I know many people ask their meditation teachers, Is It Bad To Fall Asleep While Meditating?
They ask for different reasons including:
– Many are unsure what they should be experiencing while meditating,
– Some are embarrassed when falling asleep in a class filled with other people,
– And others get frustrated and think they are wasting their time when they fall asleep,
There are various opinions about this, but the more experienced meditators do not necessarily view falling asleep during meditation as a bad thing. So let’s explore why falling asleep may not be bad.
And we’ll also share the reasons why you may be falling asleep as well as some steps you can take to help remain awake if that is what you want.
Is It Bad To Fall Asleep While Meditating?
Falling asleep during meditation is probably more common than you think, especially for beginners. However, it should not be viewed as a problem, but rather as part of the experience itself. I haven’t met anyone yet who was able to meditate perfectly the first time they tried. So don’t feel bad if you fall asleep. Just know that the more you practice, the more you will continue to grow in ability. And for now, you should just enjoy the journey if what it is.
What Are Some Reasons You May Fall Asleep During Meditation?
The most common reasons people fall asleep while meditating are:
– Unfortunately, many people live in a constant state of sleep deprivation. Jon Lieff, an MD specializing in neuropsychiatric studies at Harvard Medical School, believes “The only real way to not fall asleep during meditation is to get enough sleep.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are nearly 70 million adults in the US alone who are suffering from some sort of sleep disorder. And if this is you, you need to address your tiredness before you will be able to establish an effective meditation practice.
– Meditation is a process of self-reflection.…. And often people are not wanting to ‘open that can of worms,’ so to speak! They effectively avoid self-reflection by falling asleep.
It’s more often than not an unconscious reaction on their part. And if it is the reason why you are falling asleep, then efforts should be made to remain awake so the process of self-healing can take place.
You can begin by reflecting upon any thoughts, feelings, and sensations you experience while meditating, particularly the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable. This is the stuff that you are trying to avoid by falling asleep.
However, falling asleep is not always due to a sleep deficit or self-avoidance. These two issues should be addressed and rectified so you can get the most out of your practice. But not all instances of sleeping are undesirable.
Why Is It Not Necessarily A Bad Thing To Fall Asleep During Meditation?
Our experiences will be different each time we meditate. However, all that we experience is part of the journey and is therefore valid.
To meditate with equanimity means we do not distinguish between ‘good and bad’ or view this way or outcome as right, and another way or outcome as wrong.
Why? Because, there is no end goal to reach when meditating. It’s about simply allowing the moments to unfold and observing them, without judgment. Fall asleep, remain aware….. so what?
If our falling asleep is due to sleep deprivation, yes, please address this as it will also have multiple negative implications for all other aspects of your life including health, relationships, ability to function optimally at work, etc……
But if you are falling asleep, not because you are overly tired, but because this is what your body and mind desire at this time, that’s perfectly ok. And if this is the case, the worst thing you can do is weaken your experience by viewing this as a problem.
There are no rules to follow (yes I know some teachers have strict rules on how to meditate and what to strive for….. I suggest you get a new teacher.) However, whatever you experience is what you are experiencing….. just go with it, as it’s all ok!
Is There Anything I Can Do To Help Stay Awake While Meditating?
There are many options you can pursue to help you stay awake while meditation. The most common and easiest to employ include:
– If you are lying down, sit up instead. Do not sit in a comfy recliner, as you will be too relaxed. Instead, sit tall with a straight, but relaxed, spine.
– Change the time of day you are practicing to a time of peak alertness. The morning just after you have woken up is normally the best. You should avoid filling your mind with the worries of the coming day, not check social media, or turn on the news. Just meditate while you are freshly awake and your mind is still relatively relaxed.
– Follow a guided meditation session on YouTube or join a group. Both will engage your mind and senses more than if practicing at home alone. Although to aim is to become relaxed, you may just need a little sensory stimulation to remain awake until you can establish a regular practice that suits you.
“Sleep is the best meditation!” – Dalai Lama
– Change the style of meditation to one that involves standing or movement. Tai Chi, Chi Gong, and Yoga are some practices that develop our ability to focus and create body awareness when done mindfully. These are core components of any good meditation practice.
– Avoid eating a big meal for at least 60 minutes before meditating. Eating diverts our bodies energies towards digestion and can also distract our minds.
– As already discussed, ensure that you are not sleep-deprived. When your body and mind are tired you cannot remain alert to meditate effectively.
– Meditate in shorter sessions, but more frequently. So instead of trying to remain awake for a full thirty minutes or an hour, break your sessions down to ten to fifteen minutes at a time. And do it several times a day. Three times ten-minute sessions, when you can focus with awareness, are better than one hour when you are asleep for most of the time.
Am I Really Asleep Or Don’t I Understand What A Deep Meditative State Feels Like?
Meditation mirrors the same process we follow as we are falling asleep. Our heart rate decreases, our muscles become relaxed, and our breathing slows down and becomes deeper.
Our brain waves change state from an active Beta pattern descending through Alpha (very relaxed with passive attention,) Theta (deeply relaxed and inward-focused,) and maybe to Delta (sleep.)
Because the states of theta and delta are so similar, it’s possible that beginner practitioners may not recognize the subtle difference between the two. So while it may feel like you were asleep, you may have been in a deep meditative state.
With more experience (increased body and mind awareness,) it becomes easier to tell the difference between the different states.
To Sum Up
It’s a good idea not to go into a meditation session when your body and mind are tired….. especially if you expect to ‘meditate.’ Chances are you will just end up falling asleep.
To improve your chances of having a good session, make sure your body and mind are in an alert state and that you won’t be disturbed.
If you become aware that it ‘feels like’ you are falling asleep, don’t fight it, instead, just allow it to happen. Because diverting your thoughts and energy to trying to stay awake is going against what your body may be most needing at this time.
Meditation is about ‘self-awareness.’ And learning to respect what your body needs instead of forcing it to do something else is an important aspect of your personal growth. With more time and practice, you will improve your mental and physical strength.
The important thing to remember is that you cannot fail at meditation, and there is no ‘bad’ experience when meditating….. it’s all about you coming to know yourself more intimately, and with that in mind, ALL experiences are to be appreciated.