Author Topic: Sleep deprivation, exhaustion and being sick on a 10 day Vipassana course  (Read 261 times)

JAB2202

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Hello everyone,

I would like to discuss a personal problem which I experience mostly in all of my Vipassana course I've taken until now. I've been in 3 courses so far and I am still struggling to maintain the daily practice, but mostly I manage to sit at least 1 hour daily. I practice for 3 years now and somehow I always suffer extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion during the courses. Normally I sleep about 8 hours daily, I can manage 2-3 days with little sleep, but after that it starts to become hard. There was always so much disturbance (bedroom with 6 people) on the courses, that I could also hardly find sleep at break time and during nights. When I used earplugs I could not hear the gong anymore. So I had to miss 2-3 meditation sitting just to get at little sleep back.
My question is, is this on purpose so that you come into a kind of dizzy state? Or am I just not meditating right? I heard that you need less sleep when you meditate.

My second point is that I always get sick on the 10 day courses with a lot of coughing. I don't know if it is related with the cold weather or if it is old Sankharas coming out.

I can manage the pain and all the difficulties one may get during the courses, but after the course everyone should feel relieved and happy. I just feel very exhausted. Now it's already 3 days after my last course and I still need to rest a lot and sleep for about 12 hours daily.
Has anyone had a similar experience or could you give me a suggestion for my next course? I would like to keep up my meditation but I just feel my bodytype just could not stand these courses. And it's not that I feel anger, it's just like all my batteries are totally empty, because I tried to give my best to make progress with my meditation.

With Metta,
Jackie

oscarabeo

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Jackie,

I struggle with insomnia on a daily basis. I was once used to getting a lot of sleep, 8 hours or so regularly. Now I manage working with 4-6. It's an ongoing journey. I've done a lot of reading about sleep, meditation, and the intersection between sleep and meditation.

I had a lot of trouble on my course with sleep. It got to the point where I told the AT that I was considering leaving. The idea of getting only 3 hours of sleep a night was really weighing on me psychologically. But the AT told me something that stuck with me: "you're craving sleep. Don't crave sleep." He followed that with "If you told me you weren't sleeping at all, I'd be worried. But three hours is plenty."

I explored that point of view a little. Maybe I didn't need as much sleep as I thought. And sure enough, letting go of the craving was enough to ensure a good sleep that night, better than any night in months. So that was an interesting event that has led to a lot of personal understanding. To make things punchy, it helped me see that  when it comes to sleep, the more you want, the less you get. Plus, not all sleep is equal; sometimes I get 6 or even 5.5 really great hours that leave me feeling refreshed, something I could have never imagined before. 

Is it possible that you, too, are craving sleep? That the "need" is partly psychological instead of physiological?

You mention a few other things: "I would like to keep up my meditation but I just feel my bodytype just could not stand these courses." "but after the course everyone should feel relieved and happy." "I still need to rest a lot and sleep for about 12 hours daily." "I tried to give my best to make progress with my meditation."

What do these statements have in common? They are judgments and conclusions about you that neither you nor anyone else has the right to make. Who's to say that your bodytype is different from anyone else's? Who's to say that we should all be relieved and happy at the end of a course? Who's to say you really need twelve hours of sleep/rest daily? And finally, is possible that you are trying too hard to make progress?

Finally, some information you may find interesting. It seems like meditation can indeed improve sleep organization, but the effect is limited to senior meditators (practitioners 2+ hours per day, >3 years) , at least in the articles I can find.

Here are a few articles. They're paywalled, but you can use libgen or sci-hub to access them.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/09540261.2016.1159949

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2012.00054/full

http://www.sleep-journal.com/article/S1389-9457(17)31119-X/abstract

To close: it sounds like you're doing great, and that maybe you want to consider reflecting on potential attachments to sleep, or to ideas you may have about your own limitations. I look forward to reading other folks' opinions.

oscarabeo

stillpointdancer

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Hello everyone,

I would like to discuss a personal problem which I experience mostly in all of my Vipassana course I've taken until now. I've been in 3 courses so far and I am still struggling to maintain the daily practice, but mostly I manage to sit at least 1 hour daily. I practice for 3 years now and somehow I always suffer extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion during the courses. Normally I sleep about 8 hours daily, I can manage 2-3 days with little sleep, but after that it starts to become hard. There was always so much disturbance (bedroom with 6 people) on the courses, that I could also hardly find sleep at break time and during nights. When I used earplugs I could not hear the gong anymore. So I had to miss 2-3 meditation sitting just to get at little sleep back.
My question is, is this on purpose so that you come into a kind of dizzy state? Or am I just not meditating right? I heard that you need less sleep when you meditate.

