Special Topics

​Practicing Sleeping Meditation to Have a Good Night's Sleep

At the end of a busy day, sleep is key to your body's recovery and tissue repair. When you get enough sleep, you'll feel refreshed; conversely, when you lack  sleep, you'll have poor energy, which results in physical and mental exhaustion. Getting a good night's sleep may seem easy, but, in fact, it is not. Modern people often have difficulty falling asleep, or suffer from insomnia due to work pressure and life anxieties. Let's practice "sleeping meditation" to put aside all things, experience physical and mental relaxation, and sleep peacefully.
Bedtime Preparation

What are you doing before you turn off the lights and go to sleep? Do you swipe your phone before bed? Do you send messages to your friends using social media? Are you reading, doing yoga, or eating late night snacks? It is very important to settle down the body and mind before going to bed. The era of the Buddha lacked the modern conveniences of audio and visual entertainments. The monastics spent the first and the last watch of the night (according to Buddhism, from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm, and from 2:00 am to 6:00 am respectively) sitting in meditation or doing walking meditation. They only took a rest in the middle watch of the night (from 10:00 pm to 2:00 am). As time passed, although modern temples are busy with their Dharma work, they still maintain the daily routine as the Buddha's time: that is, going to bed at 10 o'clock in the evening and getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning. For many office workers, this is simply a fantasy. However, before going to bed, the monastics would rein in their body and mind by attending evening service, sitting in meditation, and keeping noble silence. When their body and mind are settled down, even going to bed at 10 o'clock in the evening and getting up at 4 o'clock at dawn (a total of six hours of good night's sleep) is enough for them to face a whole day of huge and heavy Dharma work in good spirits.
Therefore, it is very important to develop a regular sleep habit. It is recommended to go to bed before 11 o'clock in the evening and not to stay up late. Before going to bed, you can try to put aside your habits and practice the "method of reduction before bedtime" to better your sleep:
1. Turn off the TV, mobile phone and computer;
2. Stay away from books and late night snacks;
3. Talk less, think less, and keep your mind simple.
If you still feel tired or tense, you can do some simple exercises followed by a short period of sitting meditation to help you relax your body and mind. When sitting in meditation before bedtime, you should use the method of Shamatha (peaceful abiding or tranquility) as much as possible the method of Vipassana (insight into the nature of reality) as little as possible, thereby leading your body and mind to calm abiding. When your mind and body are relaxed and unburdened, you can go to bed and get ready for a good night's sleep.
Sleeping position: Sleeping on the right side is best

Reflect carefully: in what position you sleep most often? Do you sleep curled up, in starfish position, or on your stomach? Among the four postures-- namely, walking, standing, sitting and lying down--- lying down is the most comfortable position for our mind and body. However, modern people live a busy life and are often exhausted when they get off work. When they get home, they can fall asleep immediately, whether they are sitting on the sofa or sleeping on bed. Some people like to lie on the bed reading books and eating snacks, or most of the time they like to lie on the sofa watching TV. Although lying on a lazy-bones sofa might give you temporary comfort, after a long time, your body may develop problems. So how to sleep in order to get a peaceful and healthy sleep?
According to Discourse on the Attendant, No. 33 of the Madhyamagama, the Buddha once taught Ananda that, when sleeping, he should learn to lie on the right side like the Lion King. This position can help one fall asleep easily, but won't make one feel hazy and dim after a deep sleep. Modern medicine has also confirmed that lying on the right side is indeed good for health. This position neither puts pressure on the heart, nor hinders digestion. Furthermore, sleeping on the right side can reduce snoring and dreaming, thereby allowing one to get peaceful sleep.
The method of lying on the right side is as follows:
1. Turn the body to the right, with the pillow at shoulder height.
2. Bend the right hand and place it on the occipital lobe, whilst bending the right foot slightly.
3. Place the left hand along the body and put it flat on the thigh.
4. Bend the left foot naturally so that the knees and ankles of both feet do not overlap.
5. Bend the bodys like a bow, while keeping it relaxed and natural.
Keep this position when you sleep. After falling asleep, you don't have to pay attention to your sleeping position after turning over; just let your body adjust itself.
It is recommended to sleep on the right side for a long sleep. When napping or taking a short rest, you can lie on your back and place your body completely flat on the bed without using a pillow. Relax the muscles of your whole body without exerting a trace of strength, which in turn can quickly help you eliminate fatigue. This position is also known as "savasana (corpse) pose".
Going to Sleep: Relax Over and Over Again

