When You Need to Catch Up On Sleep, Is Meditation The Answer?

Is meditation the remedy for sleep loss? This article explores how and if we can catch up on sleep and what part meditation plays in good sleep hygiene.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
can you catch up on sleep
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

Both sleep and meditation are important for resting the mind, and do so in a mutually beneficial way. A restful night’s sleep supports our meditation practice by keeping us alert and clear headed. Meditation practice helps us sleep better, and can even reduce our need for sleep. So, can you catch up on sleep with meditation?

Despite the similarities between sleep and meditation, they are different and neither can replace the other. To live our healthiest and happiest lives we need both a good night’s sleep and a daily meditation practice.

Can You Catch Up On Sleep By Meditating?

We might think sleep is for the body, while meditation is for the mind, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sleep and meditation each contribute to the health of both body and mind in surprisingly similar ways. If you are interested in learning more about all the similar benefits of sleep and meditation, we have added them at the end of this article.

Experience tells us we feel better after a good night’s sleep. Likewise, for over 2,000 years meditation practitioners have anecdotally concluded they feel happier, more calm, peaceful and at ease. So why aren’t we going to bed early every night and waking up to meditate?

We Are Not Sleeping (Nor Meditating) Enough

Sleep and daily meditation are the secret to success, and yet in pursuit of success, we’re not doing either as much as we should be. Lack of sleep is a worldwide problem that spans cultures and socioeconomic class.

In the United States, 70% of adults report not getting enough sleep at least once a month, over 10% of those claim nightly insufficiencies. In Australia, 60% of adults report not getting enough sleep at least once per week, and over 14% claim symptoms that would qualify them for a diagnosis of clinical insomnia.

Most adults need a minimum of 8-10 hours of sleep per night for optimal health and wellness. Sleeping only 7 hours may not seem like a big deal, but sleep restriction accumulates into sleep debt over time. 

Multiple studies have taught us the cumulative effects of sleep restriction are the same as one night of total sleep deprivation.

Catching Up On Sleep Is Hard To Do

We like to think we can catch up on sleep, but it’s a complicated proposal. It largely depends on how much sleep we’ve been losing, and when.

Short Term Sleep Loss

Short term sleep loss is defined as one bad night’s rest in an otherwise restful week. This is the type of sleep we can catch up on, although it takes much longer than we might think. A 2016 study found it takes four days of a complete night’s sleep to fully recover from a loss of just one hour. Sleep debt is a deficit that must be repaid with interest.

Do you often wake at night and struggle to get back to sleep? Bookmark this playlist with meditations and music for insomnia that help when you are awake in the middle of the night.

Long Term Sleep Loss

The above is not good news if we’re missing out on 1-2 hours of sleep several nights in a row. The resulting sleep deficit is nearly impossible to make up for. When we’re chronically sleep deprived, it can take six months to a year to return to a healthy sleep pattern. There’s no such thing as making up for lost sleep over one lazy weekend.

Overnight Sleep Loss

Cutting our sleep short by going to bed later or waking up earlier has less of a detrimental effect than losing sleep in the middle of the circadian night. Overnight shift work has been associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Shift work sleep disorder, SWSD, develops in those who are unable to recover from staying up all night, even with day-time sleep. Symptoms include excessive lack of energy, cognitive decline, insomnia, moodiness and depression.

Read more: While all humans have a circadian rhythm that flows through sleep-wake cycles over roughly 24 hours, a chronotype is more specific to each individual – learn more.

Meditation For Better Sleep

Sleep Hygiene refers to the habits and practices that promote a good night’s sleep. Good Sleep Hygiene includes the following: 

  • Avoid caffeine or other stimulants after the morning hours
  • Exercise daily, preferably not close to bed-time
  • Get adequate exposure to full-spectrum, natural light during the day
  • Avoid screen time within the last hour of sleep
  • Sleep in a darkened and quiet space
  • Don’t use your bed for work or other daytime activities
  • Establish a relaxing evening routine before going to bed

While sleep hygiene is important, studies show meditating daily has a much greater effect on a proper night’s sleep. Meditation improves quantity and quality of sleep in the following ways:

Meditation makes the sleep we do get more restful, and can thereby speed up the process through which we’re able to recover from a sleep deficit.

