Sleep disorders and winter nights:
I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to waking up during the night and being unable to get back to sleep.
So you might not be impressed, and I can understand why. It was something I discovered after having woken at two in the morning and was doing all I could to return to that wonderful safe other world of deep sleep.
Recent research into sleep disorders suggests that it is quite natural to wake at least once or sometimes twice in the night without it meaning that you are suffering from a strange malady. It is a natural activity, says the research, especially as we get older and that there is no need to look on this negatively. The researchers suggest that instead of laying there, hoping to drop off again very soon, we should get up and do something else for fifteen or thirty minutes to take our minds somewhere else and so give our sleeping period a rest or time out. When you go back to bed after a warm milk drink and a biscuit and a quick look at a book or magazine (not your digital devices though) you might feel wide awake but, in no time at all, you will nod off for another round of deep sleep. They add that this might not be so easy if you are going through some difficult emotional experience as this can disturb your sleep patterns.
Why not my devices?
So how about those devices? Why can’t I check my Facebook page or Message app to see what my insomniac friends are posting; or add another photo of my beautiful cat to Instagram; or pin a picture of that dress I want for the wedding onto my Pinterest page?
Well it goes like this, or so I understand it. All digital devices, phones, tablets, computers etc., are accessed by your high-powered Alpha brain waves, while reading or writing your journal (or sketching) with a pen or pencil uses the more natural animal or gentle Beta waves. This means that when you return to bed, your conscious self has been assuaged by activities sympathetic to sleep. Other good activities include making a piece of toast or a cup of herbal tea (avoid hot chocolate or coffee), knitting, sewing, mending, or cutting stuff for your scrapbook, all of which are more natural activities.
A couple of months back I suffered a small health problem, which found me less able to sleep. It gave me an opportunity to test this Alpha/Beta hypothesis. I had been constructing a new website and as always happens (not just with this activity) one can easily get carried away on researching a particular facet of a project. I would work late into the night, because, after all, I couldn’t sleep anyway. When I eventually went to bed, I just lay there until around five in the morning or later, when I would fall into a sort of slumber and which didn’t last long.
I had been reading about the Alpha/Beta theory but had not been bothered enough to give it serious attention. Suddenly I became very interested in what I could do to get better sleep. I deliberately forbade myself from accessing any digital device after four in the afternoon. This might not sound difficult but one soon realizes that doing these digital things had become a habit even though you knew looking at how many people had visited the new website that day or who had chosen to ‘follow’ or ‘liked’ you on Instagram or Pinterest would not make a tiny bit of difference to anything you were doing at that moment. This is the moment when you realize that what we call ‘social media’ really can become a psychological trap. And this could also be the moment you discover as I did, that after constant tossing and turning, you too can swivel your head in a beanie without the beanie moving. Welcome to Alpha mode.
How about TV?
At this point you might ask “What about TV and sleep disorders?” The best I can say is that good narrative drama, comedy or a satisfying documentary can be satisfying to the ‘soul’ or to human emotions but I also believe that too many shows in a night, or watching after ten o’clock, starts to work against the idea of deep sleep. “Too much for the mind to work with,” someone once said, “reduces the likelihood of getting a deep and sustained sleep.” I would probably add to that that commercial television hits us hard with mindless advertising and that these emotionally contorted messages play havoc with the subconscious and work against good sleep.
How is TV different to your other screen based friends? You don’t need a lot of left-brain activity to operate a TV set, unlike digital stuff that requires your left-brain attention constantly to connect, switch and make decisions.
Share your thoughts
So what do you think? Can you offer more information on better managing the late-night wide-awake episode and without resorting to medication? Please put pen to paper when you next wake up in the night and tell us your thoughts, but for the sake of a good nights sleep, don’t type anything on the computer until the next day. We don’t want you getting your Alphas and Betas confused.
Dreams: A theory
Finally, I want to leave you with my favorite dream theory.
Way back when moving images were captured on celluloid or film, the finished product i.e. the film – was a collection of sequences of action that were edited in what was called the cutting room. More unusable stuff ended up on the cutting room floor than the good stuff that got spliced together to make up the finished product.
So the dream theory is this. What happened and everything that passed through your mind in your waking day (all of the film) was processed (edited) and put into the conscious mind as the day’s events as you perceived and understood them (the edited and finished film).
In the sleeping hours while you and your subconscious self are busy resting and sleeping, your unconscious self – never needing to go to sleep – finds itself with nothing to do, bored in fact. So it discovers this fun game. Scrambling about on the cutting room floor among not just todays rejected pieces of film but every unused clip and dark thought from your whole life, the unconscious self tries to put some of them together to make what it believes to be a coherent story.
Try as it may, it could never succeed because the essential bits have already been joined to make the real film – the days events, as you will remember them. The result? Your dreams are what the unconscious attempts to put together and for those of us who dream, we know how weird that can be.