It is no coincidence that in Greek Mythology ‘Hypnos’ (God of Sleep) was married to Pasithea, who was the personification of relaxation, meditation, hallucinations and altered states of consciousness. Hypnos was said to own half our lives, so was considered a very important god. Perhaps this old belief could encourage us to reflect on the necessity of good sleep and how we neglect it. Do we value it as the other half of wakefulness?
Sleep has been a struggle on-and-off for much of my life. As a child I often took hours to get to sleep (could not switch off my mind). Looking at a clock which said 06:00 and knowing that I had to get up at 07:30 for school was nightmarish. I described myself as an insomniac then and at certain times as an adult I’ve been that way too. Sleep usually arrives more easily now, though sometimes too light.
So how can we get to sleep and encourage it to be deep and restful? Of course, there are the standard pieces of advice which you are likely to have read about before. You’ll find many of them listed in Seven Ways to improve your sleep… in The Guardian. How have I got better at sleeping though? Well, with considerable attention to the strategies listed in the article, but also by following the three methods I describe below… The first involves a breathing technique and the other two are really changes in attitude.
Counting to three…
If I’m feeling tired, but am having trouble quietening my mind. I use a breathing technique which I originally came across in the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne PH.D. In fact, it’s a great method for whenever you want to calm down and stop your heart from racing, but is also excellent for sleep.
How it works (and it is possible that my version for sleeping has transformed slightly, by the way) is that you breathe deep, low breaths (not just high in your chest) and keep them slow and measured…
First, take a long, deep breath, counting to three as you go. Try to hold your breath for the count of three (it might be difficult at first). Then release your breath, also counting to three as you do so. Why three breaths? Well, it doesn’t have to be three – it could be five*. Whatever works best for you. As long as you don’t rush your breathing and counting, you will find that everything slows down and that you become calmer.
With reference to Pasithea again, this is where you can introduce an element of meditation. With this form of breathing and winding down, I gain a greater awareness of the night’s sounds but they do not disturb me. The focus I have on these noises, the counting and my breathing relax me further. For me, this then drifts into an ‘altered state of consciousness’.
Often after a few repetitions of the above, I am asleep.
Replacing negative thoughts with comforting ones
I used to think that just because bad things were happening, either within my bubble or the world as a whole, it was only natural (perhaps subconsciously, I thought essential) to spend any unoccupied moments that I had worrying and thinking of the ‘what ifs’… over and over again. More recently I’ve learnt that I do not need to dwell in those places. Often the focus gained in the breathing activity you’ve just read about helps us to avoid doing this, but when negative thinking does reappear I’m now better at recognising it for what it is and letting it pass on. As I let it go, I make an effort to replace it with a pleasant thought, a practice recommended by a wise friend.
Let go of the worry about falling asleep and enjoy wakefulness…
I think it was the same sage that I mentioned above who suggested that if all else failed, I should ask myself “What is the worst that can happen if I can’t sleep?”. Answer: “I’ll be tired at work tomorrow.”. Of course for some this is serious, but for most it is just annoying and well, … tiring…
I now enjoy this sleepless, quiet time alone by reading or sometimes even writing, on real paper. Chances are that after doing this for roughly an hour, along with having a warm, milky drink, I will slip back into bed and into sleep.
Back to the Greek mythology
So here we have discussed three tips which relate to the meditation, relaxation and ultimately an altered state of consciousness of Pasithea, the perfect partner for sleep. I also like to remember how artists have portrayed Hypnos, her husband, as being a calm and gentle god… so put any fretting aside!
Amongst the children of Pasithea and Hypnos were dreams, they have different stories to tell… I shall write about them when I can.
Please comment with your favourite tips for better sleep…