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How to Sleep Better

The Mystery of Sleep

          Sleep is a pretty amazing thing.  You turn out the lights, lie down, and close your eyes.  At first your mind is probably active, thinking about all kinds of things – memories from the past day, from weeks, months, even years ago, may drift through or linger. But gradually (if all goes well), the thoughts become quieter and more transparent, the memories become hazier, you become drowsier, and with luck, you lose all awareness of your day, your mind, your body, your bed, and in fact, your self.  

          Kind of interesting isn’t it? We look forward to this state of oblivion. But why?  Why is it such an attractive thing?

          Let's think about it for a moment.  

          Many of the things we long for most in life involve what we've been calling "core qualities" – peace, joy, tranquility, contentment. Being in love, the oblivion of intoxication, the ecstasy of orgasm, descriptions of near death experiences, all have one thing in common – they take us "outside ourselves," giving us a respite from our busy minds, stressful emotions, and difficult life situations.

          Ultimately, all the problems we have with regard to sleep involve the opposite of core qualities. Whether your problem is painful thoughts or emotions during the day, insomnia or nightmares at night, the essence of the problem is the same.  It’s that your attention is caught up in conflicting things on the rim of your wheel of awareness.  And to the extent you’re lost in those things on the rim, you've lost touch with your core.

Sleep and the Core

          Normally, for much of the day, our attention is caught up in many different things.  Often these things compete for our attention, pulling and pushing us this way and that.  We’d like to spend time talking to someone but we have to get on with our work. We’d love to have an extra piece of chocolate cake but we want to lose weight or eat less sugar.  We’d like to tell someone we’re angry at them but we’re afraid of how they’ll react.  

          This way and that . . . "do this, don’t do that; try this, but maybe it’s not a good idea; should I ask someone, but who can I trust . . ."

          Exhausting, isn’t it?  

          What does this have to do with sleep and the core? When you’ve had a really, really good night’s sleep, you feel relaxed, refreshed, peaceful, yet energized and alert. You're more likely to have a feeling of ease, and a sense that you’re ready to take on whatever challenges the day might bring.

          Sounds a lot like the qualities of the core.

          In fact, good sleep provides us with an experience of core qualities – peace, contentment,  energy, relaxation . . . So perhaps it makes sense that cultivating those qualities during the day and deliberately evoking them when you go to bed, could be a helpful aid to drifting gently into a sleep that is both restful and restorative.

Developing Healthy Sleep Habits

          If you look at any website on good sleep habits, you’ll soon see there are a number of suggestions that are pretty nearly universal:

  • Set a regular bedtime (and don’t change it on weekends)

  • Make the bedroom “sleep friendly” (dark, quiet, cool, and make sure your bed is comfy)

  • Eat healthy food (too much food, fried or spicy foods too close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep)

  • Do more vigorous exercise earlier in the day

  • Don’t smoke or drink anything for a few hours before bed

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Don’t watch TV or surf the web right before bedtime; if you read, read something calming; create rituals like a warm bath or gentle stretching

  • Losing weight may help with snoring and sleep apnea

  • Reduce stress (learn progressive relaxation, deep breathing exercises, and other techniques)

  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t start thinking about your day.  If you don’t fall right back to sleep, try some quiet non-stimulating activity like deep relaxation, listening to soft, gentle music, or reading something calming

          If you’re having sleep problems, there could one of three reasons:

  1. You haven’t tried any of these.

  2. You’ve tried a few but didn’t really stick with them.

  3. You’ve been doing them all but they still haven’t worked.

          If you haven’t been doing any of these things, check out the Healthy Habits page of the site, and get the support you need to start applying some of them. They work.

          If you have been doing all these things and are still having problems with sleep, perhaps you’ve not been . . .

                                                           Remembering to breathe.

          If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place.  This entire website is devoted to giving you the techniques that will develop your mid-prefrontal cortex, give you access to your core of calm, ease, and contentment, reduce your stress level, and make it easier for you to do whatever you need to do – including sleep. 

          In this section, you’ll learn how to make better use of the standard sleep techniques by combining them with “remembering to breathe.”

          We don’t mean to imply that all sleep problems can be solved without medication.  But unless your sleep problems are causing a crisis in your life, we strongly recommend you spend at least a few weeks trying the methods we describe above.  And even if you do feel that you need to try medication – either prescription or over the counter – it will be more effective if you combine it with developing the skills described here. The medical field that specializes in treating sleep disorders is known as Behavioral Sleep Medicine.  To find a specialist in your area, you can check out the websites for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Sleep Foundation.