Saturday, 18 June 2011

Perchance to Dream

Insomnia can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of the dysfunctional mind. As well as the direct frustration of being unable to sleep, the physical and psychological fatigue caused by the inability to enter that deep state of self-repair will affect your reasoning and reactions throughout the following day, enduring that sense of misery and affecting your relationships with friends, family and colleagues.

It can also be deadly.

I have no scientific figures to offer, here, but I would suggest it goes without saying that the exhaustion that results from the lack of anything close to a good night’s sleep is a significant factor in many fatal accidents. When you’re so weary that you can barely make sense of the world, your coherence and judgement goes out of the window, and if you’re driving a tonne of car or a hundred tonnes of truck at a time like that, you’re so much more likely to make, literally, grave mistakes.

Now, I’m sure that there are many genuine physiological and medical reasons for experiencing insomnia - I’m not a doctor, so I can’t offer any advice there - but I would venture that the majority of cases are caused by one thing…

The critical over-thinking of the dysfunctional mind.

(Reader’s Voice: “Oh ffs… he’s not going on about the critical over-thinking of the dysfunctional mind again, is he?”)

Quiet, you!

It used to take me hours to get to sleep – an average of at least two or three, but as much as four or five, and, of course, there would be some days where sleep didn’t come at all.

Now, it maybe takes fifteen minutes… often less, rarely more.

I guess a lot of people will be able to relate to the following…

When I was experiencing insomnia, it was because, when I closed my eyes, my mind began racing… and not just 100m stuff with a finishing line and a round of applause when it had reached there, but crazy, off into the forest and over the hills sort of racing… there were no boundaries or natural conclusions to the stories that were being repeated, over and over, in my head.

I could be recalling the events of the previous day and situations where I felt I should have done or said something differently… then shift on to beating myself up for not doing better at school… then off into the future to wonder if I actually will end up as a tramp, shouting at buses and wailing each time I see a pencil… then back to the time I punched Martin Clubs at junior school and he involuntary spat a Tune (medicinal ‘candy’) - I felt quite guilty about that, and the look on his face, afterwards.

At this stage of the day… when you should be shutting down, resting, recuperating and repairing in that sweet, unconscious bliss… that you’re forced into being alone with your mind.

It’s just you and it – and it is an it… the mind is not you.

You become a slave to a machine that, rightly, you should be controlling… not the other way around.

This can be a time of true mental torture, where you’re locked in and reminded of all your perceived failures, regrets, mistakes, losses… as well as being bombarded by confused hopes and predicted fears for the future.

There’s nobody there except you and it.

There are no distractions to take you away from that confrontation. It’s like sitting in an interview cubicle with a bad cop, knowing that there’s nobody outside the door to rush in and help you when you start screaming.

So… how did I make the change from spending fitful hours trying to get to sleep, to the bliss of just being able to drop off so quickly?

I stop my mind from thinking. When my eyes are closed and it’s time for sleep, it doesn’t have permission to butt in on my peace.

That’s not to say I can’t draw on thoughts when I choose to… it’s great to end the day with a smile… but nothing negative is allowed.

If a fleeting, negative thought does break through into that silence, the recognition of it means I can send it scampering away again.

Some people will read this and assume that they just can’t do this… that they couldn’t possibly stop thinking… but please bear in mind that I can only highlight the comparisons between ‘then’ and ‘now’ because I’ve experienced both polarities.

There is nothing I’m doing that you cannot do.

So… how do I achieve this state of tranquillity that leads to swift sleep?

This is probably the point where a lot of self-help blogs would lead you to a bargain $19.95 super-excellent explanation with 10 pointers on GUARANTEED sleep-bringing skills… recently reduced from $2995.00!

This is free, of course… though you are also free to send me money, if you wish. Tee-hee.

Well… there’s a combination of two things, but both are entrenched in the practice of present awareness…

Firstly, I discern that my thoughts are just thoughts. They are not important to my life at that stage of the day. Even the good thoughts are just electrical patterns in my brain. There is a use for thinking, in that it can help you analyse mistakes and learn from them, or compel you to do something in future, but when you’re trying to get to sleep, they are counter-productive to that aim.

