Why it’s OK to fall asleep when you meditate (sometimes)

Guy yawning during meditation

It’s happening again. 

 

You’re following your breath in meditation. Breathe in. Breathe out. 

 

You think you’re doing it right. Your mind seems to clear. But, you can’t ignore one teeny, tiny issue…

 

Your eyes are heavy. 

 

And while you seem to be on breath nine, you’re not so sure. Maybe you’re on breath eight? 

 

It’s getting hard to focus and your head nods downward. 

 

Your neck snaps back up. 

 

Now, you’re fighting to stay awake. 

 

You don’t want to blow your meditation session. You were doing so good! 

 

But you just can’t win. 

 

You give into the zzzzzz’s and fall asleep in meditation. 

 

Dammit. 

 

There goes another lost session. You’re frustrated. Realizing you’ll likely never gain the calm, clarity and peace of meditation if you can’t stay awake. Maybe you should just give up? 

 

No, no you shouldn’t. 

 

While a lot of teachers and the mainstream media say sleeping is a no-no during meditation, I beg to differ. Here’s why it can actually be a good thing.

Your meditation practice should not be rigid

Many meditators think they have to follow some strict practice regime and sit in some rigid, uncomfortable position. If you don’t follow instructions perfectly, you’ll never gain meditation’s calming benefits, right?

 

If you read my recent post How Ordinary Dudes Can Meditate, you know I’m not who believes in hard and fast rules or rigid postures. That’s because meditation is not about rigidity. 

 

Western culture, however, has a way of saying you need to work yourself crazy to achieve results. Push yourself harder. Perfection is possible, and if you just keep going, you’ll get there. 

 

Bullshit. 

 

This workhorse mentality of flawlessness and inflexibility is a flat out lie. And unfortunately, this way of thinking has seeped into meditation. 

 

It’s not your fault if you’ve been duped by society’s messages. It’s very difficult for anyone to completely block out the influences of mass culture. But to understand why this way of thinking is wrong, we need to revisit meditation’s ultimate goal.

What is the purpose of meditation? (And why an occasional snooze is OK)

Of course, the obvious answer is to gain more calm, peace and clarity. And if you’ve read An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Meditation, you know of other rewards for a consistent practice, like improved problem-solving skills and increased creativity. 

 

How else can you achieve these benefits? 

 

Sleep. According to Psychology Today, research suggests that when you sleep less, your mind automatically is more agitated, hostile and angry. In other words, a well-rested mind is naturally calmer, clearer and creative.

 

Sure, meditation can also help clear up irritability and negative emotions, but a good sleep is likely even more effective, at least in the short term. So if your body needs to sleep, let it sleep. 

 

Is it OK to fall asleep every time you meditate? 

 

Well, no, because then you’re not practicing meditation, you’re just sleeping. What’s more, constantly nodding off in your sessions may be a sign of chronic sleep deprivation, in which case you should focus on going to bed earlier and sleeping more.

 

Point being, the occasional snooze is OK. 

 

As mentioned earlier, meditation is not about following some strict, forceful practice. Because if you can cultivate a sense of peace in meditation, then you can cultivate that same experience in everyday life.

Freedom in meditation creates freedom in life

Guy feeling free on mountain

So, yes, it’s OK to fall asleep in meditation every once in a while. It’s OK for your mind to wander an entire session and feel like you accomplished nothing. It’s OK to miss a day or two of practice now and then. 

 

Don’t be an asshole to yourself in meditation—getting down on yourself and being pushy—because then you’ll treat yourself the same way outside of meditation. 

 

Instead, while meditating, cultivate the things you want in life. For example, acceptance of your thoughts and self, enjoyment of being alive and a sense of contentment or peace.

 

When you focus on these qualities, you’ll discover there’s no room for rigidity. 

 

Instead, you give your thoughts, mind and body freedom to do what they wish. And sometimes that will be sleeping in meditation. 

 

Meditation is about allowing things to be as they are. If you can do that during your session, you can begin to do it in your everyday life. So don’t deny your body of what it needs right now—whether that’s sleep, food or cold beer after a long week.

Give up on perfection. And see beauty right now.

Life is messy. 

 

Things don’t usually go as planned. 

 

When this happens, you may begin to feel frustrated, as if life is so imperfect. But is that really true?

 

Perfection is only an idea in your mind. 

 

It’s often fed to us by images in the media and people telling you what to do with your life, how it’s supposed to be and what you should want. 

 

But it’s not real. 

 

Perfection is what you believe it to be. And in the imperfections that you see, there is beauty. 

 

Cultivate this awareness in meditation and you can start bringing this sense of freedom into your everyday life. Meditation is meant to make your life better. So throw out the rigid thinking and start doing that today—whether you fall asleep during your practice or not.

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