Meet the Sages (and Get A Free Poster!)

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In recent years there’s been a surge of interest in ancient philosophers. Three of my favorite books in this vein are Expect the Unexpected Or You Won’t Find it: A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger Van Oech, Breakfast With Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day by Robert Rowland Smith, and The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m going to add to this growing body of literature by introducing the ancient writers of Hebrew wisdom literature. These sages said many interesting and often astonishing things, especially given how long ago they wrote. For example, two millennia before Freud and modern psychotherapy the sages wrote, “Many are the purposes of a person’s heart; one with wisdom draws them out.” There are things that go on in a person’s psyche about which we are simply unaware. In 2011 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote about this in Thinking Fast and Slow (read my summary here). Over one hundred years before that (1902 to be precise) William James said this about consciousness and perception, Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different, ” (Varieties of Religious Experience). These are all fancy ways of explaining what we mean when we say…
  • “Perception is reality”
  • “Appearances can be deceiving”
  • “My brain has a mind of it’s own”
  • “There are two sides to every story”
  • “Life is not always as it appears to be”
Woe to the person who doesn’t know that their consciousness can be altered an a variety of ways or that our minds can play weird tricks on us. Even neuro-scientists remind us that feelings of being right are not necessarily right. Click here to read an interview with Robert Burton, author of the fascinating book, On Being Certain. Which brings me to a free gift I have for you. The sages were preternaturally aware that things like emotions, health, hunger, sleep, and other factors trick us. I’ve collected (and drew faces for) thirty of their sage warnings that remind us that we can’t always trust our thoughts. You can download a free 8.5″ x 11″ color printout of this poster by clicking here. (Signed 13″x 19″ color posters are available for $30 (+$4.99 shipping in USA) on Amazon; small size posters are free to readers of this blog). The brilliance of these sage warnings is that being skeptical of our cherished beliefs will lead to open mindedness, mental flexibility, and a willingness to contemplate alternative ideas. This is often our focus when doing mediation or therapy–when emotions or other mood altering factors hi-jack our brains we don’t think rationally or clearly. I hope this handout (poster) will inspire careful self-reflection.

Free Sleeping Aid (Sleep Tip 9 of 9)

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Because cognitive therapy gets the best results and is scientifically validated as one of the most effective treatment protocols around, I love helping people identify their distorted cognitions and replace them with positive mood enhancing affirmations. For the spiritually minded religious texts often fit the bill nicely.

Poke around the Bible long enough and you’ll discover some interesting things about sleep. I’ve compiled 40 of those interesting things and put them into this “build it yourself” adjustable round chart called, SPINsomnia. On side one we learn 20 things that remove wakefulness and on side two 20 things that induce sleepiness.

To download the template for SPINsomnia click  here: SPINsomniaTo download a one page “assembly instruction page” click Wheel Assembly Page.

To understand my fascination with adjustable round charts (also knows as “spinny things,” “wheely things,” and “volvelles”) click HERE and here: Circular Reasoning.

Pleasant dreams!

Thanks for the many positive comments I’ve received about this series. If you’re so inclined please leave comments below. Thank you!

COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Alcoholic Spouse, Depression, and more. Stay tuned!

 

Sleep Tip Hints for Shift Workers (8 of 9)

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When I was a kid my father worked nights and slept during the day. I slept at night and wailed on my electric guitar during the day hoping to be the next Jimi Hendrix. Thus was created a perfect storm of conflict between an irritated bread winner, a moody rock-besotted teenager, and a long suffering and stressed out mother trying to keep the peace. I begrudgingly put away my amp and electric guitar with tremolo bar and to everyone’s relief took up the quieter hobby of cartooning.

Scientists study how shift workers’ erratic sleep patterns affect them. It’s a vexing problem because the whole planet can’t go to sleep at once. Somebody’s got to enforce the law, put out the fires, operate the hospital ER’s, and, in my dad’s case, run ferry boats in Puget Sound.

Here are some pointers for nurses, refinery workers, and others who work nights and sleep during the day.

