Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR): Definitions, Benefits & Tips


If you’ve tried traditional meditation techniques that didn’t resonate, you’re not alone. Meditation asks you to sit still and focus for long periods of time—a  tricky feat for many people, but especially for those with ADHD. ADHDers' minds are constantly moving from one thing to the next, so quieting them using traditional meditation techniques is tricky. Yet this doesn’t mean you should rule it out altogether.

Instead, find a version that works for you. 

Cue non-sleep deep rest or NSDR.

NSDR is a form of meditation that uses different breathing techniques to activate certain parts of your brain. It’s often more effective for neurodiverse individuals, providing relief and deep relaxation. 

Here, we’re looking at how NSDR works, its benefits, and tips for doing it yourself. 

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What is NSDR?

NSDR is a kind of deep rest that mimics deep sleep without you actually falling asleep. It’s an umbrella term that describes an effort to direct your mind into a state of calm and relaxation. You remain semi-focused, but your mind and body are fully relaxed. 

It’s reminiscent of the feeling you get when you’re just starting to fall asleep. You’re still semi-aware, but your consciousness has wandered off. 

Stanford University neuroscientist and researcher Dr. Andrew Huberman defined the term. He noted how a 20-minute NSDR session can bolster the brain’s neuroplasticity. Its techniques stray from traditional meditation, but the impact on your brain is similar. Herein lies what makes NSDR so impactful for those with ADHD. 

For ADHDers, traditional meditation techniques can be hard. Sitting still for longer periods of time, time blindness, and difficulty focusing pose additional challenges for neurodivergent individuals. NSDR relies on long exhales, which trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. The result is a boost in dopamine—for an ADHD brain that’s naturally low in dopamine, and the practice can feel like your mind is balancing out, leading to intense relaxation. 

ADHDers who have tried NSDR describe the relief they felt after. The practice helped relax them and quieted the noise created by external stimuli in their environment. For an ADHD brain that tends to pick up on factors in their environment that neurotypicals often don’t, a NSDR practice can be a huge relief. 

Individuals with ADHD can experience enormous benefits from NSDR, but they’re not the only ones. All neurotypes reap the benefits when trying it. 

What’s the difference between NSDR and yoga nidra?

NSDR stems from yoga nidra meditation—a guided meditation that orients itself around a predetermined intention. Both use breathwork and body scans as strategies to relax the mind. One of the most significant differences between the two is intention setting. In yoga nidra, you always set an intention before your practice, which is the opposite of NSDR, where the intent is optional. 

Removing intentions from the equation with NSDR helps make it accessible to more people. It turns NSDR into a generic practice, reducing the weight of feeling like you have to accomplish something by the end of your session. Instead, you can focus entirely on how your breath impacts your body’s relaxation. That said, if you find yourself wanting an intention, feel free to add one to your practice. 

4 benefits of NSDR

Boost neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to form new connections, learn, and grow. Meditation has long been considered a key ingredient for enhanced neuroplasticity, and NSDR is no different. NSDR supports your nervous system to rewire its connections. It trickles out to impact other areas of your mental functioning, like general cognitive function and the ability to process new information. 

Typically, this process occurs when we achieve deep sleep. In NSDR, brain waves mimic a deep sleep-like frequency that prompts the formation of these new neuron connections. 

Relieve stress

NSDR invites the brain to achieve a state of deep rest. It calms the nervous system, the part of our body that triggers our “fight or flight” response and creates stress. Heightened stress increases the amount of cortisol in the body, which can harm our mental health and well-being in the long term. 

The practice helps your body stay in a relative state of homeostasis. It decreases the intensity of your stress levels when you find yourself in high-pressure situations. Likewise, it helps make rest easier and more attainable even when you’re dealing with high-stress situations. Rest is crucial to sustainable productivity. Yet, it can be near impossible to truly rest when your body is constantly in a “fight or flight.” NSDR relieves stress by building a balanced foundation for you. 

Improves sleep

Have you ever found yourself trying to fall asleep at night, but your brain won’t shut off? You keep running through your to-do list, reflecting on the day, or experiencing racing thoughts about what’s happening tomorrow. It can feel frustrating when your brain struggles to relax. The harder you try to sleep, the more difficult it becomes.

NSDR can help. You can use it as a meditation that relaxes the mind enough that you can drift off into sleep. You’re keeping your mind’s relaxation within your control. Instead of trying to fall asleep, focus on quieting your mind. You might be surprised how easily it is to fall asleep once your mind calms. 

