Rejuvenate the Mind and Body by Sleeping Well
Purpose: A good night's sleep can improve mood, attention, learning, memory, and an overall sense of well-being.
The amount of sleep that a person needs is very individualized and may best be decided by how one feels. While seven to eight hours is optimal for most people, there may be some people who feel and function their best with more or less than seven to eight hours. Sleep patterns are based on a circadian rhythm, which is a dance between an internal clock, nature’s clock, and a cultural clock. People may have problems with falling asleep or with staying asleep. The Practice section below will cover a biological, psychological, and environmental approach to sleep that can help to calm an overactive mind, embrace a surrender to sleep, and cultivate an appreciation for the nighttime darkness and the natural rhythms of life.
Noise is a term that, in this WavyFields topic, refers to a normal process occurring at an unwanted time. Sleep troubles may result when the amount of biological, psychological, or environmental noise exceeds someone's capacity to fall asleep from sleepiness. Biological noise may be passionate energy to complete a project, psychological noise may be attention to solving a problem, and environmental noise may be music coming through the window -- all of which are normal during the day but may prevent someone from falling asleep at night. Most people with insomnia do not have a problem with sleepiness at the end of their waking day, but instead, a problem with suppressing noise. A comprehensive approach to sleeping well, therefore, needs to address both decreasing noise and promoting end-of-day sleepiness.
Practice: This practice may help someone to sleep well.
Laundry lists for sleep can cause someone to try to manage sleep in the same industrious way that they try to manage their daytime life, thus preventing them from unwinding and entering night consciousness. Instead, attempt to view sleep as a personal, subjective, or sacred experience instead of an objective and scientific one. For example, view sleep as much more than the idea that it is akin to recharging a battery. Allowing oneself to turn off the lights at least an hour before bed will encourage the production of melatonin which is a neurohormone involved in the rhythm of sleep and dreams.
During the day, someone may deny or repress emotions that they do not have time to process, leaving these emotions for the moment that they lie in bed to come out. When a person then tries to unwind and allow their “watchman” to let down its guard, these repressed emotions come to the surface. A term called cognitive popcorn describes the release of these anxious thoughts when settling down into bed. A solution to this is to spend time before getting into bed unpacking any anxieties that were tucked away during the day.
Do evening rituals that are consistent each night. One ritual could be storytelling, which has a long history and helps with processing the day. Storytelling can be about personal stories or tales passed down through time. Prayer is another tradition that can help to bring safety in letting go of the day. After the necessary items on the sleep laundry list have been done, then do the final item, which is letting go of the list itself. Once the evening rituals are complete and the mind has been decompressed, then it is time to surrender to sleep. The idea of letting go of the ordinary sense of self and consciousness can be scary. Consider it a spiritual practice and remember there is nothing that someone has to do to sleep except for letting go of waking.
A Tibetan breathing practice, called Tonglen (see the WavyFields topic “Relax by Using Breathwork” for more information about Tonglen), that involves inhaling darkness, transforming it, and exhaling light, can help prepare someone psychologically for the dark. First, inhale images and the emotions of something to transform and then exhale a vision of healing and peace. Another practice that can help someone appreciate darkness and let go of waking is called shadow work. Shadow work involves inviting in and then working with any expressions of darkness that are experienced in life. One approach to shadow work is to create a list of all the negative qualities of the people that stir strong emotions (friends to public figures) and then search for why these judgments exist and the underlying positive features that there may be. By doing these practices in the hours before going to bed, a person can decrease negative thoughts before they make it difficult to fall asleep or manifest as nightmares.
There is a connection between sleeping, dreaming, and awakening that people may often disregard. Do not think of night as separate from day, but instead view it as a continuation of nature's daily rhythm. The rhythm of breathing coincides with the state of consciousness, with deeper and slower breathing being associated with relaxation and sleep. The changes of light and dark in a day influence the circadian rhythm and the body’s natural biology about when to sleep. There are three influences that affect the circadian rhythm’s sense of time. These are personal (the body clock), natural (changes in nature), and cultural (influences of someone's surroundings). When the lights are dimmed at night, this helps to slow thoughts and movements. This external slowing then causes slowing internally as the body prepares for rest. A breathing technique if anxiety persists at night is “4-7-8 breath” which is breathing through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and then exhaling through the mouth with a whooshing sound to a count of eight. Repeat this cycle four times.
If someone falls asleep with a noisy mind due to excessive sleepiness then they may awaken during the night when their sleepiness fades. Similarly, a lack of venturing deeply into sleep may be due to holding anxieties too close to the surface. There is evidence that awakening during the middle of the night is part of human nature and various cultures would use this time to reflect on dreams or do a chore. If someone awakens during the night and feels disappointed about this awakening, then the added psychological noise may make it harder to fall back to sleep. Instead of judging this middle of the night awakening, think of it as being natural, try to recall a dream, get up if needed and then surrender to sleep again. A nap (see the WavyFields topic “Replenish Energy by Taking a Nap”) during the day as energy begins to naturally dip in the afternoon can help someone practice this surrender while discharging any excessive energy.
If someone is unable to fall back to sleep within 20-30 minutes of the middle of the night awakening, then try the following: Gently get out of the bed and walk to another room or another place in the room to sit comfortably. Sit in this place, close the eyes, and notice any reactions to the middle-of-the-night awakening. Try to view this awakening with acceptance and compassion. If the reason for the awakening is not obvious, then do not spend time searching for the reason. Instead, set a mental reminder that during the day an attempt will be made to continue working on improving the biological, psychological, and environmental factors that influence sleep. Another helpful strategy is reminding oneself that they are resilient and capable of managing the day, even with a certain amount of sleep loss. Now, do the 4-7-8 breathing practice and feel a wave of relaxation wash through the body and mind. Take a deep breath for a few seconds, let go, and continue focusing on the breath and remain in a comfortable sitting position. When the head and eyelids become heavy, gently return to bed and fall back to sleep. If unable to fall back to sleep within a few minutes, then repeat this process.
Another practice that may help someone fall asleep is visualization. The same parts of the brain that are active when performing a task are also active when imagining doing the task. Therefore, someone should avoid visualizing tasks that produce a response from the sympathetic nervous system, such as working on a project, going for a run, or going to a party. Instead, images of relaxation and peace should be visualized as this may send calming signals to the body that it is time to relax. Visualizations can be creative such as imagining the brain being cooled down with icy snow, massaged, or whispered to sleep.
A sleep cycle will begin with Stage 1 when waking consciousness gently fades into sleep through a hypnagogic state, which is a blending of reality and the dream world. Stage 2 (light sleep), Stage 3 (deep sleep), Stage 4 (very deep sleep), and REM (dream sleep) will then follow in an approximately 90-minute cycle. Entering and exiting any part of the sleep cycle abruptly can impact sleep quality. Addressing biological, psychological, and environmental factors may improve someone's ability to smoothly transition into and out of each part of the sleep cycle and wake up in the morning feeling well rested.
Resources: Below are additional resources that may help someone to sleep well.
Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening by Rubin Naiman, PhD
Take a Nap! Change Your Life by Sara Mednick, PhD
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