Practitioners of vipassana meditation exhibit enhanced slow wave sleep and REM sleep states across different age groups

We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.

Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.


Intense meditation practices influence brain functions in different ways and at different levels. Earlier studies have shown that meditation practices help to organize sleep-wake behavior. In the present study, we evaluated the sleep architecture of vipassana meditators across different age groups. Whole-night polysomnography was carried out in healthy male subjects between 30 and 60 years of age from control (n = 46) and meditation (n = 45) groups. They were further divided into younger-(30–39 years), middle- (40–49 years), and older-aged (50–60 years) groups. Sleep variables were evaluated from subjects who had a sleep efficiency index more than 85%. The sleep architecture of vipassana meditators was different from that of control groups. Vipassana meditators showed enhanced slow wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep states with an enhanced number of sleep cycles across all age groups. When compared to meditators, the control groups exhibited pro-nounced age-associated decrease in slow wave sleep states. Our study suggests that vipassana meditation helps to establish a proper sleep structure in old age, probably through its capacity to induce neuronal plasticity events leading to stronger network synchronization and cortical synaptic strengthening.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1

    Gambhirananda S. Taittariya Upanishad. Advaita Ashrama: Calcutta, 1986.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Barinaga M. Buddhism and neuroscience. Studying the well-trained mind. Science 2003; 302: 44–6.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Dunn BR, Hartigan JA, Mikulas WL. Concentration and mindfulness meditations: unique forms of consciousness? Appl. Psychophysiol. Biofeedback 1999; 24: 147–65.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport 2005; 16: 1893–7.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Kubota Y, Sato W, Toichi M et al. Frontal theta rhythm is correlated with cardiac autonomic activities during the performance of an attention demanding meditation procedure. Cogn. Brain Res. 2001; 11: 281–7.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Wallace RK, Dillbeck M, Jacobe E, Harrington B. The effects of the transcendental meditation and TM-Sidhi program on the aging process. Int. J. Neurosci. 1982; 16: 53–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Pagnoni G, Cekic M. Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiol. Aging 2007; 28: 1623–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Bliwise DL. Sleep in normal aging and dementia. Sleep 1993; 16: 40–81.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Khalsa SB. Treatment of chronic insomnia with yoga: a preliminary study with sleep-wake diaries. Appl. Psychophysiol. Biofeedback 2004; 29: 269–78.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Manjunath NK, Telles S. Influence of Yoga and Ayurveda on self-rated sleep in a geriatric population. Indian J. Med. Res. 2005; 21: 683–90.

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Astin JA, Shapiro SL, Eisenberg DM, Forys KL. Mind-body medicine: state of the science, implications for practice. J. Am. Board Fam. Pract. 2003; 16: 131–47.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Carlson LE, Speca M, Faris P, Patel KD. One year prepost intervention follow-up of psychological, immune, endocrine and blood pressure outcomes of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Brain Behav. Immun. 2007; 21: 1038–49.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Mason LI, Alexander CN, Travis FT et al. Electrophysiological correlates of higher states of consciousness during sleep in longterm practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program. Sleep 1997; 20: 102–10.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Sulekha S, Thennarasu K, Vedamurthachar A, Raju TR, Kutty BM. Evaluation of Sleep architecture in practitioners of Vipassana and Sudarshana Kriya Yoga. Sleep Biol. Rhythms 2006; 4: 207–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Landolt HP, Dijk DJ, Achermann P, Borbely AA. Effect of age on the sleep EEG: slowwave activity and spindle frequency activity in young and middle-aged men. Brain Res. 1996; 738: 205–12.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Jasper HH. The ten twenty electrode system of the international federation. Electroencephalogr. Clin. Neurophysiol. 1958; 10: 371–5.

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Rechtshaffen A, Kales A. Techniques and Scoring System for Sleep Stages of Human Subjects. A Manual of Standardised Terminology. Brain Information Service/Brain Research Institute: UCLA: Los Angeles, CA, 1968.

