How to Overcome Too Much Sleep?

Question

Dear Teachers, I am a young adult dedicated to the spiritual path. I have a dream to enter the army. The energization exercises help me a lot. However I love to sleep a lot and find myself overpowered by this habit. I try not to succumb, but at night my mind makes me go to sleep and all I can think of is Paramahansa Yoganandaji’s friend at the ashram who compared sleep with samadhi. Even I at times think of sleep as supreme. Please guide me how I can mend....

—Shan, india

Answer

Dear Shan,

I understand you fully, since I have gone through the same difficulty: actually I used to sleep 10 hours and thought I needed it. And yes, one loves it. But in truth it’s a major waste of time.

To get out of it you need determined self-control. The part in you that wants to be a soldier has to get active, not by overcoming outer enemies, but by fighting that inner enemy: too much sleep. Identify Mr. “TooMuchSleep” as your enemy, because that’s exactly what he is, physically and spiritually.

The thing is, even though physicians usually recommend eight hours of sleep, according to Yogananda sleeping more than seven hours is actually harmful to the body: “Six or seven hours of sleep is enough. After that you don’t actually sleep; you drug the body. It loses energy instead of accumulating it.”

As a soldier in the future you will have many duties. It will be best for you to wake up in the early morning, before your daily duties begin, in order to meditate, pray, and to do your spiritual practices. Otherwise your day, and then a whole lifetime, slips by and you will have slept a lot, yes, but missed too many opportunities.

Sometimes we need to be a little stern with ourselves. I taught myself (it was a tough battle) to sleep 9.5 hours, then after some time 9 hours, then I cut down to 8.5 hours, then 8, etc. Now 6 hours is enough. It’s enough also for you, even though your habit will probably defend sleep, saying, “No, I need my 8 hours” (or 9, or 10). You might even get headaches and other symptoms when you start reducing sleep. Sleep is like a drug, Yogananda explains, “a sort of narcotic,” which becomes a deeply entrenched habit. But we can detoxify from it.

When sleep is hitting you, practice the energization exercises, very dynamically. Pray to God to help you, or to Ram Gopal Mazumdar, the sleepless saint of the Autobiography of a Yogi. Also invoke the Arjuna inside of you to win the battle. Get really inspired with the prospect of sleeping less. Your mind and heart must be on your side in this battle, instead of fighting against you.

Here are thoughts by Yogananda to inspire your heart and mind:

“Do you realize how you spend your life? Very few of us know how much we can put into our life if we use it properly, rightly, wisely, economically. Economize your time — lifetimes ebb away before we wake up, and that is why we do not realize the value of the immortal time which God has given us. Time is spent in rushing, in racing, in getting nowhere. Very few of us stop, think, and find out what life can give to us. Do you know how many years you actually live? Most people sleep from six to ten hours a day — one-third of their life is gone. Sixty years is the average life. One-third of that, twenty to twenty-five years, is spent in subconsciousness. Thus only forty or thirty-five years are left.”

If you manage to sleep even only one hour less each night, you will save 365 hours in a year. Assuming that you might still live for 60 years, that makes 21900 hours in a lifetime, which you will save: nothing less than 2.5 years. So by sleeping one hour less each night you will have 2.5 years more to live. If you succeed in sleeping two hours less, you will gain 5 years of precious life. Not little! Does that sound stimulating to you?

You are young and it might sound unreal to you, but life is really short. It passes before you notice. Sleep is not our friend, but a robber. Sometimes, in times of real fatigue, sickness, or when we can’t solve a psychological problem, sleep can be a friend. But in general, as Yogananda puts it, “sleep is a nuisance if you can’t control it.”

I hope this long letter didn’t put you to sleep… ;-)

All the best, may you become ever more wakeful,
Jayadev