In my online meditation lessons, many of my students ask, “Why does meditation make sleepy”? I’ll admit that I have been feeling tired when meditating myself recently.
I’ve been meditating for more than fifteen years. I never used to feel tired when I meditated. Somehow, the pandemic situation makes me fall asleep when meditating.
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 sleepy and what we can do to stop feeling sleepy when meditating.
Why Meditation Makes You Sleepy
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 why meditation makes you tired is that it activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” system. When you go to sleep or sit on the couch after eating, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This slows your heart and increases intestinal and gland activity.
When we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, we feel relaxed—and we all know how close relaxation is to sleep.
Another reason you feel tired after meditation is that it produces alpha brain waves.
Alpha brain waves are relatively low frequency (8–13Hz), waves that are associated with the feeling of being relaxed but awake.
Alpha brain waves are involved in the early stages of sleep. So, when you meditate, you put your brain into a state similar to early sleep.
If meditation makes you sleepy, it is probably because you’re doing a meditation technique that produces alpha brain waves. Indeed, this is one reason meditation helps us get to sleep.
So, we now know why meditation makes us tired, but what can we do about it?
The good news is you have lots of options when meditating. Choose to change your meditation practice to one that doesn’t make you tired.
Here are a few ways to stop feeling sleepy when meditating.
1: Change to a more active technique
If you feel sleepy when you meditate, change your meditation technique to a more active one.
Most people just do breathing meditations. But there are many alternatives. If you’re feeling sleepy meditating, 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.
2: Keep your eyes open
Many people believe that meditation must be done with the eyes closed. However, this is simply not the case. If you feel tired when meditating with your eyes closed, open your eyes.
You can choose between a variety of different open-eye meditation techniques. Consider Samatha for instance, a Buddhist method in which you meditate on an object. For example, 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 during meditation because you will be active.
4: Meditate in a group
Whenever we are in groups, we are naturally more energised. Crowds make it harder for us to fall asleep. Groups create energy that isn’t there when you meditate by yourself.
If you always meditate by yourself, find a local meditation group to join. 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 meditation lesson.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“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