Find guided sleep meditation practices.

Read more: Having trouble falling asleep? Your thoughts may be getting in the way. This article explores how to break the worry–sleep cycle.

Meditation For… Less Sleep?

Meditation is not a cure to catch up on sleep, and there is no replacement for sleep. But once our sleep account is balanced, those who continue to meditate daily may find they need less sleep.

The current science says the amount of nightly sleep we need is genetic. We cannot train ourselves to live on less sleep by skipping a few hours nightly. There’s no such thing as building a tolerance to drowsiness. Each of us has a sleep number, and no amount of caffeine can change it.

And yet, a regular meditation practice may be the one thing that breaks this rule. Those who meditate consistently appear to need less sleep compared to others of their same age and sex. Most likely because meditation provides body and mind with some of the same restorative benefits as sleep.

Neither can ever replace the other, but if it’s better sleep you’re looking for, slow down and meditate. If you’re hoping to improve your meditation practice, get more sleep. To live your healthiest and happiest life, combine the two regularly. Practice good sleep hygiene, and meditate daily.

Read more: Explore how to meditate lying down as well as popular types of meditation that are best practices lying down.

healthy sleep habits

Sleep vs Meditation: The Benefits

As promised earlier in this article about if it is possible to catch up on sleep, below we listed five essential health benefits sleep and meditation share.

Heart Health: Sleep heals and repairs the heart and blood vessels overnight. Not getting enough sleep is correlated with high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. Sleep deprivation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, this stress leads to hypertension. 

Meditation not only calms the sympathetic nervous system, but demonstrably lowers blood pressure and heart rate, improves blood circulation, and decreases cardiovascular mortality. Fascinating studies show meditation cleans the blood of lipids that put us at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Immune System Health: Immune system activity varies from day to night and requires a healthy circadian rhythm. Sleeping well overnight keeps immunity regulated. Sleep also plays an important role in the memory of the immune system, strengthening its ability to respond to future infections. 

Results of randomized controlled trials suggest meditation can reduce markers of inflammation, increase immune cell count, and slow immune cell aging. Meditation has positive effects on immune cell activity and can increase antibody response by reducing stress.

Hormone Health: Cortisol, the hormone that causes stress, builds up when we’re lacking sleep. After a night of restless sleep, cortisol continues to increase the following day. Sleep also regulates the hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin. When we’re tired, we feel hungrier and we reach for the unhealthiest of foods.

Meditation down regulates stress response by decreasing cortisol production. Meditation may also have anti-aging effects thanks to an increase in DHEA and growth hormone. Meditation helps us sleep better by increasing production of melatonin, an important hormone for sleep.

Brain Health: Sleep is required for building relational memory. Relational memory is the ability to connect things by context, order or location. Relational memory takes place in the hippocampus, an area that’s strengthened with consistent meditation practice.

Sleep protects against memory loss and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia by clearing out proteins and toxins that disrupt cognitive abilities, behaviour and judgement.

Meditation has similar neuroprotective effects. Meditation strengthens neuronal circuits and enhances cognitive capacity. Those who meditate regularly demonstrate less age-related cognitive decline in certain cortical regions.

Psychological Health: Insomnia is associated with several mental health disorders, particularly depression. Lack of sleep leads to more frequent outbursts of anger. Conversely, getting a good night’s sleep is a strong predictor of happiness. Those who sleep better report greater life satisfaction.

Meditation decreases activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for our reaction to negative stimuli. Meditation improves general feelings of wellbeing, and has proven helpful in the treatment of anxiety, addition, aggression and depression.

More guides to improved sleep:

How to fall asleep faster
What causes insomnia?
How to improve the quality of your sleep
What is the best sleep aid?
How to enhance your bedtime routine
Is meditation a solution for sleep apnea?
How to sleep better
Falling asleep with bedtime stories

Meditation. Free.
Always.