Lately when I close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing, I start feeling tired, despite the fact that I’ve been a meditator for twenty years. And this is surprising because mindfulness is supposed to reduce mental fatigue.
I do my first meditation in the morning. I wake up at around six in the morning, have my coffee, get out of bed, and watch a little bit of TV. And then I start meditating at around 8 a.m.
Recently I have been doing it in bed—which is probably a terrible idea because being in bed naturally makes you feel like falling asleep. So, my first tip if meditation makes you tired is this. Stop meditating in bed. Instead, sit in a more energising position (read my guide to beginner’s meditation positions).
But other than not meditating in bed, what else can you do to stop feeling sleepy after meditating?
Well, you could always keep your eyes open like they do in Zazen meditation. Or you could choose a more active style, such as Taoist meditation.
Let’s take a look at why meditation makes us sleepy and what we can do about it.
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Why You Get Tired When Meditating
The first thing to understand is that meditation does not make you tired. Instead, meditation gives you the chance to realise that you already are tired.
Think about your typical day.
You’re running around like a headless chicken, working, doing house chores, scrolling through social media and tiring your mind. You rarely if ever take a break, and even when you do take a break, it’s to watch TV or to do something else that is mentally stimulating.
You need to give yourself more time to pause.
Otherwise, your meditation time will be the only time you get mental rest, other than when you sleep. So, when you meditate and relax and your mind finally stops, is there any wonder you feel tired?
However, falling asleep when meditating can be a good thing.
If you feel tired during meditation, you probably need to take more breaks. And if that’s the case, you might as well let yourself take a little nap. It will do you good.
Another reason meditation makes you tired is that it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” system. This slows your heart, increases intestinal and gland activity, and makes you feel relaxed. We all know how close relaxation is to sleep. And that’s just another reason meditation makes you sleepy.
Then there are alpha brain waves.
Alpha brain waves are relatively low frequency (8–13Hz), waves that are associated with the feeling of being relaxed but awake. Oh, and they are also involved in the early stages of sleep. Meditation creates these brainwaves. So, when you meditate, you put your brain into a state similar to early sleep. Indeed, this is one reason why meditation helps us get to sleep.
So no, it isn’t that surprising if you feel tired when you meditate. But what can you do? Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to stop feeling sleepy when meditating.
How to stop feeling sleepy
1: Change to a more active technique
Most people just do breathing meditations. But there are many alternatives. Switch to an active method like tai chi, qigong, or yin yoga.
You could try Osho’s dynamic meditations, or Taoist methods (which include standing meditations).
Be more active in your meditation and hold your body in an engaging when. Then you will stop feeling tired when you meditate. Honestly, even if you just meditate with good posture it will make a difference.
2: Keep your eyes open
Many people believe that meditation must be done with the eyes closed. Wrong. There are many forms of meditation that have the eyes open. Consider Samatha, for instance, a Buddhist method in which you meditate on an object such as a meditation crystal. You simply gaze at the meditation object and focus on it. Keep your eyes open and you will be less likely to feel tired.
Bear in mind that it is traditional in Zen meditation to keep the eyes open, so don’t think you have to have them closed.
3: Count or chant
If you count your breath or chant you will stop feeling tired because you will be more active.
4: Meditate in a group
Whenever we are in groups, we are naturally more energised and therefore less likely to feel tired.
If you always meditate by yourself, consider joining a local meditation group. You will feel more involved in the meditation and more awake when you practice.
Or you can choose to meditate with me in an online session.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison