Sep 29, 2015
How can I prevent myself falling asleep while meditating?
It is a common occurrence. People are making a sincere effort but keep falling asleep while meditating. Why is this happening and how can it be fixed? Let’s examine the three most common reasons that people are falling asleep while meditating.
1. Sleep Deprived – The most common reason people get sleepy when they sit to meditate is that they are actually sleep deprived. While not everyone requires the cliche 8 hours of sleep a night and few actually could get that much anyway, less than 6 hours for most of us is right on that edge.
For an adult who is healthy, exercises regularly and is not over indulgent in drugs or alcohol, 6.5 to 7 hours consistently should be fine. There are exceptions such as parents of very young children since they often have to accept sleep in chunks. The luxury of 7 straight hours for them may have to wait.
What happens when one is sleep deprived?
When falling asleep while meditating as a result of sleep deprivation, the reasons are pretty obvious. Our bodies are craving more sleep. When we dim the lights and sit with eyes closed, following a relaxation process, everything in us prepares for sleep. You could call it a survival instinct. You need sleep so the body takes advantage.
How do I fix this?
Besides getting more sleep (better to find a way to get 6.5 – 8 hours a night and not ‘binge up’ on the weekends), cut back dramatically on caffeine and alcohol. These drugs prevent the body and mind from reaching the full depths of sleep. The added stress of the drug gives the body something else to work on first so in fact, you need even more sleep.
Ultimately, the solution to sleep deprivation offers no shortcut. If you want to learn to meditate and you are falling asleep while meditating, you have to find a way to get more sleep. Eventually when you get into a good rhythm, meditating will lead to deeper sleep since that 20 – 30 minutes of meditation each day reduces pressure and tension in thinking and emotion. People meditating tend to fall asleep easier, faster and go deeper.
2. Your Being Doesn’t Know the Difference – This is one of the growing pains of meditation for about 35% of new meditators. Even if getting enough sleep, put us in a dark room with soothing music and close our eyes, all the cues say it’s time to sleep.
The reality is that falling asleep when getting very relaxed is actually optional. You may not have this much control of your mind and body yet. We want the body to relax and the mind to slow down but we want our attention and focus to remain sharp. This is absolutely possible but you’ll have to learn how to do it.
What happens when you can’t help falling asleep while meditating even though you do get enough sleep?
Really we just haven’t learned that there is a second option (meaning to stay awake but get very relaxed at the same time). The obvious choice is to give in and fall asleep and for those who face this issue, that’s what you are subconsciously doing. You’re going where you always go when the signs say sleep.
How do I fix this?
Fixing this issue is more of an act of will in the beginning. First, you do everything you can to take on an attitude that you are meditating and not about to doze off. Sit in a deliberate way with your back straight. Keep your knees at 90 degrees and don’t slouch out (assuming you are meditating in a chair). Avoid chairs like La-Z-Boys that all but force you into slumber.
Most importantly, decide when you sit that you are NOT going to sleep. This is what I mean by it being an act of will. Tell yourself so and be firm. Finally, monitor as you go through the preliminary relaxation process when that familiar feeling of sleepiness begins. If it does, adjust yourself and wake yourself up a bit.
You have to train yourself through repetition that falling asleep while meditating is no longer an option. Most who begin meditation with this issue find it fades within 2 weeks if they are active in taking it on.
3. Subconsciously we are rejecting meditation – This is the hardest issue of the three to fix. Falling asleep while meditating due to a subconscious belief either that meditation is too hard or that the amount of effort required frustrates you requires a change of attitude.
What happens when you are rejecting meditation or don’t really want to do it but think you should?
I have found this to often be a symptom of our culture that is always pushing easy fixes. We are conditioned to want something for as little effort as possible. The joke is that meditation is sitting around doing nothing. In reality, it’s a decent amount of effort to manage the mind and emotions. The awareness of the work you face is heightened when sitting and giving it all your attention. You can’t swipe your phone or watch YouTube videos to distract yourself!
Many people see the task as too large and subconsciously decide they won’t or can’t do it. In some cases, below the surface there is anger because they blame their upbringing or failed relationships for why they are anxious and stressed out all the time. This attitude can lead to a belief that someone else should do the work and not them.
As you can imagine, these types of problems are harder to uncover initially. It is a testament to how complex the mind can be. We consciously want the benefit of meditation but subconsciously reject the process.
How do I fix this?
If you suspect this might going on for you though can’t pinpoint it exactly, the solution is patience, determination and again, will power. Scope out the effort required and decide you will do it. A good meditation program or teacher does not create unrealistic expectations in the beginning. Consider the initial goals given to you and aim to reach them without allowing yourself to throw a fit and give up. Read of one women’s struggles to get her practice going.
Realistic goals in the beginning include;
- Practicing for 20 minutes per session (go longer only if you really want to)
- Aiming for 4 sessions per week
- Meditating at the time that works best for you and not what is told to you as the best time (such as upon awakening which might not be possible)
- Not trying to reach a blank mind but to slowly teach yourself how to slow down the ‘monkey mind‘ and find a deeper mode of thinking