Second sleep

 

I find myself naturally going to bed early (often 8 or 9pm), awake for one or two hours around 1 or 2pm, and then waking up early (5-6am). It feels very natural and comfortable. And after I noticed this pattern for myself, I realized it may have been a very common sleep pattern for some of our ancestors. It’s often called segmented or biphasic sleep.

In my early twenties, I did experiment with sleeping four times one hour daily, and it worked very well – apart from socially, and that’s why I didn’t continue. I found myself needing my hour of sleep, but couldn’t or wouldn’t for work or social reasons. This is called polyphasic sleep.

Reverse psychology: counting sheep

 

In general, the more we fight something the more it’s likely to hang around, at least in the psychological realm.

So it also is with sleep.

The more I try to fall asleep, or think I need to fall asleep, the less likely I am to actually fall asleep.

So why not try some old fashioned reverse psychology?

Counting sheep is one. When I count sheep, I subtly wish to stay awake so I can count the next one, and that makes it more likely that I’ll actually fall asleep. The resistance to being awake softens, which invites in sleep. (I actually don’t count sleep, but thought I would include it here since it’s the classic and slightly comical way to fall asleep. The comic element may actually be one reason it works, since it helps us relax the tight grip on any stressful thoughts.)

A more modern version is to count backwards from one hundred in steps of three. This requires me even more to stay alert and awake, resistance to staying awake softens, and I am more likely to fall asleep. Another thing that happens is that attention goes away from potentially stressful thoughts and to something more neutral, and that in itself is relaxing and invites in sleep.

Another is to use the four-seven-eight breathing technique. This may work in the two ways mentioned above, and may also work by physiologically relaxing us even more. (I find it easier to do it with my heartbeats in a 2-4-5-1 pattern: 2 in, 4 pause, 5 out, 1 pause.)

Then there is reading a good book. Again, it relaxes resistance to staying awake since I want to stay awake to continue reading. And it takes attention away from stressful throughs and into a world I know is imagined. I sometimes listen to a podcast before falling asleep, and it has the same effect. The podcast needs to be interesting enough so I’ll want to listen to it, and also on a topic that doesn’t trigger stressful thoughts. Language podcasts are often good for me (History of English, World in Words, Språkteigen.)

The same reverse psychology principle seems to work with hiccups. When I was a kid, my father would have me count the seconds between each hiccup and try to shorten the interval between each. That seemed to take care of the hiccups relatively quickly. (They may have ended quickly anyway of course. And I also find that I have hiccups when I haven’t had enough water, so drinking water is usually an easy cure.)

Why does wanting to stay awake (or have the next hiccup quickly) and softening the resistance to staying awake lead to more easily falling asleep?

When I resist falling asleep, I fuel stressful thoughts about insomnia. It fuels stressful through saying I need to fall asleep, I need a certain number of hours of sleep, I won’t function tomorrow etc. This stress in itself makes it less likely that I will fall sleep. Also, it makes me hyper vigilant about any signs of awakeness or falling asleep,and this interferes with the natural process of falling asleep. And there may even be a “pushing” to try to fall asleep. All things that are likely to keep me awake. So when the resistance is softened, falling asleep is more likely. There is less stress. Less concern about whether I am about to fall asleep or not and less interferences. Less pushing to try to make it happen.

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What to do if you are unable to sleep

 

Here are some things I have done when I have been unable to fall asleep.

First, some conventional advice:

Engage in physical activity earlier in the day. Go for a walk.

Avoid stimulants some hours before going to bed, including sugars and caffeine. Even better, avoid it completely.

Turn off all screens about an hour before going to bed. Read a book or go for a walk instead.

Touch can be relaxing. Give or receive nurturing touch, massage etc. before going to bed.

Turn off your phone and leave it in another room.

Write your worrying thoughts down before going to bed. This gets them out of the mind and onto paper.

And some more:

Take care of stressful things in your life.

