How To Deal With Sleepiness During Meditation

by Asatar Bair on August 15, 2011

I got this interesting question recently:

Many of my meditation experiences, especially if they are long, seem to put me almost to sleep. Sometimes I do go to sleep. If they are short, say 5-10 minutes, I don’t go to sleep or even get drowsy.

But even if that ‘nothing’ space is there, I’m sure it is useful, because I used to be so inwardly anxious, and now after about 35 years of practicing various forms of meditating, it takes a great crisis to get me anxious, and even then, not all of me is anxious.

There is a very large part of me that is very calm, strong and stable. People around me can even feel it. Would you please comment on the sleepiness? — NDP

This is a great reason to meditate that you’ve expressed here, NDP: to develop that feeling of calmness, strength and stability that is communicated through your atmosphere as a sense of peace.

In this way, meditation can become much more than just a way of healing yourself, though it is a very powerful way of doing that.

There are a few reasons why one might get the feeling of sleepiness that you describe during meditation.

  1. Let’s start with the most obvious: you might not be getting enough sleep. Try to move toward a regular schedule, stay away from caffeine after 2 pm, and move toward calmer activities as the evening progreses.
  2. You may be not be breathing fully enough. When you breathe deeply and fully, but also slowly and silently, as we do in Heart Rhythm Meditation, the feeling of being sleepy evaporates very quickly. If you’re not sure if you’re breathing fully, you’re probably not. Breathing fully takes effort and focus. A good exercise to attain the ability to breathe fully is the Square Breath, described in Living from the Heart by Puran and Susanna Bair.
  3. You may be having an experience that is so deep and profound that a part of your mind resists it, which produces a feeling of being sleepy. More breath is helpful here, too. But this kind of powerful experience doesn’t happen every time you sit down to meditate. So if you are getting this feeling quite often, I’d say look more toward (1) and (2).

Combining the full breath with what you have learned through your many years of practice will really take you to the next level, NDP.

One thing that can really help is the webcourse 101: Introduction to HRM.

Yours in the One Heart,

P.S. I hope you can join us in Tucson for the Embarkation Celebration of the IAM University of the Heart Class of 2013!


Silver Angel August 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm

One thing my teacher said that helped me when I was learning was something he had said before, but I obviously hadn’t ‘heard’ him!
That thing was, ‘Listen to your breathing’
Light bulb moment! From that day on, he never had to remind me to ‘try not to fall asleep’ ….
I made sure my ‘out’ breath was audible, when ever I felt like I was drifting too far away, and that helped me to remember things I saw/heard/experienced during the meditation. I had had a problem previously, so that helped me a lot.
Simple, wasn’t it!!
It resonated with me and I never go to sleep now , unless I want to.
I hope this helps someone.
Silver Angel
Spread the Love

Asatar Bair August 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Hi Silver Angel,
Making your exhalation audible can be a good way of reminding yourself to engage your abdominal muscles and breathe more fully. In Heart Rhythm Meditation, we strive to make the breath full, deep, and silent. It’s breathing fully that keeps you awake; making your breath audible is caused by a restriction in the throat or sinuses, which detracts from an appreciation of the subtle dimensions of the breath.
Thank you for your comment

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