Wakefulness usually causes me to do one, or several, of a few things; research random things; write to do lists; search for quotations; think about poetry; miss people; worry, scribble thoughts. And finally, read about sleeplessness.
I often think about sleep quite similarly to death (so many scripture verses make the comparison as well – “We do not mourn as those who do not have hope.” “She is asleep!” etc.) You must live in such a way that you die well. [See also: Solon] And you must live each day in such a way that you can sleep well.
We are, as a culture, buying the lie that sleep is irrelevant. I am not talking about the slew of college all-nighters that so many of us optimization experts (aka procrastinators) got so good at pulling. I am talking about bona fide adults who can’t even manage to crawl into their cribs at night. But why? Why don’t we do the thing we so desperately need to do? Studies have even made the comparison to sorting our email inboxes. Sleep allows the processes to take place in our brains which are analogous to rewiring, sorting information, and ultimately, LEARNING.
Some common causes listed for a lack of sleep are the following: Aging; Alcohol use; Anxiety; non-conducive sleep environment; Depression; Illness; Excitement; Illegal drugs; Jet lag; LACK OF SUNLIGHT; Medications; overactive thyroid; Restless leg syndrome; Shift work; Sleeping too much during the day; Stimulants taken in the evening (including nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, or food); Stress, Worry; Too much stimulation at bedtime; Wake-sleep pattern disturbances.
In sum, poor self-care and bad habits! Circumstances unconquered, and issues entirely outside of our control… or are they? Is there really ever anything about which you cannot do a single thing?
I read somewhere (allergy research) that the average american spends 22 hours indoors everyday. That’s just awful, if you ask me! Fresh air, sunlight, and exercise all aid sleep. But yet we don’t?
Studies show that prayer and meditation bring down stress levels astronomically, and yet we don’t even pause to consider?
Under info for “Infants” one article [http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/symptoms/sleeping-difficulty/overview.html] lists hunger (and indigestion) as a reason for an inability to sleep, which is just as valid a component for adult sleep schedules although it is far less frequently mentioned. Also mentioned is an infantile “Desire for attention from parents” — I think we never outgrow that one either. [I still think about both my parents before going to sleep.]
My proposal: To reach true Wakefulness – during the day, we have to learn how to rest, and by resting, sleep! At night!
BUT HOW? Counting sheep? If that worked this wouldn’t be an issue! While we can (and often must!) redirect our thoughts, that is not enough.
The Times article (cited above) listed the following suggestions:
Avoid emotional upset or stressful situations before bedtime.
[HA! How about avoid them all the time! But really, why don’t we do more to reach conflict resolution? Why do we sit passively and STRESS about so much instead of working to have resolution? Or as someone on a different topic today said, “more production, less consumption”.]
Avoid using alcohol in the evening. Avoid caffeine for at least 8 hours before bedtime. Give up smoking, because nicotine is a stimulant.
[Ok, I can get onboard…]
Eat a light snack before bedtime. Foods such as warm milk or turkey contain a natural sleep inducer called L-tryptophan.
[I am all for snacks! See also babyhood — we need to eat in order to sleep!]
Establish a regular bedtime, but don’t go to bed if you feel wide awake.
[More to follow on the idea of routine… but aren’t these two clauses a paradox? How DOES one establish a regular time if one does not force oneself to abide by it?!]
Exercise regularly, but not in the last 2 hours before going to bed. Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has been shown to make people fall asleep faster and get deeper and more restful sleep.
[Ok, so I do have to move my gym schedule to mornings… but that means I have to go to sleep, in order to wake up, to go to the gym, to be able to sleep, to be able to go to the gym… in the house that Jack built]
Sex can be a natural sleep inducer for some people.
[I’ll let that one lie]
Relax by reading, taking a bath, or listening to soothing music before going to bed.
[BEFORE, I think we forget that sleep takes effort, and therefore preparation. Or at least I forget this, and expect it on demand, like the latest episode of a tv program. NOW PLEASE]
Take your TV or computer out of your bedroom. Otherwise, your brain becomes used to the stimulation and starts to expect it when you are there. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
[UM. Guilty. I think many many people are guilty of this. I am typing right now, in my bed, staring into bright lights being thrown into my eyes and stimulating my brain.]
Use the bedroom for bedroom activities only. Once in bed, use creative imagery and relaxation techniques to keep your mind off unrestful thoughts. Avoid staying in bed for long periods of time while awake, or going to bed because of boredom.
[Imagination and relaxation. Easier said than done, right?!]
And for the parents:
“Avoid going in to your child’s room throughout the night.”
[Obviously, you don’t want to be the one to wake up your kiddo repeatedly just to check on him!]
Avoid sending your child to bed as punishment, which can make the child afraid and lead to poor sleep.
[SO, SO true! And one of the saddest things I think you can ever do!]
For children who have trouble falling asleep, try to make sure that the child is not disturbed by noise. Leaving a radio playing soft music may help cover up disturbing noises.
[Or get a noise machine… although I think that’s just creating a dependance later on… but there are worse ones!]
Never give a child sleeping medicine without asking the doctor first. It’s usually not a good idea to treat the problem with drugs.
We all like to say we would like to lead healthier happier lives. BUT, if sleep were the one thing that would guarantee greater satisfaction, increased happiness, prolonged productivity, and generally, an improved quality of life, WHY are we not doing something more about this?!
We have all kinds of goals about weight loss and diet. About action plans, and organization systems, and time-management.
Is it that we have so bought the idea that we need to make the most of every minute that we have instead frightened ourselves into a state in which we can no longer make the most of every minute? Time seems an enemy, THE constraint of finitude. But why not let it cycle like the seasons, and rise and fall like the tides. Why not embrace rest to rise again Wakeful?
[Well, fear, I think, but more on that next time…]