Can yoga nidra for 20 minutes improve sleep and boost memory? Here’s why a new study by AFMC Pune holds out hope

For the first time, a study tracks sleep and cognitive abilities among healthy subjects. This means yoga nidra can be an easy routine for everyone


What if we told you that the easiest way to take care of your insomnia is a 20-minute horizontal asana called yoga nidra? All you have to do is lie down on a mat, blanket or bed, take a deep breath and relax. Think of a pleasant imagery and feel its positive energy calming your body as you scan each body part mentally and consciously relax them. You are not fully asleep but this awareness of your body loosening up has the effect of a three-hour sleep. Feeling fresh, your brain functions better.

The Human Sleep Research Laboratory, Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), Pune, has found yoga nidra to be effective for faster brain processing, boosting memory and improving sleep at night.


“We found that the yoga nidra practice (conducted in the morning) showed improvement in sleep efficiency after four weeks. Sleep efficiency is the time a person sleeps divided by the time in bed for sleep. The wake duration during the intended sleep time was also reduced,” says Col Karuna Datta, Prof and Head, Department of Sports Medicine, AFMC, and principal investigator of the study. An interesting finding was the improvement in the quality of deep sleep by analysing slow wave brain waves.

“Earlier research has shown how Yoga Nidra improved sleep in insomnia patients, reduced stress and helped those living with diabetes, menstrual abnormalities and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, its effect on sleep and cognition in healthy novices had not been documented so far,” Col Datta adds.


Altogether 41 healthy young participants with a consistent sleep-wake schedule were recruited for the study. They recorded the day’s activities and sleep time at night in their diary before and after four weeks of yoga nidra practice. Besides, sensors tracked their sleep. They took cognition tests too. At the end of two weeks of the yoga nidra practice, all tests showed improvement in reaction time without deterioration in accuracy. Some tasks showed significant improvement in accuracy scores too.


The specific tests that showed improvement in accuracy were related to higher brain function of abstraction, concept formation, learning and memory tasks. There was better recognition of anger and fear stimuli too.

Lt Gen (retd) Madhuri Kanitkar, Vice-Chancellor, Maharashtra University of Health Sciences and under whose guidance the sleep lab was set up when she was AFMC Dean, believes yoga nidra can be used as a tool for cognitive processing and a sleep aid. “This study holds promise for patients, especially those with mild learning disability or mild cognitive disorders. Inadequate sleep can lead to multiple disorders, including neuropsychiatric disorders. Since yoga nidra has simple practice guidelines, it has value in sleep management,” she says.

The research was funded as part of the Science and Technology of Yoga and Meditation (SATYAM) project of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The findings have been published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.