Why You Keep Falling Asleep While Meditating and How To Stop (Because We’ve All Been There)

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Meditation falls right at the intersection of focusing intently and relaxing, and the benefits speak to both: On the one hand, it’s been shown to help improve cognitive function1 and even increase gray matter in your brain2; and on the other hand, meditating can lower stress3 and your risk of cardiovascular disease4. But accessing this unique set of perks means actually meditating… and not falling asleep during meditation (which, to be clear, is a different thing).

You know how it goes: One second your eyes are softly closed, and you're breathing deeply and listening to the soothing voice of an instructor on your go-to meditation app. And then 30 minutes later, you find yourself waking up with a puddle of drool on your yoga mat. If your meditation sessions tend to lead to an accidental power nap, you're not alone.

Experts In This Article

One of the main reasons behind falling asleep during meditation is simple: It can be hard to find the perfect balance between calm focus and relaxation, especially when you're first starting out in your practice. If you’re also coming to a meditation practice while sleep-deprived or tired, it’s very easy to veer too far toward the relaxation side every now and then, says Matt Young, founder and director of the Melbourne Meditation Centre. The result? Peacefully passing out.

“Physiologically, [meditation] mirrors what happens when we fall asleep, so if the meditator is at all sleep-deprived, then this movement toward relaxation is enough to tip them into sleep.” —Matt Young, founder and director of the Melbourne Meditation Centre

“Meditation relaxes the body and mind quickly and deeply,” Young says. “Physiologically, this process mirrors what happens when we fall asleep, so if the meditator is at all sleep-deprived, then this movement toward relaxation is enough to tip them into sleep.”

Why do I keep falling asleep during meditation?

Falling asleep during meditation (or any other activity, for that matter) is a sign that our bodies are fatigued and craving rest, says meditation expert Susan Chen, founder of Susan Chen Vedic Meditation. “I know this sounds like too simplified of an answer, but it’s really this straightforward,” she says.

Simply put, if you're not getting enough sleep at night—that is, roughly seven to nine hours—it's only natural that you'd drift off the second you get comfortable, relax, and close your eyes, even if your intention was to meditate. And if you're meditating during times of the day when you may have low energy anyway (like after lunch, after work, first thing in the morning, or right before bed), there’s all the greater chance that your mind will just try to get the rest it needs.

“Most of us have been carrying around months, years, even decades of accumulated fatigue,” says Chen. Late nights and early mornings spent working, parenting, partying, or pursuing other activities can all contribute to our desire for more sleep, even at inopportune times. The same thing goes for being ill; you probably already feel sleepier and need more sleep when sick, so any meditating in that state is bound to have you nodding off in minutes.

“Once the body gets a little taste of [rest or relaxation], it will naturally lean into this feeling and begin the process of falling into a deep state of restful sleep,” Chen explains.

Add to that the fact that key components of meditation mimic the early stages of sleep—closed eyes, breathing slowly—and it’s no surprise that people fall asleep during meditation when they’re fatigued, says clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD. Even the brain waves of a person who’s meditating5 have been shown to be similar to that of a person in early sleep stages. Plus, you might even choose to meditate on your bed or in your bedroom, or while lying down, all of which just furthers the association between meditation and sleep.

However, the main culprit is almost always just coming to the meditation sleep-deprived, Dr. Breus reiterates. “Then, during the meditation, as their heart rate slows, their body wants to take advantage of this and get some much-needed sleep”—even at the expense of meditation time.

Is it good or bad to fall asleep during meditation?

There’s nothing inherently bad about falling asleep during meditation, especially if it’s something your body needs. According to Chen, it’s actually seen as a good thing in Vedic meditation because it indicates that you’re not overly stressed or using too much effort to focus on the task at hand.

“Typically, we prop ourselves up with stress chemistry to get through our days, resulting in us staying in a low-grade ‘fight or flight’ response for the majority of the day,” says Chen. But when we feel relaxed enough during meditation that we start falling asleep, it’s a sure sign that the body is moving away from that stress response and into a positive “stay and play” response.

This restful state allows the body to better process and release “past stresses and experiences of overwhelm and fatigue,” says Chen.

