As a meditation teacher, one of the questions people often ask me is how to stop falling asleep during meditation.
It’s a very common occurrence. You’ve had a busy day, you’re tired, you know you need to meditate, so you lie down and shut your eyes. Perhaps you practice some deep breathing techniques or you listen to a relaxing guided meditation. Fast forward an hour and you wake up, realising that once again you fell asleep during meditation.
The relationship between meditation and sleep confuses many people. So, here are some simple answers to common questions.
Is it okay to fall asleep when meditating?
If you fall asleep during meditation you will not get the same benefits that you would if you were awake. Although you might enjoy a relaxing nap, you won’t be training your mind to stay focus or to be mindful, so you won’t get the same benefits.
Why do I fall asleep during meditation?
Meditation is a relaxing activity that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to create a sense of relaxation. Plus, it promotes the same brainwaves that we use at the beginning of sleep. So, it puts you in a state of mind similar to what you experience when you sleep. Therefore, it might cause you to doze off.
I fall asleep during guided meditations, is that okay?
If you fall asleep during guided meditation it is more than likely okay. Guided meditations are usually used for pure relaxation anyway, so if you get a relaxing nap out of it, all good. You could try using a different guide, with a less sleep-inducing voice.
How to stay awake during meditation?
Try switching your meditation technique to a more active one like Dynamic or tai chi, or even a method with more active breathing, like Kapabalhti pranayama.
Why we fall asleep during meditation
The reason we fall asleep during meditation is that we struggle to find the right balance between focus and relaxation. When you meditate, you do both: focus and relax. You focus on your breathing, on the sound of the guided meditation instructor’s voice, or on a different object of meditation. This relaxes you. However, sometimes it relaxes you a little too much. That’s when you fall asleep during meditation.
This is both a blessing and a curse because many people intentionally use meditation to get to sleep.
But what if you want to stop falling asleep when meditating?
Well, for starters, you might want to ask yourself whether it is actually a good thing that you’re dozing off when you meditate. If you’re not getting enough sleep at other times, it probably is a good thing. Mayo Clinic states that we all need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Are you snoozing enough? If not, you’re probably falling asleep in meditation because your body and mind are simply getting the rest they need.
If, however, you are indeed catching enough Zzz’s already, then there are ways to stop falling asleep when meditating. Let’s take a look.
Use these tricks to stop falling asleep when meditating
1. Stay up with a more active form of meditation
Probably the best way to stop crashing out when meditating is to try a more active technique.
There are many different types of meditation. Some of them are inactive, such as traditional breathing techniques and guided meditations. Others are more active, such as Zen walking, Osho Dynamic meditation, tai chi, and qigong.
By being more active during your practice you reduce the chances of nodding off.
2: “Half Time” Breaks
The deeper we go in meditation the more likely we are to crash out. This is because we gradually increase relaxation as we meditate, and during that relaxation, we may lose focus, which is when we conk off.
One trick is to use “half time” breaks.
As you probably guessed, these are pauses halfway through our meditation practice. We use these breaks to open the eyes and refocus the mind. This can help us to make sure that we are focusing properly and not just chilling out (because chilling out too much will inevitably lead to a power nap).
3:Use a mala so your hands are busy
You don’t necessarily need to make any major changes to stop falling asleep during meditation. The littlest change can make a difference.
For instance, try using a meditation mala.
Malasa are beads that we use to count the breath when we meditate. They’re very simple to use, but they do give you something to do with your hands. That slight increase in activity level can be enough to stop you falling asleep when meditating.
4: Don’t meditate lying down
Lying down is one of the most popular meditation positions. However, it’s also the easiest position to fall asleep in because it’s the same way we lie down when we go to bed at night.
If you’re having trouble staying awake in meditation, switch your position. There are many different meditation positions.
Probably the position that will help you to stay awake is to meditate standing up. Standing meditation is a traditional techniques use in Taoism, where it is called Zhan Zhuang.
5: Separate Sleep and Wake Time
Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of Headspace, stated in a video that “If you [meditate] first thing in the morning, make sure you clearly break up the time between sleep and waking”. You should not meditate either too soon after waking up, or too soon before going to bed. Make sure you have a clear gap between periods of meditation and periods of sleep.
6: Let fresh air in
WellAndGood states that you should create an environment that is conducive to wakefulness and that one way to do this is by letting in some fresh air. So, simply open the window.
7: Exercise first
Melbourne Meditation Centre suggests doing vigorous exercise before meditating, for instance by doing yoga first. This wakes up the mind and body before we sit to meditate. Naturally, this reduces the risk of dozing off during your mindfulness session.
8: Keep your eyes open
Mindworks says, “Next time you meditate, keep your eyes open or half-open while gently gazing downward.”
There are various meditation techniques that have the eyes open rather than closed. One of the most traditional is Zen meditation, in which the eyes are angled downwards and half shut. Another technique is the Buddhist Samatha method, which is essentially meditating on an object. And there is also Trataka, which involves meditating on a candle flame.
9: Start Small
The longer you go in meditation the more likely you are to fall asleep. This is firstly because you relax more and more, and secondly, because you lose focus. Trying to focus the mind for half an hour, as a beginner, is like trying to run a marathon the first time you put your runners on.
Speaking to WebMD, Buddhist meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg says, “I suggest starting perhaps with five minutes, three days a week. Then work up to 20 minutes a day, every day, once you find you can hold your focus for that long.”
There are many ways to stop falling asleep when meditating, as we have looked at above. But remember, dozing off when you’re supposed to be being mindful isn’t always the worst thing in the world. It could just be your mind and body getting some much-needed rest.
And remember, the Dalai Lama himself did once say that “Sleep is the best meditation.
Try using the techniques we have looked at above to find the best solution for you.