How to Stay Awake during Mindfulness Meditation

Sleep and mindfulness are opposites. When you fall asleep you’re at a low level of consciousness; lower than during normal everyday life. Meditation is designed to heighten your state of awareness, so that it’s greater than your normal daily existence.

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Sometimes your mind makes you feel sleepy in order to avoid the meditation practice. Sleepiness during meditation is very common and you’re certainly not alone if you experience it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Becoming sleepy is a clever trick your mind plays to prevent you from facing up to difficult thoughts or emotions. If you start to feel sleepy, begin to recognize the feeling.

Try these suggestions to cope with or avoid sleepiness:

  • Ensure that you get enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re likely to fall asleep in your next meditation.

  • Take a few deep, slow breaths. Repeat a few times until you feel more awake.

  • Don’t eat a big meal before meditating. If you feel hungry before a meditation, eat a small snack beforehand rather than a three-course meal.

  • Stand up and do some mindful stretching, yoga, tai chi or walking. Then go back to your sitting- or lying-down meditation.

  • Experiment with meditating at different times of day. Some people feel wide awake in the mornings, others in the afternoon or evening. Find the right time for you.

  • Open your eyes and let some light in. In some meditation traditions, all meditations are done with eyes half or fully open for the duration of the practice. Experiment to see what works for you. When doing this, continue to focus on your breath, body, sounds, sights, thoughts or emotions – whatever you’ve decided to make the focus of your mindful awareness.

  • Become aware of the state of mind called sleepiness. This is difficult but worth a try. Before you feel too sleepy, notice and get curious about how your body, mind and emotions feel. This can sometimes dissipate the sleepiness and enable you to cope with it next time it happens.

Ironically, one of the first benefits of meditation that many report is better sleep. Through practicing meditation, people seem to be able to allow difficult thoughts to be released from the brain, enabling the state of sleep to arise more naturally when necessary.

If you do find yourself falling asleep despite your best efforts, don’t worry about it too much. Many people criticize themselves for falling asleep. If you fall asleep, you fall asleep – nobody’s perfect.

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