The Difference Between Sleep And Meditation
Meditation and sleep are very different states. The core difference is that while sleeping you are not aware, you are unconscious, you lose all sense of being in the moment. Meditation you are in a state of heightened awareness. Your consciousness is wide awake, focused, and calm. You are looking to connect to your inner-most being, with the universal energy, the source, God. You are present and in the moment.
The similarity sleep and meditation have in common is relaxation of the body, and at some level you are escaping from the hustle and bustle, the noise of the outside, external world (more so in the case of sleep, than with meditation). You are letting go and freeing yourself from the stresses and tension of everyday, modern living.
Before we dig deeper into looking at the comparison between sleep and meditation and how meditation can benefit your sleeping patterns, let’s dig in and discover what both sleep and meditation are and how important they are to your overall well-being.
So What is Sleep?
Sleep is a state of reduced awareness and responsiveness. Here we have our major difference between sleep and meditation.
When you are asleep, your muscles are relaxed, your consciousness floats in and out of the in-between…another level of consciousness of unawareness.
A state where your body is still, but your brain is quite active. It could be described as a situation where the “lights are on but there’s nobody home”.
Your body’s internal systems are in total control and on autopilot when you sleep and when you are awake but if these functioning internal systems get out of alignment sleep problems can result.
“Nerve-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters control whether we are asleep or awake by acting on different groups of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. Neurons in the brainstem, which connects the brain with the spinal cord, produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine that keep some parts of the brain active while we are awake. Other neurons at the badeepse of the brain begin signaling when we fall asleep. These neurons appear to “switch off” the signals that keep us awake. Research also suggests that a chemical called adenosine builds up in our blood while we are awake and causes drowsiness. This chemical gradually breaks down while we sleep.” According to ASA – American Sleep Association.
What is Meditation?
Meditation can be defined as a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. Meditation is a means of transforming the mind.
Sleep is a rejuvenation process, restoring the mind and the bodily systems.
Meditation is a mental exercise that involves relaxation, focus, and awareness. Sleeps is certainly about relaxing and letting go minus the focus and awareness otherwise your in trouble a lack of sleep or no sleep at all.
Meditation is practiced either by focusing attention on a single object, internal or external (focused attention meditation) or by paying attention to whatever is predominant in your experience in the present moment, without allowing the attention to get stuck on any particular thing.
Meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional strength and a calm being in the moment. Daily meditation practice allows you to learn the patterns and habits of your mind as well as a means to developing new, more positive ways of being. With regular, consistent practice and patience these sustained, focused states of mind can deepen into completely peaceful and energised states of mind.
Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life and self.
So What is The Difference Between Sleep and Meditation
Ok let’s dissect this debate between sleep and meditation…
# Sleep is a state of reduced awareness and responsiveness;
# Meditation encourages a heightened state of awareness and focused attention;
# Sleep is meant to slow things down unconsciously where meditation does it consciously;
# Meditation seeks to connect with the mind and higher levels of consciousness where sleep detaches from all activities, connections and energies that will stimulate the brain;
# While sleeping you are obviously not awake and not aware what is happening around you. You are not present in the moment;
# While meditating, you are aware what is happening, you are consciously in the moment and you can control your thoughts;
# Sleep is unconscious meditation and meditation is conscious sleep;
# The difference is the state or level of your consciousness;
# Sleep rejuvenates, meditation transforms;
# Posture is less important with sleep than it is with meditation;
# Meditation aligns the body and mind consciously, sleep aligns them subconsciously;
# A little meditation can still go a long way or you can never meditate long enough. Not the same with sleep too little and too much sleep can have adverse effects on your emotional, mental and physical state.
