Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Lullaby of Sleep

(Image taken from indianhindunames.com)

Sleep seems to be a huge issue for clients these days. How much sleep are you getting and how good is it? For some it's an issue of time: "I just don't have time to get more than 5 or 6 hours a night...." For others it's an issue of quality: "Between my kids and my husband snoring, I'm lucky if I get more than a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep..." And of course sometimes it's just the stress of our own minds that keeps us awake, churning and reworking the day or things to come, even as our body wishes for sleep and rest.

A few themes emerge. First, is the importance of how you interpret the lack of sleep. Does it make you crazy, anxious, worried to not be getting sleep? Often this can become a vicious cycle, so that the worry about not getting sleep or falling asleep becomes a problem in and of itself. See if your language and thinking about not sleeping can become gentler and more kind, less stressed: "It is what it is, I'll get however much sleep I get..." That softness and lessening of anxiety around the problem itself can make a huge difference. (I once heard that just resting is worth a larger percentage of sleep time than we think and that also put my mind at ease. Even if I'm not actually asleep, I realized, just lying here is still allowing my body to rejuvenate.)

Then consider if you're being too rigid about how or when sleep needs to happen. If you're not getting enough sleep consistently at night (especially if it's due to circumstances you can't control), can you let yourself rest briefly at other times during the day? Can you step outside of the box and shut your eyes in your car for twenty minutes on a break from work? Take a brief nap while the kids are at school? Listening to the body means getting out of our concepts of when sleep should happen and into the moment of what our bodies want and need right now.

I also think the transition to sleep and into the lull of our bodies takes some ritual, a ritual we may have known has children but have mostly lost touch with as adults. So often we're in bed with the television on or our computers, finishing an email or surfing the internet, then expect that we'll close our eyes and drift off to sleep. Instead, consider that our bodies and our minds may need what we once needed as children: a place of lullaby, story or mystery. Can you light candles and play soft music for a few minutes before you go to bed? Read a favorite book instead of television or the computer?

My husband frequently gets irritated if I try to have too serious a conversation before bed. This used to annoy me (and sometimes it still does) but I also appreciate the wisdom of it. He's protective of his 'sleeping space.' He knows that if he gets too involved in a conversation right before bed about something important, he'll be replaying it and considering it as he's trying to transition to sleep. Instead, he prefers to read or watch something, to get into the story part of his mind and not the problem-solving one. Good for him. How many times do we do the opposite, keeping ourselves awake with analysis of the day or the future, simply because we don't know how to shut it all off?

A sleep expert I heard speak about insomnia recently was very insistent on our need for transitional space, a time before bed when the lights get to be lower, when our minds get to slow down. Our bodies too need to take cues from us that they no longer need to be operating at full speed, reflexes at the ready. To surrender to the vulnerability of sleep is a metaphor for so much of the surrender we can forget how to do in our lives. We are still human beings in need of whatever that mystery of darkness is; we are still mortal, no matter how much we thrive on efficiency and productivity in our waking life.

Practice setting time aside for stillness before bed, and for valuing the quiet place you've created as much as the sleep itself. Notice how your body feels in the gentleness of it, and how much it craves it. Our bodies so often need to know they're safe and cared for; and we can't tell them with our minds but rather with our actions and our choices. This is one way the mind and the body can be reminded, like children, of the sacredness of sleep, and the way we can greet it and open to it like humble devotees, allowing it to take us to its depths.

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