Why Do Yogis Sleep So Little and What You Can Learn From Them
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
The body doesn’t actually need sleep
“Will meditation reduce the need for sleep?”
This was one of the most interesting questions someone asked when I first joined a meditation class. I was excited to hear the answer. The teacher replied,
“After a certain stage, yogis actually dispense with sleep.”
I was blown away by this. Could I really survive without sleep or with as little as 1–2 hours a day? I researched more about it and quickly figured that it’s not a good idea. Even from my experience, I felt like a diddy when I slept for less than 6 hours.
Many aspiring yogis, like me I reckon, may get excited at the prospect of sleeping less, meditating for long hours, and being in that uplifted state 24/7/365.
But that’s not how it works. A couple of hours of meditation will not help you do away with sleep. At most, it will reduce your sleep quota by a few minutes (or hours in some cases). So why do yogis get by with little or no sleep? And is it achievable by all? Let’s see.
The Body Doesn’t Need Sleep
You might be surprised to hear this, but in fact, the body doesn’t need sleep — it needs relaxation.
The fact is, for most people, relaxation can only come from sleep. Which is totally fine. During sleep, we drown in the subconscious state. We have no awareness of our bodies. Even in that subconscious realm, our awareness is dull — which is why we often don’t remember our dreams.
Yogis, on the other hand, get the highest form of relaxation possible without sleeping. How? By going into superconsciousness instead of subconsciousness. The prime difference is that of awareness.
In superconsciousness, you’re highly alert, energized, focused, and yet relaxed. Yogis who experience deep states of consciousness like samadhi are filled with cosmic energy which removes all disease and fatigue from the physical body.
They don’t need food, exercise, or sleep like all of us.
Even the yogis who haven’t yet reached that state slowly reduce their need for sleep because they simply don’t want it! The goal of every serious yogi is that state of superconsciousness. And going to sleep is the exact opposite of that goal.
They want to be awake all the time. And by being alert, focused, and yet relaxed, they try to reach that state of consciousness where they can do away with sleep.
When you have a goal to achieve and work to do, don’t you get out of bed energized? That’s the same with yogis — they have a Divine goal.
The more they learn to rely on cosmic energy, the less food, and exercise they need. Thus, their sleep quota also starts to reduce since the body is not weighed down by fatigue or digestion.
That said, don’t go into yoga or meditation just to reduce your sleep. You’ll be spending the same amount of time, if not more, in your meditations. So if you’re looking at it as a magical productivity trick, stop.
How Can You Get Closer to That State?
Basis what I wrote above, it’s natural to think that the way to less sleep is to do less work, eat less and sit in meditation as much as possible. That may work, but how many of us can do that?
To our benefit, that isn’t what is asked of us either. To get closer to that state, we don’t have to dismiss activity. We have to embrace it with calmness.
Calmness is often misinterpreted as doing nothing. It’s a common notion that a person cannot really be calm when he’s working, running, or talking to people. But calmness is dynamic.
It isn’t something you lose as soon as you get off your cushion or yoga mat. It stays under the surface with you throughout your day.
So what we need to do is to keep our bodies and minds relaxed, no matter what we’re doing. Even if you’re running or physically exhausted, you may not be stressed — that’s the level of detachment that makes mental rest possible.
When we’re fatigued, we carry that fatigue to our minds. The thought “I am tired” makes us more tired than the actual tiredness. My guru, Yogananda, used to advise people to instead say “My body is tired and it needs rest.” Physical exhaustion doesn’t need to become a source of stress.
On the other end of the spectrum, we can’t slow down at the cost of our duties. What needs to be done needs to be done. And thus, we need to maintain a perfect balance between inner relaxation and outward activity at all times.
The first step in this direction is to loosen up a little. To not do everything with tension. When you’re walking, don’t be tensed thinking about how many calories you’re burning or how fast you’re walking. When you’re working, don’t think about how long it’s taking to complete the task or how the deadline hangs over your head.
When you learn to relax more and more, going to sleep also becomes easier. Some people can’t sleep unless they eat tons of calories, drink too much, or watch more TV than they should. These activities dull your awareness and may be able to put you to sleep.
But they will never help you truly relax. I’ve found over the past couple of years that I no longer need to read a book or listen to music before going to sleep. I try to consciously relax myself and the next thing I know — it’s morning.
Finally, how you view sleep also matters. As we also said, yogis have a mission in life for which they want to stay awake. This strong desire helps them not fall into the trap of sleeping more than they need to.
We too need to change our outlook on sleep. If you’re using sleep to escape life, then you’ll naturally tend to sleep more. This denial of life leads to withdrawal from the outside world and leaves no purpose to look up to.
“And All This Means I Should Sleep for…?”
The answer is, it depends. Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep according to various studies. But apart from that guideline, sleep is highly individualistic. It depends on your lifestyle, diet, physical activity, mental health, medication (if any), and a slew of other factors.
Listen to your body. You may need more sleep on some days than others. Let your body decide that. Don’t cage it into rigid rules.
Further, an active effort to relax on your part will be highly beneficial to sleep less but better. Meditation and breathing exercises are wonderful tools for this. Pursuing your hobbies, and having a life where you look forward to the next day also relax the mind.
In conclusion, sleep as little as you can and as much as your body needs. And work actively to get rid of all stress that prevents you from relaxing. It’s as simple as that. You may soon get a taste of how it feels like to be a yogi.