My second point is that I always get sick on the 10 day courses with a lot of coughing. I don't know if it is related with the cold weather or if it is old Sankharas coming out.

I can manage the pain and all the difficulties one may get during the courses, but after the course everyone should feel relieved and happy. I just feel very exhausted. Now it's already 3 days after my last course and I still need to rest a lot and sleep for about 12 hours daily.
Has anyone had a similar experience or could you give me a suggestion for my next course? I would like to keep up my meditation but I just feel my bodytype just could not stand these courses. And it's not that I feel anger, it's just like all my batteries are totally empty, because I tried to give my best to make progress with my meditation.

With Metta,
Jackie
I think anyone would end up sick breathing in other people's germs like that, as I only have to go to a supermarket to get a cough the next day. My first experience of a residential retreat like that was enough to show me that they weren't for me, and became my last.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Ottercreek

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I caught the flu on most retreats I went, but I LOVE them! I believe a little sleep deprivation did help me to slow the thinking down, especially in the beginning, but then I was in good shape when I arrived, which is not the case for everybody. It's too bad that most intensive retreats don't take into account the diversity of individuals and their situation. Meditation IS for everybody but it's not one size fits all. It's important to face obstacles and deal with them, but when it's just too hard to manage I would advise a different approach, otherwise you end up making huge conterproductive efforts. Just my personal opinion!  :)

JAB2202

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Hi Oscarabeo,
thank you for answer, that made me think. I will check on the articles you sent. Craving sleep? Interesting point, I never considered that. I don't know if it could be psychologically. When I feel tired and exhausted and havn't had enough sleep, I would always see the lack of sleep as a reason for it. Thinking of craving for sleep for me is a little bit like craving for water when thirsty... I don't know...
Maybe your teacher is right, but normally I don't have a problem when I am back in my daily routine and I have more or less 8 hours night sleep. I don't understand why I should try to need less sleep, I never thought of it as a problem. It's only a problem when I am in courses.  I guess there is some variance between individuals and their need of sleep.

I don’t think that I am trying to hard, I was just wondering if I could ever take the 10 day course and sit in every meditation that is suggested by Goenka’s timetable in future. I suppose progress is going on and one makes progress in their meditation practise. I will see how I feel in 10 years maybe I will need less sleep than, which should probably be the case as you get older.

About the judgements I made, I can say, that Goenka himself said in one discourse that everybody is leaving a 10day course happy and smiling. I could also see it in my fellow students. I understand that the judging creates problems, but as an individual I try to make sense of life, so I compare with others.

Anyway, thank you so much for your ideas, I will consider my sleep attachment/craving/judgements and check the articles.

@ Ottercreek thank you for your suggestions too! In general I agree with you although I don’t think meditation is for everyone, e.g.  people with severe mental illness might not be able to meditate without having major issues.
I’ve decided to stick with Vipassana, because for me it’s the only meditation technique I’ve learned properly and I can adopt it the my lifestyle. Once I did an self-course, which I will do again next year. I also try to find a smaller Vipassana center where they offer individual cells for old students. I think the sleep deprivation /disturbance should be less there. In my recent course we had been 64 female students (in the new big Dhamma Sacca center in Spain).

With Metta,
Jackie

oscarabeo

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JAB2202,

I think I made a lot of assumptions from your original post but your reply made me see things from another point of view. It seems that you don't have anxiety about sleep, just a greater sleep need. That's interesting. Since it is known that meditation affects sleep in one way (reducing sleep need) it is not difficult to imagine that it may induce the opposite effect in others.

Just to be clear, I never proposed that you try to need less sleep. Only that when less sleep comes, you accept it and move on, instead of trying to force yourself to get more. (I had wondered if you were spending more time in bed to compensate for the fatigue you were feeling after the retreat.)

