1. We begin today with a willingness to consider the possibility that we don’t get sleep because we don’t ‘get’ sleep.
We begin this conversation with a “beginner’s mind” -- a willingness to consider that our basic beliefs about sleep may be misinformed and undermining. We begin with patience and humility as well as with a willingness to learn directly from sleep itself.
What is Sleep? Most often we define it negatively -- that is, in terms of what it is not. In the same way we naively think of health as the absence of disease, we think of sleep as the absence of waking or the absence of consciousness. This leaves us at risk of confusing true sleep with the unconscious knockout of sleeping pills.
We move toward a better understanding of sleep by considering that it is not simply unconsciousness. That there may be something mysterious and serene sweeping through the deep currents of night. It’s perfectly safe to keep our eyes open as we descend into the safe and wondrous sea of sleep. In doing so, we can begin a new and personal conversation with sleep itself.
Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
2. To 'get' sleep, we simply cannot continue to relate to it only as a servant of waking life. What else might it be?
The most common presumption we hold about sleep, both scientifically and culturally, is that it provides an essential foundation for waking life. All the research questions we ask about sleep focus on its role in supporting our performance and health. Though it is absolutely true that sleep functions in these important ways, it’s not the whole truth.
Beyond its critical underpinning of waking life, sleep also plays a key role in our spirituality. This is most evident in many sacred traditions around the world where sleep has been seen as a spiritual portal. Studies of accomplished mediators further suggest that sleep reconnects us with our innermost selves.
Viewing sleep simply as a servant of waking life is like thinking of food simply as a vehicle for the delivery of nutrients, or sex as being strictly about reproduction. It’s a perspective that strips personal experience, spirit and joy from sleep. It also sets the stage for seeing sleeplessness solely as a technical problem that that must be fought with only impersonal technical solutions.
What are your thoughts on this matter? What’s your personal experience of sleep?
Monday, January 3rd, 2011
3. To ‘get’ sleep we must stop battling symptoms of insomnia & learn to approach sleep in a thoroughly non-violent way.
We typically approach health challenges as conflict. We fight disease, combat infections, kill germs, and battle our symptoms. This is especially evident around the two most common symptoms of insomnia -- nighttime wakefulness and daytime sleepiness. Many insomniacs secretly hurl expletives at their nighttime wakefulness. And as many are in chronic battle with their daytime sleepiness.
A combative attitude toward nighttime wakefulness inevitably backfires. It heightens arousal, triggering a vicious cycle of spiraling frustration and wakefulness. Furthermore, if we habitually rebuff sleep by day, it can become skittish and shy away from us at night. We simply can’t fight our way back to the peace of sleep.
Instead of fighting the symptoms of insomnia, we must learn to cultivate a non-violent approach. This is not about a passive resignation to our symptoms, but an active practice of giving up the fight that seriously exacerbates them. In short, we must begin by forgiving our insomnia.
When mindful of your underlying posture toward your sleep symptoms, what do you discover?
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
4. What routinely interferes with sleep or disrupts our nightly sleepiness can be summed up in a single word: ‘noise.’
Contrary to what so many people believe, insomnia does not usually result from insufficient sleepiness. (In fact, most of us are probably excessively sleepy much of the time.) The primary cause of insomnia is a kind of excessive wakefulness that results from unexamined 'noise' in our lives.
Noise refers to varying degrees of excitation or agitation that arise from somatic, psychological or environmental sources. Think of these, respectively, as ‘body,’ ‘mind’ and ‘bed’ ‘noise.' Examples of 'body noise' might include pain or discomfort, the lingering effects of caffeine, nicotine or alcohol, the side effects of medications, indigestion or reflux and leg kicks. Examples of 'mind noise' include things like worry, anxiety, and stress, often experienced as unstoppable thinking or 'cognitive popcorn.' And examples of 'bed (environmental) noise' could include an uncomfortable mattress, a bedroom that is too light or warm, a partner's snoring or poor air quality.
'Noise' is cumulative, subtly accruing over time from various ‘body, mind and bed’ sources.
The next couple of tweets will focus on further discussion of ‘noise,’ after which we will begin to evaluate the noise in our own lives.
Wednesday January 5th, 2011
5. Most ‘noise’ results from our inadvertently smuggling waking ways of being into the night and sleep.
Noise is contextual. Being immersed in thinking by day, for example, is normal. But when thinking involuntarily invades sleep, we have a pernicious form of ‘mind noise.’ Likewise, feeling physically energized by the day is quite natural, but if we cannot quiet our body at night, we struggle with a common kind of ‘body noise.’
