Non-Sleep Deep Rest – Hack Your Brain

Non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR, is the latest trend in biohacking. The umbrella term refers to activities and practices that induce a state of deep relaxation and rejuvenation, similar to your deep sleep stage without actually falling asleep. NSDR practices are based on the ancient meditation practice of yoga nidra and backed up by modern neuroscience. NSDR can grant you various health benefits, and some people even compare it to self-hypnosis. In this article, CARE will guide you through the practice of non-sleep deep rest and introduce you to Dr. Andrew Huberman, who invented the term NSDR and is a pioneer in brain hacking. Are you ready to hack your brain? Let’s get started!

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Sleep
9 min read · Jan 15, 2024

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What Is Non-Sleep Deep Rest?

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Non-sleep deep rest, shortly called NSDR, is an umbrella term that refers to a collection of activities and practices that induce a state of deep relaxation and rejuvenation similar to those our body experiences during deep sleep. During non-sleep deep rest, you actually do not fall asleep yet profit from some similar biological benefits. [1]

For you to better understand the advantages of non-sleep deep rest and how it compares to “real” deep sleep, let’s take a quick look at the deep sleep stage: Deep sleep, or N3, is one of the four sleep stages of our sleep cycle. The deep sleep stage is crucial for memory consolidation and physical restoration, promoting muscle repair and growth. [2]

Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) practices aim to achieve similar biological processes without traditional sleep, contributing to improved cognitive function, physical restoration, more energy, better sleep, and overall well-being. While deep sleep is essential, NSDR offers an alternative approach to reap some of these biological advantages through intentional relaxation and rejuvenation activities throughout your day. [3]

To sum it up, non-sleep deep rest provides the body and mind with a restorative experience that mimics some physiological and psychological benefits of deep sleep.

And how exactly does this work?

Non-sleep deep rest practices are closely associated with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is one of the branches of the autonomic nervous system, responsible for the body's “rest and digest” functions. NSDR allows the mind to rest in between sleep and active wakefulness through classical relaxation techniques and gives you control over awareness, perception, and rest by teaching your nervous system how to relax. [1]

Did you know that you have approximately 35 thoughts per minute? The main goal of NSDR is to calm your mind by slowing down cognitive processes like thinking. NSDR techniques aim to reduce your brain’s operational frequency to a rate of only 1–3 thoughts per minute. This lower frequency is consistent with delta brain waves, which typically occur during deep sleep. Once you achieve these delta brainwave patterns, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. When your parasympathetic branch is activated, you feel calmer, and your heart rate and respiration rate decrease. [4]

NSDR activities and yoga nidra, involving deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation exercises, are known to stimulate the PNS, promoting a state of calmness and relaxation. [1]

Dr. Andrew Huberman – A Pioneer In NSDR Techniques

Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor of neurobiology and, by courtesy, of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, has explored the connection between neuroscience and Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) practices. He has named NSDR and contributed valuable insights into how activities like deep breathing and meditation impact brain function, promoting relaxation, stress reduction, better memory retention, and other health benefits. [5]

His NSDR videos on YouTube have become incredibly popular, and he has more than 3.44 million followers.

We recommend listening to the Huberman Lab Podcast, where Dr. Huberman regularly gives interesting scientific insights into states of deep rest, NSDR, and other hacks to improve the well-being of your brain.

So, is NSDR considered biohacking?

NSDR & Biohacking

Yes, NSDR is the latest trend in biohacking. Biohacking, also known as human augmentation or human enhancement, refers to practices and lifestyle changes that aim to improve your performance, health, and well-being through strategic interventions. Some people even use biohacking intending to prolong their lifespan. The methods and practices of biohacking are drawn from the fields of biology, neuroscience, and genetics.

NSDR activities involve intentional practices aimed at activating and improving certain biological processes. In essence, NSDR represents a specific subset of practices focused on rest and rejuvenation of your brain and body.

For example, non-sleep deep rest practices play a crucial role in promoting neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize itself. By engaging in NSDR, you can reduce stress and anxiety, fostering an environment conducive to structural changes in the brain associated with learning and memory. [1] [5]

This mind-body connection, inherent in NSDR, contributes to neural adaptations, supporting emotional regulation and creativity, ultimately enhancing cognitive function and overall well-being. [6]

What Are the Health Benefits of NSDR?

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Mental Health & Stress Relief

NSDR can help you lower the release of stress hormones by promoting the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing sympathetic activity, and fostering a relaxation response. Therefore, non-sleep deep rest practices and yoga nidra have been linked to significant improvements in mental health, offering a holistic approach to stress reduction, improvement of anxiety and mild depression, and improving emotional well-being. NSDR benefits modulate brain wave frequencies, particularly promoting relaxation and calmness due to intense focus and conscious body control. [1] [5]

Pain Management

Additionally, NSDR techniques show promise in pain management, providing relief through the mind-body connection. [7]

Better Sleep

Furthermore, NSDR and yoga nidra foster a conducive environment for a good night's sleep by reducing stress and promoting optimal brain wave patterns conducive to better sleep quality. [5]

Neural Harmony

Picture your brain as Times Square, with thoughts and information buzzing around. NSDR practices give your neurons a breather, allowing them to organize and declutter. This mental tidying-up promotes neural harmony, leading to improved cognitive function and mental clarity. [5]

Hormonal Balance

NSDR techniques improve hormonal balance by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces the release of stress hormones, fostering a state of relaxation and equilibrium in your body's hormonal milieu. The intentional modulation of the autonomic nervous system through NSDR practices contributes to a more balanced and harmonious hormonal response. Interestingly, studies have proven yoga nidra to be especially helpful for women who suffer from menstrual disorders. [8]

