Sleepy meditations﹘What to do

Sleepiness during meditation is quite common. Even advanced practitioners have periods of drowsiness in their meditations. But sleepiness is not necessarily a problem, even if it does not go away. In fact, there are ways to use it to enhance the results of meditation.

Sleepiness in meditation has several elements. We will look at three important ones: physical, mental/emotional, and life circumstances.

Physical elements of sleepiness

When you get sleepy in meditation, you tend to lose your ideal body posture to one extent or another. In the extreme, you may suddenly feel that you are falling forward or backward, perhaps because you’ve nodded off for a moment. Or maybe you just lean or drop your head forward or slump your lower back.

If any of those happen, here are some solutions to try:

Mental and emotional elements of sleepiness

You may experience sleepiness during meditation by becoming less alert, as discomfort, or even as pleasure. Each has specific techniques to overcome or, in the case of pleasure, you can actually use the sleepiness as a door to deeper insight into the mind.

How to become more alert

Sleepiness often involves a loss of concentration and sensory clarity. Here are some ways to sharpen your attention and become more alert:

How to work with sleepy discomfort

How to surf on sleepiness or dive into it

Being sleepy is a brilliant opportunity to use the body’s natural relaxation to study restful states. Here is a method to work effectively with this deep relaxation. With practice, it also gives you a door into deeper parts of the mind.

  1. Note that sleepiness comes in waves.
  2. With each wave pay attention to two types, which can come at the same time.
    a) A wave that causes you to fall asleep. Make an effort not to lose consciousness when this kind of wave occurs.
    b) A wave of rest. Notice and appreciate this type of wave. Let it lead you deeper and deeper into rest.

Life conditions and insomnia

If you get sleepy every time you meditate, ask yourself if you get enough sleep. Sleep researchers generally agree that most people need 7–9 hours of sleep each night to function well.

All meditation can support deeper sleep, but if you get too little sleep, a 20-minute nap or sleep meditation (see below) might be a better investment of time than formal sitting practice.

Sleep meditation

With some training, meditation can be an alternative to sleep, especially if you experience insomnia. Here is how you do it:

  1. Lie in bed in a sleeping position and choose one meditation technique. I recommend a calm breathing meditation or focusing on rest, but in principle, you can use almost any meditation.
  2. Avoid moving the body, to give both the body and the brain rest and peace. Remember that neither the body nor the brain ever sleeps 100%, so you are just trying to minimize activities as much as possible

This can be very useful for jet lag, during meditation retreats where every hour of sleep counts, and other situations. It also works for more severe insomnia or when stress interferes with sleep.


Adapted and extended from Shinzen Young’s From Fuzz to Buzz: Suggestions for Breaking Through Sleepiness During Meditation Practice