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Consistent NSDR practice can also improve your sleep practices over time. Consider working a regular practice into your nighttime routine. Before bed, settle in for a short guided NSDR session and experience the benefits of improved sleep quality.

When you have better sleep hygiene, the benefits extend to helping you stay productive, feel less stressed, and have improved focus. 

Increases focus and memory retention

Here’s where dopamine again enters the fold for ADHDers. We know dopamine is the brain chemical responsible for happiness, excitement, or any other uplifting emotion. Did you know it also affects how well you focus and stay motivated? 

NSDR helps refill your brain’s dopamine levels. Not only does this lower stress, but it also improves your ability to focus and mental clarity. ADHDers have the ability for intense focus—an asset to their productivity if they know how to work with it. With greater mental awareness, you can efficiently work through your daily task list and accurately prioritize tasks to ensure your work has the greatest impact possible. 

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How does NSDR work?

Find a quiet place

First and foremost, you need a quiet place to practice. Make sure it’s somewhere you won’t be disturbed by environmental sounds or people in the space. If you’re at home, consider going into your bedroom, closing the door, and dimming the lights. Ask anyone else in your space to avoid interrupting you for 20 to 30 minutes. Wherever you land, ensure it’s quiet and distraction-free. 

Get comfortable

Now, it’s time to get comfortable. Say you’re at home preparing for NSDR. Change into comfy clothes and lay somewhere you trust that you’ll be able to decompress fully. The traditional savasana or “corpse pose” in yoga is favored by many who practice NSDR. If you want to light a candle or incense to help create a sense of relaxation, go for it. The most important thing to remember here is to create a comfortable space for you. Your NSDR practice will have the most significant effect when you set yourself up to be as successful as possible. 

Create an intention

Setting an intention for NSDR is optional, but it can be helpful to guide your practice. It could be as simple as dedicating these next few moments to yourself without thinking about what’s coming up next. It could also be a positive affirmation or personal goal to inspire relaxation. However, if you find that setting an intention adds too much pressure to the practice or makes it difficult to focus on your breathing, skip it.

If you create an intention, try repeating it to yourself a few times as you settle into your comfortable position. Doing this will help ensure it’s planted firmly in your mind when you focus on the guided NSDR practice. 

Follow the NSDR instructions or guide

Once you’re comfortable and in a quiet place, tune into your NSDR guide. When choosing which instructions to follow, you have several options. You can opt for an NSDR video or audio recording. You can also select a range of NSDR lengths, but most people stick to 20 to 30 minutes. Consider playlists on Spotify, YouTube videos, or anywhere that offers NSDR recordings. Make sure you enjoy the style of the teacher.

Without any distractions, begin playing the recording, close your eyes, and listen. Follow the cues of the instructor. They’ll take you through your entire body, inviting you to “bring awareness” to its different parts. You’ll slowly relax your entire body while focusing on your breath. 

Pay attention to your breath

Breathing patterns are the big differentiator between NSDR and more traditional meditation techniques. Deep breaths are how you stay present and focus on relaxing different body parts. Depending on the recording you use, the instructor might ask you to create visualizations. Combining guided visualizations, breathwork, and checking in with different parts of your body calms the mind. That said, if visualizations distract you from your breath, use an NSDR practice that doesn’t include them.

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Stay for as long as you need

Don’t feel obligated to stand up and end the practice once it’s finished. If you’re in a state of deep relaxation and would like to stay longer, feel free to do so. You’re following a guided NSDR session, but remember that your NSDR practice is yours. You can fine-tune the details, including length, to fit your interests and needs. 

How do you build a stress-free and productive day? With the help of Sunsama

NSDR is a powerful tool to create a balanced foundation for your work day. It establishes a level of homeostasis that supports productivity and rest. 

When you focus on building a routine that ensures you maintain this level of well-being, you need a tool on deck built with realistic work practices in mind: Sunsama.

Sunsama is a task management software built with neurodivergence and sustainable productivity in mind. It helps you achieve deep focus by temporarily silencing notifications for a defined period of time. You can use the Sunsama integration with your calendar to easily timebox tasks for a dedicated working sprint. It will also let you know when you’ve planned more than 5 hours of deep work in one day so you avoid overextending yourself. 

At the end of each day, use the tool to recap. Check out everything you accomplished. Anything left undone is automatically moved to the next day. You never have to worry about tasks getting lost or left behind. Sunsama will help you stay on track and create a balanced schedule that supports your wellness and optimal productivity. 

Ready to give Sunsama a try? Sign up for a free trial

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