Secondly, I fall into the senses. Behind my closed eyelids, I stare out into that infinite void ahead of me, gazing as I would if I were sitting on top of a mountain. I listen to the background noise, to my own breathing, the sound of passing traffic, accepting it all as part of my awareness. I mean, I don’t get annoyed and feel violated if a truck rumbles along my road at 4am. I just listen, without thinking. Then I feel my own body (no – not in that way!)… the rise and fall of my chest, the softness and warmth of the blankets.

When you move into your senses in such a way, your mind has no option but to be silenced, because you are experiencing life… you’re in the moment. The reflection and projection of the mind will only ever take you out of the moment… and that’s when you lose the peace that enables you to sleep.

If you think this all sounds like witchcraft… consider, when you are exhausted  – after hours of struggling to sleep – and you finally slip off, what happens in order for you to fall asleep, at last?

The answer is, of course, that at some point your mind stops thinking and you escape into unconsciousness.

So, venturing into your senses quietens your mind to the point where you can find that same escape.

It’s a very simple practice, and I know it works, because I do it.

Make a deal with yourself… when you’re in bed and your eyes are closed, it’s time for sleep. Whenever you catch yourself thinking, just stare out into that void… push the thoughts away… you don’t need them, they're not helpful and they’re not welcome.


  1. Great post Les. Now if you put some buttons for me here to share your posts that would be even better. :) Thanks!

  2. I don't even know how to do that! :-P

    I will investigate. ;-)

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Oh, cool... I've found out how to do that, now, so all the share buttons are there!

    Thank you for the prompting, Sonia! :-)

  4. It was a great post. I will tell about it to my friends and will post it on my facebook wall. You are truly gifted.

  5. Gosh, thanks again for the kind words, Farah. :-)

  6. I'll let you know how it works for me over time...

  7. I read once on Alison Sweeney's blog another great way to battle insomnia is count in multiples of 3 backwards beginning from some high number. I tried that once and it worked; but your suggestion of staying present and accepting what is happening in the mind sounds even better. I guess the realization that suppressing thoughts at night just ignites more thoughts.

  8. I can see the value of that, in that it keeps the mind occupied and prevents it throwing other thoughts at you... but it sounds tiring! Hehe.

    I think it's more of a case of accepting that the mind deals with just thoughts - rather than reality - and being able to distinguish between those two states, knowing that you absolutely can turn off the mind-chatter when you like... though it may take practice to reach that.

  9. Excellent advice. I've been meditating for the last couple of months and there's been a huge improvement in my sleep patterns.

  10. Mmmmm.... Sleep can be a big problem for me too. I used to teach relaxation strategy yet it seems to have little effect for me. I usually end up giving up trying and reading until my eyes start to droop... Soemimes that doesn't work either. Oh well...

  11. Yeah, the techniques of meditation can be used in so many situations. I do it while in a supermarket queue, rather than tapping my foot and getting annoyed at people for having 11 items in the 10 items line. You're never going to be anywhere except where you are at any given moment.

    I do tend to break out of trance and come back to life after meditating at night (which is good - death would be problematic, mostly for my family), but it's very easy to move from that state to sleep.

    Glad you're feeling the benefits! :-)

  12. This is the only thing that has ever worked for me, Pat. My brain has been historically quite noisy in the dark hours, but that's the past. :-)

  13. You may be overlooking one important aspect of the technique to shut down an important part of the mind: it is that same part that instructs you to do so. It is as if you turn off the car to not hear the engine while you are still driving.

    I have had years of insomnia too and my theory is that reality processing in the daytime may have been either too hard or too exciting, to turn of the processor, which I say is intuition. Intuition and reality must be in tune.

    So the question is imho how to get what you think about in tune with thinking itself, when you cannot control the first. You can only control the second in as far as dealing with the first is concerned. Make peace with it and rest.

    Peace can only be independent confirmation. Either accept it or make it accept your thoughts by generating the RIGHT thoughts. That is understanding, or precise intuition. This is just a matter of capacity in the moment and not enough is... to go to sleep.

  14. You can control what you think about. You can turn it off if you choose. There's a difference between awareness and thinking - awareness being something of the moment, whereas thinking is pulling information from the mind... or, in many cases, the mind pumping information into your awareness without your specific consent.

