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Why Do I Fall Asleep While Meditating?
The Rumor: Meditation causes you to feel drowsy
Maybe it’s the quiet room. Or the comfy clothing. Or, I don’t know, the fact that my eyes are closed. But how come whenever I give meditation a try, I end up yawning and fighting off the sandman instead of finding my Third Eye? Could it be that not everyone is suited for meditation?
The Verdict: Meditation isn’t making you tired, your lack of sleep is
Meditation is believed to improve memory, thwart depression, reduce our feelings of stress, make us smarter and even make us rich. Keep up the om-ing for years, found UCLA neurobiologists, and meditation may even cause some positive physical changes to the structure of our brains.
But if meditation is so beneficial, how come it’s hard for some people (ahem, like me) to stay alert whenever they give it a try?
“The only real way to not fall asleep during meditation is to get enough sleep,” says Jon Lieff, MD, a Harvard Medical School-trained neuropsychiatrist who specializes in the relationship between neurology, psychiatry and medicine. “Currently, almost everyone is sleep deprived. Most people need more sleep than they’re getting.” In fact, nearly 70 million U.S. adults suffer from some sort of sleep disorder, according to recent research from the Centers for Disease Control.
Yet many of us don’t realize how tired we are until we attempt to meditate, says clinical psychologist Vickie Chang, Ph.D., a mindfulness meditation teacher in Menlo Park, California. “We may not notice our fatigue day to day because we habitually drink coffee or perk up with sugar,” she says. “So when we stop and tune in to our bodies in mindful meditation, we may discover that we are deeply tired.”
So before starting a meditation practice, get your recommended dose of eight hours of sleep. Once that’s achieved, it’ll be easier to stay awake while meditating. “Meditation is basically attention training,” says Massachusetts-based meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, a 28-Day Program.
To begin a meditative practice:
Start small. You wouldn’t plan to run a 5k if you’ve never jogged before. Similarly, begin slowly when you set out to train your brain. “I suggest starting perhaps with five minutes, three days a week,” says Salzberg. “Then work up to 20 minutes a day, every day, once you find you can hold your focus for that long.”
Do it first thing in the morning. Even if you’re getting enough sleep, it’s still best to capitalize on the time of day when you’re most alert, says Lieff. For most people, that would be first thing in the morning. “I’d also advise not doing it right after eating, since your focus becomes about digestion,” he says.
Decide what to focus on ahead of time. “Choose an object of awareness, such as the feeling of the ‘in’ and ‘out’ of breathing,” says Salzberg. “Place your attention on it and return to it whenever you get distracted or tired — which may be often at first. But don’t be discouraged by that.”
Get those basics down and you’ll be well on your way to a steady — instead of sleepy — meditation practice. I’m om to that!