There is nothing more embarrassing than getting everything ready for meditation, finding a comfortable place, sitting in a good position so that you can get the best of your meditation practice, and then passing out for about 40 minutes. Only to wake up to huge amount of drool on your clothes.
If you have been falling asleep during meditation very frequently, you’ll admit it feels bad and somewhat guilty. It makes you feel like you are not making any progress and like you are actually falling behind than benefiting from it.
But one thing you should note is that, falling asleep is a very common occurrence for many beginners and a good deal of experienced meditators.
In fact, it is at times expected that you sleep immediately you start meditating if you have not satisfied a number of factors related to your body and mind.
On top of that, there are many reasons as to why people drift into slumber land instead of consciousness and relaxed wakefulness than you may think. The most important thing is to understand why you, individually, are falling asleep and try to work on it with consistency.
With that said, let’s look at the main causes of sleep during this spiritually awakening practice.
Reasons Why You Sleep When Meditating
1. Focus – Relaxation Balance
Research done by Headspace, the company behind the Headspace meditation app, has revealed that one of the reasons this is happening to you is that you may not have gotten the perfect balance between relaxation and focus, which is required to get into deep meditative states (1).
As people are starting out with meditation, one of the things they are supposed to master so that they can benefit from this old brain improving practice is to find the balance between relaxation and focus. This is what helps you become mentally alert but also do it in a peaceful harmonious way.
And while trying to find this balance, people often fall to either of the extremes. They can become extremely alert that would make them tensed and overwhelmed or they can fall back to too much relaxation that makes them sleep.
This is quite common in the first few days of meditation. But with constant practice, you are able to find just the right balance to both states of mind.
2. Learning to Manage Your Inner Energies
Asha Nayaswami, a spiritual seeker, master and teacher as well as the founding member of the Ananda Village, has said that failure to understand and manage the energy within you could be another reason why you are sleeping deeply during your meditation sessions (2).
Ideally, there are 3 main consciousness states within everyone, that is the superconscious meditation, the waking consciousness and the subconscious sleep.
The most common state people are in is the waking consciousness. This is where there is a good balance of energy.
To get to the superconscious meditation state, there has to be an increase in levels of energy and it is meant to happen without putting in any physical effort. You use the energy that is within. This is achieved by practicing every so often without giving up. Time and practice makes it work.
While this is the case, it is normal to find newbies falling into sleep. This is called the subconscious sleep and it happens when there is loss of energy.
Generally, it is expected that when people are exhausted, they sleep. This is what helps them relax and wake up feeling better.
It is very hard to sleep when you have a surge of energy, it takes a lot of time and work. This is the state that many people who are trying meditation for the first time mainly end up in because when they get into the practice, they tend to relax and lose energy rather than increase it, hence the sleep.
3. Transcending into Deep Wakefulness State
If you are a long term meditator, and then you do a quick meditation for a few minutes or seconds, you may find yourself in
a puzzled sleep.
This state, according to Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva Meditation, is called the state of transcendence. If you are meditating in a group of people who are used to meditating for a few minutes, they can easily think you fell asleep when in fact you were transcending into the relaxed wakefulness state (3).
The best way to differentiate the state and sleeping is to listen for the snoring sound. If you hear someone snoring, they are most likely asleep but if it is absent, they are transcending.
This happened to Vishen Lakhiani, the founder and CEO of Mind Valley, during an interview with Emily Fletcher.
Here is a video of what happened and the deep explanation of the state by Emily.
4. Body and Mind Exhaustion
Another probable reason is being tired, sleepy or stressed. You could actually be sleeping because you are exhausted from the long day at work or maybe due to lack of enough sleep or even from stress.
Here, your body is trying to signal a deficit and when you get to relax when you are about to meditate, it takes the opportunity to recover the deficit.
How to Reduce Chances of Falling Asleep During Meditation
Here are some tips you can use to help you avoid sleeping the next you go to meditate:
1. Have plenty of sleep beforehand and avoid stress – When you get enough sleep and keep away from stress, you have a better chance of having a productive meditation session. So sleep well first so that you give your body the rest that it requires.
