We receive a lot of questions through social media and email, but one of the most common questions surrounds the issue of falling asleep during meditation. This is a common occurrence, so we thought it would be useful to the community to cover some ideas of how to meditate without falling asleep.
Causes of Sleepiness During Meditation
First, we can recognize the causes and conditions that may bring about sleepiness. Drowsiness is related to sloth and torpor, one of the five hindrances we all face during meditation practice. Like other experiences of the mind, there is an underlying reason that this mental state arises.
There are many reasons you may find yourself tired during your practice. Everyone is a bit different, but here are a few common causes of sleepiness:
- Actually being tired
- Dietary habits, especially before meditation
- Meditating while lying down
- Boredom or disinterest during practice
- Location and time of your meditation period
Some of these causes may be relatively simple to work with. Try to get more sleep, don’t eat a heavy meal before meditating, or try meditating outdoors to get more natural light and stimulation. Personally, I find meditating first thing in the morning to be most fruitful, while I have friends who fall asleep if they sit before eating breakfast. Find what works for you!
If you’ve been practicing in bed or lying down, try a new posture. Meditating while lying down can be beneficial and useful, but can also increase the chance that you will fall asleep. Sit up straight, or try some walking practices.
The first step in all of this is to see if you can identify the experience of sleepiness clearly. Tune into how it feels, what the experience is like, and how your mind and body react. After your meditation period, see if you can identify any potential causes.
Meditation is a practice, and takes a willingness to adjust. Switch up your routine a bit. Meet the sleepiness with compassion and kindly make the change you need to.
Working with Drowsiness
When you notice drowsiness arising during meditation, how do you react? Whether you’ve been practicing for years or are a beginner to meditation, the mind may immediately fall into some unhelpful habits. We judge, become anxious, or feel hopeless in our practice.
Instead, try to bring compassion to the experience. Falling asleep during meditation does not have to be a negative experience. It may be unpleasant, but see if you can open your heart to it. Be patient, and don’t resist the experience so strongly.
If you’re continually falling asleep during meditation, I recommend standing up during practice. This may seem silly, but the Buddha himself recommended standing when sloth and torpor arise. You can also simply open your eyes.
You may also investigate walking meditation. This is a powerful way to practice, and you’re pretty likely to stay awake while meditating! I find that walking meditation helps bring energy to both the mind and body when drowsiness is strong.