Because we overvalue waking and view sleep as subservient to it, we typically fail to even notice that we are smuggling waking consciousness into the night world. In fact, people with chronic insomnia show increased beta or waking brainwave activity during their sleep. They also have an increased 24-hour metabolic rate, higher levels of cortisol, as well as increased cerebral glucose metabolism during their sleep.
Once again, insomnia does not usually result from being insufficiently sleepy, but from being excessively wakeful or hyperaroused. Routinely bringing waking ways of being into the night is like metaphorically sleeping in our clothes. Trying to understand and access sleep with the waking mind is like trying to understand darkness by using a flashlight. We need to learn to dial our waking ways down, to leave the waking world at our bedroom door.
Thursday, January 6th, 2011
6. The excessive use of light at night is the most critical overlooked form of ‘bed noise’ in the insomnia epidemic.
If God or angels or extraterrestrials were indeed monitoring us from above, the most profound change they would have witnessed on this planet since its creation is the pernicious illumination of our nights. Satellite images taken of the planet at night indicate that it is glowing brighter with each passing year. So much of our use of light at night is gratuitous. The light bulb, originally intended to extend the workday, has ignited the landscape and is now burning out of control.
Light, of course, is a form of energy and will excite whatever it makes contact with—including humans. Excessive light at night promises excessive artificial stimulation, a major source of the counterfeit energy that fuels so much of our evening wakefulness. Excessive light at night is a common source of environmental noise. When the world is lit up in the evening, it encourages extraversion, our attention drawn outward to activity. Because eighty percent of sensory stimulation to the brain is visual, when the outer world darkens, we naturally introvert, slow down and rest.
Mounting evidence suggests that even minimal nighttime light exposure can suppress the production of melatonin, the key neurohormone that mediates our sleep circadian rhythms. Overexposure to nighttime illumination has also been linked to increases in cancer, diabetes, and immune dysfunctions—giving new meaning to the notion of friendly fire.
New technology makes it possible to maintain lighting at night while filtering out the specific element of light that suppresses melatonin. See PHOTONICS for more information and products.
Friday, January tth, 2011
7. Your nightstand reflects your stance toward night and sleep. Use it to begin evaluating your personal sleep story.
Insomnia does not usually require a formal, overnight sleep study or polysomnography. But it does require careful evaluation. An interesting place to begin such a personal evaluation is with your nightstand.
If sleep is a nightly get-away, then the nightstand is the overnight bag we carry at our side. We can learn a lot about a person’s travels by what’s in their bags. Is your nightstand suggestive of a rejuvenating personal retreat? Or, is it more about a stressful business trip?
Take a closer look at what’s on and in your nightstand. Make a list of all that is there and then ask yourself if these things encourage a natural surrender to sleep or keep you subtly tethered to the world of waking. Things that keep you connected to waking such as clocks, lamps, radios, computers and telephones, as well as energy spiking foods, substances and information have no place on an overnight sleep retreat.
Saturday, January 8th, 2011
8. For a free comprehensive personal evaluation of your sleep, sleepiness and ‘noise,’ try THE SLEEP ADVISOR.
Sleep problems, especially insomnia, can be complex. We saw that they result from the accumulation of ‘noise’ associated with a broad range of ‘body, mind and bed’ factors. Better sleep requires obtaining a detailed picture of your particular sources of ‘noise’ and then taking specific actions to dial them down.
The Sleep Advisor was designed to offer easy and effective access to good sleep health care for all. Using the same methods employed by sleep specialists, the Sleep Advisor’s Self-Assessment takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. It then provides you with a comprehensive Sleep Health Analysis that includes both diagnostic impressions and a detailed discussion of your specific sources of ‘noise.”
“... I recommend it highly.” -- Andrew Weil, MD
Sunday, January 9th, 2011
9. For better sleep we must balance the approach of ‘taking something to sleep’ with ‘letting go of something to sleep.’
There are two basic approaches to managing sleeplessness: taking something to sleep and letting go of something to sleep. Since time immemorial people have been taking herbs and other natural substances to sleep. In modern times the idea of taking something to sleep also includes things like sleeping pills, warm milk, or bedtime snacks.
Taking something to sleep typically functions to increase our sleepiness. But it does not directly decrease our ‘noise.’ Letting go of something to sleep is about identifying and dialing down specific sources of ‘body, mind and bed noise.’ More fundamentally, it is about learning to let go of waking and surrender to sleep.
Taking something to sleep can be useful in helping us manage periods of crisis, jet lag and similar sleep challenging events. Our ultimate goal, however, is to dial down ‘noise.’ When our noise levels are greater than our sleepiness, we remain awake. When we sufficiently release ‘noise’ and become more sleepy than ‘noisy,” we sleep. Consider gradually cutting back on taking something to sleep as you engage in a practice of letting go of ‘noise’ to sleep. Obtain guidance from a qualified health practitioner if you are discontinuing sleeping pills.
