What about SLEEP?

As with most other items on this site,
the following represents my understanding of the issue from what I’ve experienced, read and heard on radio.

Insomnia - difficulty getting to SLEEP - is occasionally discussed on the radio these days I notice. Apparently, a third of the population suffer from sleep problems.

It seems that the most probable cause of insomnia is anxiety or an overactive brain - too active for the restful state necessary for sleep.

And it's possible that Gwynith Lewis's observation, which is about curing depression, could equally apply to insomnia: the consequences of refusing to accept truth. (See ALSO)

Denial of facts is responsible for a multitude of psychological problems, and can create internal conflicts that only grow. Attempting, for instance, to maintain a belief in god or some other supernatural entity after having awakened to the self-evident rationale that it's nothing but a monumental sham is a common cause of internal conflict. You only have to look at the dozens of weird cults and religions that continue to flourish.

There's a fairly well-known relaxation technique I learned when on a theosophy course some years back (see Theosophical Sideglance). It's called 'the exercise', and I think practiced appropriately could help with getting to sleep. I've described this a couple of paragraphs down from 'the lamppost trick' - (which is also an interesting ploy worth considering). Another technique, derived myself from 'the exercise' I called 'Star Meditation' in the story 'Revealing Traits'. Although I'd never seen nor heard of this, it's so obvious that I'd be surprised if it hasn't been around for several millennia.

As to my own circumstances regarding sleep: Being an inveterate idler has several key advantages: for one thing, I simply refuse to be sufficiently arsed about anything to suffer preoccupation to an extent that interferes with sleep. And for another, since I'm inclined to avoid effort at any opportunity, so my life is virtually free from obligations or stress. It therefore stands to reason that it's extremely unusual if I have trouble getting to sleep. I usually read as soon as I'm in bed but rarely get through more than a page before drifting off.

Of the times when sleep has eluded me, it hasn't done so for long - I just imagine myself preparing to head out towards the asteroids in a flying saucer that has unlimited capabilities. So far, I don't think I've ever got beyond Earth orbit.

If I'm not really tired, I'll simply get up and read or watch telly - what's the point in fighting wakefulness when you can actually take advantage? If you have to get up for work the next day, you can be sure that your body-clock will keep you awake for it but then you'll be tired sooner the following night and get a much better kip. And for me, since also (luckily) my financial circumstances - though not particularly lucrative - are stable, I have no reason to dwell on material issues; which could be another common source of preoccupation to avoid.

If I can be said to have a sleep problem then it would be that I sleep too much - frequently nine hours - and it's with some regret that I almost never witness that amazing effect from getting out, especially in summer, to experience the scents and sensations that only happen (and are so powerfully felt) at dawn. I haven't heard the morning-chorus for years - and when I have heard it - as a youth (blimey, all those years ago) it's been when returning late from a night on the tiles!

Which reminds me: I've also read that frequent early waking, while still tired, can be due to depression - though I guess it might also be due to anxiety about getting up in time to get to bloody work!

There's also the fact that the brain needs to sleep in order to assimilate the day's events. If the day has been uneventful, then the brain won't be so in need of sleep. See the final paragraph of my insane story 'The Speed Capsule' (also a fine escape story for diving into soporific adventures). I have to say, though, that there's hardly a day when I fail to engage in active brain-work. Just a walk, a bit of reading or writing, or listening to a good radio play, involves considerable brain-work - it doesn't have to be anything taxing. Somehow, though, watching TV presents the brain with scarcely any effort. I guess the director and camera-man has done the work your brain would for a radio play or a book. So too much banal non-activity like watching TV, which somehow fails to stimulate the appropriate parts of the brain, is probably best avoided, or at least supplemented.

Another key detail to remember - AND THEN FORGET - is that like good sex, yawning, and even sneezing (and maybe several other things too) thinking about them can spoil the spontaneous natural process. This definitely goes for many things in life, but when it comes to body functions I think it's more true than ever: it allows subconscious freedom from one's conscious controlling mind which actually has little idea about how to handle the body. If the conscious mind wasn't so determined to dominate everything, then I think we'd all be a lot better off. So try listening more to your subconscious - by stilling the conscious to silence (which is what 'the exercise' is meant to do - and can be called-up at any time, just before sex might be good).

* * * * *

All this means that to tackle sleep problems, it's worth first examining and eliminating those causal factors: insufficient new experiences (ie, brain-work), anxiety, preoccupation and depression.

If you get on an aeroplane: once you're in, there's absolutely no sense in dwelling on the possibility of a crash - the issue is totally out of your hands. Why can't people try a similar approach when they get into bed?

Most people in the UK, so far as I can gather, are not nearly so concerned or irritated as I am about the elitism of government (ie, the way they subsidise wealthy business, while refusing a fair income for the poor). Nor, above all, do most people seem agitated, like me, by the blatant State terror and genocide the UK government continually commit in Afghanistan and Iraq - where by far the majority of the million-plus (so far) killed and maimed are civilians - mostly women, kids and helpless old folk - yet somehow none of this causes me any loss of sleep.

I can only imagine that this is principally because it's beyond my control. It could also be because the issue preoccupies my left 'intellectual' brain and not my right 'emotional' brain - which I suppose is due to my lack of proximity or direct involvement (ie, not knowing anyone involved). In other words: essentially I'm detached from the horror. However many letters I send to my MP, or whatever else I do about it, my influence is nil. I am powerless. And I think this is a crucial point.

This implies that we are unlikely to have trouble sleeping when our conscience is clear - that is, when we have no pressing obligation we've failed to meet. So another possible cause of insomnia could be failure to address some issue that we should and could have addressed - and our conscience refuses to leave us in peace till we've addressed it. This is probably the most common cause of insomnia - caused by taking on loads of obligations. The solution is obvious: become a slacker like me and avoid all but the most essential responsibilities.

A few years ago I looked after my mum for a couple of years. And it's true that no-one could have been easier or more of a pleasure to look after. But because I took on no other obligation, I didn't need to slack so far as she was concerned, yet I still managed to have loads of slacking time. The little story at the end of my first item on Zen suggests a key to this kind-of process that I reckon is worth considering.


Now for a well deserved kip...