Sleep is a fundamental part of the life of each and every human being that ever lived. Yet we know astonishingly little about it.
The problem is, of course, that we can’t “get inside” sleep and ask questions, neither of ourselves nor of others. All we can do is observe what happens when elements of sleep are changed or removed. And there the research seems pretty much consistent, but for some variance in the degree of bad news: put simply, a lack of sleep, especially a persistent lack of sleep, is really bad news. In fact, evidence suggests that chronic sleep deficiency – even if you’re “only” short on a few hours a day – can actually shorten your lifespan.
On the other hand, some comparative studies indicate that sleep can be proactively used to enhance our life experience.
Good sleep not only keeps us on the right side of critical physical health issues, it can also be used to improve our mental wellbeing. ‘Managing’ aspects of our sleep can help us to process emotions and to develop creative and flexible thinking. If you like, it’s a case of deliberately applying old wisdom such as ‘sleeping on it’, ‘things looking better in the morning’, etc.
All well and good – but, for many people, simply getting to sleep is the basic obstacle. Many of us try to get over this by popping a sleeping tablet, or having a nightcap, neither of which is a healthy long-term solution. No-one wants to develop a dependency on medication, and we know that alcohol disrupts sleep as it is processed through the body during the night.
So we have to address the root of the problem. And, for the majority, this is the inability to switch off any number of thoughts that insist on noisily running around our heads when we want to fall asleep.
These thoughts demand the attention of our ‘control centre’, making ‘switching off’ virtually impossible. One time-proven solution is simply to give that ‘control centre’, the subconscious, something else to focus on: something soothing, enjoyable and engaging that distracts it from those thoughts and persuades it that it can, after all, relax. For some people, usually those who are already well-practised, self-induced mindfulness or meditation will have the desired effect. The point of mindfulness is to achieve a focus on ‘the moment’, excluding extraneous thoughts, and so quieting the mind in the desired way.
For many, however, this is easier said than done. If you’re new to it, not only is self-induced mindfulness hard to achieve, but the focus on the moment still isn’t really sufficient distraction. If, like most of us, this sounds like you, then guided meditation or hypnotic story-telling (they’re basically the same thing!) make admirable replacements for the comfort blanket or floppy-eared soft toy of childhood.
It’s a simplification, but not an over-simplification, to say that the subconscious is a highly child-like part of our brain.
It won’t stop focusing on ‘the thoughts’ because it thinks it can’t or shouldn’t until they’re resolved, no matter whether or not they actually can be resolved. However – as soon as the first element of beneficial distraction breaks through, the domino effect kicks in and the new focus starts to replace ‘the thoughts’, opening the way to sleep.
It’s all about the power of narrative patterns and metaphor. We’ve all been children. Very few of us won’t have had experience of dealing with children. So we all know the hypnotic effect of a bedtime story. Even – or perhaps especially – one that has been repeated time and time again will have the same effect: concentrating the child’s focus to the point where they are ready to sleep.
If bedtime stories work for children, and if, at the subconscious level, we remain childlike even as adults – then surely something similar should work for us?
And it does. Properly constructed guided meditations or hypnotic scenarios are delivered in carefully-arranged ‘layers’ of language, metaphor and ambiguity in order not only to distract the subconscious, but to engage it subtly in the act of interpretation. Once the subconscious starts to work on understanding, interpreting or taking forward the meditation it’s presented with, it becomes fully engaged. At this point, you are truly ‘primed’ for a deep, and even productive, sleep.
And the best thing – okay, the second-best thing (stay tuned) – about guided meditation is that it’s freely available and easy to test. At ThinkWell-LiveWell, we not only offer you a wide range of meditative scenarios, so that users can find those that work best for them (like the child deciding on their favourite story book), but our programmes can also be personalised at different levels, so that, for example, the backing music is your choice – even the length of the meditation is your choice.
But that is still only the second best thing. The best thing? It’s the joy of the unexpected. Get ready for new things coming into your life through the changes that come into your thought patterns.
Fanciful? Not at all. No trees have knowingly been hugged in writing these notes: it is quite simply a scientifically established fact that repeatedly giving the mind the down-time afforded by being in the ‘mindful state’ physically changes its wiring in deeply beneficial ways.
Conclusion: many people actually develop an anxiety about bedtime because they’re frustrated at being unable to switch off at sleep. With guided meditation or hypnotic story-telling, that pre-sleep routine can quickly become a very pleasurable, deeply beneficial experience that we start to look forward to immensely; almost childishly.