Monday, January 10th, 2011
10. Letting go of ‘body noise’ to achieve better sleep first requires that we get hold of it.
‘Body noise’ is caused by sleep disruptive (1) medications and substances, (2) medical conditions, (3) lifestyle factors including nutrition and exercise, and 4) women’s health issues. Before we can let go of ‘body noise,’ we need to identify and understand the particular ways in which it personally affects us. We’ll address each of these ‘body noise’ categories in four separate tweets, beginning here with medications and substances.
There are numerous medications and substances that can interfere with sleep to varying degrees. Among medications that may have a negative effect on sleep are antidepressants, pain killers, beta blockers, diuretics and even sleeping pills. Stimulating medications can obviously impede sleep. But sedating medications can also interfere with sleep because they suppress daytime activity, leaving us less sleepy at night. The regular use of sleeping pills frequently results in dependence and a rebound of insomnia symptoms at discontinuation.
Alcohol and caffeine can be particularly damaging to sleep. Many people erroneously believe that alcohol facilitates sleep. It can, in fact, induce sleepiness, but it inevitably disrupts the continuity of sleep and, of course, can become addictive. Many others use excessive amounts of caffeine by day to compensate for poor nightly sleep. Unfortunately, the effects of excessive caffeine consumption can easily linger into night, further disrupting sleep.
Talk with your physician or pharmacist about possible sleep disruptive side effects of medications you are taking and consider alternatives whenever possible. With regard to alcohol, consider drinking less and having it earlier with food. Limit caffeine to no more than two servings before noon. Remember that ‘noise’ is cumulative. Even if you are using substances and medications in limited ways, their negative sleep effects can add up.
Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
11. Letting go of ‘body noise’ should leave your body quiet -- free of excessive energy, pain and discomfort.
Even when we feel mentally sleepy, our body may not. A wide range of medical conditions that produce pain, discomfort or jumpiness can interfere with sleep in both obvious as well as subtle ways. These include general medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and chronic pain as well as sleep related medical conditions like nocturia (excessive nighttime urination), GERD (acid reflux), RLS (restless leg syndrome), PLMS (periodic limb movements in sleep) and bruxism (teeth grinding).
Needless to say, if you are struggling with pain or other forms of discomfort and, if you’ve no already done so, do address these with your doctor. Effective approaches to pain management are rapidly advancing (See Dr. Howard Schubiner’s Mind Body Program). Once you manage to get there, being asleep can significantly raise your pain and discomfort threshold.
Nocturia and RLS are common conditions. If you find yourself getting up to urinate more than twice aech night or if your limbs feel uncomfortably restless when you try to rest or sleep, talk with your healthcare provider. Some symptoms of medical sleep disorders such as GERD, PLMS or bruxism may not be at all obvious. If you find yourself continuing to wake excessively at night and/or just unexplainably sleepy, it would be wise to consult with a sleep specialist.
Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
12. The secret of a good night’s sleep is a good day’s waking – a day of good exercise and good eating.
Nutrition and exercise are unquestionably two of the most critical factors in maintaining a healthy, ‘noise’-free body. A healthy diet, particularly one that is anti-inflammatory such as the Mediterranean diet, will help minimize ‘body noise.’ Additionally, there is a strong correlation between adequate cardiovascular exercise and deep sleep. Exercise not only minimizes ‘body noise’ but also increases sleepiness. (See Dr. Andrew Weil's web site for excellent nutrition and exercise advice.)
The timing of exercise and eating is also important. Exercising raises our core body temperature, which needs to decrease for us to fall asleep. Try to finish cardiovascular exercise no later than three or four hours prior to bed. Likewise, digestion is an active physiological process, a form of ‘body noise’ that can interfere with sleep. We don’t want to go to bed full or famished. Try to allow at least three hours between the time you finish dinner and bedtime. Having a small bedtime snack that emphasizes complex carbs and minimizes fat and protein can be helpful for some.
Thursday, January 13th, 2011
13. Women are both much worse and much better sleepers than men.
Generally speaking, women are at much higher risk for sleeplessness than men. The ebb and flow of hormones associated with menstruation, pregnancy and menopause leaves women significantly more susceptible to ‘body noise.’
In some women, premenstrual symptoms may be eased with melatonin supplementation. Pregnancy commonly presents special sleep challenges including insomnia and snoring. It can help to realize that during pregnancy you are actually sleeping for two.
Many women find perimenopause particularly challenging to their sleep. There’s no doubt that bodily changes associated with this life passage can exacerbate pre-existing insomnia and even push one over the edge if they are lingering at the borderline or sleeplessness. Perimenopause, however, is not considered a primary cause of insomnia. Many women actually sleep right through it. To manage the ‘body noise’ associated with perimenopause, follow you doctor’s advice along side of the general sleep suggestions offered here.
