The relaxation technique non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) is steadily growing in popularity. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, coined the term for this practice. Huberman has discussed NSDR widely, including on popular podcasts by Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan. Multiple high-profile people, like Google CEO Sundar Pichai, say they practice the technique.

We explore how NSDR works, compare the technique to yoga nidra, discuss potential benefits, and give tips on how to practice.

How Does NSDR Work? 

Relaxation techniques that fall under the umbrella term NSDR help a person enter deep relaxation. Through breathing, visualization, and attention exercises, these practices have been found to decrease activity in the sympathetic nervous system while activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the stress response, also called the “fight-or-flight” response. Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the relaxation response, also called the “rest-and-digest” response. By deactivating the sympathetic and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, NSDR may promote feelings of relaxation by increasing dopamine in the brain, while reducing heart rate and blood pressure.  

“NSDR may slow the brain’s electrical waves, inducing a state of relaxation with measurable benefits. Some of the slowing noted in NSDR overlaps with what would be recognized as sleep, including a lack of responsiveness to the environment.”
Dr. Brandon Peters
Dr. Brandon Peters
Sleep Physician, Sleep Psychiatry Expert

NSDR vs. Yoga Nidra 

Initially, Huberman coined “non-sleep deep rest” (NSDR) as a Westerner-friendly term for the ancient Eastern practice of yoga nidra. After learning about the power of yoga nidra, he wanted to bring it to a wider audience that might be turned off by the spiritual connotations of its name.

Yoga nidra, also called yogic sleep or psychic sleep, is a practice that involves lying flat on one’s back and listening to a particular type of guided imagery. The goal of yoga nidra is total relaxation. When practicing yoga nidra, people may enter a deeply relaxed state of consciousness with brain activity similar to sleep, though they remain awake.

With time, Huberman expanded the definition of NSDR, so it is now an umbrella term that describes multiple types of deep relaxation. Under this expanded definition, yoga nidra is one type of NSDR, alongside other practices, like hypnosis and types of meditation.

Potential Benefits of NSDR

Most research has centered on yoga nidra in particular, rather than NSDR in general. Yoga nidra studies have found the practice is associated with many potential benefits:

  • Improved sleep and overall well-being
  • Reduced stress, anger, anxiety, and depression 
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Increased immune function and reduced inflammation
  • Less tension headaches and pain 

Is NSDR Better Than a Nap?

Researchers have not yet directly compared the effects of NSDR to the effects of a short, daytime nap. However, Huberman has suggested that light naps may function similarly to NSDR. 

How to Practice NSDR

People generally practice NSDR by lying down and listening to a guided meditation through audio or video recordings available online. Huberman’s specific NSDR protocol involves sitting or lying down with your eyes closed and a narration of visualization and breathing exercises. It’s important to practice NSDR in a comfortable position and in a quiet area that is free from potential distractions. Using calming scents, a weighted blanket, or even a white noise machine may help you center your mind and attention on the meditation. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t pinch or feel scratchy so you can focus entirely on the exercise.

Learn more about our Editorial Team

5 Sources

  1. Huberman Lab (2024). NSDR, Meditation and Breathwork.
  2. Ferreira-Vorkapic, C., Borba-Pinheiro, C. J., Marchioro, M., & Santana, D. (2018). The impact of yoga nidra and seated meditation on the mental health of college professors. International Journal of Yoga, 11(3), 215–223.
  3. Pandi-Perumal, S. R., Spence, D. W., Srivastava, N., Kanchibhotla, D., Kumar, K., Sharma, G. S., Gupta, R., & Batmanabane, G. (2022). The origin and clinical relevance of yoga nidra. Sleep and Vigilance, 6(1), 61–84.
  4. Bechard, D. (2023, July). The Huberman Effect. Stanford Magazine.
  5. Huberman Lab (2021, October 29). Teach & Learn Better With a “Neuroplasticity Super Protocol”.

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