Are you familiar with the condition Sleep Procrastination? Before going to bed I get restless or anxious and I pace and I have trouble actually laying down to even try to fall asleep. I’ve tried quite a few programs and drugs including hypnosis but with no success. Do you have any suggestions about what I might do?
If I’m understanding correctly, you think you should be asleep but you’re not. This is a good example of how subtly we are brainwashed by the world around us. So let’s rephrase what you said into alternate language that can help expose an invisible assumption hidden inside your question.
You believe because your work has starting hours, and that because you’ve always heard you need eight hours sleep, that you can then calculate backwards to when you should be going to bed and to sleep. But all of that has to do with ‘work,’ and ‘hours’ and ‘obligation.’ Those are all thought-forms. Those are not things that existed for people 10,000 years ago.
It’s important to distinguish reality from an idea. The ideas are valuable and useful. But they should not be treated like the other type of scientific reality. Our bodies function on the scientific plane with some influence from the mental one. But our thoughts about jobs or time or sleep recommendations don’t have anything to do with our nature.
Those are ideas that we have been conditioned to treat as ‘rules to exist by,’ and they seem solid because so many people were taught them. But it’s not like sleep is unnatural. Sleep is not a thought-form, sleep is a change in consciousness. Far from needing to fit a set of rules, it is a very special kind of freedom. Are you getting where I’m going with this?
First off, you’re not failing to fall asleep if you’re not actually tired. When work starts, and how much sleep Harvard says you need, don’t have anything to do with you the individual and your experience of life in those moments. If you’re not tired you’re not tired.
To beat yourself up for not being able to fall asleep when you’re not tired is what Krishnamurti meant when he said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” You are a natural creature existing within an inhuman mental framework. Because someone invented a clock does not mean you are being wrong by being tired at 2pm instead of 10pm. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that you may be tired but avoiding the bed for reasons that are inexplicable to your ego. So let’s help your soul make them explicable.
There’s an ancient, historical instinct in our brains that tells it that all is well as long as birds are singing. If the birds around us suddenly stop singing, then our brains know something is likely happening that’s worth paying attention to. Well you’re kind of the same way with sleep.
There’s a form of sleep that’s very natural and that’s ‘group sleeping.’ In most cultures you’ll have large numbers of people all sharing a very small space and everyone will be using each other as pillows. 80% of the world still does this. It’s what we’ve historically done throughout our evolution. So you have a brain from one world, and a life from another.
Just because some guy invented houses, and coved us off in small groups, and then they further coved us off into individual bedrooms; that doesn’t mean that’s how we’ll get the best sleep. That was just what worked for people’s egos or budgets.
A while back a guy was writing a book and it was based on him taking a one year period where he did absolutely everything that was recommended in something like the New York Times Style section. Or maybe it was doing everything it recommended for women in a year of Cosmo —it was something like that. The point being, for an entire year he tried a bunch of media-prescribed solutions, and then he wrote a book about it.
When an interviewer asked him at the end of the year if he still did any of the things that were recommended, he said only one. He still slept with 14 pillows on his bed. Out of a year of trying self-help things, the one he kept was sleeping with more pillows. Are you seeing the connection?
The pillows mimic the feeling of sleeping with our relatives. The sense of leaning, and being spooned into place, or of having something/one to hug is very similar. So after one year of experimenting, the only thing of value was to create the illusion of a group sleep situation.
This is not likely to be the answer you were looking for. And for sure, as I’ve written about many times, you can certainly focus on ensuring you’re not thinking limiting thoughts when approaching bed. And you have to check in to see what sort of narratives you may have built around the process of going to bed. But bottom line, some of what you’re concerned about is less a problem with you, and more the result of us living lives that are actually quite unnatural in many key ways. You might even want to try the pillow idea.
Remember, sleep is a very specific state of mind. Get to really consciously know it as you lay there. Watch for the feelings that go with it. Describe them to yourself. Know them. And when you’re laying there and you cannot sleep, recall those memories. That alone will take you an enormous amount of the way toward sleep.
Breathe deeply as you would as if you were sleeping. Your brain will know that rhythm. It will match it by relaxing. If you do this enough days in a row, easily falling asleep will become a physical muscle-memory habit. And then on the rare days where you still can’t get to sleep, write it off to an ion storm or something we can’t explain yet.
Who knows what forces are all at play in our lives? I will still occasionally get one night of inexplicable insomnia. So give yourself the occasional sleepless night as being entirely ‘normal”’ (whatever that is). But by consciously considering how you do fall asleep, you should be able to conjure that state of mind pretty much at will with just a little practice. Just keep a quiet mind, and imagine what it’s like to be asleep.
Learn to be aware of, and then control your thinking. Free yourself up from second-guesses and a lack of focus and things like insomnia. Guide your own mind like a Ninja. And put yourself in your own personal sleeper hold. All it takes is some awareness and some practice. You can do it as long as you believe you can. Go for it. And sweet dreams.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.