Do grounding and body-centered activities such as yoga, tai chi, or Breema.. Go for walks in nature. Do gardening.

Inquire into stressful thoughts.

Train a more stable attention, for instance by bringing attention to the sensations of the breath.

While in bed, and before falling asleep:

Count backwards from 100 in steps of three.

Bring attention to the sensations of the breath, for instance in the nostrils.

Feel sensations in the body. Notice and allow any tension or contractions. Notice the space around and within it. Notice any words or images. Notice them as words and images.

If you notice your mind spins off into thought (stressful or otherwise), ask yourself: What would I have to feel now if my mind didn’t go to these thoughts? Feel that. See how it is to notice and allow it (including any words or images that are there). Do the same with any impulse to look at a screen, eat comfort food, etc. Explore what it is that you don’t want to feel, and see how it is to notice and allow it, and feel it.

Do tonglen, ho’oponopono, heart prayer. You can even do ho’oponopono towards the sleeplessness, and any stressful reactions you have to it.

Try the Taoist inner smile: Smile at each of your organs in turn, starting at the head and moving down.

Ask yourself: It’s terrible if I don’t sleep now, is it true? Is it true I won’t function tomorrow?

And if you have stressful thoughts or experiences, ask yourself: Is it true this experience is overwhelming? Is it true it’s too much? Is it true it means something terrible will happen? (Or has happened? Or is happening?)

In general, if you fight sleeplessness it’s more likely to hang around. Notice it, allow it. And do something that’s relaxing while requiring you to stay awake (counting backwards, ho’oponopono etc.), which may allow sleep in.

Also, sleeplessness is a great opportunity to do inquiry, train a more stable attention, do tonglen or ho’oponopono or the heart prayer, or any other exploration or practice.

Take any of these ideas as an experiment. See what works for you.

Also, ask yourself: What’s the threat in not doing a certain thing? (E.g. using screens before going to bed.)  What’s the threat in doing a certain thing? (E.g. Feeling the sensations.)

You can also try melatonin, for instance a combination of slow release and quick release. (Smaller amounts sometimes work better, at least for me.)

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Sleepiness in the sense fields

 

Any experience can be explored through the sense fields.

How does it appear in each field? How do these field combine – with the help of the mental field – to create gestalts? What happens if these gestalts are taken as substantial and real? What happens if they are recognized, as they happen, as a gestalt?

I was curious about sleepiness again this weekend, partly due to sleep deprivation, so explored it again. What I find – here now – is a set of sensations located in different areas from the chest up. A set of images – often of dark and flat/blank sheet – that are slowly and steadily sinking. And those sensations and images combines as a gestalt. When these sink with little distraction, there is a movement into sleep.

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Insomnia

 

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I normally sleep very well, and if I don’t get enough sleep it is usually by choice, because something else seems more interesting or important. But there are times when I have trouble falling asleep as well. (Although that too is usually self-afflicted, through not having questioned beliefs coming up for me, resisting experience, lack of physical activity, and so on.)

So here is a list of what I find helpful, which includes some of the excellent conventional advice on the subject.

While in bed.

  • Use ear plugs. Even if it is quiet, I find this helps finding even more stillness, auditory and of the mind.
  • Bring attention to sensations of the body, either the whole or one particular area. In a relaxed way, allow the mind to be interested in the sensations of the body, gently bringing it back when it lives its own life and temporarily goes somewhere else.
  • Allow thoughts to come and go on their own, as guests, living their own life. No need to go on the inside of them. No need to fuel them. This becomes easier with practice, including different forms of formal stability and insight practices. (Stability of attention, which helps quiet the mind. And the insight of seeing a thought as just a thought.)
  • Allow experience, whatever it may be. Can I be with what I am experiencing right now? Invite in a full allowing of the experience, in a wholehearted, heartfelt way, whatever the content of experience happens to be. This one can be especially helpful if there is some discomfort or stress.
  • Explore the sense fields. Bring attention to what appears in each sense field, one at a time.
  • Find enjoyment in just lying in bed relaxing for a while. This gives many of the same benefits as sleep anyway.
  • If sleep doesn’t come in a while, find some enjoyable or useful use of the time. Inquire into beliefs. Do different forms of stability or insight practices. Listen do an audio book or a talk.
  • I used to do this one, but haven’t in a while: Right after going to bed, go through the day’s events, as watching a movie, in segments starting with the most recent ones, w/out going into evaluations (from neutrality). This helps the mind process the ordinary stuff and feel more complete with it. Neutrality is the key here. (No need to fuel evaluations, what I could have done differently, and so on.)

