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sleep

Go to sleep instantly

It’s been a few years, so I dug a couple of Travis McGee novels out of my stash to read over the holidays. This time through the The Dreadful Lemon Sky, the following passage caught my attention:

I lay wakeful in the big bed, resentful of Meyer nearby in the guest stateroom, placidly asleep. When he had been involved in a government study in India, he had learned how to take his mind out of gear and go immediately to sleep. I had known how, without thinking about it, when I had been in the army, but in time I had lost the knack.

Meyer had explained very carefully how he did it. “You imagine a black circle about two inches behind your eyes, and big enough to fill your skull from ear to ear; from crown to jaw hinges. You know that each intrusion of thought is going to make a pattern on that perfect blackness. So you merely concentrate on keeping the blackness perfect, unmarked, and mathematically round. As you do that, you breathe slowly and steadily, and with each exhalation, you feel yourself sinking a tiny bit further into the mattress. And in moments you are asleep.

He was, but I wasn’t.

When I was in college, I became quite interested in the Golden Dawn and suchlike. Every night, as I lay in bed, I would mentally go through the motions of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.

After a while, I realized that the ritual was indeed having an effect…I had conditioned myself to link that pattern of mental peregrinations with falling asleep. For years I would fall asleep almost immediately after starting the ritual, but as the habit fell away, so did my ability to sink instantly into slumber.

This CNN article glosses an Oxford sleep study from 2002, suggesting that actively suppressing anxiety-provoking thoughts as they arise may be counter-productive, and that counting sheep is largely ineffective. (it would appear to be this study; as of this writing, a version of a later study by the same author can be dredged out of Google’s cache.) Generalizing from a single study can be quite dangerous; generalizing from a media gloss on a single study is worse. Still, I found this interesting:

One group imagined a relaxing, tranquil scene like a waterfall or a beach. The second tried counting sheep while a third were left to their own devices.

Those who conjured up the relaxing scene fell asleep more than 20 minutes earlier than if they did nothing. Those who counted sheep and the controls took slightly longer than normal to drop off.

“Picturing an engaging scene takes up more brain space than the same dirty old sheep,” Allison Harvey, who conducted the study with Suzanna Payne, told New Scientist magazine in which details of the research were published on Thursday. “Plus it’s easier to stay with it because it’s more interesting.”

Both Meyer’s black circle and the ritual visualization fit into this pattern of occupying “brain space”. In my opinion, it’s hardly surprising that simply counting sheep didn’t work for the study participants. I’d be quite curious to see the effects, though, if they counted sheep as they went to sleep every night for three months.

It’s not exactly a controlled scientific study, but I plan to experiment with the black circle over the next few weeks, and I’ll post my results to this forum.

6 replies on “Go to sleep instantly”

I sleep well at night most of the time.I want to sleep in the afternoon after taking my lunch at around 2 pm. I lye down for it.I close my eyes. I keep on trying for about 15 minutes but am not successful though I try to empty my mind by not allowing any thoughts in my mind. can you suggest some way.

j.k.: There’s lots of advice on napping strategies around the web. Personally, I’m not a napper, so you’ll have to do your own experiments.

Last June, the Boston Globe published some suggestions that might be a good starting point.

I found a strange technique that seems to help me to fall asleep. I tend to fall asleep if I think of irrational things, not particularly funny or comical ones but strange. It can be anything like driving the car backwards to work, or my family speaking gibberish at the dinner table. I suppose the goal is to shoot for something that seems dream like and odd. It is as if my brain is not able to comprehend these strange thoughts and starts to shut down. Works for me, don’t know how successful it would be with others.

i tried the black circles tecnique every night for about two weeks and it seemed to take me alot longer to get to sleep than usal. It took too much of my consentration, therefore leaving me wide awake, trying to get these circle pefect. I also found it hard to keep my eyes closed. 😛

paige: I can definitely see that too-active concentration could be counter-productive. With my previous visualization experiments, the sleep turned out to be an unintended (if fortuitious) byproduct that came after several months, by which point the mental tracks were well-worn and needed little conscious engagement to travel. If you’re interested in continuing, I’d recommend finding a variant that you find less mentally stressful and see how that works. Perhaps picturing a soft, amorphous cloud that expands through your mind that swallows and absorbs other thoughts as they arise? Another idea might be to practice it only when you’re feeling sleepy, for a while, to build the right associations…along the same principle as not staying in bed for more than a half-hour if one has insomnia.

A book on yoga I read some years ago described a meditation where one visualizes a square garden with a different flower planted in each corner. One then walks through this garden mentally, stopping at each flower to observe and smell. While the goal of meditation is typically the opposite of sleep, a pleasant, procedural, structured visualization might be more successful.

Thanks for the report…please post again if you find a variant that works for you. Sleep well!

What helps me is, this might sound crazy but it works, instead of closing your eyes and trying to sleep, close your eyes and try to stay awake. Before you know it it’s morning.

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