There are retreats (see the book "Breath by Breath" by Larry Rosenberg) where the meditators go a week straight without any sleep at all. They are not even allowed to return to their cabins because the temptation to sleep may be too strong. Nobody's body type is made for that, but they manage it. When Larry Rosenberg tells his zen master that he doesn't think he can make it, then zen master says, "You are carrying the weight of 7 days without sleep. Let go of that weight and you will be fine." Larry says that he was able to make it through by following this advice.

Goenka may be exaggerating when he says everyone is smiling and happy at the end. Though happy overall, almost everyone in my retreat was dead tired. In our cabin had a snore-monster with sleep apnea who kept everyone awake for most of the retreat (poor guy.) It's just the nature of the thing. You can be smiling and happy while still incredibly sleep deprived. Finding equanimity with sleep deprivation is difficult but, as the above anecdote shows, it can be done, and in fact I practice that daily.

o.

JAB2202

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Hello Oscarabeo,

thank you for sharing your thoughts again.

I think you are right, when you say, when there is a time where u don't get enough sleep, just accept it and most important don't worry. I'll consider that in future.
Personally, I find the lack of food and sleep the hardest and I was happy, that I could manage the lack of food better this time. The other retreat you mentioned, where they don't sleep for one week at all, sounds interesting, but it is nothing for my state of the mind right now. I can't even imagine how one can archive that. Do people know in advance that they can't sleep there?

My thoughts regarding the sleep deprivation were also, it is intention or is it just a side effect, which you have to deal with? I remember when I was a teenager, I used to enjoy parties with electronic music and it happened as well that I did  not sleep for a long time, but I always slept a lot afterwards. When I left the Goenka retreats I felt a little bit like I had been on a very long party too and the feeling remembered me of that time when I was a teenager. So I thought this might be a misunderstanding from my body...or mind.

I also thought of the endocrine system, it's so sensible and not fully understood, especially in women. So I wonder what happens with it, when u don't sleep for one week? What do you think is the benefit for not sleeping one week on a retreat? I assume it is a mixture of transcendent state of the mind and losing connection with reality. Or maybe an exercise for discipline.

I still need to read those articles you mentioned, I hope, I'll find the time for it this weekend.

With Metta,
Jackie
 

stillpointdancer

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I also thought of the endocrine system, it's so sensible and not fully understood, especially in women. So I wonder what happens with it, when u don't sleep for one week? What do you think is the benefit for not sleeping one week on a retreat? I assume it is a mixture of transcendent state of the mind and losing connection with reality. Or maybe an exercise for discipline.
Lack of sleep seems to inhibit the natural healing processes in the brain, where the dangerous chemicals naturally produced by metabolism in the brain are removed in various ways. Not sleeping for a week will allow these to damage brain tissues.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

chin

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I did encounter sleeplessness and falling sick (cough & cold) on both my 10-day Goenka retreats. The second time round I was better prepared and treated both these things as sankharas coming to the surface - and so to be dealt with equanimity. This actually helped both the issue pass much more effortlessly and with little discomfort on my second retreat. On my first retreat, I had an extremely reactive mind which made it hard to let things be.

I did experience extreme sleepiness and need for rest *after* my second retreat though. I slept probably for 14-15 hours straight and had the deepest sleep I'd had in years, or maybe ever. It's all part of the process and I find it best not to analyse or try to make sense of it.

On "everyone should feel happy and relieved" after the 10-day course, that is something I struggled with on my first retreat as well. I actually had entered extremely blissful states on day 9 but was back in my obsessive, reactive mode on day 10. I asked the AT about this and he stated the obvious - which is what I needed to hear - "only the present moment matters. Let go of what you experienced yesterday. Don't crave for the peaceful state. Just keep observing what is happening in the present moment". Wanting to feel "happy and relieved" is just another craving. Observe it and let it go.

dharma bum

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Quote
Don't crave for the peaceful state. Just keep observing what is happening in the present moment". Wanting to feel "happy and relieved" is just another craving. Observe it and let it go.

this was/is a big obstacle to me too. i have to keep reminding myself that the immediate goal is not peace in the mind.
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