I’ve known and used this technique on and off for at least 15 years. But I only gleaned it’s true power in the past 2 months since I’ve had my head/neck injury.
I used to call it the coffin position nap. And I thought it’s only use is for when you need a tiny energy top-up during the day. Hence why – I only used it on and off, as I’ve not had an energy dip during the day for a VERY very long time (before the injury).
In it’s new context though the NSDR (or Non-Sleep Deep Rest) is much much more.
Firstly – full credit for introducing me to this technique’s true Super-Powers has to go to the wonderful Dr. Huberman at his HubermanLabs Podcast. You’d have heard me mention him in a few TLAs now. Most famously the Q-Q-Slooow breath TLA.
Why do the NSDR TLA
So this Non-Sleep Deep Rest is basically a 20 min deep rest segment done either at a pre-set time of the day, or after an intense focus work period (more on the how-to in a moment).
And the benefits are:
Aids glymphatic drainage
You’ve heard of lymphatic drainage (your whole body’s trash take out system) right?
Well this is similar, but it refers to the lymphatic system of your brain. It’s your brain’s trash taking out system. It usually takes place in the first part of a night’s sleep – during deep sleep.
But a lot of us don’t really get enough deep sleep (either due to stress, or higher toxicity, or no optimal neuro-chemical balance in the brain and hormonal imbalances overall).
And because of the positions we sleep in, we may be limiting this brain saving process even further.
Having an extra cleaning segment (or 2) in the day allows you to shift a little more brain debris out. And in my book the more I can clean my brain, the less chance there is for cognitive decline prematurely (granted nothing’s a guarantee).
The key here is that you have a bit more of a say in what happens during those 20 min, than during your full night’s sleep. You can read the how-to’s in a moment to ensure you increase your chances of getting the benefits.
Helps you learn better & retain more
And then science has proven many times that having a 20 min NSDR at the end of a learning segment will help your brain commit the material to memory a lot better.
Of course – it’s not a passive process – you still have to do the focused work beforehand, but if you’re looking for a semi-magic booster – this is worth the try.
Many very successful and bright brains in history have utilised the power of a power nap (NSDR) to cement a segment of knowledge, or to get an answer to the forefront of their consciousness.
Helps reset your energy & your CNS
Even if you don’t feel the need to rest, having this 20 min purposeful rest will recharge your energy. It may not be in the pure go-go-go sense of energy, but it will help you with willpower, motivation and attention/focus quality.
It’s a pause and reset type of energiser.
At first it’s one of the hardest things to do – to say I will do this for 20min especially if you don’t feel tired. But if you give it a try for 5 days – you will see your productivity and life enjoyment blossom.
Of course – I hear you! Where do you find another 20min in your day?
I managed to fit mine in by just scheduling it in at 4pm each work day and setting a reminder on my watch. Strangely it fitted in and nothing else suffered (OK, perhaps I do one less email-social media check-calendar check procrastination loop I am so fond of…)
The way you do the NSDR is essential here – it’s a mix between meditation and deep physical relaxation. But it’s not a sleep!
How to do a NSDR Effectively
I’m glad you asked ;o)
Ideally you find a quiet place where you won’t anticipate to be disturbed, and you can lie down flat on your back.
If you can’t find a place with all qualities – find a place where you won’t anticipate to be disturbed and can lie flat on your back.
The non-lieklyhood-of-disturbance is important. That way you’re able to completely relax as opposed to being in fight/flight/freeze alert mode.
Lie flat on your back.
Ideally with your feet elevated at least 2-4 inches and your head without a pillow (unless you have a neck/back condition that requires the support, in which case a thin pillow is nice and will help you align your spine in neutral). The feet elevation is shown to help the glymphatic shift.
Close your eyes and relax every part of your body, heavy INTO the space beneath you.
Imagine you’re sinking into it. HEAVY.
Try to not think about your to-do list. This is where this a non-sleep-deep-rest is like meditation a bit. It asks that you don’t actively ruminate.
If you like guided meditations, consider using a Yoga Nidra style session – you can find one you like on YouTube.
I love doing an NSDR in the sun because it allows me to expand my vision (through closed eyelids) into the warm light. It’s incredibly soothing and mesmerising. I can’t do anything guided (ask my mother – LOL) – so I just lie flat fighting off thoughts with my invisible light-saber… a soldier of love ;o)
This version has the added bonus of stimulating vit D production (provided it’s not done in stupid high U.V. Index times of the day). And it can help stabilise your chronological clock with the time of day so you get better sleep that night.
Anyway, because of my head injury I had a TON of glymphatic build-up in my head and neck area. This little TLA is incredible. I go in with a throbbing head and massive neck backlog, and in 20 minutes I come out as fresh and light as a daisy. It works every time! I’m so struggling to contain my enthusiasm about this tactic – I hope hope hope you’d try it at least for a work week :o)
I’m making these NSDRs a permanent part of my days even when I’m all fixed up. I like to know that I have a tiny little extra way to clean my brain and do my best to stay cognitively healthy for longer.
It’s 20 minutes out of my day, and also combines a meditation of sorts.
What not to do during a Non-sleep Deep Rest
- this isn’t a sitting meditation with a mantra,
- it isn’t a sleep nap – you remain very conscious the whole time,
- it’s not a plan-your-next-work-segment shuteye,
- and is not an active visualisation or daydream,
- and finally, it’s not a substitute for the sleep you didn’t get last night;
Your call to Tiny Little Action
Can you think of a time of the day where you could use taking a break?
This is either when you naturally feel a little (or a normal size) energy dip. Or between your established work segments you’re already used to.
It’s hard enough to find extra space if you have to shift established behaviors around. So if there’s no obvious slot – try to figure one out that is appropriate, and inconveniences you the least.
Could you find a space to accommodate at least a 5 work-day NSDR experiment?
Let me know below if you try them – how did it go? What was the most noticeable state-change you came away with?