Could non-sleep deep rest be the ultimate form of accessible relaxation?

Non-sleep deep rest is the relaxation method taking Silicon Valley by storm – and it’s going mainstream. But what is it, and how can we achieve it? 

When we think about deep rest, most of us will think of meditation or sleep, both of which are fantastic for our bodies and minds. But sleeping and relaxing are often easier said than done, and while the benefits of meditation are well known, many of us find it hard to switch off in this hectic world; our busy minds can’t stop racing, and we feel as though we’re not resting properly.

If this sounds like you, then it might be time to try non-sleep deep rest (NSDR), a restorative practice of relaxation that is simple to incorporate into a busy daily routine. Here’s everything you need to know. 

What is NSDR?

“NSDR or non-sleep deep rest is a term coined by Stanford University neuroscientist Andrew Huberman,” explains chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey. “While it is currently the latest trend in biohacking, it’s actually very similar to the age-old practice of yoga nidra or yogic sleep. NDSR is a form of guided meditation that utilises specific breathing techniques to induce deep relaxation of both body and mind.”

NSDR can be useful for those who struggle to connect with traditional forms of meditation or feel excluded from the wellness space for any reason, helping them to engage with relaxation and mindfulness in a slightly different way.

“NSDR is a system of deep hypnotic relaxation combined with yoga nidra techniques that help you to achieve a state of focus, flow and calm,” explains NSDR hypnotherapist Dipti Tait. “This is achieved through a combination of mental stillness and emotional balance.”

“NSDR is a state which can be achieved by dampening down our nervous systems by removing stimulants from our environment,” says yoga therapist Maria Jones. “Practices such as restorative yoga are supportive of these deep rest states, but NSDR is a catch-all for different types of relaxation practices.”

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“In very simple terms, NSDR is exactly what it says on the tin,” explains Tait. “But it can be broken down into two halves – ‘non-sleep’ and then ‘deep rest’.”


“Think about how you feel when you’re having a lie-in at the weekend,” explains Tait. “A non-sleep state is similar to that – you’re not fully asleep, but you’re not wide awake either.”

Being in this transitional state can activate a dream-like state of rapid eye movement (REM), similar to when you’re dreaming when asleep.

Deep rest

A state of deep rest is achieved whenever your parasympathetic nervous system comes into play. Commonly known as ‘rest and digest’ mode, you are calm, centred and your fight-or-flight or stress mode has switched off.

This can be achieved in a number of ways, but in NSDR it’s brought about by being in a deep, recuperative state of rest. 

What are the benefits of NSDR?

It’s great for mental and physical health

“NSDR protocols have amazing benefits for our mind, body and emotional health,” says Tait. “It’s believed that NSDR can improve concentration and aid learning, help you relax deeply and get you into your flow state. It also helps to alleviate anxiety and worry and drastically reduce stress symptoms.”

It clears the mind and helps with focus

“During REM, the brain is consciously deeply resting, restoring and decluttering,” explains Tait. “Meanwhile, the subconscious part of the mind is busy calmly processing what it needs to process, leaving us feeling clear and in control and better able to concentrate.

“Switching our state from stress into calm allows for our physical, mental and emotional systems to come together in harmony,” agrees Tait. “This stimulates a super recharge for our brain, clearing the cache of our mind and topping us up with vitality, energy, restoring our metaphorical cellular battery power.”

If you struggle to switch off, non sleep deep rest can help

It’s relaxing

“Through the process of relaxing during NSDR,we’re encouraged to let go and completely relax,” advises Jones. “This, combined with the removal of stimulants (light, sound, physical sensations) allows the process of rest and restoration to begin.”

It can help with sleep

It might sound counterintuitive, but not everyone finds sleeping restful. Many people wake up feeling tired and drained, especially if they’ve had a bad night’s sleep. NSDR can help you to feel rested despite any lack of sleep – so it can be useful for shift workers, new parents and so on.

“NSDR is often better than sleep, which for some is not restful,” agrees Jones. “Although relaxation is on the same path to sleep, being able to access and remain in a state of ultimate support and relaxation is in fact the best way to deeply rest.”

It’s important to note here that NSDR isn’t a replacement for good, old-fashioned shut eye. If you’re struggling to sleep, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. 

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How can we practise NSDR?

“NSDR involves listening to a guided meditation using breathing techniques and focusing the spotlight of attention on specific sensations and body parts in turn,” explains Hallissey. “It can be performed seated or lying down. Long extended exhales are used to activate the rest and digest system to induce a state of deep relaxation in both body and mind.”

If you’re new to the practice, the experts recommend following these steps:

  1. Find a comfortable space to relax, where you know you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Make sure you’re warm, comfortable and wearing loose clothing.
  3. Turn off your devices and any electronics in the room so you won’t be distracted, and remove all stimulants.
  4. While you will feel deeply relaxed, try not to fall asleep. It’s OK if you do, but you’ll gain more from the process if you’re lucid.
  5. Now you’re ready to follow a guided meditation or breathwork practice; there are a variety of apps and tutorials available online, so get to know which ones work for you. 
  6.  And relax.

Images: Getty

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