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Concentration and Insomnia
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3/18/19 10:05 PM
About 5 years ago I started practicing Vipassana meditation more seriously (not having practiced much since doing a number of retreats in the 1980s).  Over the last three years, I've been meditating 1 1/2 - 2 hours a day and doing 1 or 2 retreats each year.  I found that on these retreats I would unintentionally fall into access concentration (When it first happened, I didn't know what access concentration was).  I decided to do more of a concentration practice (Anapanasati).  I have found that after a few days on a concentration retreat, even though I've reached access concentration, I end up very agitated,unable to sleep, and exhausted. The insomnia does not end until I stop meditating for a day or two, and the agitation lasts a day or two more.  This is the opposite of my usual experience of meditation, which has generally brought me a greater sense of ease.

At this point, I'm not sure how to proceed.  I'm wondering if anyone has had a similar experience.  I'd like to do more retreats and concentration practice,  but I'm afraid that any kind of intensive retreat might have the same result. On retreats, I try to just continue practicing, noting the agitation, etc., but eventually I find it impossible to continue.  I also worry, perhaps irrationally, that I might induce a more long lasting insomnia. Can anyone suggest a way around this?

RE: Concentration and Insomnia
Answer
3/19/19 11:57 PM as a reply to Mitchell H Kronenberg.
Hi Mitchell

Interesting question. Some meditation techniques may reduce the need for sleep - especially in higher doses and at later stages in practice. E.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4054695/

I myself have noticed that with a regular concentration practice (40 mins to 2 hours per day) I feel quite activated at night time and can shave a couple of hours off my normal sleep requirements (I'm a long sleeper, so in the past have always needed 8-9 hours per night; with regular practice this has dropped to 7). 

I personally have not experienced increased agitation from concentration practice. I wonder if this feeling of agitation is an A&P? Perhaps just reduce the meditation sit length for now and see if that helps? I doubt you would induce any form of permanent insomnia, it's more likely that the effects will only last while you continue to practice for longer sits and on retreat. 

Good luck and let us know how you go. 

RE: Concentration and Insomnia
Answer
3/20/19 4:29 AM as a reply to Mitchell H Kronenberg.
I like Shinzen Young's recommendation for this type of problem: reframe your time in bed as 'getting rest' rather than 'getting sleep'. If you can't go to sleep, just try gently bringing awareness to restful body sensations - eg there may be agitation in your chest and throat, but there's likely not much going on in your knee, or your toe, or the feeling of contact with the bed. Not with laser sharp vipassana, but just resting the mind on those sensations. Settle the mind on that restful feeling. It may or may not help you drop off, but it'll help you feel rested.

RE: Concentration and Insomnia
Answer
3/20/19 9:35 PM as a reply to Mitchell H Kronenberg.
This means that you are gaining more and more rest from mediation and therefore need to sleep less. I would recommend packing the rest of the day that you are not meditating with as much as possible to tire yourself out more.

RE: Concentration and Insomnia
Answer
3/21/19 3:27 PM as a reply to Mitchell H Kronenberg.
I had bad insomnia during my first 10-day retreat. Started with disturbances from neighbours, and then supported by excitement, especially after the A&P event. Developed into a fear that I would not be able to fall asleep, and later into 'a fear of a fear'. Had a big panic attack on my last night, after the noble silence had been lifted.

My teacher adviced me to simply observe feelings in my hands (or anywhere where sensations are most prominent). Not to meditate, just observe. Now I know that this advice has improved quality of my everyday life massively. I used to struggle with insomnia from time to time, but now I either help myself to fall asleep or get a good rest. If I stop myself from panicking, if I do not spin annoying thoughts in my head, I still get a decent rest. Or, I often manage to slip back to sleep. During that retreat, when I had strong concentration, I would lie there focused on sensations in my hands and eventually feel how the frequency of my brain(?) buzzing goes down a notch, then down again, and then I'm asleep.

I was afraid that my fear would visit me again on later retreats, but the later experiences had been very different.

RE: Concentration and Insomnia
Answer
3/27/19 3:11 AM as a reply to Mitchell H Kronenberg.
Hi Mitchell,

I find that meditation and yoga can generate a lot of energy that can make me feel agitated and makes it hard to fall asleep (and when I do fall asleep, my dreams are often very lively and my sleep is not very restful). Especially with yoga, I noticed that the effect is strongest when I have not practiced for a while. Maybe this means that some energy is released that has been stored somewhere in the body. If I keep practicing yoga for a while (and do it somewhat intensely) then the opposite may happen: feeling energetically drained.

Also, if I practice concentration in my bed (with the idea of practicing a bit more before sleep) then I will usually not fall asleep, and even get insomnia for that night. Strangely, if I practice concentration while sitting, and then go to bed, I will usually just fall asleep.

In any case, I believe that having more energy makes it easier to go with less sleep for a while, but in the end it does not mean needing less sleep (at least, not in my case). It's just that the energy makes it harder to fall asleep.

Hope this helps,
Maarten