One of the biggest obstacles meditators face is staying awake during their practice. Meditation can be extremely relaxing and it’s natural to feel like dozing off. However, the more you can stay awake and aware, the more benefits you’ll receive from your practice. Here are my 8 best fool-proof solutions to help you stay awake and mindful!
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We’ve all experienced this before. You’ve just sat down for your meditation session. You’re pumped up and ready to go, when all of a sudden, it hits you like a million fluffy pillows on the world’s most comfortable mattress. You’re completely relaxed and all you want to do is FALL ASLEEP.
If this has happened to you, first know that you are not alone. Falling asleep is not a sign that you are bad at mindfulness—it’s a totally natural reaction to being in a state of relaxation. I’ve been there more times than I can count. If I’m being completely honest, half the time, I’m more inclined to fall asleep rather than to “fall awake” during my meditation. The reality is though, unless the purpose of your meditation is to help you fall asleep at night, the more awake and alert you are during your practice, the more you can stay open and aware. Being fully conscious is the core of mindfulness meditation, so it’s important to try to stay awake as best you can, in order to fully benefit from your practice.
Falling asleep during my meditation practice is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced on my mindfulness journey. I know how frustrating it can be, so using my own practice as a guide, I’ve complied eight super easy and guaranteed ways to help you conquer that frustration and achieve your best state of wakefulness. I’ve ordered these solutions in steps from what I feel you should try first. If the first one doesn’t do it for you then try the second one and then the third and so on and so forth. You can also totally disregard the order and do whatever sounds best or easiest for you. Just like always on F&F, I encourage you to pick your own path and choose your own fairytale.
Okay, ready?? Let’s go!
1. Switch Positions
Most people tend to meditate either sitting on the floor or lying down. While these positions are great, they don’t necessarily promote the most wakefulness if we’re already sleepy.
If you’re lying down and drowsy, try sitting up. If you’re sitting and drowsy, try standing up. If you’re standing and drowsy, try walking. Shift your position as much as you need to, in order to achieve full wakefulness. Almost all mindfulness meditations, including body scans and breathing anchor meditations, can be done in any position. Try out different positions and see what works best for you.
Just remember that meditation is about resting in stillness, so try to choose a position before you start and stick with it the best you can.
2. Open your Eyes
Many of us tend to meditate with our eyes closed. Closing our eyes during meditatin helps to lessen external distractions and allows us to focus inward. However, closing our eyes can also cause us to fall asleep, if we’re tired. The simple solution to this is to open your eyes for a period of time until you feel more alert. Many meditators actually prefer to meditate with their eyes open, in order to maintain an openness. In her book Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron actually recommends keeping your eyes open in her meditation instruction. I absolutely love Pema Chodron (check out The Pocket Pema Chödrön for some of her best nuggets of wisdom), so if she meditates with her eyes open, I’m more than happy to give it a try!
If you do choose to open your eyes for your meditation practice, just make sure that your eyes aren’t wandering around and getting distracted by other things. You should look toward the ground and dull your vision as best you can, so you can still focus on what’s going on inside of you.
3. Walk it Off
In my opinion, walking meditations are totally underrated. Although your body is moving, walking meditation has a way of settling the mind in a very unique way. Mindful walking is a fantastic solution to sleepiness during meditation because it’s extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to fall asleep when you’re walking.
It’s a known fact that walking keeps you alert. Walking improves your blood circulation and increases energizing brain chemicals. Walking meditations do all of that for you, while also helping you cultivate mindfulness. It’s a win-win. While you don’t want to start doing walking meditations exclusively, incorporating them into your practice a few times a week can help you stay alert and add a new dimension to your practice.
If you’re unfamiliar with walking meditation, Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program book and CD set contains a whole section on it to get your started. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a whole book on mindful walking and walking meditation, check out The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation by: Thich Nhat Hanh. The guidance is unparalleled and the photographs are breathtaking.
4. Move Around
This is a similar principle to walking meditations. When you move around, you immediately become more alert. This is where mindful movement meditations can be super helpful. Many people think that meditation is all about sitting on a cushion following your breath. While using your breath as an anchor is one way to meditate, the breath isn’t the only thing you can use as an anchor. Mindful movement couples the breath with movement. Paying attention to how your body feels when you move it can be both healing and revitalizing. Plus, it keeps you awake.
Mindful movement can include gentle yoga, stretching, or guided movements. The main idea is that you use both the movement and your breath as the anchor. The movements do not have to be big or complicated, you just need to pay attention to them in an open and non-judgmental way.
