Is it bad to fall asleep while meditating?
While I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word, bad! It is something you should avoid.
In this article, I go into the reasons we fall asleep while meditating, as well as detail the methods for avoiding sleep to deepen your practice.
Why Do We Fall Asleep While Meditating?
At some time, it has happened to all of us: one minute, you are focusing well, and the practice is working.
You feel your body and mind calming down, and the next thing you know, you’re in a black pit of drowsiness and not quite sure how long you’ve been stuck there!
There are many reasons for this. One reason could be that you’re simply too tired to meditate. Meditation and exhaustion are not good partners. If you’re tired, go rest, and then come back to the practice.
You might also fall asleep while meditating if your posture is not conducive to deep and alert meditation.
Finding the right posture for your body type can take some time, but generally speaking, a straight back, with your hands resting comfortably in your lap or over your knees, will suffice to begin.
The two problems above are easy enough to fix. The one to follow is more difficult but vital to understand and solve if you want your meditation to have the power and benefits advertised.
The first thing to understand is, meditation, to a large extent, is a balancing act. We are balancing relaxation with the stability of alertness and vividness or clarity of this alertness.
These three are like the legs of a tripod. Working together, they do so in a reinforcing manner.
However, when there is an unconscious bias toward one, the others will weaken and collapse.
This is what is happening when you fall asleep during meditation.
That is, when you unconsciously bias relaxation over stability and vividness, the mind folds in on itself, and the resulting drowsiness, if left unchecked, will end in sleep.
Why You Should Avoid Falling Asleep While Meditating
If you are meditating in bed, as I have suggested elsewhere, falling asleep while meditating is sometimes unavoidable.
So generally speaking, we want to avoid sleep while meditating because it creates a habit that will obstruct deeper states of consciousness from manifesting.
And when even drowsiness (not even sleep) becomes a habit it becomes an obstacle to deep meditation.
So if you have the habit of falling asleep during meditation, first know this is a problem, realize you’re not alone, and there is something you can do to remedy the situation.
How to stop falling asleep while meditating
The best way to stop yourself from falling asleep while meditating is to lift your body and mind.
If you prefer the supine position, try sitting instead. If you are sitting already, try straightening the spine by lifting from the top of your head, as if someone is lifting you by your hair.
If you normally close your eyes while meditating, try leaving your eyes half-open so that a little light comes in.
The next thing, and most important skill to prevent the onset of sleep, is to not lose the mental factor of alertness.
That is, if in the process of deepening the sense of relaxation, you let go of being aware you are meditating, the tripod of relaxation, stability, and vividness will collapse, and your mind will implode into darkness, and finally sleep.
The method to prevent sleep and remain balanced so that your meditation can deepen will now be explained.
How to Deepen Your Meditation
There are three phases to balancing the mind. These three do not work in complete isolation.
Enhancing relaxation without losing the factor of vividness
The first phase is to enhance relaxation while not losing the vividness with which you started the session.
This is how it works: sit comfortably and focus on your breath. Notice the degree of alertness, clarity of mind, or vividness you have currently. It does not matter how bright and alert the mind is, just note its quality.
Next, we focus on our breath with an emphasis on the out-breath. As we breathe out imagine you are breathing out any tension in your body and mind.
Do not push the breath out. Simply allow it to flow naturally.
At the same time try to remain as alert as you were at the start of the session.
Then relax deeply into the practice without losing the clarity of your alertness.
As you become proficient at this, stability will naturally arise. Your meditation will deepen and you will know this because a deep sense of relaxation will stabilize the mind but, there is the possibility of falling into sleep.
Enhancing stability without losing relaxation
If you continue to bias relaxation, you will lose clarity and vividness. The mind will start to feel heavy, and appear dark.
In the second phase we emphasize the in-breath.
As you breathe in imagine you are breathing in clear and bright fresh air.
This will uplift the mind but do not suck the air in strongly. Just let it flow naturally in, like a gentle breeze of fresh mountain air.
Do this while being mindful of the degree of relaxation you feel through your body and mind.
Energize the mind with the in-breath.
But when over-emphasized the mind will become over-energized and you will lose the sense of deep calm pervading your body and mind.
So, find balance and go deeper!
Enhancing vividness without losing stability
The next phase is to increase both the subjective and objective clarity of mind without becoming unstable and losing any sense of being relaxed.
When you are distracted and completely lost in thought other than the object of meditation (in this case your breath)
We do this by intensifying our focus on the breath. And we attend more closely to the quality of alertness focused on the breath.
Finding balance like this might sound difficult. It is not. But it is a practice to be sure.
It is a practice with profound benefits over and above becoming relaxed if you stick to it.
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Photo by Bruce Christianson