Question:

I would like to ask if Andy might be able to help me with a complication I seem to have developed from my meditation practice.

In short, I seem to have gradually developed difficulties achieving deep sleep. As a meditator of 20 years or so, (with a more committed daily practice in recent years), I do not feel this has arisen from another source. I have tried varying my mostly Vipassana practice, and sought help of various kinds, to little or no avail. I maybe great at remaining alert and deeply relaxed, however my light and broken sleep has become rather debilitating. Can you help?

Andy’s answer:

Many thanks for your question. I’m assuming from your note that you are doing your own practice, as opposed to using the Headspace app. If that’s the case, it is difficult to give an answer without knowing the exact nature of your practice. That said, in the interest of looking in to what I am quite sure has become a very frustrating experience, I’m happy to share some more general thoughts which I hope will be of some help or comfort.

Although it’s possible, it is quite unlikely that after a practice of 20 years, your meditation is suddenly impacting your sleep in a negative way. I’m not sure if you have a reason for thinking that the meditation is the cause of your sleep problems, but it may be worth seeing a doctor to ensure that there haven’t been any physiological changes in recent months. Simple imbalances can often disturb sleep patterns and tend to come on quite gradually over time.

There have been some reports (both anecdotal and scientific) which suggest that increased meditation can actually lead to less deep sleep. These studies imply a lighter quality of sleep with greater awareness. Some individuals reported this experience as pleasurable and more restful, whilst others found it tiring and fitful. That said, others studies have shown it improves the restful quality of sleep for all. It may simply come down to the individual and their conditioning.

So-called sleep hygiene is another thing to consider. Have you started using your computer, tablet or phone late at night? Have you changed your routine at all? Are you perhaps eating later or exercising differently? All of these things will impact sleep over time.

From a meditation point of view, and of course you’ll already know this, the difficulty in going to sleep, or in going back to sleep, is not viewed as the problem in and of itself, it is simply seen as an “event.” The problem only arises when we react to that event and become frustrated, impatient, restless and so on. The result of this reaction is an increasing trend toward negative thinking, which inhibits sleep further still. So I would always look at the reaction to the problem, rather than the problem itself, to gain further understanding.

I appreciate it must be very frustrating and difficult to deal with and I’m sorry the answer is so general, but without knowing if your meditation is to blame and without knowing the specifics of your practice, it is difficult to come to any definitive conclusion.

Warm wishes,

Andy