2. Avoid meditating in bed – In an interview, the co-owner of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, says trying to meditate anywhere around the bed is simply inviting sleep in (5). And it’s actually the best way to fall asleep. So keep away from the bed if you don’t want to fall into that temptation.
3. Avoid lying down when meditating – Lying down is the most favorable position for falling into slumber, so avoid it. Instead, seek to meditate in an upright posture. A rolled up towel on your back or a meditation cushion is a good way to help keep posture right and also keep you awake.
4. Consider doing a walking meditation – It is also nice to switch to walking meditation as it helps you keep you awake among other benefits.
5. Avoid meditation after having huge meals – Eating too much makes you sleepy and uncomfortable. It is definitely not a good idea to meditate immediately after this. Consider having a fair amount of food, just enough, to provide the physical energy to meditate.
6. Meditate in a place with fresh air – You can open the windows if the weather is favorable, or you can go outside to a quiet place that has lots of fresh air. The extra oxygen and freshness of air adds more wakefulness to you.
7. Drink plenty of water before meditating – Having just enough amount of water helps raise your energy levels and combat drowsiness. However, be careful not to have too much or you’ll have to take bathroom breaks in between your session.
8. Consider meditating in the morning – Meditating in the morning when your mind is fresh is a good thing and has a good feeling to it. But be sure you have woken up completely before doing it. After waking up, you can visit the bathroom and wash your face or anything else that will help you become fully awake. Meditating slightly before sleeping is not a good idea as it makes some sleep immediately they start their sessions.
9. Leave the light on if you are a night meditator – If you are one of the few people that feel meditating at night is good for you and have been falling asleep, you can try meditating with the lights on if you have been turning them off. That will make you remain awake.
10. Don’t go big if you are still a beginner – Many people believe that meditating for long periods is the best way to start meditating. And while there are benefits to long meditations, it is important to start small as a beginner and slowly increase the time for your meditation sessions with time. You can start out with a 5 minutes meditation session and do it 3 to 4 times a week. After that, try 10 minutes 3 times a week, then go to 20 minutes.
11. Decide what you’ll focus on before meditating – Many people get to decide what their object of focus will be when they have already started and this can be overwhelming and energy draining.
But if you do it beforehand, it helps with mental clarity and also helps you have something you can always come back to when your mind is lost in other thoughts. A good object of focus can be the way you are breathing, or anything else you find for you.
12. Give meditation apps or scripts a try – Replacing the silence moment of meditation or the relaxing music you’ve been using with guided meditation apps like Calm, Headspace or Insight Timer and scripts can really come in handy too.
13. Try Meditation Groups – There is a huge difference between meditating on your own and with a group. Almost everything is different, the set up, the extra people, the surrounding and many more. For some, it is hard to sleep around other people, especially when many are strangers. Also, the new surrounding will keep you awake,
14. Take a short break – If you find yourself dozing off while meditating, taking a break can help you recharge. Go for a quick walk, have some water or even stretch a little bit. But remember to be fully aware of what you are doing. When you drink water, be aware that you are doing that, as well as with the other things you will do. It keeps you in the meditation loop and enhances your focus when you get back to the meditation session.
In conclusion, the first step to helping you avoid sleeping the next time you go meditate, is to first identify why you have been sleeping. After that, look for the best solution among the tips offered and stick with it. Feel free to experiment with a few of the tips until you find your right fit.
Also, remember, it is very okay to sleep once in a while, so don’t feel guilty or ashamed when you wake up a few minutes to an hour later. If you keep working on yourself and be consistent with implementing the solutions you find worthwhile, you will soon overcome it.
If the problem persists, you should consider checking with a doctor for further examination. It could be a sleeping disorder such as sleep apnea, hypersomnia or anything of the like. There you will get proper help and guidance to help handle your health condition.