    You don't have to think to look around yourself - you can see a tree or a cloud without thinking: "That's a tree/cloud."

    If you force your mind to generate the right thoughts, you are just layering thought over thought. It becomes a trick, rather than a solution.

    If it works for you, though, that's cool.

  15. You can neglect, ignore or avoid things, but not if they are on your conscience, for which awareness or thinking is little difference. The right thoughts are not to cover anything up but to make them accessible and transparent, for a clear conscience.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  16. I don't neglect, ignore or avoid anything and there's nothing about my conscience that needs cleaned or cleared. I forgive. I let go. I recognise my mind and that thoughts have no power of control over me. I control my thoughts - not the other way around.

    Thank you, too. :-)

  17. I agree with Ron. We can control for the most part our conscious thinking, but if there are unhealed issues in the subconscious, our only hope in controlling them is to bring them to the surface--face them, feel them, and release them. And that's rarely a one-time deal. It's a journey, often a pretty hellish one. But if we don't deal with them, that old stuff will control us--and even in the process of healing them, this can be the case.

    And ya' wanna know how they control you? Look at any aspect of your life that you aren't happy with, that you continue to not be happy with--pow, that's them ;) And you can say, hey, I'm grateful for what I've got, and that's a good thing. Even so, so many of us long for areas of our lives to be better. And the fact is there's one reason why it isn't better, something in our subconscious--things we continue to sweep under the rug--and that is holding us back. And so it continues to control us.

    There are no accidents. Slam your toe into the coffee table, spill hot coffee in your lap, wander into a beehive, lol. All of this comes from the subconscious, our emotions, unhealed trauma, trying to get our attention. And it's dangerous to not give it attention, because a stubbed toe will be the hint, but the next "hint" could be more severe. Everything around us, in our lives, incessantly speaks to us.

    On the sleep issue, for years I didn't have a problem at all with it--until I stopped exercising regularly. Exercise is a very good remedy for getting good sleep. But it will keep you up if you do it too close to bedtime. Always think balance. All of these will contribute to sleep issues: Too much food close to bed (especially carbs), going to bed hungry, too much protein, issues with the thyroid, not enough sunlight, exercising too close to bed, not getting regular exercise.

    Also good to have calming activities before bed, like shower, yoga, meditation, massage (especially the feet), deep breathing.


  18. I'm happy for you that you agree with Ron, but the fact remains that I can get to sleep quickly without all of this philosophy and even when I've not been getting great exercise or eating a perfect balance of nutritious food.

    I can only express my own experience. ;-)

  19. Well, insomnia like a lot of us commenting here has been a challenge for me most of my life. A few years back, I decided that for my mental and physical health I had to find a way to obliterate it as much as humanly possible.

    So, like most things in my life, I turned to prayer. I literally tell God that I'm too tired and that I can't turn my mind off of its perpetual hamster wheel, and that I need his help in shutting it down so I can rest. Almost instantly, I am off counting sheep. Although they are no where near as gorgeous as the fellows gracing this blog. Try it sometime, it works for me.

    Now, if I can only train myself to actually go upstairs, undress and get into bed when I'm tired...that's next :)

  20. Ha - I am very glad that works for you, but I just wrote a whole blog on how I can get to sleep in no time at all.

    Did you ignore my blog and just read the comments, or something? ;-)

    I feel a bit like the guy who just invented the wheel, only to be told: "Have you considered using triangles?" Tee-hee.

  21. ClearlyMeLuise22 June 2011 at 08:10

    I find reading the comments quite entertaining (the blog too!). I can see why no one ever sleeps. lol I adore dear Fey1IsleofSkye and probably come closest to her method by praying, because I too find late night my mind's busiest time - HOWEVER - I *get* that we don't have to do anything except take charge and turn it all off. I will practice figuring out stuff during the day and saving sleepytime for sleep. It makes sense. ZzzzzZZZZzzzzz It's working already! :)

  22. She is lovely, yes. Hehe. :-)

    If praying works for you, though, pray! Anything I write is just a suggestion from my own experience, and I hope it will help at least a few people. But people have their own techniques and tricks to achieve the same goal, which is splendid! :-)

  23. Great post.

    It's amazing how many people who lie awake at night worrying about stuff in their lives, when at that moment in time they cannot actually do anything about it. Then it just becomes a rapid downward spiral that they cannot get out of.