I love the 10-minute mindful movement practice included in You Are Not Your Pain by: Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman. It’s easy, quick, and relaxing. I particularly recommend it for those who suffer from any type of chronic pain or illness, especially those who may not be used to moving much (just be careful and take it slow!) For a more general mindful movement guide, check out Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being by: Thich Nhat Hanh, which also includes a DVD.
5. Change your Timing
If you’re consistently feeling drowsy or sleepy during your meditation, it could be the time of day. It’s important to pick a time to meditate, when you’ll be in your most awake state. For awhile, I would always meditate after lunch because I didn’t want to be hungry during my practice. I found instead that I was incredibly sleepy during theses post-lunch meditation sessions, particularly after heavier meals. This actually makes perfect sense. Digestion is hard work for the body—it’s totally natural to feel sleepy after a meal. Switching my daily meditation from right after lunch to an hour or two after breakfast made a world of difference for me. I wasn’t hungry, but I wasn’t tired either. Perfect!
If you meditate around the same time everyday and you’re finding tiredness to be a reoccurring problem, try changing your timing and see if that helps. I’ve personally found that it’s best to meditate during the day and 1-3 hours before or after a meal, so you’re neither hungry nor sleepy during your practice. It might take some trial and error, but moving your meditation practice to your most alert time of day is key to achieving full wakefulness.
6. Splash Cold Water on Your Face
This is a simple yet effective way of staying alert, not just in meditation, but in a lot of situations. Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends this before the body scan on his CD Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief (one of my all-time favorite meditation CDs), and I’ve found it to be highly effective. If I worry that I’m going to doze off, I splash cold water on my face for about 30 seconds right before my meditation session and it instantly wakes me up. Fast, easy, foolproof. Not much else to say here.
7. Drink green tea
The first six strategies work really well, if I’m just a little drowsy or a bit tired, which is the case most of the time. However, there are days when I’m just plain exhausted. I didn’t get enough sleep or I’m completely drained from the day. That’s when I turn to green tea to help keep me focused during my meditation practice. I drink one 8 oz. cup made with 1-2 green tea bags about 30 minutes to an hour before my practice. It makes all the difference.
I personally think that green tea is much better for staying awake during meditation than coffee. It has just enough caffeine to keep you alert, but not enough to make you jittery. Green tea also contains an amino acid called L-Theanine. L-Theanine relaxes the nervous system, which I’ve found can actually help me in my meditation practice.
While I love all green teas, I’m particularly fond of Tazo Zen Green Tea , especially before my meditation practice. It’s a delicious green tea blend with lemongrass and spearmint. It’s refreshing and the mint really wakes up my senses. I always feel revitalized and alert after I drink it. If you’re looking for a straightforward green tea, I like Choice Organic Premium Japanese Green Tea or this one here (extra points for organic!)
Please note, I only use green tea as a last resort, if the choice is between drinking some caffeine or not being able to do my meditation. This solution should not be relied upon as a regular part of your practice and I only encourage you to try it if solutions 1-6 aren’t working for you. Too much caffeine can interfere with mindfulness and should be used sparingly.
8. Accept it
The last, but most powerful, solution for staying awake during meditation is to simply accept the tiredness. Meditation teaches us to accept the things that we cannot change and, sometimes, sleepiness is something we cannot change. You should never try too hard or strive too much with your meditation practice. There’s a reason why we call it a PRACTICE—it’s not going to be perfect every time (or anytime really), but you learn from each session and that’s the important part.
For me, there was a period of time when I hadn’t gotten enough sleep for weeks and was constantly exhausted. I became so frustrated with myself to the point of almost wanting to give up on my practice. Thankfully though, I didn’t give up. I powered through despite the exhaustion and frustration. I accepted that this is just how things were for me right now and stopped worrying that I was going fall asleep during my practice forever. It made all the difference. I actually turned my attention TOWARD my tiredness and used it as an anchor. Ironically, this helped me stay awake.
When it comes to meditation, you should never be hard on yourself or beat yourself up. Just take your practice one day at a time and accept each day, and each moment, for what it is—use it as an opportunity instead of seeing it as an obstacle. This goes for so many more things besides just tiredness too!
So, what about you?? Do you ever experience falling asleep during meditation? What do you do when this happens? Which of the above solutions, do you find the most helpful (if any)? Comment below and let me know!
Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change by: Pema Chodron
Why Do I Think Better After I Exercise? from Scientific American
EGCG and L-Theanine: Unique Brain Boosters in Green Tea from Be Brain Fit