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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 Handsome Monkey King.
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 Handsome Monkey King.
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 Handsome Monkey King.
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 Handsome Monkey King.
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!

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
11/29/19 8:14 AM as a reply to Handsome Monkey King.
when you are more awaken and enlighten, you will require lesser sleep

and the best moment to learn to sharpen your concentration is during the time you are sleepy and forcing yourself to focus and concentrate

as such many meditations are taught during the time you are sleepy and have to force yourself to be awaken, in such a way your mind is trained to be awake and disintegrate the bond between your mind and your body

a relax body will use lesser amount of energy to operate and capable to purge out more toxic in the body, while a relax body means a body that can function as usual without having to consume more food while still be able to maintain the same amount of focus or concentration due to a trained mind

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
12/2/19 7:35 PM as a reply to Handsome Monkey King.
There is a practical purpose. It forces you to put some space between "you" and the body. It is a drastic training rule that can have major benefits to your meditation but also serious implications on your health.

Insights are easier made, but mental capacity is attenuated.
meditation performance is enhanced but enforces detriments to your physical health 

It's up to you to weigh the pros and cons. If you decide to go through with something like this then it shouldn't last too long, and while you are at it, you should really take advantage of the effects. 

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
12/2/19 8:04 PM as a reply to John Kenedy.
John Kenedy:
when you are more awaken and enlighten, you will require lesser sleep

That is simply not true. When your vital energies are lively and vibrant, that is when you will require less sleep. An enlightened being can choose live a shit life if they so please. Being enlightened does not magically make you a different creature. That is like saying being a parent makes you a good person. Like parents, enlightened beings are individuals that can make poor decisions. How they live their lives in private cannot be distinguished by a label. 
and the best moment to learn to sharpen your concentration is during the time you are sleepy and forcing yourself to focus and concentrate

as such many meditations are taught during the time you are sleepy and have to force yourself to be awaken, in such a way your mind is trained to be awake and disintegrate the bond between your mind and your body

a relax body will use lesser amount of energy to operate and capable to purge out more toxic in the body, while a relax body means a body that can function as usual without having to consume more food while still be able to maintain the same amount of focus or concentration due to a trained mind

That is all finely put. I just want to add that sleep should not be taken as any less important. Deep sleep is the best time for the body to undergo maintenance. As with everything, finding balance is key

RE: Is there a pragmatic purpose to sleep deprivation on retreats?
Answer
4/12/20 5:30 AM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
Jigme Sengye:
It certainly gives you a lot of dukkha to vipassanize.


emoticon. Mike, and Jigme, this is actually the truth-joke closest to my own best sense of the reason for the sleep deprivation and bodily (and psychic, often enough) agony that prolonged and intense retreats under rigorous conditions produce. I think it is like curing a fever by raising the temperature, until either the fever breaks or the patient dies. In zen sesshins, which are pure fucking agony, they often talk about the exacerbation of doubt, and the Great Doubt: "Great doubt, great awakening; no doubt, no awakening." nice bit on this here: https://www.dailyzen.com/journal/great-doubt

It is steering with the skid toward the cliff with nothing but the hopeless abyss beyond, very counter-intuitive. It is, weirdly, a process literally designed to induce despair, and helpless desperation, and hopelessness. I happen to think it stinks of ambition, in this form, but this may be just because a lot of my daily run of the mill practice is rooted in
despair, helpless desperation, and hopelessness, as much as i can stand and then some, most of the time, so i don't want to go out looking for more.