Why Do I Fall Asleep When Meditating, When Sleeping At Night Feels Impossible?Oct 30, 2023
Have you ever wondered why you have such a hard time sleeping at night and yet the second you go to meditate or do breathwork it becomes almost impossible to stay awake?
It is estimated that 30-35% of adults experience sleep problems. To put it into context, that is about 1.79-1.99 billion people worldwide!
As you can see sleep disturbances and insomnia are very common with many of us tossing and turning all night long, and yet…
It is Easy to Fall Asleep When Meditating
Anyone who regularly practices a sedentary (non-moving) form of mindfulness (meditation, breathwork, yoga nidra, etc.) knows how challenging it can be to stay awake. Personally, the second my yoga nidra instructor says “try not to sleep” I’m out regardless of how hard I try to stay conscious.
The whole reason most mindfulness practices are done sitting instead of lying down is because instructors know that if their students are lying down, they are likely to drift off instead of remaining in conscious awareness.
It is Easy to Accidently Drift Off When We Are Bored
This isn’t just a problem in meditation. How often did you accidentally fall asleep in class as a teenager?
I know I personally have managed to fall asleep at some very inconvenient times, including in yin yoga poses such as spinal twist and pigeon during the height of my insomnia experience and (one memorable time) sitting in a meeting, facing my boss when I was jet lagged. Boy was that embarrassing!!
So why is it that so many of us struggle to stay awake during a 20-minute breathwork session, only to toss and turn for hours when we try to go to bed?
The key word here is try.
Paradoxical Intention and Isomnia
Have you ever heard of something called paradoxical intent?
Paradoxical intention is a therapeutic technique commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy and it involves encouraging a person to intentionally engage in or amplify the symptoms or behaviors they wish to change, with the goal of reducing their occurrence or impact.
The concept is based on the paradox that sometimes, when people try too hard to control or eliminate an unwanted behavior, it can exacerbate the issue. Basically, becoming emotionally invested and over trying makes it worse!
Paradoxical Intention Gives a Sense of Control
By consciously and deliberately exaggerating the undesired behavior, the individual may feel a sense of control, which diminishes the anxiety and pressure associated with that behavior. This can lead to a reduction in its frequency or intensity.
For instance, in the context of sleep issues or insomnia, paradoxical intention might involve instructing someone to try to stay awake rather than actively attempting to fall asleep. By deliberately trying to stay awake, the pressure to sleep is reduced, and the person may find it easier to naturally drift off.
This technique can be effective in reducing performance anxiety, phobias, and certain obsessive behaviors. It operates on the principle that by challenging the fear or issue directly and humorously, it can lose its power over the individual, leading to a reduction in its impact.
Stop Trying to Sleep
So, what does this mean for you and how can paradoxical intent be useful?
Essentially, science is giving you permission not to try! The road to hell (or in this case hellish experiences) is paved with good intentions.
Of course, you want to sleep well so you can feel great, be good at your job and take care of your family. Who wouldn’t want to do these things? That said, how well has your current strategy of worrying, obsessing and trying to control sleep been working for you?
How would it feel to release control (even temporarily) and try another way?
Fixing Insomnia is All Bout What You Can Control
Paradoxical intent (and sleep behavior) is all about focusing on what you CAN control instead of what you can’t and often this shift in focus makes all the difference.
As much as society would love to convince us we all need 7-9 hrs sleep, this is really a moot point as sleep is an automatic process (like digesting food and growing (up not out!) which we can not control.
We can set optimal conditions (such as leaving enough time in our schedules to accommodate sleep) but we do not get to just push a button and choose the exact moment it occurs.
Interestingly enough, we have much more control over staying awake. Putting focus here gives people a sense of control. It also reduces the stress of not sleeping (because you are choosing to be awake!) This lowers stress hormones and (paradoxically) can help clients sleep.
That is why I, and many other sleep experts, encourage clients NOT to try.
How to Practice Paradoxical Intention For Insomnia
You can implement this in several ways. Some clients find it helpful to lie in bed and actively try NOT to sleep (note if you are trying not to sleep so that you can sleep this likely will not work. You can’t fool your body in this way!) REALLY try not to sleep. Focus on keeping your eyes open, counting, thinking of a funny story or a book etc.
Others prefer to get up and many even leave the room. A great, low-pressure way to do this is to give up having a bedtime.
Simply keep a consistent wake time and make a concentrated effort NOT to check the time, as this will only serve to stress you out about not sleeping. Remember, if your intention is REALLY to stay awake then you likely would not care what time it is.
So, try to stop checking the clock around (or a bit before) the time you would normally go to bed and just make a concentrated effort to enjoy your evening.
Relax and read or listen to an audiobook, take a bath or sauna, clean, cook, watch a funny movie. Whatever makes being awake more comfortable for you and see what happens.
Remember, while you may not be able to control sleep you can control your reactions to it.
Interested in Learning More?
If you would like to learn more or book an individual session, please visit the Memberships page.
In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!
SUBSCRIBE FOR WEEKLY SLEEP TIPS
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.