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Dijk DJ, Duffy JF, Riel E, Shanahan TL, Czeisler CA. Ageing and the circadian and homeostasic regulation of human sleep during forced desynchrony of rest, melatonin and temperature rhythms. J. Physiol. 1999; 516: 611–27.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Feinberg I, Koresko RL, Heller N. EEG sleep pattern as a function of normal and pathological aging in man. Psychiatry Res. 1967; 5: 107–44.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Kahn E, Fisher C. The sleep characteristics of the normal aged male. J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 1969; 148: 477–94.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Borbely AA, Baumann F, Brandeis D, Strauch I, Lehmann D. Sleep deprivation: effect on sleep stages and EEG power density in man. Electroencephalogr. Clin. Neurophysiol. 1981; 51: 483–95.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Dijk DJ, Beersma DG, Daan S. EEG power density during nap sleep: reflection of an hourglass measuring the duration of prior wakefulness. J. Biol. Rhythms 1987; 2: 207–19.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Webb WB, Agnew HW Jr. Stage 4 sleep: influence of time course variables. Science 1971; 174: 1354–6.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Krueger JM, Obal F Jr. Growth hormone-releasing hormone and interleukin-1 in sleep regulation. FASEB J. 1993; 7: 645–52.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Van CE, Leproult R, Plat L. Age-related changes in slow wave sleep and REM sleep and relationship with growth hormone and cortisol levels in healthy men. JAMA 2000; 284: 861–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Mourtazaev MS, Kemp B, Zwinderman AH, Kamphuisen HA. Age and gender affect different characteristics of slow waves in the sleep EEG. Sleep 1995; 18: 557–64.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Lutz A, Greischar LL, Rawlings NB, Ricard M, Davidson RJ. Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2004; 101: 16369–73.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Holzel BK, Ott U, Hempel H et al. Differential engagement of anterior cingulate and adjacent medial frontal cortex in adept meditators and non-meditators. Neurosci. Lett. 2007; 421: 16–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom. Med. 2003; 65: 564–70.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Alexander CN, Heaton DP, Chandler HM. Advanced human development in the Vedic psychology of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; Theory and Research. In: Miller ME, Cook-Greuter SR, eds. Transcendence and Mature Thought in Adulthood: the Further Reaches of Adult Development. Rowman & Littlefield: London, 1994; 39–70.

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Nader T. Human Physiology: Expression of Veda and Vedic Literature. Maharishi Vedic University: Vlodrop, Netherlands, 1995.

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Brown KW, Ryan RM. The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 2003; 84: 822–48.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Tononi G, Cirelli C. Sleep and synaptic homeostasis: a hypothesis. Brain Res. Bull. 2003; 62: 143–50.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Sjostrom PJ, Turrigiano GG, Nelson SB. Rate, timing, and cooperativity jointly determine cortical synaptic plasticity. Neuron 2001; (32): 1149–64.

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Maquet P, Laureys S, Peigneux P et al. Experience dependent changes in cerebral activation during REM sleep. Nat. Neurosci. 2000; (3): 831–6.

  36. 36

    Dijk DJ, Roth C, Landolt HP et al. Melatonin effect on daytime sleep in men: suppression of EEG low frequency activity and enhancement of spindle frequency activity. Neurosci. Lett. 1995; 201: 13–16.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Wurts SW, Edgar DM. Circadian homeostatic control of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Promotion of REM tendency by suprachaismatic nucleus. J. Neurosci. 2000; 20: 4300–10.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    MacLean CR, Walton KG, Wenneberg SR et al. Altered response of cortisol, GH, TSH and testosterone to acute stress after four months’ practice of transcendental meditation (TM). Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1994; 746: 381–4.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39

    MacLean CR, Walton KG, Wenneberg SR et al. Effects of TM program on adaptive mechanisms: changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after four months of practice. Psychoneuroendocrinology 1997; 22: 277–95.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40

    Tooley GA, Armstrong SM, Norman TR, Sali A. Acute increase in night time plasma melatonin levels following a period of meditation. Biol. Psychol. 2003; 53: 69–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Salzarulo P, Formicola G, Lombardo P et al. Functional uncertainty, aging and memory processes during sleep. Acta Neurol. Belg. 1997; 97: 118–22.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42

    Carlson LE, Speca M, Patel KD et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress and levels of cortisol, DHEAS and melatonin in breast and prostrate cancer out patients. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2004; (29): 448–74.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dr Bindu M. Kutty.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pattanashetty, R., Sathiamma, S., Talakkad, S. et al. Practitioners of vipassana meditation exhibit enhanced slow wave sleep and REM sleep states across different age groups. Sleep Biol. Rhythms 8, 34–41 (2010).

Download citation

Key words

  • REM sleep
  • sleep cycles
  • slow wave sleep
  • vipassana meditation