Falling asleep during meditation is so easy, and it’s much more common than you think. But when it starts to happen on a regular basis, it gets frustrating.
It’s not as difficult to turn this around and manage to stay awake as you might think. There are several things you can try to keep yourself awake and alert while meditating. Here are 12 of my best tips.
I’ve mentioned this in several posts about meditation. And I’m going to repeat it again because it bears repeating. Being consistent with your meditation practice is key to so much. And it is definitely a key to staying awake.
If the only time you close your eyes most days is to go to sleep, your body will get used to that. And that means when close your eyes to meditate, your body will assume that means you want to sleep.
Taking the time to meditate each day teaches your body and mind that you expect to sit down at some point every day, close your eyes, and meditate — and therefore, stay awake.
Of course, you can skip a day now and then when it’s necessary. But by meditating more days than not, you help your body and mind understand that this is important to you and what you expect of this time.
Adapt your space — or move it
Falling asleep while meditating is incredibly easy if you meditate in your bedroom, especially on your bed. Many of us choose that space because we meditate as soon as we wake up or right before we fall asleep, which also contributes to falling asleep.
If you meditate in your bedroom, try moving to another room of the house that you don’t associate with sleep — the living room or porch, for example. Because you can meditate anywhere, you can literally move your meditation anywhere.
If moving isn’t an option, say because of sharing the space with a roommate, try adapting the space you use. You might try sitting on the floor instead of your bed. Bring in a chair that’s not quite as cushy and comfortable. Open the curtains or blinds to let the morning sun stream in.
Change the space so that it can assist in keeping you awake.
This is another one that I commonly mention when offering advice on how to meditate, and again, it’s a key piece. Stress can create anxiety. Stress and anxiety both interfere with sleep. If you’re not sleeping well, of course you’re going to fall asleep any time you close your eyes for more than a few seconds.
Managing stress means you’ll reduce stress and deal better with the stress that remains. You’ll also reduce anxiety. All of these will improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep. More and better sleep will leave you feeling well-rested and energized.
That will make it so much easier to stay awake when you meditate. Naturally, meditation is my first suggestion for reducing stress. But you can also make other changes such as exercising, ending toxic or unhappy relationships, changing jobs, or paying off debt. Look at the source(s) of your stress and see what can be done about it.
Open your eyes
Most of the time, you’re taught to close your eyes in meditation. And for most of us, it is the best way to meditate. It shuts out external distractions, signifies to anyone who comes near that we’re busy, and just feels good.
But when you keep falling asleep during your meditation, closing your eyes probably isn’t the best idea. So instead, open your eyes. You don’t need to prop them open with toothpicks like an exhausted cartoon character, either. Simply open them enough to see something in front of you. Keep what’s called a “soft gaze.” A hard gaze is intense focus, such as when you’re trying to remove a splinter or when you’re reading. A soft gaze is more relaxed, freer, more all-encompassing.
For example, you might choose to focus your gaze on a candle in front of you. A soft gaze allows you to take in the surroundings other than the candle, like a picture frame or the cat that’s sleeping. You don’t necessarily take in all the details of the candle, the frame, or the cat.
Check your posture
When you sleep, your body becomes very relaxed. When you meditate, you’re often instructed to relax. The more relaxed you are in sleep, the better you’ll sleep. In meditation, however, it’s possible to relax too much.
While meditating, you should sit comfortably. Ideally, you’ll sit with a straight, tall spine, but relaxed. If you’re slouching, you’re too relaxed (and probably going to hurt your back a bit!). If you’re sitting in a big, pillowy recliner, you may be too relaxed. If you’re lying on a couch, you might be too relaxed.
Make sure you’re sitting tall and straight if you’re sitting. If you’re lying down, try sitting up. Look at where you usually sit and consider whether you should change it — moving from a comfy recliner to a meditation cushion on the floor perhaps.
Find your peak time
Morning person, night owl — there are plenty of terms to describe people who perform their best at specific times of day. You may already know your peak time. If not, take a few days to be more mindful of your energy levels.
Look for that point in the day when you feel most awake, alert, and productive. That’s the ideal time for you to meditate — you’ll be far less likely to fall asleep.