  1. Eat and sleep well before your shift, but no large meals before going to sleep.
  2. Avoid excess caffeine or nicotine.
  3. Make the sleep environment dark, quiet, and cool.
  4. Avoid vigorous exercise close to sleep time.
  5. Sleep in split shifts if necessary, 3-4 hours before the shift and 3-4 hours after.
  6. Keep a continuous sleep schedule on days off.
  7. DO NOT DRIVE if drowsy. If you must drive remember: highway rest stops are one of life’s great inventions.
  8. Expose yourself to sunlight (or bright artificial light) after awakening.
  9. Educate your family and friends to not call, text, play the electric guitar, or interrupt your sleep.
  10. Try to be active during work breaks: walk, exercise, conversation with others.
  11. Brainstorm with other shift workers to see how they manage.
  12. Don’t leave boring or tedious work to the end of the shift (night shift workers are most sleepy about 4:00 AM).
  13. Make your noisy guitar playing teenager shut up. It won’t kill him/her.

Tomorrow: Free Sleeping Aid

Why Do We Resist Rest? Sleep Tip 7 of 9

 

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In H. G. Wells’ sci-fi novel The Country of the Blind a sighted man stumbles into a village where all the inhabitants are blind. But because their other senses have been exceptionally fine-tuned they’ve learned to live and prosper without sight. The sighted man tries to explain what sight is but they think he’s mad. His arguments are ignored.

Calling attention to our nation’s sleep debt is like arguing with Wells’ blind characters. Sleep deprived America seems to be prospering without eight hours sleep, and prophets of working less and sleeping more are considered mad. When couples burn the candle at both ends, work 80 hour weeks, add project upon project to their already overly busy lives they often turn on each other rather than attacking the real enemy, a resistance to rest.

Why do we resist rest?

  1. We’re acculturated to be sleep deprived and remain unconcerned about it.
  2. Earning money trumps sleep.
  3. Burning the midnight oil is a badge of ambition, dynamism, go-getters.
  4. Those who insist on getting their rest are dismissed as lazy.
  5. Sleep disorders are masked with coffee, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, chocolate, and other stimulants/relaxants.
  6. Thomas Edison’s legacy lives on: “Don’t sleep more than 3 hours a day!” He invented the light bulb partially so we could work nights.
  7. Most substance, food, alcohol abuse occurs at night suggesting people medicate their “fear of the dark.” They are afraid that emotional phantoms will haunt them.
  8. People say, “I need coffee!” instead of, “I need better rest!”
  9. Fear of nightmares, silence, being alone with our thoughts and unresolved stuff keeps us in perpetual motion.
  10. We confuse rest with activity and recreation. Tennis, skiing, and hiking are recreational but not necessarily restful.

Tomorrow: Hints for Shift Workers

Sleep and Marriage: Sleep Tip 6 of 9

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In Carole King’s memoir, A Natural Woman (2012), she describes how mismatched sleep schedules contributed to her divorce (page 253-254).

“I’m not a late-night person. I’m an inveterate diurnal. I’m one of those really inconsiderate early-morning people that nocturnal people hate. Never giving thought to whether someone might be sleeping in the next room, I rattle the cereal box, clink the spoon wile stirring my tea, and yell at the top of my lungs to a dawdling child, ‘Hurry up or you’ll miss your bus!’

“Nocturnals enjoy watching the sun come up only when they’re making their way home after having been out all night. I prefer to watch the sun rise after I’ve slept for eight hours.

“And that was the problem. Charlie and I still cared for each other, but we were spending almost no time together. Our disparate schedules continued through 1974 and part of 1975. Some couples are able to preserve their emotional connection from different cities or on different shifts, but our overlapping hours were simply not enough.”

One of the adjustments newlyweds make is synchronizing body clocks. After the love drug of infatuation wears off and reality sets in partners might realize that one of them is a morning person and the other is an evening person. This becomes problematic when the party-loving night owl says to their early-to-bed partner, “You are such a party pooper!” and the early-rising lark says to their sleep-to-the-crack-of-noon partner, “You are so lazy!” Thus sleeping becomes another of a million adjustments intimate partners must navigate.

The marriage bed can become a source of conflict beyond sexual adjusting. Newly married folks are often shocked to discover they now share a bed with a snorer, restless leg twitcher, teeth grinder, pillow/blanket hog, snack eater, C-pap machine wearer, or a Facebook scanner.

Rituals for preparing for bed time differ, too. Some partners brush their teeth, floss, put the cat out, check the doors and windows, read, pray, watch television, and want to snuggle. Others fall into bed and pass out stone cold and remain motionless for eight hours.

A fun conversation to have which preempts conflict in these areas is called the, Four Crucial Moments of Every Day exercise. Each partner should fill in the following blanks and then share their answers with each other.

Four Crucial Moments of Every Day

 Four Minute “Good Morning” Time

Interview your spouse, “(Name), what kind of touches, hugs, etc. would you like to experience in the first four minutes we are both awake in the morning?”