The good news is that women appear to be biologically programmed to get about 40% more deep sleep than men. This is Mother Nature’s way of compensating for the special challenges associated with mothering. It could well be the reason that women generally live longer than men.
Friday, January 14th, 2011
14. Certainly, there are times when it is OK to take something-- something sensible -- to sleep.
There are occasions when most of us will feel a need to take something to sleep. It may be a time of illness or exceptional stress, a way to cope with jet lag or something to help us wean our dependence from less desirable sleeping pills or substances.
Here are my four basic guidelines for ‘taking something to sleep:’
(1) Generally, opt for more natural, over the counter remedies as opposed to prescription medications when you can. Most conventional, over-the-counter sleep products contain Benadryl, an antihistamine, which has an undesirably long-lasting effect and can suppress REM sleep or dreaming. Valerian root is a safe natural alternative that has been used around the world for centuries and has been shown to be effective in a number of scientific studies.
(2) Use sleep aides only for a limited time – for no longer that a week or two, if possible. Long-term continuous use can result in dependence, and for some prescription products (e.g., benzodiazepine medications), outright addiction. It is not uncommon to experience ‘rebound insomnia’ or a recurrence of sleeplessness after discontinuing the use of sleep aides. It may be helpful to gradually wean oneself to minimize this.
(3) Get informed about all of your alternatives, including botanicals, nutraceuticals, and medications. Learn about the effectiveness and side effects of anything you are considering using. As an example, many popular ‘sleepy teas’ use chamomile as an active ingredient. Chamomile is, in fact, a safe and effective mild relaxant. But it can also have a diuretic effect on some people. Make sure your ‘sleepy tea’ is not a ‘peepy tea.’ The recent emergence of ‘sleep drinks,’ possibly as a counterpoint to the explosion of energy drinks on the market, can be seductive. Read the ingredients. These typically contain lots of sugar and excessive quantities of melatonin.* And remember that taking fluids before bed can increase your need to urinate in the middle of the night. In my practice, I have found that people commonly take excessive doses of melatonin while taking insufficient doses of valerian. It is essential to work with a qualified healthcare professional to determine what might work best for you.
(4) Lastly, it is critical to always complement ‘taking something to sleep’ with an active plan to ‘let go of something to sleep.’ We’ll talk much more about this as we proceed.
*Melatonin is unique, complex and potentially useful sleep aid that I will discuss in greater detail later.
Saturday, January 15th, 2011
15. What wakes us up at night isn’t necessarily what keeps us awake.
It may be a noise, the call of our bladder, a desire to shift our position in bed or many other such things that wake us up, but more often than not, it is our reaction to these – our ‘mind noise’ —that keeps us awake.
Over the years, I’ve asked many sleepless folks what their very first thought is when awakened during the night. “Oh shit!” is one of the most common answers I get. Reacting to a moment of nighttime wakefulness with an expletive, a blast of 'mind noise,' only throws more fuel on the fire of our sleeplessness. ‘Mind noise,’ once again, refers to disruptive thoughts, feelings and attitudes that interfere with sleep by triggering wakefulness.
But it doesn’t stop there. I believe that most of what we do mentally to try to get back to sleep further contributes to our wakefulness. And there’s so much we do. We toss and turn and get up and go back down and get a drink and then empty our bladders. Some people pray or meditate or just think hard about not thinking. Others mentally mull over all the possible causes of their sleeplessness, maybe taking a few moments to chastise themselves for that extra cup of coffee or cola drink they had that day. And still others find they can’t seem to stop their minds from thinking and subsequently think relentlessly about why they are thinking so relentlessly.
Because sleep requires that we let go of intention, any intentional efforts to get back to sleep will likely backfire. The simple truth is that there is nothing we have to do to get back to sleep. But we must learn to do that.
We'll be addressing the management of ‘mind noise’ in the next few tweets.
Sunday, January 16th, 2011
16. What kinds of thoughts and beliefs do you bring to bed with you? Can you sleep comfortably with them?
Because our cognitive processes can trigger emotions and arousal, our thoughts and beliefs about sleep can have a most powerful effect upon it. Thoughts and beliefs that generate anxiety, vigilance or activity, for example, can seriously disrupt sleep.