    Thankfully I'm almost at the stage where I don't have to worry too much, well not at bedtime anyway :)

  24. Hehe, thanks, Richard! If you're at that point, it won't be long before you eradicate worry entirely from your life. Good on you! :-)

  25. I like it Les. Little long but I liked your point! It's all a decision we make. And we can choose to be crazy or enjoy the ride. Thank you.

  26. Les,
    As always, you impress me with your insight and miraculous wisdom! I need to know is this your stuff or are you regurgitating someone's material, because if this is your stuff, you aught to be writing a a book! You have wonderful insight and techniques for getting sleep to come...I personally pay attention to my breath as I breath out onto my upper arm...I totally enjoy your connection to living in the moment!
    Continued peace be yours!

  27. Hehe... it's all my own, Derrick. I've actually banned myself from reading any other books on the general subject matter until I've finished my own - I am working on one. I want to get my thoughts down with as little contamination from other teachers as possible.

    I should have it finished by the end of the summer, then I'll be reading a heck of a lot more. :-)

    Peace, my friend,


  28. my sleep is often because i use this damn computer too much.. but catch22 .. it curbs my loneyness and can find old and new friends. so via exhaustion..i that is when i sleep a lot and not at good times of day or night.. oh well lol. ssslleeeppy nnnnnnooow nite
    roflmao thanks lol LNovak

  29. Read the Illusion of Loneliness blog again! No such thing! ;-)

    The interland helped me when I was oging through some rough patches in the past. I understand. It's a great communication tool. :-)

  30. I think ur great! I have suffered my whole life with this sh** and it does work! Enjoy the silence. Once again my rock!

  31. Hehe, thank you! Hope you're getting some good sleep (and it's not just my words that are boring you to unconsciousness!) :-)

  32. This is very similar to yoga class - or rather, what we do at the end of class. I've gotten to the point where if I have a hard time getting to sleep (which is rare), I just get into relaxation pose and pretend my yoga teacher is talking us through the final relaxation. Always puts me to sleep.

    Of course, melatonin helps when I'm uber stressed. Just saying!

  33. Thanks Les for this...I heard that anyone who gets under 5 hours of sleep for a prolonged period of time could have a heart attack. Deep Joy! That was me. I started blogging in May.....Now I sleep like a baby! All I can think is that the stuff I would would normally run through in my head, now is offloaded on the page so my mind no longer needs to hold on to it. Its really been in the past month but its such a relief! Enjoyed the post.

  34. I know this works, because I too have experienced both polarities and the current 'key' to my sleep has been exactly this - that which you have managed to word in a way that I never really tried to, however, you have done a bloody fine job of it!


  35. Hehe, thank you! It doesn't matter so much about the words, but the practice. Glad you've got that down, too. :-)

  36. Ha, well, whatever method gets you there gets you there, Christine! :-)

  37. It's a great help to get it out or let it go, yeah, isitthattime - both solutions to the same problem, and for a healthier body, heart, mind and soul! :-)

  38. I'm reading blogs on my phone because I can't sleep... But I'll have a go at your method now. Thanks!

  39. Now Les,

    If I do that..when will I write?? :-)

    So much to time for something silly like sleep. Just kidding. Most of the time, I use the same type of methods you are describing...hmmm ...have you been borrowing my thoughts? I wondered where they went! I've been even more "blond" lately. Ok, I'll share but be careful or I'll end up walking in circles mumbling about sheep named Steve.

    Part of the throng,;-P

  40. Thanks Les for responding to my twitter post and I truly feel confident I can sleep better because of your encouragement. I do hope it works for me.

  41. thx for the post, really helped with sleeping ;)

  42. Hi Les, This post is awesome. Gonna send it to a friend who desperately needs it. You rock! :)

  43. I always enjoy reading your posts when I stop by every now and then:)

  44. Love your writing- and the manner in which you assert your own inner wisdom. Catherine

  45. Thanks Les, I will try your 'which-craft' tonight. Sleep tight. Andrew

  46. What a confirmation !!! Years of insomnia and anxiety have decreased dramatically by applying your succinctly and humorously written path out of the insanity of a ruminating mind.