That said, Dr. Breus points out that if your intention while meditating is to stay focused and alert throughout the practice, sleep will get in the way of that goal. “Being asleep or unconscious is a very different state to get to than what is trying to be accomplished by meditation, which would be feeling present,” he explains.

What is the difference between deep meditation and falling asleep?

Because meditation is a calming experience, there’s always the chance that you’ll feel so at peace at the end of your practice that you just assume you fell asleep. Even if you aren’t sleeping, your brain might associate deep meditation with falling asleep because leaving a meditative state often feels like the first few moments of waking up, says Young: You might feel unaware of where exactly you are, or feel like you were just in a dream. But unless you’ve actually fallen asleep during meditation, you were probably just very deeply relaxed, he says.

According to Chen, there are fundamental differences between being unconscious while asleep and the “transcendent state of consciousness,” also known as the fourth state of consciousness, which we experience during deep meditation.

“In the fourth state of consciousness, the mind is deep and still with subtle thinking impulses, and there is a layer of awareness of meditation,” explains Chen. “We call this state restful alertness, and when we are steeped in restful alertness, the mind is anchored in the present moment, and we are attuned to the connectedness between our inner and outer nature.”

“When we are steeped in restful alertness, the mind is anchored in the present moment, and we are attuned to the connectedness between our inner and outer nature.” —Susan Chen, meditation expert

Chen describes this experience of restful alertness as one that feels “super blissful and meaningful.” And while sleep can also be a blissful (and needed!) experience, we’re not conscious of what’s happening while asleep like we are during deep meditation. “We delight in sleep because of how it makes us feel after we wake up, not during the experience,” says Chen. “There is no awareness of what’s happening in the here and now while asleep.” (Unless, of course, you’re lucid dreaming… but your imaginary capabilities would give that away.)

Can meditating help me sleep at night?

Because it’s inherently relaxing, meditation is often suggested as something to try if you have trouble falling—or staying—asleep. Being still, lying down, breathing slowly and deeply, and leaning into meditation’s restful nature can help you destress and in turn sleep easier.

“Many people use meditation to fall asleep, to sleep more restfully, or to get back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night,” Young explains.

In these cases, sleep is exactly what the person (and their mind and body) wants, so falling asleep is the best possible outcome.

How can I enhance my alertness and avoid falling asleep during meditation?

Falling asleep during meditation is an incredibly common occurrence, and one that both sleep and meditation experts agree is nothing to worry about. But it does mean you’re bypassing the actual meditative state (and its benefits) and going straight to dreamland.

So, if you want to avoid falling asleep during your next meditation session, read on for 14 expert pointers to lower your chances of drifting off.

1. Get enough sleep at night

The most common reason people fall asleep while meditating is because they’re sleep-deprived. So, if you want to be fully present and aware of your meditation, being well-rested is key.

“Make sure you get enough high-quality sleep…or you may end up sleeping through it all,” Dr. Breus says.

2. Separate your sleep and wake time

If you favor a morning meditation but find yourself frequently drifting back to dreamland, try adding a bit of a buffer between the time you wake up and when you actually start meditating. If you don't give your body some time to adjust, it'll be far too easy to just fall right back asleep again.

“If you don't want to fall asleep during meditation, one simple thing you can do is meditate at a time when you’re not sleepy,” says Young.

3. Don’t meditate in bed

It seems obvious, but meditating in your bed is just asking to fall asleep—that's what it's there for, after all. Your brain associates your bed with sleep, so finding a different location for mindful meditation is key. (That is, unless you’re meditating to help you fall asleep, in which case, by all means, stay in bed.)

4. Don’t lie down to meditate

Lying down during meditation may sound so nice, but it’s actually the easiest way to go from Zen to zzz's. Instead, find a comfortable spot to sit.

Simply put: “If you are lying down when meditating, then the chances of falling asleep are quite high,” Young says. Instead, consider investing in a meditation cushion, sitting cross-legged on the floor, or settling into your favorite chair the next time you meditate.

5. Breathe in some fresh air

If you're trying to avoid falling asleep during meditation, it’s important to create an environment that’s conducive to wakefulness. So, in addition to avoiding your bed and settling into a seated position instead, you can bring in some fresh air, too. Just open a window, and you'll perk right up once you feel the invigorating breeze.

