When Falling Asleep While Meditating is Good

In the preceding blog post, I wrote about the wisdom of knowing when, and when not, to get into to psychologically sticky terrain. Most basically, we need two things: time and skill. We need the time to be able to relax and truly explore, without stress or tightness. And we need the skills to navigate difficult, sometimes unchartered, terrain.

Often meditators struggle with falling asleep. Sometimes the causes are pretty direct: you didn’t sleep well last night. Sometimes the causes are more systemic: you push too hard in general, and rely on stimulants to prop yourself up. Sit still long enough, and your body will take the opportunity to give itself the rest it needs.

On the other hand, sometimes falling asleep is just a matter of habit. We are rarely in a comfortable, quiet space with our eyes lowered, without any external stimulation, except when we are sleeping. So naturally we fall asleep while meditating.

Sometimes falling asleep is our mind’s way

of gently whispering “Just Ignore That.”

There’s also another reason why meditators fall asleep, and it’s not often talked about. Sometimes falling asleep is our mind’s way of gently whispering “Just Ignore That.”  Falling asleep can be a sign that something is percolating beneath the surface, something that you might not have the skills, or the time, or the strength to get into just yet. Just enough of that mysterious something seeps in to your conscious mind to cause you to fall asleep, but not enough to alert you to what it is (which is exactly the point — to fall asleep before it comes fully into consciousness). In these cases, sleeping is a sign of wisdom. It’s the mind’s way of saying, “Not yet. Take a break. Get some rest, and we’ll deal with that later.”

Unless you’re doing specific sleep practices, no one really likes to fall asleep when they’re meditating. It feels like a failure. But if we can bracket the judgement, see it as "just information," and respond sweetly and appropriately, there’s a lot to be learned.

For starters, we might become aware that we need to adjust our sleep schedule, or our lifestyle. We might learn that we need to acquire more meditation skills, as in “What should I do when I feel myself falling asleep?” And we might also uncover the inspiration to become psychologically stronger, and more patient and loving, so that we can accept and process anything that might be trying to push its way to the surface.  

Meditating is largely about

responding appropriately.

Meditating is largely about skill acquisition and responding appropriately (which often means with a fluid combination of self-protective boundaries and generous love/intention). It’s a humbling experience of trail and error. (Full disclosure, there's a tremendous amount of error, both on and off the cushion. And it's through that error that we refine our ability to respond more appropriately more of the time).  There’s also slow, gentle progress that soothes our aching hearts and troubled minds.  At times, real progress necessitates diving into the deep, dark waters of our subconsciousness, but that isn’t always appropriate.  But if you go down with all the proper gear and know-how, taking the plunge can reveal some pretty magical underwater worlds.

Do you fall asleep? Share your tactic for staying awake in the comments.

Megan MookComment