    We ARE :)

    Thanks, brother !

  47. I think this is the blog you have had the most comment from, I guess i am the lucky one, although I do miss big chunks of movies when I slump, dribbling into the sofa and it does annoy the hell out of my loved one when i ask, 'wh what happened!. I am inspired by your writing Les as I have said before. You are giving so much reading pleasure to so many. xx

  48. I will try this accepting the senses thing when the ferry traffic pass the house tonight at 2pm, cause for some reason I've started to think about all sorts of stuff to combat the noise and I think your right, this thinking has actually woke me up. Bless your cotton socks my friend, I may be able to zzzzZZZZZ

  49. Some very good points. I suffer insomnia off and on and it does take some work to overcome it. Thanks for your input.

  50. Great blog Les - I'm going to try out your advice. Good to hear it from someone who's been there. Thanks. Hazel (I don't know how to select a profile, so have had to choose anonymous!)

  51. Only just been linked to this blog by a friend (I suffer from chroic insomnia), so thanks for this and I am very much looking forward to reading through the rest.

  52. I follow you on Twitter and now; after reading this have shared it on Fcbk. Thank you very much

  53. I have been experimenting with what you have just described and you put it so well. I am 58 still raising two kids on my own and working full time teaching and really really struggle with sleep especially on a Sunday night before work starts on Monday. Some night I get none at all. I sometimes forget to do those steps you mention and then when I remember I seem to go to sleep within 15 mins. Thanks for expressing the procedure so clearly and jogging my memory to do it every night.

  54. I used to suffer terribly with insomnia when I worked nights. Luckily I no longer work in the night. I have never found a way to sleep in the day. I also suffered from it when I tried to sleep as 'normal' people do, at night.

    I do agree with your assertion that it's all in the mind. I tried everything; dark room, milk at bedtime, alcohol (yes, I know- it didn't work) and a plethora of other 'physical' remedies.

    Then I tried the 'mind' thing. Every night I trained myself to take an imaginary walk, with a certain destination as the end of that walk. It didn't work at first but I persevered. Now, when I find I can't get to sleep, I just set out on my walk and almost as soon as I've started I fall asleep. It never fails. It's amazing.

  55. Great post Les. Many years ago I also suffered the frustrating inability to fall asleep because of a too active mind..until I discovered that saying silently over and over in my mind... sleep, sleep, sleeeep, sleeeeeep, sleeeeep... :) obviously filling my mind with nothing but the word sleep prevented my mind from tick tick ticking over with any other thoughts.
    Have never had a problem since. Worth a try.

  56. Lovely post, Les.
    I used to get terribly frustrated with insomnia, which of course only made it worse. One day I decided to stop fighting it. If I wasn't able to sleep I would either lay there and enjoy the sensation of relaxing or get up and do something. I discovered that for me the insomnia wasn't about worry. It developed as a result of a busy life because I deeply enjoy stillness. Late at night the world is calm and peaceful and my whole being seems to expand. Until I began to experience this state during the day, something brought me to it at night.

    Going into the body and tuning into the senses does indeed work wonderfully on those nights that my mind wants to ramble.

  57. Helpful post, Les! Thanks! I use a breathing technique I found in a collection of ancient writings by Taoist nuns. Breathe up the spine as fire, over the top of the head, and down the front of your chest as cooling water. Works every time for me. Carole

  58. Is Sunday night insomnia different? Listened to a very old tape program from Earl Nightingale yesterday - he believed this is down to inwardly feeling you are over-valued & unworthy at work. Solution - act or operate as if you are underpaid & under-appreciated - possibly closer to the truth anyway!

    Worth a try if you don't know your 3 times table ;)

  59. Thanks for the input. I have often dealt w/ insomnia, and one of the best remedies I've found is quieting the mind before bed--reading something a little dull, like a spiritual book lol. I like the mountain idea, though. I will try that. Sounds very peaceful, whether trying to go to sleep or in sitting meditation.

  60. This is so true. Turning the mind off is hard! I usually try meditation or Reiki or both