Here are three examples of common thoughts and beliefs that interfere with sleep:
1. If I don't sleep well tonight it will be terrible!
2. I can and must take control of my sleep; its up to me to make it happen.
3. I should fall asleep quickly and always sleep through the night.
Take a few moments to think about how these and similar kinds of thoughts and beliefs might interfere with your sleep. It can be helpful to systematically address such thoughts and beliefs by writing them out, examining them closely, and then asking ourselves if they are, in fact, valid or true. Many of us hold onto thoughts and beliefs that are simply inaccurate and dysfunctional because we’ve never examined them more closely.
This is not about ‘positive thinking.’ It is about not thinking. It is a practice of letting go, not so much of negative thoughts, but of negative thinking patterns. Extensive psychological research suggests that happiness is less about ‘the power of positive thinking’ and more about the ‘power of non-negative thinking.’
This approach is based on one of the most powerful sleep treatments available today—cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or CBT-I. If you feel stuck in a whirlwind of dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs about sleep, consider seeing a behavioral sleep medicine specialist with expertise in CBT-I.
Monday, January 17th, 2011
17. What kinds of emotions do you bring to bed with you? Can you sleep comfortably with them?
Whether good or bad, challenging or delightful, emotions, like the weather are simply a part of life. Some emotions are easy to sleep with, while others might stir, toss, turn and kick and poke at us throughout the night.
With regard to sleep, emotions can be classified into two camps, quiet emotions are those we can easily sleep along side of, and noisy emotions are ones that will likely interfere with sleep. Contentment, hope and affection are examples of quiet emotions. But quiet emotions aren’t necessarily all positive. Sadness, disappointment and loneliness can also be quiet emotions. In contrast, emotions such as anger, anxiety and hostility are obviously noisy, though not all noisy emotions are negative. Exhilaration, astonishment and even euphoria can also be quite noisy.
It is important to recognize that we often have choices about which emotions we will allow into bed with us and which ones we will ask to wait at the bedroom door. We can ask emotions to wait until the next morning by acknowledging and processing them. Address noisy feelings an hour or so before bed by discussing them with a supportive person and/or journaling about them. Your purpose is not to dismiss or bury the feeling, but to acknowledge and set it aside for the night.
Allow your quieter emotions to come to bed with you. Quiet positive emotions are easy. But even emotions like sorrow and loneliness can be embraced with compassion. It truly is OK to gently cry oneself to sleep.
Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
18. What do you feel about the thought that your thinking is keeping you awake at night by keeping you from feeling?
Confusing? Yes, it can be. We live in a world that commonly confuses emotions or feelings with thoughts or thinking. So much of what we believe to be rational thought is actually a kind of emotional reasoning -- thoughts that are shaped by feelings. At night, these can become a common source of ‘mind noise.’
When we try to sleep and are no longer distracted by the waking world, its not uncommon to experience a relentless stream of thoughts I call cognitive popcorn. Usually these are innocuous, but they keep popping like popcorn in the stovetop. And just as popcorn is popped by the heat beneath the kettle, cognitive popcorn is fired up by underlying emotions and functions to distract us from them.
Sifting through the kernels of thoughts will only make matters worse. What can help us manage cognitive popcorn is turning the heat of our emotions down. We do this by becoming aware of the subtle emotions in the background. Explore, identify and then accept the emotion embedded in the cognition. You might want to talk or journal about it. If it’s an emotion that you can sleep with, embrace and bring it to bed. If it’s not a good bedfellow, strike a deal to have it wait until morning.
Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
19. Is your bedroom a sleep sanctuary or a repository of residual waking world ‘noise?’
Even when we dial down ‘body and mind noise,’ too many of us remain tethered to the waking world by various forms of environmental agitation or ‘bed noise.’ Beyond the obvious smuggling of a waking world mindset into our bedrooms at night, ‘bed noise’ can be classified into three major categories:
1) physical factors such as room temperature, light, sound, unhealthy bedding and indoor air pollution;
2) psychosocial factors including one’s psychological sense of safety, one’s relationship with their bed partner and even one's conditioned relationship with their bed; and
3) time and timing factors that include one’s circadian rhythms and relationship with waking world time and clocks.
Let’s begin a more detailed look at these factors in the next few tweets with a personal review of your bedroom. Stand in the doorway and look around. What is this room about? Is it a work or entertainment center that happens to have a bed in it? Or, is it a sweet sanctuary that supports your letting go? Does it encouarge a soothing sense of surrender? Or, does it stimulate, excite or agitate you? Does it feel safe and inviting or is the room imbued with a history of sleep struggles?
Thursday, January 20th, 2011
20. Turns out our mother’s were quite right – we need to do a much better job in cleaning up our bedrooms.
In addition to the obvious need for a cool, quiet and dark bedroom, there is a less apparent need to clear our bedrooms of common sources of ‘noise’ in the form of unhealthy bedding and indoor air pollutants. These forms of ‘bed noise’ can accumulate to create a silent but toxic sleep environment.