# It is said that Meditation gives the body and mind a much deeper quality of rest than sleep.
What Are The Similarities Between Meditation And Sleep
# Both sleep and meditation is totally dependant on you being fully relaxed. The better you are relaxed the better sleep and meditation periods;
# Both help release the stress and tension within the body and mind;
# Both are beneficial to the body and mind;
# Both have healing effects;
# Both energise the body and mind;
# Both have great therapeutic benefits, through rejuvenation, especially the nervous system.
Now that you have a better understanding of both the differences between sleep and meditation and some of the similarities, let’s look deeper into how much sleep and meditation is needed for beneficial effects and both body and mind.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and well-being.” National Sleep Foundation
By the time you reach 80, you will probably have spent about 28 of those years asleep.
Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by age, lifestyle and health.
Infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about 9 hours on average. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.
According to the National Sleep Foundation it’s important to pay attention to your own individual needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep.
- Are you productive, healthy and happy?
- How many hours of quality sleep do you need to get you at peak performance?
- Do you have health issues such as being overweight?
- Are you disease risk?
- Are you experiencing sleep problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
- Do you feel sleepy watching TV?
These are questions that must be asked before you can determine the number that works for you.
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
How Much Meditation Do You Need?
Meditation is a little different than sleep when it comes to how much because it depends…
What are the results you’re looking for when you meditate?
A little meditation can go a long way, if done consistently each and every day. The more you meditate and the consistency of your meditation practice will determine the level of benefits to the body, mind and soul.
So first seek clarity of why you are meditating and then set yourself up to forming a routine of doing until it becomes a welcomed habit.
How Important Is Sleep?
Scientists don’t fully understand why we need so much sleep, but it’s believed it helps us rejuvenate ourselves physically, as well as organising ourselves mentally.
You need sleep so your body and mind can operate at its optimal levels…in alignment, together.
Proper sleep can assist in the maintenance of your immune system keeping it active and alert as well as keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy. It allows for growth and healing. Proper sleep can control your appetite and your weight, increase your attention, memory and learning capabilities.
Going without enough sleep can seriously affect your health. As well as affecting your concentration and mood, lack of sleep has also been linked to a range of physical problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even premature death.
Good consistent sleep is not something that only determines whether you are tired or alert. But it also can save your life. That’s how important sleep is to you. Sleep is needed so everything in your body and mind can work correctly. Without it, or the continuous lack of sleep, can put you on a course of premature death as the tension and stress builds.
The first signs you may be aware of when getting less than 6 hours of sleep is you feel tired, forgetful, irritable, and just not on the top of your game. Yet, in long term, it shows to everyone around you like bad job performance, mood swings, depression, and you turn into that person that no one really likes to be around.
Actually, there was a study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation that found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.
How Important Is Meditation?
One purpose of meditation is to transcend the usual limitations of human consciousness and expand to higher levels of awareness, through focusing your mind and blocking the constant chatter, the constant noise of everyday living.
Allowing your mind to go way beyond its normal sphere into another world that can only be experienced to understand its full beauty and significance.
It is only your mind that can experience this beauty, this magic, this totality of all creation and it’s through the daily practice of meditation that this experience is realised.
Meditation is a tool that allows you to go way beyond your limitations. But like anything worthwhile in life it takes effort and discipline to achieve the level of success, the desired results with meditation.
The many, many, many benefits of personal and spiritual development that can be gained through this connection of your deep inner self are so rewarding that it eventually becomes a joy and not a chore, not a duty not an exercise of doing.
Whatever you do put into your daily meditation practice returns to you many, many, many times over, so that your life begins to grow in ways you had never thought possible.
Daily meditation sessions unfold the process of self-fulfilment to the “nth” degree…
“The stillness achieved during meditation also slows down the metabolism of the body, providing a deep state of rest which has great therapeutic benefits, it rejuvenates the entire body, especially the nervous system”… MIchael Reed Gach
Which leads us into the final stage of this article of how can practising meditation on a daily basis help you sleep.
What Is The Connection Between Meditation And Sleep?
Meditation can break the cycle of poor sleep patterning by working deep at the level of the nervous system, cleaning out all of the noise, stimulation and daily stresses.
