As a meditation teacher one of the most common questions I get asked by students is why do I fall asleep when I meditate? It is very common when people first start meditating and also common for even experienced meditators to go through periods of slumbering, rather than meditating.
At the root of all our thoughts, emotions, behaviours and consciousness is the communication between neurons with our brains. Brainwaves are produced by synchronised electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other. Our brainwaves change depending on what we are doing and feeling. Brainwave speed is measured in hertz and is divided into bands from slow to fast of Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma. Higher faster brainwaves occur when we are very alert or wired and slower brainwaves are present when we are dreamy & unconscious.
During a successful meditation you typically start off with high beta (thinking) and then the brainwaves slow down, taking you through alpha, theta and finally delta, the deepest level. After some time you come out of the very deep state and travel back up to beta, feeling awake and refreshed, often with new perspectives and clarity.
When else do our brainwaves slow down…..?
When we go to sleep!!!
So for a beginner meditator part of the journey is retraining the brain to stay aware and present rather than taking the slowing of brain waves as a sign its sleeping time.
How can I stay more awake & present during meditation?
- Firstly, don’t lie down. Often the brain will associate lying down with sleeping so it can be very hard to stay awake and present in meditation if you are lying down. Sit seated on a chair, on the floor with cushions or even stand up straight.
- If you feel yourself slipping into sleep while meditating move your body. Wiggle your toes or fingers. Hold your hands in a mudra. If that doesn’t help then open and close your eyes a few times.
- Use a set of Mala beads. The practice of moving something very physical and tangible in your hands can help keep you nice, focused & grounded.
- Try more dynamic forms of meditation. Ideally practices that do keep you very present and aware such as Chakradance, kirtan, chanting, tai chi, candle gazing, kundalini yoga or art meditation.
- If you always use the same guided meditation or technique – change things up! There are so many brilliant guided meditations out there and other forms of meditation. Why limit yourself to one? Often the mind will get used to different techniques so it’s great to shake things up.
- Use a stimulating high quality essential oil such as peppermint on your temples, or place some on your wrist and when you feel yourself nodding off take a big sniff. (Sacred Self’s “love my mind” roll on is great for this, just make sure you don’t rub it in your eye – ouch!)
- Don’t meditate after eating a big full meal. Our body often gets sleepy if we have over-eaten, so try and meditate after a light meal or before eating.
- Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep each night.
Ultimately your meditation time will give you exactly what you need in that moment. So if your tired and your body is in need of sleep, you will sleep. That doesn’t mean that you have “failed”. When your brain is in a deep unconscious state is when your physical body is free to do its most profound healing work.
Sometimes however falling asleep in meditation can be a form of resistance. You may not be ready or wanting to look at a deeper inner truth or feel an emotion, so falling asleep in meditation offers a form of protection and detachment. If I sense this is happening with one of my students I will get them to answer and reflect on these questions
“What in my life is making me tired and/or exhausted?”
“Is there anything I am avoiding or not wanting to look at right now?”
“What feelings and emotions am I afraid of ?”
Often then when the resistance is recognised the tiredness will go away and there is space for the deeper insights and perspective shifts to occur.
Are you interested in starting to meditate? I have created a number of meditation albums that are full of powerful guided meditation journeys that are perfect for newbies starting out and more experienced meditators that like working with a guide. You can purchase them in my online shop here.
Was this article helpful for you? Do you have any other tools to make sure you don’t fall asleep when you meditate? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.