As a meditation teacher, many of my students ask me, “Why does meditation make me tired and sleepy”? And recently, I’ve been noticing that I myself have been getting tired after meditation.
I’ve been meditating for more than fifteen years and never before did it make me tired, until just recently, Ever since the pandemic, I’ve started to fall asleep while meditating.
I typically do my first meditation session 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 to stop doing it in bed and instead sit in a more energising position (read my guide to beginners meditation positions).
But other than not meditating in bed, what else can you do to stop feeling sleepy after meditating?
Let’s take a look at why meditation makes us tired and what we can do to stop feeling sleepy when meditating.
Why Meditation Makes Us Tired And How Not To Fall Asleep
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.
The average person is running around like a headless chicken, working, doing house chores, scrolling through social media and so on. They rarely if ever take a break, and even when they do take a break, it’s to watch TV or to do something else that is mentally stimulating.
There is no time in the day when your mind is on pause.
Then you meditate. Meditation gives the mind an opportunity to relax. The flow of information stops, and we sit quietly. We relax. And because we are relaxed, the mind is able to unwind, meaning we can start to feel tired. This is actually a good thing. But is it any wonder why you fall asleep during meditation?
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. It’s the state we enter to conserve energy. It slows the 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. These just so happen to be the exact same brain waves that we experience during the early stage of sleep. So when you’re meditating, you’re putting your brain into a state that is similar to early sleep.
If meditation makes you sleepy, it is probably because you are using a specific meditation technique that produces alpha brain waves. Indeed, this is one reason why meditation helps us get to sleep.
So we now know why meditation makes us tired, but what can we do about it?
Thankfully, meditation is a very versatile practice, and there are many ways in which you can switch-up your practice so you stop feeling tired.
Here are a few ways to stop feeling tired when meditating.
1: Change to a more active technique
Probably the easiest way to stop feeling tired when you meditate is to use a more active technique.
Most people just do breathing meditations. But there are many alternatives. If you’re feeling sleepy meditating, it’s best to switch to an active method like tai chi, qigong, or yin yoga.
You could also try Osho’s dynamic meditations, or Taoist methods (which include standing meditations).
By being more active or holding your body in a more engaging way (such as by standing) you will be less likely to feel tired when meditating
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 them.
There are many different meditations you can do with your eyes open. One of the best is Samatha. This is a method in which we meditate on an object, such as a meditation crystal. You simply gaze at the meditation object and focus on it. By keeping your eyes open like this, 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
To stop feeling tired during meditation, give yourself something to do while you meditate.
Two examples of this are chanting mantras and counting your breaths. When you are more active, you are less likely to feel tired. So give yourself something simple to do, that way you will stop falling asleep when meditating.
4: Meditate in a group
Whenever we are in groups we are naturally more energised. It’s harder to doze off when you’re around other people. And there is also more energy in a meditation group than there is when meditating 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.
Let me know how you get on with these tips. Leave a comment and remember to subscribe.