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Why Is It So Hard for Me to Meditate When Sleepy or Anxious?

No matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation, there will be times when you find it really difficult to sit still and stay aware of your experience.

Two main difficulties that you’ll likely experience time and time again in meditation are feeling sleepy and lethargic or feeling anxious and very busy. In this blog and video we’ll explore and normalise what these challenges are and how you can overcome difficulties during your meditation practice.

Difficulties Feeling Sleepy in Meditation

Feeling sleepy and even nodding off to sleep is one of the hardest things to resist when you’re doing a meditation practice.

It's not that often during the day that you really take the time just to sit down or lie down without being busy doing another activity. As you come to a still and comfortable position and allow your body to relax, you might start to notice that your thoughts start to slow down and you feel more calm.

However, as you start to feel more peaceful and relaxed you will often start to also feel tired and groggy. Then there’s a point where your mind starts to drift off, you become unaware, and start to drift off to sleep.

There’s a feeling of your mind drifting away and your body wants to go with it.

Feeling sleepy in meditation can often be quite a nice sensation. Especially if you’re lying down on your back. But the big challenge here is that as we start to fall asleep we become unaware and this prevents us from meditating.

Fighting the urge to sleep in meditation can be one of the hardest things to do. But it is possible to overcome and continue meditating!

The first thing you want to consider, is are you getting enough sleep in general? If the answer to that is no, then I would suggest doing your best to rectify this first before doing meditation.

And then the second question you might ask yourself is, are you meditating at a time of day when you feel alert? If it’s possible for your schedule, its ideal to choose to meditate at a time where you’re not already feeling tired because that will mean you have less change to succumbing to sleepiness.

Now once you’ve addressed these two aspects and are still getting drowsy in meditation, see if you can resist the urge to fall to sleep. If you’re doing meditation practices lying down there you’ll likely feel sleepy more often because your body is used to sleeping when you're lying down and comfortable.

One easy adjustment to make is try meditating in a seated position rather than lying on your back.

You can also allow your eyes to open when you feel sleepy to become more alert. This will help to give you a little bit more energy. You could have your gaze looking down to help you stay concentrated and focused in your meditation practice. And then once that period of tightness has gone you could try closing your eyes again.

In general, the most important way to address sleepiness in meditation is to believe that you can overcome it. And take actions when meditating to catch yourself as you get sleepy and re-focus your mind so that you can continue your meditation practice.

Sleepy meditation

Feeling Anxious or Distracted in Meditation

The other challenge that you'll face quite frequently when you're doing meditation is the opposite of feeling sleepy. Instead of your thoughts starting to slow down and your mind feeling more calm, you'll find that your mind is very busy caught up in thoughts and feelings.

This is also a big challenge when trying to meditate!

Your mind feels so busy that it either you’ve become completely caught up in your thoughts and forgotten about trying to meditate. Or you’re finding it really hard to sit still and keep focused on your meditation technique.

In some ways, feeling anxious or distracted in meditation is easier to address than feeling sleepy. Because at least there’s more chance for you to notice that you’re mind has wandered away and come back to your meditation practice.

At the same time, these feelings of anxiety, busyness, and distraction can also be confronting and make you feel discouraged during your meditation practice. Making you feel that you either don’t want to meditate or don’t enjoy it.

The most important thing to remember in these circumstances is that this is quite a normal process that everyone goes through while meditating.

Every moment that you notice your mind was distracted by thoughts and feelings, is a moment of becoming aware again.

One of the best things to do when you’re struggling with a busy mind and strong emotions while meditating is starting to use a specific focal point to observe.

Observing your breathing can be an extremely helpful way to start to refocus your mind. You could start by controlling and slowing down your breathing as a way to shift your attention away from your busy mind.

Then if you start to find that your mind becomes a bit more quiet again you could choose to soften your breath again and simply sit in open observation and awareness. While if your mind continues to stay preoccupied and busy you can continue focusing on a controlled breath to practice concentration.

Another thing you could try is to set a timer and try to at least sit in stillness for 10 or 15 minutes, even if your mind feels very busy. Resisting any strong urge to stand up and stop the meditation immediately, but instead seeing if you can keep sitting with a kind attitude. Doing your best to recenter your focus every time your mind wonders away. 

Anxious meditation

Understanding the Difficulties of Meditation

For most of us we’ll move through waves of both sleepiness and agitation during our meditation practices. Perhaps at one point feeling lethargic and at another point more energetic and a little agitated.

Hopefully, we’ll also experience at some small points in the middle a sense of quietness and peacefulness. But this isn’t a given during each meditation practice!

You might have some days where you feel very focused at the start your meditation practice and then have other days where you feel preoccupied with a lots of thoughts or strong feelings.

As you start to ease in to your meditation you may experience that as your thoughts are dropping away or slowing down you also feel extremely tired. And then you do your best to try and observe what’s happening and resist the urge to fall asleep.

Then there are those fleeting moments or periods where you feel alert but not high energy and calm but not sleepy. And it’s particularly during these moments that you want to try your best to allow the peaceful moments to be there but without becoming too attached to the experience.

We're not striving for every meditation practice to feel enjoyable and completely at ease.

But instead acknowledging that the only constant thing is that however you feel in one particular moment—whether that’s sleepy, anxious or calm—will keep changing and evolving.

And the best that we can do is to make the time to do a meditation practice and meet ourself exactly where we are on a given day and time.

I hope that by acknowledging and normalizing these everyday challenges in meditation that everyone will experience will be helpful for you to understand why it can feel so hard to meditate and what to do when these challenges occur.

With this in mind, I suggest for you to now try a meditation practice and see if you can bring a little more kindness, focus and understanding when you start to feel sleepy or anxious.


Happy practicing!

💛 Irene


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