During the day before going to bed.

  • Create a quiet, clean, comfortable sleeping environment.
  • Physical exercise. Engage in enough vigorous physical activity – not too close to bedtime – to get that nice, relaxed physical tiredness feel. This one works very well for me. (Sex works great too.)
  • Take a nap during the day. If we easily fall asleep while taking a nap, but not at bedtime, it can help us notice some of the differences. Is it easier to fall asleep if I don’t have much expectations about it? How can I bring that to my night?
  • Eat well. Eat nurturing meals of whole and less processed foods, and not too close to bedtime. I find that processed foods, especially those with additives and sugars, does funny things with my body that makes it more difficult to fall asleep. (Or sometimes gives a comatose like sleep which doesn’t feel that nurturing.) I also usually have my main meal in the early afternoon, when the body needs the energy, and a lighter meal in the evening when it doesn’t.
  • Some time before bedtime, eat smaller amounts of food that is sleep inducing, such as fish. Drink herbal teas that does the same, such as chamomile.
  • Slow down activities before bedtime, both physical and mental. Avoid movies and news that gets the mind going.
  • Do something nurturing before going to sleep. Nurturing conversations, nurturing company (including an animal), a good book, nice cup of (non-caffeine) tea, some relaxing yoga, receive a brief massage. (Breema is great, either giving or receiving a brief bodywork session, or Self-Breema.)

During the day, if I am tired or exhausted.

  • During the day, if you feel tired from lack of sleep, notice how you relate to the tiredness or exhaustion. Is it a problem? An enemy? Something you want to go away? What happens if you fully allow the experience? Befriend it? In what ways does it help you? Does it invite in relaxation, stillness, calmness? How does it support you? (I find this one very helpful as well, especially when I use my Breema principles in relating to exhaustion.)
  • Inquire into stressful beliefs, especially those who may keep me awake at night, and find what is already more true for me. (The stress comes from holding onto stories that, somewhere, I know are not true, and also from their friction with reality.) This includes stories about sleep itself. I have to get a good nights sleep. I won’t function without enough sleep. And so on. Is it true?
  • Exploring tiredness and exhaustion through the sense fields. Notice how thoughts combine with the others to create gestalts. Explore what tiredness or sleepiness is. What is it, in my own immediate experience? Is it just a sensation combined with a thought? When I see that, the gestalt falls away and only sensation remains. My body still needs and will benefit from sleep, but my identity is not caught up in the exhaustion.
  • Explore the difference between who and what we are, through for instance headless experiments. This one can also be especially useful during the day, if we feel tired or exhausted. As that which this human self, its tiredness, and all content of experience happens within, I am clear, awake, untouched by it. I find myself with one foot in awakeness, and one foot in this human self, which may or may not be tired.

And finally, as any tool, these only work if we actually use them. If you don’t, see that you choose to stay awake, and explore how to find peace with it, or even enjoyment in it. (As I often do.)

So we can do simple practical things during the day or before bedtime, such as exercise, nurturing meals, slowing down, eating some sleep inducing foods later in the day, having a quiet, comfortable sleep environment.

We can do things while in bed, such as allowing experience, avoid fueling stories, see thoughts as thoughts, bringing attention to the sensations of the body, exploring the sense fields, and so on.

