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Every book that I have read about Buddhism and medititation says that, as meditation cultivates concentration and awareness, one should never fall asleep while doing it.

So, what about when I cannot sleep? Can't I meditate to help me sleep, or only before I go to bed?

(I mostly practice Vipassana meditation)

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    I would think the main trap that advice is trying to warn you about is breaking the discipline of your meditation. Using a meditative technique to help you sleep would not bring the full benefit of meditating, and may lead to worse habits in your regular sitting. I would also think there are different or better mental techniques to use to help you sleep, and it would be more helpful to have something distinct. I am very much in a layman phase though, so I will wait for a more informed answer. – Radhil Jan 10 '16 at 18:02
  • A fine line which may be useful here: there is a difference between practices which simply aren't helpful vs those that make the meditation ineffective vs harmful practices which cause more harm than not meditating at all. I have found a lot of situations where that difference is important. A non Buddhist example would be a physical exercise that I do which we are instructed "always start on the right side." Further inquiry showed that it wasn't damaging to start on the left, it just wasn't deemed helpful to practice both directions and it could take away from the time I spent doing it right. – Cort Ammon Jan 10 '16 at 22:54
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This is my experience/opinion, it's unreferenced and it may be wrong.

There's a form of meditation called awareness of the body or awareness of the breath. Maybe that form (or something like it) can be useful when you're trying to rest (or sleep).

'Awareness of the breath' means that you try to keep awareness of your breathing (e.g. the feeling of air flowing through the nose). It's described as being, like a hunter who waits for an animal next to its lair. The hunter knows that although the animal may be out, it will come back to the lair sooner or later. Similarly though the mind may be away, thinking about something else, it returns to the body sometimes.

If I'm awake in bed I'll try to be aware of various things.

One is breathing. If I'm not aware of breathing then maybe my thoughts (of whatever other things I'm thinking about) are keeping me awake. And part of the point of sleeping (IMO) is to have some nice relaxed breathing. Closing your eyes doesn't always cause sleep, but they ('sleep', and 'eyes closed') "co-arise" ... similarly, developing (enabling or participating in) some relaxed breathing (is it called 'oceanic' breathing?) may be a good condition for eventual sleep (and, even before sleep, it is a good condition for the body's resting and cleaning itself).

Another, is awareness of feeling in the body. For example I exercise my legs during the day, and blood circulation reroutes to go to feed those muscles e.g. in the calf. Meanwhile my feet get cold. In bed I feel (and promote the feeling of) places inside my calf muscle relaxing or unknotting, so that blood is freed to circulate through to elsewhere e.g. the feet, toes, skin. I think this kind of thing (i.e. changes in 'circulation') is a reason why (a mechanism via which) sleep is restful or restorative to the body.

So, I figure that if I'm in bed because I want to rest the body, then even if I'm not asleep (or before I'm asleep) I can consciously begin to rest the body. Knowing that the body is resting helps to reason with the mind: "Oh no, I'm not asleep! What a disaster, I'd better do something about it!" -- "Yeah don't worry about. You're relaxing the body already, the body is getting what it needs. Breathe again."

Another thing I find is that thoughts change as I go to sleep: I begin to dream. Dreaming takes the form of unexpected images ('unexpected' meaning 'inappropriate', unrelated to current events). For example (last night) I imagined a wolf's face. And then a spaceship (in outer space). Then the next thought was that this was going to be a story, of a wolf on a spaceship. The next thought was of a whale, shaped like a submarine, underwater. I'm not sure what to tell you about that: I think this kind of ideation/imagery is incompatible with conscious thinking, but it's a stage I seem to go through between conscious (waking) and unconscious (sleep). It's more spontaneous (randomly-generated), imaginative, and obviously a fantasy, than worrying-about-day-to-day thinking. So though I try to 'wake up' enough to discourage the 'worrying' type of thought (and return from there to consciousness of the body), but the 'dreaming' type of thought I just note ("this is the beginning of a dream/sleep"), my body is already deliberately resting, and maybe I'm asleep soon after that.

Lastly (and most dubiously) if you suffer from 'racing thoughts' (e.g. sometimes someone might say, "I couldn't get to sleep, I was up all night thinking!") there may be other techniques or 'objects' to occupy or on which to focus the mind, to stabilize emotions: a koan, a mantra, taking refuge in the Buddha, metta (mentioned in another answer), lack of remorse, visualizing oneself as if from the outside.

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Yes Meditation can help you sleep...

There is a meditation called "Meththa" also known as the "Loving kindness Meditation". This Meditation is very helpful to the daily life as well as the path. It can help you sleep better, But Let me provide the details....

The profits of doing "Meththa" (Loving kindness Meditation) as to Lord Buddha

Not seeing bad dreams Calmly falling into sleep

calmly waking up

Friendly attitude from other beings like Devas (gods),demons,spirits & animals

Loosing enemies and gaining friendly's

Being born in higher realms after death (Deva realm,Brahma realm)

and many more....

Here's a link to learn more to learn more.


So if you have trouble sleeping this is your answer, Let me provide a Audio link so you could learn and practice. We all do it and it is very easy to learn.

Loving Kindness Meditation - Click to open

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    Mettanisamsa sutta is a better reference. accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an11/an11.016.piya.html – dmsp Jan 10 '16 at 21:55
  • @dmsp , yes indeed. i am adding it to the answer. Thank you – Theravada Jan 10 '16 at 22:16
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    Can you reference anything that relates to breathing meditation, or awareness of the body: is that helpful or is it better avoided if "I cannot sleep" (perhaps to help physically relax and/or to slow the racing of thoughts)? – ChrisW Jan 11 '16 at 0:49
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Definitely it can help you sleep. Since you are talking about sleep here, I thought I would just mention the possibilities for meditation in your sleep - not only for your sleep. You can also practice Vipassana and other kinds of meditation in your sleep. If you try this out you will have 24 hours of presence. I did not have much faith in lucid dreaming until i tried it. I only trained for two weeks before I had my first lucid dream. I would recommend B Alan Wallace's book about this. The book is called "Dreaming Yourself Awake: Lucid Dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga for Insight and Transformation" and it has been a nice expansion in my practice.

Sleep well!

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I don't know about worldly situations but if one has insomnia at a retreat then that just means more time for meditation.

I've always gone to sleep right away when I was practicing while laying down, although I have always taken that as a curse and not a blessing.

The more we are in an inclined position when meditating, the better the chance is that we fall asleep.

Remember that lots of the time when we think we need to sleep it's often just "sloth & torper" sneaking in.

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