What Is "Conscious Sleep" & Should You Try It? Experts Weigh In
There's a misconception about sleep that the state of slumber is an unconscious one. I'm here to tell you that's not necessarily true. What's referred to as "conscious sleep," though not very common, is achievable but tricky, as it requires the total and complete separation of mind and body. Here's the scoop.
What is conscious sleep?
Author of From Fatigued to Fantastic Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., defines conscious sleep as "the ability to be aware of the self, but not of our body or surroundings, during different stages of sleep." Western scientific studies have focused predominantly on this state during REM sleep and how a person can tap into their consciousness and experience lucid dreaming, Teitelbaum tells mbg.
However, conscious sleep is possible in non-REM sleep as well. In fact, in Eastern meditation traditions, conscious sleep is taught as a way to maintain self-awareness, but without being aware of the body or environment, during deep non-dream sleep, Teitelbaum explains over email.
According to a review1 published in the journal Progress in Brain Research, the concept of conscious sleep was highlighted by Elmer and Alyce Green of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. The couple teamed up with the Indian master of yoga meditation Swāmī Rāma at the time, to further explore how a person could find themselves in their deepest, non-REM sleep but still have a sharp awareness of their surroundings.
From the yogi's perspective, conscious sleep was (and still is) considered to be a form of deep meditation that teaches those who practice how to sustain their meditative state, regardless of what's happening in the world around them.
How can you achieve conscious sleep?
Indian yoga guru and founder of the Isha Foundation Jagadish "Jaggi" Vasudev, affectionately known as Sadhguru, says the key to unlocking a state of conscious sleep is to "distance yourself from your physical nature," and this is possible through meditative practice.
To improve your odds of reaching this level of deep meditation, sleep expert Virginia Blackwell, M.D., of Dofeve.org tells mbg you must first have healthy sleep hygiene. This can include avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, taking a sleep supplement, engaging in stress-relieving activities (i.e., taking a bath, performing a relaxing yoga sequence, going through a mindful skin care routine, etc.), and shutting down your devices for a much-needed break from blue light exposure.*
Next, focus on ridding yourself of any psychological clutter clouding your mind. According to CEO and founder of YogaFit Beth Shaw, without any mental blockage, your mind is able to wander toward a higher awareness of your physical and emotional bodies. By quieting the mind, calming the body, and entering a deeper inner peace and mental state, you are able to succumb to a complete physiological and psychological reset
"Within this relaxed mental state, you will find you are more in control over your thoughts, allowing them to pass as you focus on your breath until you drift off into a non-REM conscious state of sleep," Shaw tells mbg. "It is in this state of sleep where we can become one with our inner selves."
The benefits of conscious sleep.
While more research needs to be done on the subject of conscious sleep outside the realm of REM and lucid dreaming, sleep experts and yogis agree there are benefits to falling into a non-REM conscious sleep state, too.
For example, Teitelbaum tells mbg that the process of conscious sleep can be worthwhile as it gives you the opportunity to break out of your daytime point of view. "This can dramatically expand our awareness," he says, "and help us to not take things too seriously in life."
For Sadhguru, conscious sleep invites you to become your best self. "When we are awake, we are conscious, but our energies are involved and engaged in many things. We have to sit up, we have to speak, we have to do some work, we have to do something else," Sadhguru writes on the subject. "But if I sleep consciously, my energies are completely consolidated, and I am still conscious—that means I am at my peak performance level."
Mastering the art of conscious sleep takes a lot of practice and patience, though even armed with both, you might never experience an entire night'''s worth of conscious sleep. Teitelbaum tells mbg that most people without a lifetime of intensive training will, at least initially, only experience conscious sleep—be it in REM or non-REM sleep—for short periods of time. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth attempting. Achieving conscious sleep will allow you to separate your body and mind, develop higher self-awareness, and reach a state of pure meditation and relaxation. Sounds like it would be worth a try to me!
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.