Conventional bedding and mattresses are constructed from dubious materials. The cotton found in our linens, pillows, mattresses and pajamas is simply one of the most pesticide-laden crops in the world. Synthetic petrochemical foams found in many mattresses, including the popular “memory foam” varieties are associated with significant off-gassing of potentially hazardous chemicals. Air mattresses are also known to off-gas and, depending on climate, can encourage the growth of mold. Most conventional mattresses are also treated with chemical fire retardants.
Virtually all bedrooms harbor dust mites, microscopic insects that feed on shed human skin found in mattresses, pillows, bed covers and carpets. Dust mite body parts and feces can trigger reactions ranging from subtle allergies to severe asthma. And if that’s not bad enough, conventional bedroom walls and floors, furniture and carpeting are also a potential source of off-gassing from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in paints, varnishes and adhesives. Add the off-gassing from toiletries and cleaning products typically found in master bathrooms and we have a most disturbing picture of what I have called sleep smog.
I believe that many sleep problems such as congestion and snoring may be associated with respiratory reactions to sleep smog. Poor breathing means poor sleep. Even if you’re not aware of it, airborne contaminants can compromise respiration during sleep. And, of course, there remains a concern about the potential health hazards associated with long-term exposure to such poor air quality.
Friday, January 21st, 2011
21. What is your personal bedtime story? Consider re-writing the future ending.
Establishing a personal sense of safety is essential for sleep. To understand and manage related ‘bed noise,’ its helpful to examine our sleep histories – our personal bedtime stories. Was going to bed as a child about getting gently tucked in and having sweet fairy tales read to you? Or, was it about being sent to bed as punishment or even getting hurt there? What sort of love relationship history has your bed witnessed? Has it been a place of loneliness or deep connection and joy with another? Or, has it been a battleground for love gone wrong? And lastly, what kind of sleep history do you have with your bed? Have long stretches of sleeplessness left you with a bad feeling about your bed?
Difficult personal bedtime stories are very common sources of ‘bed noise’ that too often go unrecognized. Take some time to examine your personal, relationship and sleep history with your bed. Acknowledging past or current difficulties is an essential first step. Then consider re-writing the future ending of this story. Positively transform the feel of your bed with healing rituals and by adorning it with icons or relics that provide a sense of protection, sacredness or beauty. With regard to couple’s conflict, do all you can to make the bedroom a de-militarized zone or, better yet, a safe nightly sanctuary.
If you have a significant history of sleeplessness associated with your bed, it is important to learn about and practice ‘stimulus control’ techniques to break the conditioned association of your bed with sleeplessness. To summarize: 1) use your bed only for sleep and sex, 2) go to bed only when you feel sleepy, 3) if it takes more than about 20 minutes to fall asleep, get out of bed, keep the lights down, meditate until you feel drowsy and then return to bed, 4) repeat this process as necessary, and 5) avoid daytime naps if possible until your nighttime sleep improves.
Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
22. The bed stand clock is a poignant symbol of our proclivity to smuggle waking world ways into the night.
It stands proudly aglow at our side through the night -- a sentinel representing daytime’s rule and imperative to be cautious, lest we wander too far across that foreign boundary.
The bedroom is not just a space; it’s a reflection of our relationship with time. A healthy bedroom conveys a sense of night’s time. In contrast to daytime, which is linear and progressive, night’s time is receptive and rhythmic. It doesn’t go anywhere. Night’s time is cyclic, soothing, gently rocking and lulling us into slumber. Failing to distinguish night's time from daytime can kick up lots of ‘bed noise.’
Most bed stand clocks emit light and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that can suppresses melatonin and compromise both our sleep quality and long-term health. It’s nearly impossible to resist the temptation to check the time when we can’t sleep. Doing so yanks us back into waking world ways. Many of us will then do the math, calculating how much sleep we still might get if could just nod out again soon, further tethering us to wakefulness. And, if you routinely awaken with an alarm clock, you are prematurely terminating your sleep, never really getting enough of it. Imagine using an alarm clock to set a time limit on your dinner or lovemaking….
To get back in sync with night’s time, get the clock away from your head and bed. Ideally, get it out of your bedroom. If you get to bed at a time that allows you sufficient sleep, you will naturally wake up refreshed without an alarm.
Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
January 23. When ‘body, mind and bed noise’ manifest by day, they cause a kind of excessive wakefulness or hyperarousal.
Hyperarousal, a common feature of insomnia, refers to a persistent state of excessive daytime wakefulness resulting from accumulated ‘body, mind and bed noise.’ It’s considerably more difficult to spot such background ‘noise’ through the din of our waking day. In the still of night, however, all of this becomes quite evident and damaging to our sleep.
