Help! I keep falling asleep during mindfulness
Published 11 December 2020. Written by Chris Worfolk.
Tens of thousands of students have taken our mindfulness courses. As a result, I see a few questions come up time and again. One of which is "I keep falling asleep while trying to do mindfulness!" If you can relate to this, this article is for you.
Mindfulness and relaxation
Some people find mindfulness very hard. Others find it relaxing. I have previously written about this in my blog post "if you find mindfulness relaxing, you're not doing it right". So, if you do find it hard, do not worry, you are doing it right!
If you find it relaxing, this could be for several reasons. First, you may be low in anxiety or neuroticism. Rejoice, you are not as anxious as you thought you were! Second, it could be that the exercise is not rooted in mindfulness. Deep breathing, for example, does not necessarily have to contain a mindfulness element.
Third, it might be that your mindfulness practice needs a little tweaking. If you think this might be you, read on.
One of the things I stress in all of our mindfulness courses is that you want to be alert and awake. It is not a relaxation exercise, so we want to be comfortable. But what does comfort mean in this context?
Comfort means not in pain. You may think you need to sit down with crossed legs, for example, but this is not the case. Even though I do this in some of my videos, I do not recommend it because unless you do a lot of yoga, you may find it uncomfortable to sit cross-legged without moving for ten minutes. A hard-backed chair is much better.
However, I always advise people to avoid lying down on a bed or using a soft armchair because doing this will naturally lead you to relax and become lethargic. This is not what we are aiming for.
If you are going to lie down, do it on a hard floor.
Time of day
Maybe you need to play around with the time of day you are practising. If you are doing it right before bed, you are likely to be winding down and becoming drowsy anyway. It may be you need to practice first thing in the morning, or at lunchtime or early evening.
Without sounding too much like a school teacher shouting at a wayward child, are you paying attention to the practice?
Choosing to focus is a deliberate act. We need to take our attention and place it on the exercise. We need to concentrate on the instructions and make sure we follow them. These are all things I have been guilty of failing to do in the past!
Keep your eyes open
Maybe you associate closing your eyes with going to sleep. If so, try keeping your eyes open.
I typically recommend people closing their eyes during the exercises so that they do not get distracted. But if you find it easy to stay focused with your eyes open (because you are less likely to drift off), there is no reason why you cannot keep your eyes open.
Try different practices
Some exercises will lend themselves to nodding off more than others. A simple breath meditation or body scan, for example, is not as active as something like our focus meditation. Therefore, it may be easier to stay alert and awake with the latter.
Falling asleep during mindfulness practices is a common problem that I hear from both my students and many others. If so, great, at least you know you have a cure for insomnia should you ever need it!
The number one cause is making yourself too comfortable: typically by lying down. To avoid this, change your position to a more alert and awake one. If you are still having problems, follow the other four steps I have outlined above.