Is Meditation As Good As Sleep? Mindfulness Can't Replace Shut-Eye, Experts Say, So Stick To Your Bedtime
I’m probably preaching to the choir when I say there aren’t enough hours in the day, but the truth still stands. Whether you’re a college student balancing assignments, internship hours, plus working part-time because #tuition, or a recent grad navigating the workforce on top of every other #adulting responsibility, do you fully intend to make sleep a priority, but at the end of the day, it just doesn’t pan out? With so much to do and so little time, you might’ve caught yourself searching for alternatives to shut-eye. Maybe you’ve even pondered whether meditation is as good as sleep, then laughed at yourself at the mere concept because it’s just that ridiculous — or is it?
Part of being an adult means nailing down a wake-up strategy — be it a strong Americano, splashing your face with cold water, or going for a run, it's all about finding something that helps you feel energized, and never letting it go. In theory, clocking in the recommended six to eight hours of sleep every night should leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day come morning, but you and I both know that isn’t always the case. Even when you do go to bed early and wake up with the dawn, if you don’t have good quality sleep, the quantity of hours doesn’t really make a difference; the afternoon comes, and you’re just as exhausted as you would be after sleeping for a mere five hours. So what’s the secret? How can you feel your best when all you really feel is downright exhausted?
New research from Oregon State University (OSU) may have found an answer — or, at least, something pretty close to an answer. The research, which has been published in the Journal of Business Venturing, found that, while you can’t necessarily replace sleep with meditation exercises, practicing mindfulness can help you cope with exhaustion. The findings come as a result of two surveys administered to entrepreneurs: per OSU’s official press release, the results of the first questionnaire showed that, out of 105 entrepreneurs around the United States, those who slept longer and/or practiced mindfulness reported lower levels of exhaustion. The second survey's results mirrored the first in that, out of an additional 329 entrepreneurs, practicing mindfulness helped combat feelings of exhaustion.
Although the study itself specifically focused on entrepreneurs, the concept seems like it can be applied to anyone experiencing feelings of exhaustion. “You can’t replace sleep with mindfulness exercises, but they might help compensate and provide a degree of relief,” Charles Murnieks, assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship in OSU’s College of Business and the study’s lead author, said in a statement for the study's press release. “As little as 70 minutes a week, or 10 minutes a day, of mindfulness practice may have the same benefits as an extra 44 minutes of sleep a night.”
Now, you might not see an initial correlation between meditation and sleep — I know myself, and I definitely didn’t understand the connection at first — but here’s how you can draw the parallel: According to meditation and wellness expert Jamie Price, co-founder of the meditation app, Stop, Breathe & Think, when your stress response (aka fight-or-flight mode) is in high gear too often, your sleep quality tends to suffer. Meditation, and mindfulness in general, she says, is a practice that allows your body and mind to return to its baseline (aka a state of rest).
“Since we are always plugged in, or perpetually stuck in a 'to-do list' state of mind, we often don’t take time to be present and relax after fulfilling a goal,” Price tells Elite Daily. “Meditation will help to reverse this cycle, allowing our body to rest and regenerate,” so that the energy that would otherwise be used up by stress, is now available to use on other things, she adds.
But here’s the catch (because there’s always a catch, right?): While a meditative practice can help you combat that begrudgingly weighty feeling of exhaustion in the moment, you’re more likely to benefit from an ongoing practice, rather than if you were to only meditate as an act of triage. To put it into perspective, Chrissy Carter, a Meditation Studio App teacher and yoga instructor, explains that, oftentimes, people will wait until they’re drowning to look for a lifeline. However, “if we don’t give our mind a place to sit — to sift through the mindless chatter and process our experience,” Carter tells Elite Daily, “it will just keep running us into the ground.” In other words, it's best to adopt meditation as an everyday practice, not as a last resort for relief.
So now that you know meditation can help you feel a little less exhausted and a little more energized, the next question is, what kind of meditative practice will yield these benefits? Carter tells me she's a fan of body-scanning, in which you would literally close your eyes and mentally scan the body from head to toe, paying attention to any and all the sensations and energy of the physical body. Price, on the other hand, suggests using belly or diaphragmatic breathing techniques to soothe the nervous system, while Sleep Club's Dream Team member, Jessica Hagen, encourages you to simply be more mindful in your general, everyday life.
“The key to mindfulness and meditation is presence,” she tells Elite Daily, which means being aware of how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and being able to identify ways of improving your mental and physical state “by adjusting what may need to be adjusted." She explains, “Don’t ignore how you feel, but rather, embrace it, contemplate it, and learn from it.”
On that note, Hagen adds, never try to replace sleep entirely with meditation. Meditation can ease your mind and make it easier to fall asleep, but shutting your eyes and drifting off to a meditative state is not the same as snoozing. Do one to improve the other, not instead of.