Once your neurons are no longer over-excited through meditation, when we lay our head down, it is totally relaxed and ready to fall into a relaxing night of restful sleep.
Any meditation technique especially a well versed guided meditation can increase your deep sleep cycles, increasing your quality of sleep and increasing the length of sleep to a desirable period in those of us who aren’t getting enough sleep.
When asleep, our consciousness is free to experience its natural state unhindered by the hustle, bustle and stress of everyday living and we wake up feeling alive, fresh and willing to take on the days challenges. Any and all distractions draw you away from your natural state of being.
Everyday “life” exposes your nervous systems to a endless amount of stimulation. Mostly from unnatural levels of excitement, which can be hard to avoid, putting undue stress and tension on your nervous system. The result is a poor night’s sleep.
When you lay down for a restful night’s sleep the brain switches into rest and repair mode and desperately attempts to unload some of the overstimulation from the day’s activities. The excess stimulation is vented via electrical activity in the brain, causing our neurons to get excited.
Sleep is also understood to have a role in cooling brain temperature after a hard day’s computational demands, and for detoxifying brain tissues.
Trish Kinney in this article with the Huffington Post explains it quite eloquently…
When awake, our consciousness is bounded by the experience of the senses. When asleep, our consciousness is free to experience its natural state and we wake up feeling alive. All distractions take us away from our natural state.
Understanding that your mind continually jumps from one thought, impulse or stimulus to another and that daily meditation can and does quiet the mind resulting in increasingly long periods of periods between thoughts. Once you begin experiencing space between thoughts, sleep improves.
With meditation, the brain begins to relax. Think of the brain like a muscle. If it focuses too tightly for too long, the muscle has trouble releasing and can feel cramped. A cramped muscle prevents restful sleep. Meditation brings intent and consciousness to the brain by sending the message that it is now time to relax, release and experience that restful “space.” If the brain stays in a conscious state of attention without experiencing a release, sleep quality is negatively affected.
When meditation becomes a practice, the brain becomes familiar with the restful state and no longer resists it. Thus it is easier and more comfortable to fall into a truly restful sleep.
Trish Kinney continues…
“Meditation is a very personal experience and is different for everyone. I have students who meditate for long periods of time in one sitting and others who meditate in much shorter sessions quite effectively. It can be a function of personality, lifestyle, or simple preference. Some love to meditate lying down while others just fall asleep if they are not sitting up. Some like to meditate in the same place every day and others meditate whenever and wherever they can. The important thing is to train the brain to rest and it gets easier with repetition. Soon all the benefits begin to engage, including restful and regenerative sleep.”
“The breath, a key component of meditation, is your ally in the battle against the negative impact of stress on health, sleep, emotional state and overall well-being. It sounds overly simple but developing a conscious awareness of breath is key to learning how to relax in the face of overwhelming stress. It is nearly impossible to be out of control or upset if your breathing is conscious and measured. It is important to know what situations are likely to cause stress in advance, including the inability to sleep. Knowing how to access that quiet, calm place of stillness that is always inside you can help you become more familiar with, and have more control over stressors. Practicing conscious awareness of breath when not under stress will make it easier to access when the stress level escalates.”
Meditation gives the body and mind a much deeper quality of rest than sleep. Obviously it is also a very different subjective experience, and it is a much different physiological experience as well. This can be seen through EEG measurements of the brain, hormone levels in the blood, and cellular metabolism. But the real value of meditation goes far beyond rest it is how we awaken to our true selves and attain our full human potential. Sleep does not give you that.
Meditators develop different and more beneficial brain-wave activity during sleep, improving sleep quality and ensuring that they require a shorter recovery time from any sleep deprivation that may come from living a full life.
Combing a conducive sleeping pattern with a daily meditation habit you have armed yourself with a process of aligning your body, mind and spirit to a much complete and happier YOU!!!