Mandukya Upanishad & Sleep Science
The Mandukya Upanishad’s was the first text in existence to discuss the four states of consciousness (waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and Turiya). This short but insightful Upanishad has inspired both spiritual seekers and researchers in the field of sleep science.
Even though it was written over 1200 years ago, some interesting connections can be drawn between insights from Manduklya Upanishad and modern scientific research on sleep and consciousness.
Correlation between Mandukya Upanishad & Sleep Science
1. States of Consciousness
The Mandukya Upanishad identifies and describes four states of consciousness. These are waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and Turiya (the fourth state).
Modern sleep science also recognizes these states as essential components of the sleep cycle. During sleep, individuals transition through various sleep stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) sleep associated with dreaming and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep associated with deep sleep.
2. Dreaming and REM Sleep
The Upanishad draws parallels between the dreaming state (Svapna) and the dreamless sleep state (Sushupti). These states correspond with REM and NREM stages of sleep. In REM sleep, the brain becomes highly active, similar to the dreaming state in which vivid and often surreal experiences occur.
3. Deep Sleep and Brain Activity
The Mandukya Upanishad describes deep sleep (Sushupti) as a state of profound rest with the absence of mental activity. This is the same as NREM sleep. In NREM, the brain activity is markedly reduced compared to wakefulness and dreaming. And during this stage the body undergoes physical and mental restoration. This process is also described in the Mandukya Upanishad.
4. Transcendent Fourth State (Turiya) and Consciousness
The Upanishad introduces the concept of Turiya, the fourth state of consciousness. This state transcends the other three states. Turiya is said to be pure consciousness . In this state one glimpses the true self or Atman. This state is not directly related to sleep science. However this concept shares similarities with the idea of transcendental experiences and higher states of consciousness reported by some individuals during deep meditation or altered states of awareness.
5. Introspection and Self-Inquiry
The practice of self-inquiry and introspection advocated in the Mandukya Upanishad aligns with the importance of self-awareness and self-observation in modern sleep science. Understanding one’s sleep patterns, dreams, and overall sleep quality can lead to improved sleep hygiene and overall well-being.
When writing scientific papers we are required to make certain disclaimers. And we are therefore supposed to write the following. “
While the Mandukya Upanishad’s insights on consciousness and sleep states offer interesting perspectives, it’s important to note that the Upanishads are philosophical and spiritual texts and not scientific treatises. Modern sleep science provides empirical and physiological explanations for various aspects of sleep and consciousness. While the Upanishads’ teachings can be a source of inspiration and contemplation, they should not be equated with scientific theories and findings in sleep science. Both fields offer valuable insights into the complexity of human consciousness and the nature of reality, each from its unique perspective.”
Yogis Were the Earliest Scientists
However this disclaimer is obsolete because the Yogi’s who wrote these ancient texts were closely observing themselves and their fellow practitioners. They came up with these insights from careful observation and empirical evidence. Yes we can objectively test some of their observations with recently developed technology but that does not make their observations any less scientific.