In the first weeks of the 8-week mindfulness training, people start practicing mindfulness by learning the body scan. This is a good way of tuning into your body and becoming more aware of all the things you can feel if you consciously pay attention. It is quite common though, that people struggle with staying awake while practicing. Here is a number of possible reasons for that:
- You associate your bed with sleep. If you practice the body scan while lying on bed, you might fall asleep since you associate your bed with sleep and you are conditioned to fall asleep as soon as you are lying down on it.
- The body scan helps you to relax. It might be that the body scan works as an effective way of relieving physical tension you have built up throughout the day, causing you to fall asleep.
- The body scan makes you more aware of yourself. If you learn how to tune in with your body, you will learn to better feel how you are actually doing. So you may just become more aware of how tired you really are. Nowadays, many people do not get enough sleep due to their stressful jobs and lives. Paying more attention to your body will make you more aware of that and help you to give into your need of sleep, in stead of ignoring it.
- It might also be that you are avoiding something. Sometimes feeling tired is a way of not feeling something else. Things that are difficult to deal with and that you are worrying about, things that make you anxious or angry.
Here are some tips to deal with falling asleep during the body scan:
- First of all: give yourself some time to find out which way of doing the body scan works best for you. Try a number of different ways of practicing, and don’t demand of yourself that you are “doing it properly”, or “doing it the right way”, which will only make you feel frustrated and dispirited.
- Make sure you have enough sleep. Check if you are actually getting enough sleep. If the body scan makes you aware that you are are tired because you do not get enough sleep, this may be a good moment to remedy that. Getting enough sleep is a big part of taking good care of yourself.
- Find the right location. Try to find a place you do not associate with sleeping. You could practice on the floor of your living room, maybe using a rug or a thin mat, so it feels less like lying on your bed.
- Find the right posture. It is common to practice the body scan with your eyes closed, but if it helps you to stay awake your could try keeping your eyes open instead. If lying down triggers you to fall asleep you can also do the body scan sitting upright on a cushion or chair.
- Find the right time of day. You could try different times of the day for practicing the body scan. This way you can find yourself a moment of the day where you feel more energised and awake, reducing the chance that you fall asleep during your practice.
So, is it a problem?
An important question is whether it is problematic if you fall asleep during your body scan practice. Can it just be a useful tool to help you improve your sleep habits? Or is it something that is to be avoided?
On one hand, the body scan is an exercise in awareness. As such, the aim of the exercise is to “fall awake” rather than falling asleep. By practicing it you learn how to deliberately focus your attention at something, and then deliberately letting go of your attention. With practice, your attention more deliberate, focussed and sustained. On the other hand, by learning this, you will also become more aware of what is there. And that may just as well be fatigue as it may be tension, itching, or other things. It is not necessary to battle these things. You can just let it be present in your awareness even if that means that you fall asleep.