working your way upwards. The intense focus on your body parts and how they feel helps you to gain control over your perception.
Dr. Huberman personally does NSDR for 10-30 minutes every day. On days when he’s feeling sleep deprived, he extends his sessions to 30 or 60 minutes.
Available on iPhone and Android
Reveri is a self-hypnosis app co-founded by Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist who has dedicated over 45 years to studying stress, pain, sleep, and hypnosis. Reveri gives you access to self-hypnosis sessions for stress relief, better sleep, improved eating habits, and more. Sessions are interactive and are typically 10-15 minutes long. Reveri is a convenient way to practice NSDR and receive research-backed support right from your phone.
Available on iPhone, Android, and Mac
Virtusan is an all-in-one platform that gives you the tools you need to improve your life. Virtusan is all about driving behavioral change — in other words, helping you develop better habits. Here, you can find exclusive content by some of the world’s leading experts on mental health and physical wellness. And of course, you can find various NSDR protocols led by none other than Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Virtusan also has a free 10-minute NSDR guided meditation on YouTube. Click here to watch!
Available as a web app and browser extension (Chrome and Firefox)
Finding time to practice new habits — and make them stick — isn’t always easy. If you’re curious about how to fit NSDR into your daily routine, check out Clockwise. Clockwise is a time orchestration platform that optimizes your schedule, so you don’t have to. Clockwise automatically resolves scheduling conflicts, moves meetings to their best times (for everyone involved), and creates Focus Time in your calendar. You can also ask Clockwise to save space in your day for NSDR, using Smart Holds.
Non-sleep deep rest is a powerful way to rejuvenate, enhance cognitive function, and improve your quality of sleep. It can even help you become more creative and more productive. Not to mention it’s absolutely free! To start practicing NSDR, check out one of the apps above or search “NSDR protocol” in YouTube.