New research shows that meditating improves performance on tests of reaction time, and decreases the need for sleep.
Prashant Kaul, Jason Passafiume, and two other colleagues from the Department of Biology at the University of Kentucky assessed whether meditation leads to an improvement on a psychomotor vigilance task, and whether longer bouts of meditation may alter reduce the need for sleep.
Novice meditators, who were university students, completed 40 minutes of meditation, nap, or control activities on six different days, plus one night of total sleep deprivation on a different night, followed by 40 minutes of meditation. A second study examined sleep times in long-term experienced meditators versus non-meditators. The groups continued their normal activities while monitoring their sleep and meditation times.
The research is published in the journal, Behavioral and Brain Functions.
Novice meditators were tested on the vigilance task before each activity, 10 minutes afterward, and one hour later. All ten novice meditators improved their reaction times immediately following periods of meditation, while all but one got worse immediately following naps.
Sleep deprivation, as you’d expect, slowed reaction times. But reaction times improved significantly following a period of meditation.
Sleep duration in long-term experienced meditators was lower than in the control group of non-meditators, and compared to the general population, with no apparent decrease in reaction times.
These results suggest that meditation provides at least a short-term performance improvement even in novice meditators. In long term meditators, multiple hours spent in meditation are associated with a significant decrease in total sleep time when compared with age and sex matched controls who did not meditate.