NSDR Protocol | Guide to Relaxing and Restoring Your Body

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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Published on

June 05, 2024

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Updated on

June 05, 2024

Somatic Exercises

In the fast-paced world we live in, the quest for mental and physical health has led to the rediscovery of ancient practices tailored to fit the modern lifestyle. Among these, Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) protocols, akin to the ancient practice of Yoga Nidra or yogic sleep, have garnered attention for their profound relaxation and health benefits. 

This blog post delves into the science behind NSDR, and its benefits, particularly in enhancing neuroplasticity, and guides on how to effectively practice it to harness its full potential.

The re-origin program provides self-directed brain retraining to people who struggle with chronic stress or illness. By using the power of your own brain, you can rewire old, unhelpful neural pathways that are contributing to stress or illness. If you are interested in hearing more about the program, join our free info call.

The Origins and History of Non-Sleep Deep Rest

Non-sleep-deep-rest was built around ancient Yoga Nidra meditation techniques aimed at guiding the body toward deep relaxation. Yoga Nidra is the Sanskrit word for “yogic sleep”, which means deep relaxation and calming. Yoga Nidra was brought into Western culture by Swami Satyananda Saraswat and incorporates elements from tantric yoga and meditation in it. This became more popular after doctor Richard Miller researched the effects of meditation on stress relief and reducing stress.1

What is the Science Behind NSDR?

At the core of NSDR is the principle of deep relaxation, which contrasts sharply with the state of sleep. While sleep is essential for physical health, NSDR targets the mental aspect, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system to lower stress and promote relaxation. This state of deep rest aids in reducing the brain wave frequency, akin to the state between waking and sleeping, thereby fostering an environment for cognitive repair and rejuvenation. Studies, such as those found in the repository of PubMed, have elucidated the role of NSDR in modulating stress response, thereby affirming its scientific grounding.2

How does NSDR work?

To understand how NSDR functions, it's essential to delve into the mechanisms of action that facilitate its benefits.

Engaging the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The primary mechanism through which NSDR works is by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the branch of the autonomic nervous system responsible for "rest and digest" functions.2 Activation of the PNS leads to a decrease in heart rate, lowering of blood pressure, and a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. 

This shift contrasts with the often dominant sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation in our daily lives, which is associated with the "fight or flight" response. By promoting PNS dominance, NSDR helps to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality.

Lowering Brain Wave Frequency3

During an NSDR session, the brain's wave frequency is gradually reduced, transitioning from the alertness characterized by beta waves to the more relaxed states of alpha and theta waves. This shift is crucial for facilitating a state of deep rest while maintaining consciousness. It allows for the benefits of deep relaxation without falling asleep, enabling the practitioner to remain in a self-induced state of relaxation that is both rejuvenating and restorative.

Promoting Neuroplasticity4

Another key aspect of NSDR's functioning is its impact on neuroplasticity. By creating an optimal environment for the brain to enter a relaxed state, NSDR supports the brain's ability to form new neural connections. This capability is vital for learning, memory, and cognitive function recovery and enhancement. The deep rest induced by NSDR can help the brain repair itself, thus improving cognitive performance and resilience against mental stressors.

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Facilitating Deep Relaxation Techniques2

The practice of NSDR typically involves several deep relaxation techniques that work synergistically to induce a deeply relaxed state. These include breath awareness, body scanning, and guided meditation. Through breath awareness, practitioners learn to control their breathing, which directly influences the nervous system, promoting relaxation. 

Body scanning helps to release physical tension by methodically focusing on different body parts, further deepening the relaxation state. Guided meditation, often found in NSDR videos or Yoga Nidra practices, serves as a tool to maintain focus and prevent the mind from wandering, facilitating a deeper state of rest.

Benefits of NSDR

Practicing NSDR or Yoga Nidra has been linked to a myriad of mental and physical health benefits. These include improved sleep quality, reduction in chronic stress, improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety, decreased pain, enhanced cognitive function, and better overall well-being.3 Through techniques like breath awareness and body scanning, NSDR induces a profound relaxation that not only helps in falling asleep faster but also improves the quality of sleep, promoting a good night's rest.

