Allowing Yourself to Fall Asleep (Or Not!)

Alexis Santos
March 10, 2023

No one, it seems, is getting enough sleep these days. Between stress, electronic devices, and noise and light pollution, we live in a chronically under-slept society.

So how can meditation and awareness, which might feel like the opposite of falling asleep, help?  First, in becoming more aware of the body and mind, we can sense more clearly what is stressful, and what brings ease. Second – and maybe more importantly - it cultivates an attitude of acceptance toward any situation, including falling (and even not falling) asleep. 

Personally, when I can shift my attitude while lying down to sleep, whether or not I actually fall asleep doesn’t matter so much. I can appreciate giving the body rest while allowing the mind to relax. This has made a huge difference in my experience at night.  

Here are some ways to do this: 

1. Relax and Allow

Rest is a part of the rhythm of life. But because of the momentum of the day, and all of the responsibilities, concerns, plans, and projects we face, it can be a challenge to find this balance. And even when we’re ready to go to bed, the momentum of doing can keep going.

So, a first step, after you settle into bed, is to give yourself permission to simply be there. This shift in attitude might take some practice. It’s okay to rest, to put everything down. Relax, allow, and breathe. Directly feel the weight of your body. In this moment, there’s the experience of lying down and unwinding, allowing the body to sink into the bed, giving the full weight of the body over to being supported. 

Nothing to hold up. Just resting.

2. It’s All Nature

All day long the energies of the mind have had their own momentum – thinking, planning, organizing, talking. It’s natural that this will continue for a while. So whatever is happening is okay. Try relating to any thoughts and stories about the day, or things to come, as just mental energies floating through the mind. Just as the sky is not disturbed by the birds, the clouds, or the wind, we can incline the mind to simply observe whatever is happening without making it into a problem.

Likewise, unwinding the body can take time, as we shift from doing to a more restful, allowing attitude. So, try noticing how the body feels:  heat or coolness, vibrations, the posture of the body, mindfully experiencing the body as it is, without changing or controlling anything.

As you go through the body (I lead a more complete ‘body scan’ in the new sleep meditation this article is drawn from), you may come across places that are contracted, or tense. Contraction is nature. Relaxation is nature. It’s all just nature. With this orientation, see if you can observe and allow whatever is here, relaxing any extra tension that’s easy to let go of.    

3. Appreciating Rest

Before I had a meditation practice, whenever I was up at night and not able to fall asleep, sooner or later the mind would start worrying. I should be asleep by now, it would say, or I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow. If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen how this kind of worry only stresses the mind out more.

What if we could just enjoy the feeling of lying in bed? Lying awake in bed could actually be peaceful. You’re staying in the present moment, relaxing the body, and developing awareness. This is a wonderful way of spending time, for as long as the mind is awake. 

Remind yourself: the body is lying down, it’s getting the rest it needs. It’s restoring and rejuvenating to be aware and lying down. 

And by not struggling with the present moment, by simply noticing and allowing this moment to be as it is, the mind is getting rest, too. With just this light shift in view, from worrying about being awake to appreciating this time of rest, both the body and the mind are being restored.

So, each time the mind slips into worrying about falling asleep, or feeling frustrated and restless, again see if you can lightly shift the attitude to appreciating this time of rest and mindfulness. Feel the pleasantness of lying in bed, feeling the sheets, the softness of the covers. There’s nowhere to go, and nothing needs to happen.

Whether we fall asleep or not is actually not our business. If sleep happens, it happens. Being awake is nature. Falling asleep is nature. The thought about needing to get to sleep is just a thought. It’s also nature. Our job is to simply have the attitude that allows the nature of this moment to be as it is. 

These three practices can really change your attitude toward your time in bed.  And whether you fall asleep faster or not, that can help you feel rested in the morning after spending the night on the right side of the bed!  

If you enjoyed this article, there’s a guided sleep meditation by Alexis in the app that follows this same process. Give it a try here.

Alexis Santos is a featured teacher on the Ten Percent Happier app and has practiced and taught Insight Meditation since 2001. A longtime student of Sayadaw U Tejaniya, his teaching emphasizes knowing the mind through a natural and relaxed continuity. Alexis has completed the Spirit Rock/IMS Teacher Training, teaches retreats across the globe, and currently lives in Portland, Maine.

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