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Dozing off during prayer? Here are some ways to control that

MAN PRAYING
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“Holy rest” is a gift, sometimes, but if sleeping becomes habitual, it can rob you of solace and more.

Submit all questions to @askkatrina@aleteia.org

Dear Katrina,

I recently read a really sweet story where Pope Francis admitted to sometimes falling asleep during prayer. I frequently fall asleep praying in the evening, and while his comments helped me feel a little less guilty, it’s still a habit I’d like to break. Any ideas on how to go about it?

Yvonne

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Dear Yvonne,

I’m guilty of this myself. In fact, I bet you won’t find a single Catholic who at some point in their prayer hasn’t dozed off. Prayer can be meditative and very relaxing, as well as a stress reducer, which is why it’s not uncommon to drift off while praying. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux admitted to dozing at prayer, too!

Occasionally falling asleep isn’t that serious a problem — it is a kind of “holy rest” and recalls the psalm: “Rather, I have stilled my soul / Like a weaned child to its mother / weaned is my soul.” (Psalm 131:2).

However, if your sleeping through prayer is habitual, as you seem to indicate, you’re right to want to take steps to correct that.

Change where you pray

Don’t pick the most comfortable spot in the house, like your bed, to pray in at night. Move to a chair in your bedroom instead. If you’re physically able to, pray kneeling or standing. Posture matters.  You also don’t always have to pray at or even inside your home; after dinner you can head to church and sit before the tabernacle for your evening prayers or, if it’s a nice night, sit on your porch or deck.   

Change when you pray

Make sure to pray throughout the day, not only at night; then at least when you do fall asleep it won’t be during the only time you’ve set aside for prayer. While it’s wonderful to have prayer be the last thing we do before sleep, it’s not practical if we’re physically and mentally exhausted. Pray your evening prayers before you do your nightly bed routine — before washing your face and brushing your teeth or changing into your pajamas.  

Change how you pray

As much as I love the Rosary I’ll be the first to admit that its repetitive nature can make it as potent as a shot of Nyquil. When I get seasonal insomnia I break out my rosary and pray to make myself fall asleep. What types of prayers are you praying at night? Is it the same thing every night?  I would suggest changing your routine. You can incorporate feast days and saint’s days into prayer for that night, read scripture another night, and the next night pray a quick chaplet.  

Also try vocalizing your prayer. Instead of inward silent prayer, try reciting (or chanting) your prayers and reading scripture out loud. You could even sing. Dominicans end their evening prayers with Salve Regina. I even like to write as a form of prayer by keeping a journal where I write down my favorite scripture, quotes, and general thoughts related to faith.

You’re already conscientious and diligent about daily prayer in the evening, which is wonderful. I think making just a few tweaks to your nightly routine will make a huge difference in the quality and fruitfulness of your prayer.

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