Depending on your schedule, this may require a bit of creativity. You might have to fit meditation in between meetings or classes. But if you truly want to meditate without falling asleep, it can be worth the effort.
A moving meditation can help you stay awake and get a little exercise while you meditate. You can walk back and forth in a specified area, such as between two trees or pacing the length of your living room. Or you can walk on a treadmill or around the block.
The main key here is to be somewhere safe — if you’re walking around the block, stay on the sidewalk, for example. If you’re on the treadmill, keep the speed low — it’s not about burning calories.
Movement can relieve the tediousness that your body may be associating with meditation.
And if you find that you struggle to meditate while moving? Try moving before meditating. Take a walk, go for a run, or lift some weights, then sit down to meditate. The exercise can help raise your energy levels temporarily, usually long enough to get in a meditation without too much trouble.
Join other people
Meditating with a group introduces several different dynamics to your meditation. You’ll be with some people you don’t know, which will automatically help you stay awake more easily — most of us wouldn’t sleep around strangers.
It also introduces a different location. You may hear different music or meditations, smell different incense or candles, or be exposed to other new or different things. All of these add some unfamiliarity to your meditation, which will help you stay awake through it.
Try looking up local meditation classes and groups. Yoga studios are a good place to look. You can also look up local meditation teachers, as many offer group sessions as well as individual ones.
If you’ve been meditating in silence or just using some background music, try going online. Download some apps (Insight Timer is a great one, as are Calm and Simple Habit) and try some of their guided meditations.
You can also look for some meditation scripts that you can use for personal use. These can introduce some variety to your meditation. They also allow you to record the meditation in your own voice, which can add another layer of interest to your meditation.
You can also look for groups and discussion forms related to meditation so that you can talk to others and get other perspectives and tips on staying awake during meditation, as well as any other struggles you might face.
Brighten the space
This is particularly an issue for those who meditate first thing in the morning or right before bed, as those tend to be times when we want to leave the lights low as we adjust. But it can be an issue at other times of the day, too.
Try turning on more lamps, opening curtains or blinds to let in the sunlight, or even going outside. By introducing more light, you signal to your brain that this is not a time for sleep even if your eyes are closed at the moment.
If more light isn’t helping, you could consider repainting if you have dark walls or ceilings. White isn’t your only option. You can go with light shades of blue, pink, yellow, green or even lavender. Your main goal is to lighten up the space, but the right color can also have a calming, soothing effect.
We all know that feeling of settling in to our nice cozy bed at the end of a long day, snuggling in under the sheets and blankets. That’s great for sleeping, but not if you’re meditating.
Try dropping the thermostat a couple of degrees or turning on a fan to cool you down a bit. Feeling slightly chilled will help keep you awake — and can also help serve the purpose of learning to sit with some discomfort while you meditate.
By the same token, we’re told to take a warm bath when we want to sleep better because it will later create a drop in body temperature that helps us sleep. So if you’re already feeling cool, you may want to try covering up with a blanket or nudging the thermostat up a bit to warm up slightly.
You may have to play with this one a bit to know what exactly will work best for you.
Eat the right foods
This isn’t going to be a lecture on healthy eating. But I will mention that sugar is often seen as a quick source of energy, but it quickly drops us back into a lower-energy state. This goes for everything from candy bars and cookies to a soda or an energy drink.
If you eat a healthy, varied diet, your body will naturally have more energy, sleep better, and as a result, your meditation will be better. The same goes for staying hydrated.
This is not to say that you can never have a piece of cake or grab a Sprite — we all do it, including me. But if you look honestly at your diet and see that it’s filled with lots of processed sugar, it can’t hurt to add in some fresh fruits and veggies, proteins, fats, and more water to see what happens.
One final note
While nothing in this blog is intended to be medical advice, it is important to note that there are medical conditions that can cause trouble sleeping. While these tips are helpful for those who are just a bit tired, they likely won’t help if you have sleep apnea or another condition that interferes with your sleep.
If you find that these tips aren’t helpful, or you believe that you may have a condition that’s interfering with your sleep, see your doctor. It’s the best way to improve your meditation and your physical health.