If the weather outside is too hot (or too cold) to keep a window open, consider meditating by a fan to get a similar effect.

6. Make sure you’re hydrated

Drinking water invigorates your body and helps keep your energy levels up, so going into a meditation session well-hydrated is a great way to beat drowsiness.

Just don't drink too much—otherwise, you'll have another problem: having to go to the bathroom halfway through your practice.

7. Splash cold water on your face

Speaking of water, drinking it isn’t the only way it can help keep you awake. Splashing a bit of cold water onto your skin can instantly help wake you up—especially if you're planning on having a session in the morning.

8. Don't meditate after eating a big meal

Eating can add to the fatigue you may already be experiencing; your body needs what precious energy you have to digest the food, after all. And that can mean little energy left for meditating.

As a result, meditating right after a big meal can make you feel more tired and more inclined to drift off to sleep the second you close your eyes. Instead, try meditating before you eat.

9. Try a walking meditation

You don't have to sit with your eyes closed to reap the benefits of meditation. You’re far from likely to fall asleep while you're moving, so try switching to a walking meditation instead of a seated one for your next session. Bonus points if you walk outside so you can experience the feel-good meditation vibes and get some mood-boosting natural light exposure.

10. Or experiment with movement meditation

If walking isn’t your preferred mode of exercise, you can still give movement meditation a chance. Consider meditating while mindfully stretching, practicing one of your favorite yoga flows, or simply standing up while slowly moving your extremities.

The added movement will keep you alert and aware, but choosing something low impact won’t distract you from the relaxing elements of meditation. If you’re dealing with trauma stored in the body, you may also benefit from a shaking meditation, which involves shaking your entire body to release muscle patterns of stress, tension, and trauma.

11. Keep your meditation short and sweet

You don’t have to dedicate a ton of time to meditating in order to benefit from it. In fact, some experts swear that three-minute meditations are an ideal option, especially for beginners.

Not only can you ease your way into the mindfulness practice, but it’s almost impossible to fall asleep in just three minutes flat. These micro-meditations also give you the chance to experiment with different styles of meditation without allocating a ton of your free time to discovering what you like.

12. Don’t give up if you do nod off for a few minutes

“Meditators often have microsleeps, in which they drift off for a moment,” Young explains. “When this happens, the head often suddenly drops, and this motion wakes them up again.”

Just because you experience a microsleep doesn’t mean you need to abandon your practice for the day. You can try something as simple as lifting your shoulders up and down or turning your head side-to-side to get your blood flowing again before re-centering yourself in your meditation.

13. Embrace the idea that sleeping during meditation isn’t forever

It can be easy to get stressed out if you keep falling asleep during meditation when all you want is to be present and focused. Chen says it really isn’t something to worry about, though, adding that falling asleep can be a sign that your body is releasing deep-seated fatigue.

“When my students who practice Vedic meditation find themselves falling asleep a lot, I encourage them to stick with the meditations because those [moments of fatigue] are getting released as the sleep inside meditation is happening,” she says. Over time, however, those layers of fatigue will be released for good, she says, and you’ll be prepared to engage in those more transcendent, deep meditative experiences in your practice.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Basso, Julia C et al. “Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators.” Behavioural brain research vol. 356 (2019): 208-220. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023
  2. Tang, Rongxiang et al. “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Induces Gray Matter Changes in a Brain Hub.” Neural plasticity vol. 2020 8830005. 16 Nov. 2020, doi:10.1155/2020/8830005
  3. Jamil, Aneeque et al. “Meditation and Its Mental and Physical Health Benefits in 2023.” Cureus vol. 15,6 e40650. 19 Jun. 2023, doi:10.7759/cureus.40650
  4. Levine, Glenn N et al. “Meditation and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.” Journal of the American Heart Association vol. 6,10 e002218. 28 Sep. 2017, doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.002218
  5. Deolindo, Camila Sardeto et al. “A Critical Analysis on Characterizing the Meditation Experience Through the Electroencephalogram.” Frontiers in systems neuroscience vol. 14 53. 7 Aug. 2020, doi:10.3389/fnsys.2020.00053

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