An experience you’ll face while meditating is feeling tired either during or after your session. I know I’ve faced sleepiness countless times in my practice.
Whenever this happens, it’s easy to think that something’s wrong. It can be frustrating. But I hope you can find comfort in knowing that it happens—it’s normal.
There are several reasons you might feel tired in your practice, and we’ll dive into a few of the common ones here.
1.) Meditating to Undo Stress
Our days are busy. When jumping from one thing to the next and juggling personal and professional responsibilities, it’s easy to feel like we’re “always on.” It’s as though there’s not enough time to get things done, and we need a heightened flow of energy coursing through our veins to make a dent in our to-do list.
While this heightened flow can often help us be productive, constantly going and going is not sustainable. And its effects can range from stress and anxiety to mental and even physical exhaustion.
Whenever we’re stressed, our bodies gear up for the situation by activating the fight-or-flight response. The heart rate goes up, the digestive system inhibits, blood pumps to our muscles, and the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increases, among other processes. It’s a reaction that keeps us alert. It’s also one that has helped us survive.
Depending on the technique, meditation can switch on the rest-and-digest (because we like rhymes) response that essentially unravels stress.
The heart rate slows down, the digestive system switches on, blood flow slows down, stress hormones reduce, and a general feeling of calmness and ease ensues. It’s a way for our body to counter the effects of the fight-or-flight response.
Depending on how stressed you are, this shift to counter the effects of being always on can leave you feeling sleepy*.
*Again, feeling sleepy is normal. It’s why many people enjoy meditation so much because they reduce the levels of stress in their bodies.
2.) Meditating at the Wrong Time
Some people fall asleep because they choose a time to meditate when they’re tired. This could be right after waking up in the morning, before going to sleep at night, or even after eating.
Because many meditation techniques reduce stress, if you meditate when you’re tired, any additional relaxation can tip the scales just enough for you to fall asleep. So if you’re still waking up in the morning or winding down from the day, practicing while tired will make it more difficult to stay awake.
Hearing that meditating when you’re tired makes it easy to fall asleep sounds obvious, but it can be an easy miss. The more you do this, the more you associate meditation with falling asleep.
Digesting food can also affect your levels of wakefulness. Think about how you felt the last time you ate a large meal. Did it make you tired? If so, that’s because digesting food requires energy. And if you meditate after eating, the energy required in the digestion process can leave you feeling drowsy. If it didn’t make you feel tired, it’s possible that the energy shift left you more vulnerable to distractions.
That’s why many teachers, present company included, recommend not meditating right after eating.
3.) Meditating While Laying Down
Sitting cross-legged isn’t the only way to meditate. This is something people think they have to do because it’s how it’s often portrayed. Especially the lotus position.
Trust me, if you haven’t practiced sitting this way, it’s uncomfortable. The purpose of sitting in the lotus is supposed to slow the blood flow to the legs so it can flow up to the areas of the body to trigger deeper states of consciousness.
I personally don’t like when my legs fall asleep, but I digress.
You can meditate while either sitting, laying, standing, or walking. If laying down, because we often associate this position with sleeping, it’s easy to fall asleep. I sound like a broken record but switching on the relaxation response plus settling into a position that we’ve used our entire lives to fall asleep is a recipe for drifting off.
It is possible to meditate while laying down, but it takes a bit of effort to train yourself how not to fall asleep.
If you fall asleep during meditation here and there, that’s okay! Sometimes, this is your body’s way of telling you you need rest. And meditation can lead to deep, refreshing sleep. If you’re stressed out and this happens, enjoy it. You deserve it.
Other times, falling asleep results from the time or place you choose, and even physical position. But if you find that you’re falling asleep every single time even while trying to stay awake, that’s definitely a sign that you need some attention in that area.
Thanks for tuning in.