We can make use of the time if we don’t fall asleep, such as reading a good book, doing the practices mentioned above, inquire into stressful beliefs, and so on.

And if we get tired or exhausted during the day, we can explore our relationship with these symptoms. What happens if I resist them? If I allow them? How do they support me?

Cloudiness and sense fields

 

I continue to explore the sense fields and how they combine to create gestalts, and in particular how thoughts combine with the other sense fields. (The sense fields: sound, sight, smell, taste, sensations, thoughts.)

I see how sensations combine with thoughts to create a sense of particular moods, emotions, pain, and much more.

Today, in the dentist’s chair, I noticed how particular sensations combine with thoughts to create a sense of discomfort. Seeing sensations as sensations and thoughts as thoughts, the gestalt loses its substance and sense of reality. The same happens when I bring attention to the sensations serving as anchor for the sense of discomfort. The gestalt cannot arise with any sense of substance when attention is brought to its anchoring sensation because the mechanism is seen through.

In the past, I have explored how sleepiness – for instance when it arises during practice – also is just a sensation combined with a thought.

And tonight, in exploring a sense of cloudiness, fuzziness, murkiness, I find that too as being made up of sensations and a thought.

In addition to all this, I also find that when there is an identification with any of these, it is as if a bulls eye for a sense of a separate I is placed on the sensations. They then not only serve as an anchor for the gestalt of an emotion, pain, discomfort, sleepiness, murkiness and so on, but also for the sense of an I with an Other.

And that is when, for instance, identity gets absorbed into the sleepiness or murkiness gestalt, and I fall asleep during practice, or the practice gets lost in murkiness.

Seeing all this, as it happens, allows the center of gravity to shift out of these sensations and gestalts. Now, I not only see how the gestalts are made up of sensations and thoughts, but the sense of a separate I is released out of them. (Either placed on other sensations, or seen through as awakeness itself.)

Now, they are objects happening within and as awakeness.

Sleep

 

I have read some of the reports in mainstream media on the recent sleep studies, finding a connection between lack of sleep and a wide range of medical problems and even mortality.

It is important research, especially since lack of sleep is chronic for many today.

But the studies, at least as reported, also leave out some even more interesting questions.

For instance, is the lack of sleep perceived as voluntary or not and what happens in either case? I can imagine that if it is perceived as involuntary, it can easily have detrimental effects in many areas. But if it is perceived as voluntary – as it was for me two days ago when I stayed up the whole night working on something I had a real interest in – it may be quite different. Maybe the lack of sleep itself is less important than how we perceive it. The stress we sometimes put on top of it may be as important as anything else.

There are also individual differences in our need for sleep. One study found that less than seven hours of sleep, on average, is associated with a range of health problems, but the individual differences were left out from the news reports. For some, five hours may be plenty. For others, nine hours may be necessary. And this changes over time too, with age and life circumstances.

And then the question of correlation and causality, which some news reports actually did include. There may be a correlation between too little/much sleep and health problems, but the causality within that correlation is maybe not so clear yet. Most likely, it varies a great deal from situation to situation.

There may be something going on which leads to lack of sleep in the short term and other health problems later on, such as overwork and stress. We may chose to get less sleep just to get more out of our days, and the lack of sleep alone can lead to health problems. There could be a hidden health problem which first gives insomnia and then manifests in other ways. There is probably a great variety of different connections, each showing up in different situations.

Another aspect which would be interesting to look at is how we process our dream world in daily life. For those of us who don’t process our dream world much in daily life, for whatever reason, a good night’s sleep with plenty of night dreaming may be more necessary. But if it is processed more actively in daily life – through art, music, dream work, a meditation practice, active imagination, process work, shamanic journeying or even daydreaming – we may get by with significantly less sleep and night dreaming.

And then other questions, such as taking a nap. For me, taking a nap during the day has a very noticeable benefit all around, and it is probably not so different for others. It helps reduce stress and catch up on our sleep, which should have noticeable effects on our body-mind health and well-being.