Cellular Rejuvenation & Immune Boost

Every cell in your body deserves a spa day, and NSDR delivers just that. The relaxation induced by NSDR practices promotes cellular repair and regeneration as it happens during deep sleep, contributing to your overall cellular health. Furthermore, NSDR techniques, through their impact on the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce the release of stress hormones like cortisol, preventing chronic stress-induced suppression of immune function. The activation of the parasympathetic system also modulates inflammatory responses, contributing to a more balanced and efficient immune system. [1] [2]

Cardiovascular Health

NSDR practices have a soft spot for your heart. By lowering stress levels, they contribute to healthier blood pressure and cardiovascular function. [1] [5]

Metabolic Zen Mode

Chronic stress can disrupt metabolic processes by elevating stress hormones like cortisol. This leads to imbalances in blood sugar, increased fat storage, and altered energy metabolism. By reducing stress and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, non-sleep deep rest techniques help restore metabolic balance, mitigating the negative effects of chronic stress on processes such as glucose regulation and energy utilization. [8]

So, there you have it— NSDR is not just about relaxation; it offers a plethora of benefits that resonate through cells, neurons, and hormones in your body, leaving you with harmonious and revitalized biological processes that can help you attain more energy, a better mood, and improved sleep. [1] [5] [8]

Time to treat your body to some well-deserved biological pampering or, should we say, biohacking!

How do you practice NSDR techniques?

How Do You Start Practicing Non-Sleep Deep Rest?

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NSDR is an umbrella term that includes different methods to obtain deep relaxation without falling asleep. To get accustomed and started with practicing Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR), you can follow our easy non-sleep deep rest protocol for beginners:

  1. Set Intentions: Clarify what you want to achieve through NSDR, such as stress relief or improved energy and focus.
  2. Choose Activities: Select practices like mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or yoga nidra recordings that resonate with you.
  3. Create a Relaxing Space: Find a quiet and comfortable spot where you won't be disturbed during your NSDR activities.
  4. Start with Mindfulness Meditation: Try to calm your mind by silencing thoughts and allowing your brain to rest. If you detect a thought, recognize it and silence it again.
  5. Explore Deep Breathing: Try techniques like diaphragmatic breathing to activate your body's relaxation response: Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your diaphragm to descend, expanding your abdomen, and exhale slowly through your mouth, engaging your diaphragm to facilitate a full and controlled breath.
  6. Experiment with Yoga Nidra: Follow guided Yoga Nidra recordings for systematic NSDR relaxation.
  7. Be Consistent: Make NSDR a regular part of your routine for a few minutes each day to experience its benefits over time. You can do it at the beginning of your day, during your day for an energy or relaxation boost, or before going to bed to obtain better sleep quality – whatever suits your needs best.

What Is the Difference Between NSDR and Meditation?

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Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) is a comprehensive concept involving various practices designed to induce a state of deep relaxation and rejuvenation akin to the benefits of deep sleep without engaging in traditional sleep. [1] [5]

Unlike meditation, the objective of NSDR goes beyond mental calmness; it aims at a holistic biological rejuvenation of both the body and mind.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice centered around cultivating a focused and often relaxed state of mind, promoting mindfulness, redirecting thoughts, improving self-awareness, and achieving a sense of inner calm. [9]

NSDR is based on the practice of yoga nidra, and the term is often used synonymously. Let us take a quick look at that.

Yoga Nidra – Yogic Sleep

Yoga Nidra, also known as “yogic sleep,” is a form of guided meditation that induces a state of conscious relaxation while maintaining awareness. [1]

In Yoga Nidra, you experience systematic guided relaxation, including body scans and breath awareness. While it involves a state of deep relaxation, it is distinct from traditional sleep, as the practitioner hovers between wakefulness and a profoundly relaxed state. [1]

Yoga Nidra is the fundament of NSDR, and yoga nidra recordings are often used in NSDR practices.

How Does NSDR Compare to Napping?

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There have been some naysayers who claim that NSDR is just a new and fancy form of napping. That is not true.

In the duel between Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) and napping, NSDR emerges as the superior contender, offering a strategic and comprehensive approach to overall well-being. NSDR engages with both body and mind, allowing essential biological processes to unfold during deep relaxation without falling asleep and into your sleep cycle. Unlike napping, which can result in grogginess due to random awakening during sleep cycles, NSDR and yoga nidra target stress reduction, immune system support, and DNA repair. [1] [5]

Napping, while providing a quick energy boost for some, has potential downsides and health risks, such as sleep inertia, disruption of the circadian rhythm, and an increased cardiovascular risk. Regular or prolonged naps have been linked to adverse health effects, impacting the intricate processes of our sleep cycle. [10]

NSDR doesn't offer a mere quick fix but presents a comprehensive wellness program. It goes beyond tackling physical fatigue by addressing mental and emotional health, providing a sustained, holistic approach to wellness. NSDR emerges as the clear victor in the comparison.

While napping can serve as a tool for a quick energy pick-me-up, NSDR's strategic and comprehensive techniques offer a nuanced and balanced approach to optimizing your health.

CARE Loves Biohacking & NSDR Techniques

By crafting your own NSDR protocol or yoga nidra practice, you gain a powerful tool to improve your mental and physical health, optimize your cognitive function, boost your metabolism, and achieve stress relief. [1] [5]

CARE is a great believer in biohacking. We regularly educate ourselves on the latest science-backed biohacking trends and are happy to discuss these with you during your next Health Check-up or CARE event.

Our healthcare specialists will be happy to advise you on specific biohacking practices that suit your personal health goals.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!