Hyperarousal is the psychological counterpart of exceeding the legal speed limit. It’s characterized by racing thoughts, relentless drive and even an increased metabolic rate. People who are hyperaroused may seem to accomplish more by day, but they have trouble slowing and sleeping at night and mask their sleepiness the next day with more hyperarousal.
Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with the capacity to be quick and agile. People who are hyperaroused are like sports cars or jet planes. What they often fail to realize, however, is that bigger engines require better brakes and that faster planes need longer landing strips. Too many people remain caught in excessive waking because their brakes are out or they are simply afraid to descend and land.
A simple suggestion: learn to slow and stop.
Monday, January 24th, 2011
January 24. A personal bedtime ritual that supports our letting go of waking is essential to good sleep.
Though most of us routinely change our clothes before bed, few of us change our minds. We get into bed wearing the same waking mindset we had on all day. Before we can surrender to sleep, we must first slow and then stop. This is about gradually letting go of the waking world, letting go of intention, activity, and productivity. And letting go of our connection with the sensory stimulation of touch and light and sound.
To do so, it’s very useful to construct a nightly bedtime ritual, a special portal that gently ushers you from waking to night consciousness. In this ritual, bring together various relevant techniques for managing ‘body, mind and bed noise’ reviewed earlier. If you are generally very active and busy, I suggest you allow yourself at least 30 to 45 minutes of ritual time. If you are exceptionally active and feel too busy to do this, I suggest you take at least an hour of ritual time.
Invite basic features of outdoor night into you indoor environment. Quiet things down, dim the lights and drop the temperature a bit. Tone down your body with a warm bath including soporific essential oils like lavender and lemon balm. Consider some gentle yoga to loosen tense muscles. And quiet your mind with journaling or processing residual emotions with a partner as well as some kind of rest practice. Meditation, prayer, breathing exercises and other similar practices can be very helpful in moving us into more spacious consciousness. Some people find the belly laughter offered by an episode of a favorite sitcom very helpful. But remember to shield against melatonin suppressive light with blue blocking technology if you do this.
Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
January 25. “Nothing puts an insomniac to sleep like knowing that its time to get up.”--Anonymous
Most of us have had at least one or two terrible, night-long bouts with insomnia. We may have found ourselves tossing and turning, just yearning for sleep as the hours quickly slipped by. And we kept checking the time through the night until, at one point, exasperated, we realized it was nearly time to get up – we had lost our chance to sleep. And, of course, we then suddenly sank into one of the best nights of sleep we had ever had.
So much ‘mind noise’ results from subtle but incessant effort and intention. Any effort or direct intention to get to sleep activates our waking mind and keeps us tethered to the waking world. With the realization that there is no longer time to sleep comes an authentic and thorough letting go of all effort to get there. Letting go requires that we admit that we (our waking selves) are powerless over sleep. In releasing all effort, we mysteriously find that sleep is already there.
Tonight, I will not go to sleep. Instead, I will stop trying to go to sleep and allow sleep to come to me.
Stop trying. Stop trying to stop trying. And stop trying that.
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
26. Where do you go when you go to sleep?
Too often as we slip into bed our intention is not about having a direct experience of sleep. When the lights go out and we close our eyes our thoughts commonly catapult us to the following day. Most of us don’t set our sights on an easy descent into the sweet sea of sleep, but on our arrival at the shoreline of the next morning’s awakening. This is like going on a exotic journey, but focusing exclusively on what you will do when you return home.
Why do we do this? Largely because we’ve forgotten how lovely and refreshing a night of deep sleep and dreams can be. When we think of sleep as unconsciousness or simply as a servant of waking life, we’ve already dismissed and will likely miss its experiential essence. Sleep is unconsciousness only when viewed from the perspective of waking life. Consider the possibility that sleep most graciously delivers us to an exceptionally sublime state of serenity. A place that most of us have no apt waking world language to describe.
Consider practicing a gradual and mindful transition into sleep. When you slip into bed, let yourself focus on tonight’s sleep instead of tomorrow’s waking. Instead of thinking about the following morning, surrender into the mystery of the present night, enjoying your swim in the sea of sleep. It’s safe to keep your mind's eye open in these waters.
For a more comprehensive discussion of related ideas, see my book Healing Night; the Science and Spirit of Sleeping Dreaming and Awakening.
Thursday, January 27th, 2011
27. Beyond all of the complexities associated with it, falling asleep is an act of faith.
We cannot literally ‘go to sleep.’ We can go to our bedroom and we can go to bed, but we cannot go to sleep simply because we are already there. Sleep is our default mode of consciousness. It’s the soft and silent foundation that dreaming and waking are built upon. What we can do, and have spoken about extensively, is learn to let go of waking. We can slow, disconnect from the outer world of sensation and inner world of experience.
