Ask the Yogi: Is it okay to fall asleep in relaxation?


Q: Almost every time we go into a relaxation at the end of the yoga class I fall asleep. Is it true that if you fall asleep you don’t really get anything from the meditation?

A: If you find yourself falling asleep during the relaxation or meditation part at the end of you yoga class it probably means you are tired. If you are like many people, you might not be getting enough sleep at night. Add to that a busy day and the effort it takes for you to get to the yoga class and it is no wonder you fall asleep at the end.

We live a life that is different in many ways from our earliest ancestors and one of the key differences is in our wake/sleep patterns. Before the advent of artificial lights, people went to bed shortly after the sun went down. They did not experience the lengthening of the day as we do with our electric lights and bright computer screens. These days it is not unusual for someone to tell me that their usual sleep time is around midnight, even when they must get up early to get ready for their work day.

Time and time again, studies show the incredible value to getting between 7 to 10 hours of sleep each night. This sleep time is essential to the growth of our muscles and our immune cells. A recent study also found that adequate sleep was important to the reduction of body wide inflammation. Sleep not only benefits us physically but also mentally. Most of us already know how dull our minds feel when we have not had a good nights sleep.

When we become chronically sleep deprived, something that can occur with just a few nights of less than 7 hours of sleep, we feel less energy and tend to get drowsy very easily. When we settle down physically we feel ourselves getting sleepy. It is only natural that after doing some physical effort like yoga and then reclining on our backs for relaxation that the body would take this opportunity to try and catch up on the missing sleep.

Meditation and relaxation are processes where we are deliberately putting ourselves in a relaxed state of mind. If we begin to relax deeply, our brain waves will change. Just the act of closing our eyes will begin to slow our brain waves. Add to this deep breathing and perhaps the soothing voice of someone leading us into a relaxation session and our brain will slow down even more. The brain waves we produce in a deep relaxation or meditative state are very similar to the ones we create when we sleep and dream. How easy it is for our body to cross over into true sleep when the two states of mind are so similar.

There is nothing harmful about falling asleep during relaxation or meditation. You are actually doing something beneficial for your body. If you would like to pursue your meditation or relaxation technique without falling asleep, first you will have to work on getting adequate sleep each night. Once your body has caught up on the sleep you need then you will find you can stay awake more easily.

But never fear. No matter if you snooze, you don’t lose.

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