Who Should and Shouldn’t Practice NSDR?

NSDR is beneficial for almost everyone, especially those experiencing high levels of stress, poor sleep quality, or seeking to improve their cognitive function and overall well-being. However, individuals with severe mental health disorders should consult with a healthcare provider before practicing NSDR, as deeply relaxing states can sometimes surface emotional issues that require professional guidance.

What is the Best NSDR Protocol?

The best NSDR protocol is one that resonates personally and can be consistently practiced. Common protocols include guided meditations, Yoga Nidra practices, and simple breath awareness exercises. The key is finding a technique that promotes the deepest relaxation for the individual, facilitating a regular practice that fits seamlessly into one's lifestyle.

How Do I Practice NSDR?

Practicing NSDR requires little more than a quiet and comfortable space. Begin by finding a comfortable position, either seated or lying down and focus on deep breathing to initiate the relaxation response. From there, engage in a body scan, slowly moving your awareness through different parts of the body to promote relaxation. Maintain a level of alertness so as not to fall asleep, while consciously scanning your body. Next, try counting down from 20 to 1 with each exhale you take. Allow each exhale to help you relax further. Lastly, you may try bringing in a visualization of your favorite place or memory. Once you are finished, bring your awareness back to your surroundings and slowly begin to breathe and move your body normally.4

Guided sessions can be valuable tools for beginners, with many resources available online, including either NSDR or Yoga Nidra videos.

Should You Do NSDR Before Bed?

Incorporating NSDR before bed can significantly improve sleep quality, helping you fall asleep faster and enjoy a deeper sleep. This practice not only prepares the mind and body for rest but also helps in reducing the stress and anxiety that often impede sleep, ensuring a more restful and rejuvenating night's rest.

NSDR vs. Napping

NSDR is a great tool to use to enhance your daily nap. According to the Amrit Yoga Institute, a 30-minute session of NSDR can be equivalent to 3-4 hours of sleep and has the added benefit of stress reduction, time efficiency, deeper relaxation, and improved self-awareness.4

Improve Neuroplasticity with NSDR

By embracing NSDR protocols, we reconnect with an ancient practice tailored for the modern age to unlock profound relaxation and restorative benefits. Through a scientific lens, we see how NSDR improves neuroplasticity, enhances mental and physical health, and offers a sanctuary from the stresses of daily life. 

Whether you're seeking improved sleep, reduced stress, or a boost in cognitive function, NSDR offers a simple yet powerful tool to enhance your overall well-being. Encourage yourself to explore this practice with sincerity and openness, and discover the transformative power of deep rest in your life.

The re-origin program offers many useful tools to improve neuroplasticity and promote healing from chronic stress and other health conditions. If you are interested in hearing more, sign up for a free info call.

References

  1. Pandi-Perumal SR, Spence DW, Srivastava N, Kanchibhotla D, Kumar K, Sharma GS, Gupta R, Batmanabane G. The Origin and Clinical Relevance of Yoga Nidra. Sleep Vigil. 2022;6(1):61-84. doi: 10.1007/s41782-022-00202-7. Epub 2022 Apr 23. PMID: 35496325; PMCID: PMC9033521.
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30732840/ Parker S. Training attention for conscious non-REM sleep: The yogic practice of yoga-nidrā and its implications for neuroscience research. Prog Brain Res. 2019;244:255-272. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.10.016. Epub 2019 Jan 3. PMID: 30732840.
  3. How ‘Non-Sleep Deep Rest’ (NSDR) and Modern Yoga Nidra support us at work. (2022, May 23). iRest Institute. https://www.irest.org/blog/resources-other/how-non-sleep-deep-rest-nsdr-and-modern-yoga-nidra-support-us-work
  4. Guide to Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) and how to get started. (n.d.). https://www.betterup.com/blog/non-sleep-deep-rest-nsdr

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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