Nowadays, people's sleep disorders are mostly caused by lying on the bed indulging in idle thinking before bedtime. When our mind keeps thinking, our body will become more and more tense and restless. At this time, you can do relaxation exercises first:
1. Lie on the bed with your whole body relaxed, and adjust your sleeping position to the most relaxed and natural state.
2. Gradually relax from head to toe: relax the face, relax the eyes, shoulders and abdomen, and put the weight of your whole body on the bed.
3. Ease your mood. Anything that happens during the daytime has nothing to do with your sleep. Relax your mind and tell yourself that the most important thing now is to sleep.
Concentrating on the luminosity – Cultivating a Peaceful Body with Peace of Mind  
After the body and mind are relaxed, you can meditate on the "perception of light" (aloka saññā, in Pali): that is, concentrate your mind on the light. The light is not dazzling, but is like the light of a full moon. If you are used to chanting the Buddha's name, at this time you can meditate on the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas' marks, characteristics and splendor by gently reciting the Buddha's name.
You can often practice meditating on light perception when sleeping. After you are proficient in the method, your mind will be clear and luminous even in your dreams. In this way, you will not be too drowsy, lose your right mindfulness and have chaotic dreams. You can wake up when it is time to get up; subsequently you will not be lazy and decide to snooze.
Whether it is meditating on light perception or reciting the Buddha's name, the main purpose is to make our object of focus simple. Using meditation while sleeping can help us reduce delusions. Once the scattered mind is tamed, the body will naturally relax, and we will have a good night's sleep.
Sleep until you wake up naturally, don't sleep in nor snooze

"Sleep until you wake up naturally" may very well be the daily routine that modern people dream of.
According to sleep deprivation experiments, when we enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, the muscle tone of our whole body will reduce to a minimum, our heartbeats and breathing will become irregular, and we will dream frequently. Being awoken by the alarm clock during this period of time will not only interrupt the dormant state of our body and mind, but will also reduce our concentration, alertness and logical thinking. When our body doesn't get enough rest, we will be easily prone to get angry and lose our temper.
However, sleeping until you wake up naturally is not the same as sleeping in; rather, it is about waking up spontaneously without relying on the alarm clock. When the Buddha instructed his disciples on the proper sleep method, he emphasized to "concentrate your mind on the luminosity, maintain righteous thoughts, have right wisdom, and always keep the thought of getting up", in addition to giving the teaching of "lying on the right flank with feet folded". The Buddha reminded us that we shouldn't be lazy and crave sleep. Instead, if we can maintain mindfulness at all times and sleep with a peaceful body and mind, we will feel refreshed when waking up.
When the body wakes up, you can practice the following:
1. When you open your eyes, you can give yourself a smile first because a brand new day is waiting for you to discover.
2. Then tell yourself that you are ready to get up. Move your hands and feet gently, and stretch your limbs.
3. Then turn the body to the right, prop up the body with the left hand, slowly rise and get out of bed.
Source: Dharma Drum Mountain Chan Practice Center, "Chan for Relaxation" by Master Sheng Yen

Extended Reading:

Sleep is for Rest and Practice

Nothing to worry about, learn from Buddha's good sleep

​Practicing Sleeping Meditation to Have a Good Night's Sleep

Q&As About Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Resource: Issue 388 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 388 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation (Photo by Venerable Chang Hu 釋常護)
Translation: Christina
Editing: Keith Brown, YKL