By now, the physical and emotional benefits of meditation are well-documented. Chances are, you’ve even tried it yourself or know someone who does it.
One of the most common complaints that people just starting out have about their practice is that they keep falling asleep. Assuming you’re doing the type of meditation that is about waking up rather than falling asleep, this can be frustrating. If this sounds like you, worry not—you’re not alone! Here’s a secret: Even longtime practitioners still fall asleep sometimes.
When I first started meditating, falling asleep was par for the course. About five minutes in, you can bet I’d be nodding off. This went on for almost a year, and looking back on it now, it makes sense. Before I started meditating, my mind was so used to constantly running, planning for the future and analyzing the past, that when I was put it in a situation where the goal was just to stay still in the present, it went straight into sleep mode because it didn’t know what else to do with that stillness (and I was constantly tired, so this seemed like a good opportunity to catch up).
Gradually, I started noticing that I was asleep and as soon as I did, I naturally jolted awake. Most importantly, I stopped beating myself up for falling asleep and just went with the flow of dozing and jolting awake until eventually my mind was ready to move on from dozing.
Along the way, there were a few tips that helped me to notice I was dozing off and to guide me back to staying awake. Here’s what to do if you keep falling asleep during meditation:
1. Keep your eyes open.
Many meditation practices involve closing your eyes, but that can be a pretty certain precursor to falling asleep, or to playing a nice little movie in your head. The practice of shamatha involves keeping your eyes open but with a soft downward gaze. This helps you stay awake but also helps keep you in the present moment, experiencing life with all of your senses.
2. Adjust your posture.
The ideal posture for meditation involves sitting with an upright back and soft front. Get in the habit of checking in with your posture every few minutes in meditation to see if you’ve starting slouching. If you have, gently pull yourself back up—you’ll notice a difference in your alertness and energy.
3. Drink water.
Many meditation centers allow you to bring a bottle of water into the meditation room. If this is the case, or if you are meditating at home, when you start to feel yourself getting tired, take a sip of water. Just the act of drinking and noticing when you need a drink will help you to shift into a different mindset.
4. Try a walking meditation.
In addition to sitting meditation, you can also try walking meditation. Rather than having the object of your meditation be your breath, you can shift it to the feeling of your feet touching the ground. This also gives you an opportunity to again shift your mindset as well as introduce some movement to your practice and get your blood flowing.
5. Ask yourself this: Are you just really tired?
There’s a very subtle difference between constantly dozing off because you really need more sleep, or because your mind just isn’t used to slowing down. This is where you can put a little thought into it. If you haven’t been getting enough sleep, then maybe what you really need is more sleep. If that’s the case, I suggest keeping your meditation session short and then taking a nap!
6. Change the time of day you meditate.
If you meditate at night and are finding yourself falling asleep consistently, try meditating on a different schedule, maybe first thing in the morning when your mind is fresh and alert.
7. Keep the lights on.
Do you meditate in the dark? If so, that can be an easy way to fall asleep. Since meditation is about practicing waking up, keep the lights on, maybe even open a window. Help yourself tune into your senses and become more aware and awake in your life.
8. Take a break.
If you’re really struggling to stay awake, there are two ways to take a break that could help refresh your mind. The first is to stay where you are on the meditation cushion but just take a break from the practice. Stop meditating. Just be in the room for a minute without doing anything. Then come back. The second way to take a break is to actually get up and go have a cup of tea or stretch. This one can be tricky because you don’t want to get used to just getting off the cushion when it gets hard.
Some meditation centers have set periods for sitting and walking meditation, and the walking meditation is usually a good time to take a break. If you’re at home, the best thing to do is use a timer for a set amount of time. Once you sit through that timer, allow yourself to either take a break or reset the timer for another period of meditation.