Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Hacking Insomnia

I just saw yet another friend complaining on Facebook about insomnia. That does it. I need to share some hard-won knowledge.

I've been a devoted yogi for nearly 50 years, having started out as a child prodigy. So I know a few things about consciousness and body processes. Sleep, in other words, is right in my wheelhouse.

I have extreme gastric reflux (I'm on the strong pills, and even they can't control it...though I'm not looking for advice....I've tried everything and am gradually losing weight, which is my best hope). Even mild reflux can keep you up at night, and if it wakes you up it's super hard to get back to sleep with what feels like a stomach full of gurgling fabric softener. If anyone can learn to sleep through this, it should be me. Yet I've struggled. Yup, even the 50-year yoga prodigy.

So I've been working on this for a while, applying deep skills to a hard problem. What I've learned can help you with the much easier problem of sleeping amid mere worries and stresses.
Note: you are stressed, even if you don't realize it. There are emotional connections to the other birds in one's flock, and this is a stressed and discombobulated world right now. So even if you feel calm and happy - as I do - you are nonetheless unavoidably affected by secondhand smoke.
Obvious countermeasures first, and then the tricky tricks:

Normalize Your Cycles

The body doesn't lead us. We lead it, and it aims to oblige, like an eager dog. If you snack or nap at 2:30pm three days in a row, on the fourth day you'll wonder why you're famished or exhausted at 2:30pm. Simple! So, for one example, your body doesn't crave sugar. It's that you've programmed it to expect sugar... and the body seems to demand what it's been programmed to expect. Cut the sugar, and it will reprogram within three days. Seriously.

Quarantine has us off our normal schedules. And the most common issue will be insomnia. So, even as unstructured as you may be, make a point to eat and sleep at exactly the same time every day. Then give yourself three days to accept the programming.


The air does not sizzle with homicidal microbes. You can go outside. I know you've read about edge cases where viral clouds linger, or sneeze particles travel for yards, but what's theoretically possible isn't probable enough to concern yourself. Go outside, stay 6 (not 30) feet away from people, don't touch your face, and get yourself some sweating/heart-pumping exercise for at least 45 minutes at least 3-4x/week. Preferably daily especially if you're insomniac. If there's a hill nearby, great. Walk up it, over and over. Walking (fast and strong) is the ultimate statement of survival. You'll be amazed how good it feels.


Your car's engine may race, but if you don't put it in gear, it can't drive anything. Same for the noise in your mind.

Whoever first told people they needed to learn to silence their mind was a sadistic bastard who's messed up generations. The thoughts can stay; you just need to recognize that this noise is not you. You are not the narration; the mental tickertape. Meditation opens some space between you and your noisy mind (I do this stripped down, super efficacious practice, plus this breathing practice, and I steer well clear of the rest of the web site) and each micron of additional separation is like creamy dreamy bliss.

With some space between thinker and thoughts - aka perspective - we remember that we're here to enjoy immersive entertainment. We never needed to carry the pain of the world around with us (for more on carrying burdens, read this, plus the articles linked at the bottom of that page).

Meditate and you'll never be more than a breath away from easily/comfortably abiding in the moment. It doesn't make you lazy. Do I seem lazy?

The Mechanics of Falling Asleep (the real yoga stuff)

Memorize this sequence, to be repeated every time you go to bed. But (important) don't think about it or practice it outside of bedtime. Reserve this and protect it.

Once you've lied down and turned out the light:
1. Un-smile your face

2. Droop into gravity. Then droop some more. Then recognize that you're hardly drooping at all. Contemplate how your body would have drooped if you were to wake up in this position, and droop that much. Emulate what your body's doing when you wake up. Don't obsess over this. Limit it to 10-20 seconds. Don't let it be an "activity", just bake it into your going-to-sleep protocol.

3. Add an imaginary 5 pounds to your head's weight, and let it drop squarely into your pillow. Notice how the pillow tenderly accepts the weight. Your pillow is there for you.

4. Let your thoughts drop into your pillow. Don't try to quiet or silence them, let them percolate, but simply let them drain down into the pillow (and from there, into the bed, the floor, and the earth). Notice the pillow's tender receptivity. It wants to suck out your thoughts. It's eager to do so. It's like a vacuum.

5. Briefly and lightly test yourself. Think something mildly stressful. Some task you need to do or some person you're mad at. When you see stress approaching a few hundred yards away, let it drain into your pillow. Again, do this "briefly and lightly". Don't turn it into an activity. Keep it under 10 seconds (5 seconds with practice). All of the above steps are doable in under 30 seconds, total. Do them rotely, like tooth brushing.

6. At this point, know that you ARE asleep! You only assume you're not out of pure skepticism. Let your skepticism, along with the other thoughts, drop down into the tenderly receptive pillow. The "I'm still awake/I can't sleep" thought is just another thought to drain into the pillow and into the earth. It's not some higher, special-case thought. You ARE asleep. All you need to do is let the skepticism gently drain.

If necessary, repeat the sequence. But don't expect that to be necessary, because, again, you ARE, at this point, asleep (the only problem is lingering skepticism). As a last resort, mentally intone your mantra (assuming you've been meditating, per suggestion above).

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