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Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?

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I've been on two short retreats so far and they both started at 4:30am and only gave us about 6 hours and 50 minutes of sleep every night. From what I've researched it seems like Theravada retreats let you sleep even less.

Is there a purpose to this besides dogma and tradition? It seems really counterproductive. I couldn't even focus on my meditation for a large part of the retreats because I was trying so hard to not fall asleep. I asked the teacher about it and he said that if you go on longer retreats your body gets used to not sleeping so much, but the science seems pretty clear that not sleeping 8 hours a night is really bad for your health even if you don't feel tired. Shinzen Young is the only person I've seen claim that sleep deprivation actually increases how deep you can go into meditation.

What do pragmatic dharma practioners such as yourselves think of sleep deprivation on retreats?

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
9/17/19 4:06 AM as a reply to Katz Videos.
Lack of sleep combined with unaccustomed amounts of sitting meditation can actually be harmful to beginners. I've done a fair bit of retreats with (too) little sleep and after all that can say I'm not a fan of that style. It is very different for advanced practitioners but beginners should get enough sleep.

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
9/17/19 8:28 AM as a reply to Katz Videos.
Before I meditated, when I stayed up late to read a book, do homework, or use a computer, I'd notice a characteristic kind of mind state that felt like I was at a bit of a remove from my physical body, less attached to everyday problems, and kind of wired/discombobulated/freed.   After meditating for a while, I noticed that High Equanimity can feel very much like that same "staying up late" mind state -- and I can pretty reliably get into High Equanimity by staying up late enough reading a book.  It's definitely not as healthy and integrated as it would be if I were coming up to it just through getting normal sleep, sitting, and gradually letting "stuff" go, but I wouldn't be surprised if similar experiences weren't part of the reason for setting the retreats up that way.

Staying up late has been established to have an antidepressant effect: https://mosaicscience.com/story/staying-awake-surprisingly-effective-way-treat-depression/ .  I wouldn't be surprised if naturally getting up into High Equanimity was the secret ingredient that makes it work.

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
9/17/19 12:01 PM as a reply to JP.
Thanks for the link! Fascinating!

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
9/17/19 12:33 PM as a reply to Katz Videos.
It certainly gives you a lot of dukkha to vipassanize.

The Mahasi retreats I've been to had bedtime at 10 and the wake up alarm at 4:30. It wasn't that bad. The teachers didn't want people to take naps after lunch, but I suffered when I didn't and tended to fall asleep at 2 PM while sitting anyway. Tibetan retreats had more time for sleep and my TMI retreat at Cochise Stronghold a few months ago mostly allowed me to make my own schedule, though I was overambitious and didn't sleep enough, which is my fault. My need for sleep decreases on retreat, especially if it's a samatha retreat, but meditating all day long also completely messes up my sleep, so I find it difficult to get as much sleep and the sleep is less restful due to very intense partly lucid dreams. The stronger my concentration during the day, the more intense the dreams get. Doing some metta during the day helps to avoid nightmares.

The sleep deprivation is detrimental to the quality of my meditation and wastes time replacing lost sleep with a few hours of dull meditation. Naps help. If the rules of the retreat tell you not to nap, you may want to nap while sitting after lunch and then do some walking meditation to get past any grogginess (which you'd have to do anyway in a Mahasi retreat). I think it's more productive to sleep in and miss the first sit if you had trouble falling asleep after the last meditation the night before than to have a drowsy unproductive day.

For what it's worth, flying from the East Coast of North America to a West Coast retreat (or an equivalent 3 hour time zone change in your favor) makes it a lot easier to get used to the disruptive early wake up time of stricter retreats.

On the subject of sleep and retreats, apparently metta retreats give you fantastic dreams, or so I've heard from the two people I know who have done that kind of retreat.

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
9/18/19 8:02 AM as a reply to Katz Videos.
It’s not sleep deprivation, it’s laziness deprivation. At the start of a retreat, it’s natural to find the schedule a grind. If you stick around long enough (long enough depends on you and how hard you work), you get past it. It’s one of the 5 Hindrances, known as Sloth & Torpor. If you take notes on sleep duration vs intensity of mindfulness, you’ll notice over the first, say, 2 weeks, that as mindfulness goes up, need for sleep drops off. I routinely get to 4.5 hours of sleep a night by the end of the first month, and then stay at that level the rest of the retreat, feeling fully energetic the entire day, til bedtime, no naps, no falling asleep in sits. No boasting, it’s just what happens with ramping up the practice. The teachers I’ve trained with point this progression out. So what that means is, just stick with the retreat and you’ll get past it. All the best!