Q. 388 – Fear of Deep Sleep

Q: I am reading Dennis’ book ‘The Book of One’, and I am on the chapter about deep sleep.

From the age of around seven ( I am now 51), I have had a morbid terror of sleep. Not dreaming sleep which I enjoy (I am one of those rare people that has quite regular lucid dreams), but deep sleep, and equate it with “unconsciousness or non-consciousness” or death which leads to death anxiety. I understand that this fear is a result of constructs that I have devised, and am my own torturer. But the enquiry in this book and other books on Hinduism I have read seems to be returning me to the same cul-de-sac that is the dead end of my search.

Just reading the chapter now left me cold with fear and even worse complete dissappointment, as it doesn’t feel intuitive to me that this is our natural state? I really don’t want to return here at all, is this a normal reaction people feel when they are introduced to this concept?

I am not an intellectual. I have persevered with the book and it’s concepts, even though at times it is quite clearly beyond my comprehension. But is that it? Is that all there is? A kind of acceptance of annihilation of this ego-mind… forever?

I have some recollection of the Indra story where they ask the same question of Prajāpati and wasn’t quite satisfied?

Will this fear pass?

A (Dennis): You should take up meditation with the determination to practice fully. The nature of this would depend upon which method you chose. I took up mantra-based meditation similar to TM, which required 30 mins practice twice per day. This sounds impossible to begin with I know but, after a few months, it becomes part of your routine. And you benefit in so many ways, both mentally and physically. But the point is that, eventually (the time varies from one individual to another), you reach the point where you begin to experience periods of samAdhi. At these times, your mind becomes totally still. You are still aware of external and internal events but you remain entirely detached from both. You know that you are neither the body nor the mind but the observer of these. There is no ego at these times because you recognize this independence. Ego IS identification with one or other.

In deep sleep, you do not experience anything. But this is because there is nothing to experience, not because ‘you’ have disappeared. You see neither external world (because the senses are inactive) nor internal thoughts (because the mind is inactive). But the Self that is the witnessing Consciousness in deep meditation is still present in deep sleep. It never ‘sleeps’ (or dies) because it is the only thing that really exists. It is who you really are.

Hope this helps!

5 thoughts on “Q. 388 – Fear of Deep Sleep

  1. To The Questioner:

    You mention that by reading the above mentioned book and others on Hinduism, that it “seems to be returning me to the same cul-de-sac that is the dead end of my search.”

    For me, this is the exact point that all concepts and systems (the search) lead to. They lead to nothing but more concepts and more seeking. Even death is a concept.

    Perhaps if you are lucky enough, you will see the wisdom in dropping all of this desire to understand what others write about, say or preach, including every major religious teacher that ever lived, and know that it is your own mind which is producing every kind of disturbance and concept that you get lost in. This is the only thing to understand, not something that is beyond, or an action that you do to try to attain something. The wisdom of seeing the impossibility of the mind finding anything beyond itself is a great relief. The world of ideas begins to crumble.

  2. Hello Questioner,

    Before we get into the philosophical aspects, there is an important human physiological point you should be clear about.

    I am not an expert on Deep Sleep. But based on the little knowledge I have,
    I seriously doubt your statement when you say:

    “From the age of around seven ( I am now 51), I have had a morbid terror of sleep….. ….. , but deep sleep, and equate it with “unconsciousness or non-consciousness” or death which leads to death anxiety.”

    To me that is totally an unverified assumption.

    It is impossible for a human being to think that s/he can live without deep sleep. To put it mildly, you would not have been living.

    You are obviously quite articulate with an intelligent, clear thinking and well-functioning brain. For the brain to be able to work in such a healthy manner, you must have had episodes of Deep Sleep every night whether you know it or not.

    Please understand that deep sleep is necessary for the brain so that the cells within it shut down for some time when their routine maintenance service is carried out. All through the day and during dreaming, the cells are very active (90-120 Hertz) and produce lot of waste material. For the cells to regenerate and carry on with the work next day, the toxins and garbage produced has to be swept off the cells. That garbage disposal goes on during deep sleep (3-4 Hz activity).

    During deep sleep you will not and cannot feel any anxiety.
    On the other hand, the cells get refreshed and be ready to take up the work next day.

    So first thing first — be clear that your anxiety, whether psychological or pathological is not because of deep sleep.

    I am trying to get an authoritative view on this matter from Prof. M.P. Walker, an Expert and Author on Sleep at Berkeley, Calif, USA.


    • Hi Ramesam,

      Your response should be very helpful to the questioner in understanding the value of deep sleep. After reading the question again, however, I wonder if you are not perhaps coming at it from an angle oblique to the actual query. I hope the person will respond and clarify, but I think he/she was saying that they feel anxious and afraid when they consider being unconscious. The questioner is citing an experience of “death anxiety” when contemplating deep sleep. I don’t think this person is saying they don’t have deep sleep, or believe that one could live without it, only that they have constructed a fear of it. In that context, the original question was, “Will this fear pass?”

      Best Regards,

      • Hi Charles,

        Thank you for bringing in a different POV.

        At the outset, I request Dennis to throw some light on whether this is an active current Question or picked from his Archives file. If it is an old question, there is no hope that the Questioner will provide his/her inputs so that our discussion on it may ‘stand on course.’

        Next, as you also pointed out, the Questioner has to clarify where exactly is his/her problem : i) the emergence of ‘fear’ even when s/he considers the model of deep sleep in understanding the Advaita teaching or ii) it is simply whether “this fear will pass,” as you put it” or iii) why s/he holds deep sleep as the culprit for his/her feeling of fear.

        Perhaps after that I can amplify on what I wrote about his/her mis-identification of his ‘fears’ blaming on deep sleep.

        I am aware you are deeply knowledgeable of these matters and i can hardly disagree with you.


  3. The question was one from my archive, although it was only last year. It seemed a straightforward one so I did not throw it open for responses from other bloggers.. SInce it has now triggered some comments, I have contacted the questioner to invite participation.

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