Trouble Falling Asleep - Dhamma Wheel

Trouble Falling Asleep

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby JustThis » Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:54 am

Whenever I am on retreat or putting in a lot time sitting at home I always have trouble falling asleep. I wait until I am tired but when I climb into bed my mind is often still very 'bright' or clear and concentrated. I have tried returning to practice while laying there under the covers but for some reason I can't fully return and end up alternating between being present and getting lost in thoughts. It sometimes takes 2-3 hours before I fall asleep, while on retreat I have had this happen for almost the whole night. Laying there isn't as bad as the sleep debt which affects me the next day. I once talked to a teacher about this, she said that normally falling asleep wasn't a problem for her but when it was she just read a book until she felt sleepy. Not quite the answer that I was looking for but maybe I should find one of those Pali translations from the 50's, and give it a shot.

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Jan 06, 2012 3:02 am

I've had a similar experience on retreat and asked about it on DW maybe two years ago. More experienced retreatants confirmed that meditating more than usual reduces your need for sleep and/or can cause what I called 'lucid sleeping' - being asleep but aware that you are asleep.
It is certainly not a long-term problem and shouldn't even be a short-term problem if you're expecting it ... get up at 4 a.m. instead of 6 and read or meditate or bring in the firewood for the coming day, etc. Much better than lying there thinking 'I should be asleep!'


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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Ben » Fri Jan 06, 2012 3:17 am

Hi JustThis,

I second what Kim said. Don't worry too much about it - a lot of people I have spoken to have reported that they need far less sleep during retreats.

Part of my practice during retreat is to use the time while one is in bed waiting for sleep is to engage with the meditation object. If one doesn't sleep doesn't sleep! If however you are agitated, then I think its better to get up and meditate in the sitting position and then return to bed in an hour (or sooner if sleepiness is overtaking you).
I would also suggest that you limit or completely eradicate caffeine consumption during retreat.
kind regards,

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Jan 06, 2012 3:35 am

This has been my experience too most of the time when on retreat.

I'd like to continue to sit and walk the trouble is while the mind isn't tired wants to keep going the body is knackered.

I just try to be mindful while lying in bed, this drifts in and out and the quality of it seems quite poor, but I guess the idea is just to be aware of that rather than struggle with it.

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby JustThis » Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:16 am

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Spiny O'Norman
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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sun Jan 08, 2012 11:36 am

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby bodom » Sun Jan 08, 2012 6:59 pm

To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo

With mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Ytrog » Mon Jan 09, 2012 5:48 pm

Funny. I've also recently had this when I was meditating more intensively than normal during my last vacation (at home). I laid in my bed being conscious of every feeling and thought arising. Very lucid. The bad thing was that it was on the last day of my vacation and I had to get up at 4:30 and I finally fell asleep at 2:30, otherwise I would have found it far more pleasurable. Yes, energy is certainly a very noticable factor.

Good to see that it is a common problem :woohoo:
I have to be carefull about this now that I'm intensifying my meditation considerably (my good intention this year :P).

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby JustThis » Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:40 am

I was just looking through a new meditation book and it listed insomnia, like that of a sick person, as a sign of progress in meditation. First time I've ever seen that.

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby dreamov » Wed Jan 25, 2012 4:08 pm

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby chownah » Thu Jan 26, 2012 2:00 am

I suppose not being able to sleep because of having a mind full of thoughts from the retreat could be a sign of lack of equanimity....maybe some effort in trying to get a grip on equanimity would help......I guess.....

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Tyler » Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:34 am

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Pondera » Sun Feb 05, 2012 6:18 pm

When chownah mentioned 'equanimity', I think this was the greatest advice for falling asleep. Falling asleep is the equivalent of simply losing your consciousness; in other words "going unconscious".

So, if your consciousness is quite bright by the time you go to bed, it makes sense that falling asleep is difficult.

'Equanimity' would seem to balance that brightness of consciousness to a 'dimmer' level where 'going unconscious' becomes easier.

If you analyze the process of falling asleep you'll notice these things. If one is approaching their own sleep they might see a few visual hallucinations or hear a few auditory hallucinations before they 'fall'. And 'Hypnagogia' is the stage that people find slightly disturbing in that one feels as if they're descending into non-existence.

The biology of it is quite simple. The release of melatonin from the pineal gland induces the 'unconsciousness' of sleep by shutting off the main functions of the body as it operates on the waking level.

So, this works every time. I use it myself. But not all the time. And this leads to me being sometimes uncertain about the technique. But, that also has to do with the fact that I'm asleep soon after using the technique. Then, in the morning I forget I used it; go to bed at night; and fall to sleep by waiting to fall to sleep.

Most people, I would assume, wait to fall asleep; unless you're talking about people who naturally get very tired at night and just fall off to sleep.

The method is quite simple. It works because of the mechanics and biology of the brain. You can try it your self and notice the effects it has.

So, if you meditate (hold your concentration) on the area sort-of where the pineal gland is you will cause it to excrete melatonin and you will fall asleep. It's pretty simple. I think a lot of people grow up being afraid of that 'Hypnagogia', and develop a sleeping strategy that entails 30 minutes, and hour, or more of waiting to fall asleep. The reality is, you can simply induce sleep on your own.

To some people, this will sound simply unnatural. People regard sleep as an unconscious process. Well. yes, it is when you finally are asleep. But in order to fall asleep you must, in one way or another, face the Hypnagogia which will come between waking and sleeping. This stasis is mediated by melatonin. It is pretty normal in my opinion to stop wasting one's time waiting for one's own wound-up psyche to release enough melatonin in order to fall asleep, when you can just rush your brain with it on your own - and you're off to the races.

As I started using the technique I began to become more comfortable with Hypnagogia. I am still not as comfortable (with it) as some people I know. These people embrace Hypnagogia like it was a death wish. To their advantage, I must admit, they are asleep by the time their heads hit the pillow.

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Re: Trouble Falling Asleep

Postby Chi » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:26 pm

Good! Stay awake. Be aware of the feelings that arise with not being able to fall asleep. If one stays equanimous with the uncomfortableness of lying in bed awake, he matures as a meditator.

During U Pandita Sayadaw's retreats, the suggested sleeping time is 4-6 hours per night. He used to limit it strictly to 4 hours back in the day when he was stricter.

So much conditioned negativity can arise and pass away when one stays equanimous with tiredness and sleepiness.
Do Good, Avoid Evil, Purify the Mind.

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