Doing so takes us to the borderland between waking and sleep -- the night side of the shoreline of the sea of sleep. To descend in a healthy and graceful manner, we then must surrender. Surrender, a sweet and trusting relinquishment to mystery, is too often confused with supplication, a sense of forced relinquishment to something we do not trust. Letting go of waking and surrendering to the mystery behind it reveals the spacious, ever-present consciousness of sleep.
If I am to surrender to the mystery of sleep, if I am to check out and relinquish control, I need to know that someone will be watching the store. Who will be watching over me, my family and all that is dear to me. In this sense, the question of surrendering to sleep raises deeply personal spiritual questions about what it is outside of myself that I can safely place my faith in. In this way, falling asleep is a spiritual practice.
For a more comprehensive discussion of related ideas, see my latest audio book The Yoga of Sleep: Sacred and Scientific Practices to Heal Sleeplessness.
Friday, January 28th, 2011
28. Melatonin is the queen of our nighttime biology -- a mighty and gently elixir of night.
Because it oversees a broad array of physiological activity by night, I think of melatonin as the queen of our nighttime biology. Melatonin shows promise in treating a diverse range of conditions like hypertension, premenstrual syndrome, macular degeneration and even certain cancers. And, of course, melatonin regulates our circadian rhythms and gently but decidedly ushers our bodies, brains and minds into sleep and dreams.
Melatonin is a complex neurohormone synthesized in the pineal gland or “third eye”– when we are exposed to dim light or darkness. Chronic exposure to excessive artificial light at night from electric lighting, television and computer monitors results is widespread suppression of melatonin. I believe that melatonin supplementation to promote healthy sleep and general heath deserves serious consideration and further study. To date, melatonin has a good safety profile. Much better than most popular sleeping pills.
Although supplementing with melatonin can facilitate improved sleep, thinking of melatonin as a sleeping pill will probably lead to disappointment. Melatonin essentially conveys a sense of night to our bodies. And like night, melatonin does not insist that we sleep. It invites us to.
Melatonin also increases dreaming…
Saturday, January 29th, 2011
29. We are at least as dream deprived as we are sleep deprived.
I believe that dreaming is among the most critical misunderstood and overlooked factors in our general health, our sleep and even our creative expression. Dreaming plays a critical role in learning and the formation of certain kinds of memory. Dreaming also helps us heal from emotional losses.
We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived. A healthy night requires both sleep and dreams, but too many of us believe that our dreams are meaningless. We live in a world where the dream has become devalued, lost. In complex ways, the loss of our dreams appears to be associated with depression.
Modern lifestyles interfere with healthy dreaming. Over-exposure to light at night, excessive evening alcohol consumption, antidepressant medications, and many commonly used substances and medications suppress REM sleep or dreaming. Ironically, many sleeping pills also suppress our dreams.The bottom line is that we must sleep well in order to dream well. And, a healthy, receptive attitude toward dreaming can help us sleep better.
I will offer a special tweet program on dreams, dreaming and nightmares in the future.
Sunday, January 30th, 2011
30. We do not awaken from sleep, but from our dreams. Reconsider your grogginess -- arise mindfully in the morning.
By nature, morning awakening is much like birth. It delivers us through a narrow passage from the ephemeral world of dreaming to that of waking life. Too many of us, however, awaken in a manner similar to the way we were born. It’s less a natural childbirth, more of a forceps delivery. Or a caesarian section. Less an emergence and more an emergency.
If the process of awakening is the birth of our day, then morning is its early childhood, a critical developmental phase in the life of each new day. A gradual and mindful awakening carries us through a lush coastal zone of consciousness—half dream, half waking—that holds great personal potential. How we awaken, how we posture toward morning establishes a powerful psychological trajectory for the remainder of the day.
Consider the possibility that the morning grogginess we routinely seek to dismiss may be well worth exploring. Allow yourself to awaken gradually and mindfully by lingering in bed for a few extra moments as you come to. This is the time we can most readily capture our dreams to carry them with us into the waking world.
For exquisite guidance in setting a spiritual tone to your day, I strongly recommend Hugh Prather’s Morning Notes.
Monday, January 31st, 2011
31. Thank you for joining me in 30 Tweets to Better Sleep.
I hope this program has provided you with some fresh insights and valuable suggestions to improve your sleep.
If you are interested in obtaining further information and/or products that support sleep from an integrative health perspective, please see Night Goods.
If you continue to struggle with sleeplessness, I am available for individual consultations by telephone or Skype.
In closing, I would appreciate any feedback you might have about this program, your experiences and suggestions for future programs. I can be reached by email by clicking here.