Words:

Touch:

Behaviors:

One Minute “Goodbye” Time

Interview your spouse, “(Name), what kind of touches, hugs, etc. would you like to experience in the minute we say goodbye in the morning?”

Words:

Touch:

Behaviors:

Four Minute “Hello” Time

Interview your spouse, “(Name), what kind of touches, hugs, etc. would you like to experience when we reconnect at the end of our day?”

Words:

Touch:

Behaviors:

One Minute “Goodnight” Time

Interview your spouse, “(Name), what kind of touches, hugs, etc. would you like to experience when we say goodnight?”

Words:

Touch:

Behaviors:

Tomorrow: Why Do We Resist Rest?

How to Improve Sleep Hygiene: Sleep Tip 5 of 9

 

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Every body is different and everyone’s sleep requirements differ. If serious sleep problems persist see a sleep specialist. Until then, here are some pointers to get a better night’s sleep.

  1. Begin your night time ritual by turning down the lights and staying away from screens. Artificial light from computers and television stimulate the brain. Dusk is nature’s way of telling your brain, “get ready for bed.”
  2. Pay attention to how many “rest resistant” behaviors we engage in. Prolonging wakefulness until we collapse into bed may suggest a sub-conscious psychological avoidance of being alone with your thoughts.
  3. Make sure your bedroom is dark, silent, and comfortable.
  4. Process worries by journaling during the day and thus purging your brain of anxiety. Tell yourself, “This piece of paper will carry my problems and they’ll be here in the morning when I wake up.”
  5. Ask your partner if they hear you stop breathing and gasp for air. These are symptoms of sleep apnea and is a serious detriment to health. See a sleep doctor.
  6. Don’t let “segmented sleep” worry you. Historians suggest that preindustrial societies slept in shifts with breaks of wakefulness (just as wakefulness is segmented into shifts with periods of napping).
  7. Consider night a “duty free” zone. This is the time when we have permission to do nothing, fix nothing, solve nothing, build nothing, create nothing. It’s a guilt free “vacation.”
  8. Keep a sleep log to give yourself objective data about your sleep routines. We often over or under estimate how much sleep we get. We’re notoriously subjective; a sleep log helps.
  9. Try to keep a regular bed time and wake time. This forced routine helps recalibrate our circadian rhythms when they get out of whack.
  10. Turn your clocks away from the bed. Checking to see what time it is gives us a jolt of adrenaline which wakes us up even more.
  11. Remember: a good days’ waking leads to a good night’s sleeping which leads to a good day’s waking…and so forth.
  12. Avoid caffeine 4 hours before bedtime, and avoid heavy meals or lots of fluids 2 hours before bed time.
  13. If you wake in the middle of the night and stay awake for more than 10 minutes, get out of bed and do something soothing in low light…knit, read (not Stephen King), pray, sit still with your thoughts until your head bobs. Then crawl back into bed.
  14. Relinquish worries about insomnia. “Nothing puts an insomniac to sleep like knowing that it is time to get up.” When we “let go” we fall sleep.
  15. Try natural sleep aids: Valerian, melatonin, strong chamomile tea (in small doses; large doses makes you wanna pee).
  16. Try pharmaceutical sleep aids. This requires a doctor’s prescription.
  17. Practice deep breathing exercises. Inhale slowly through your nose, hold it 3 seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this 3 or 4 times. It helps us relax.
  18. Do the “limp noodle” exercise. Pay attention to every clenched muscle from your scalp to your feet and unclench them. This too helps us relax.
  19. Replace, “I must fall asleep,” something we can’t really make ourselves do, with “I must let go of wakefulness,” which is a fancy way of saying “I allow myself to slip into unconsciousness.”
  20. Put a fan or “white noise” machine in your bedroom to mask problem noises. Or use ear plugs.
  21. Monitor your intake of news. Television is designed to get us riled up with fear mongering, doomsday prophecies, and anxiety creating stories.
  22. Fitfulness at night may indicate your body isn’t tired enough. Day time exercise fixes that!
  23. Dedicate your bed for two purposes, sleep and that other fun activity. Do not use your bed as a desk, restaurant, theater seat, courtroom (discussing heavy subjects with your partner), or social networking site.
  24. Get a comfortable mattress. Lumpiness awakened the Princess and the Pea and there’s a good chance lumps will wake you up.

Tomorrow: Sleep and Marriage

Are There Benefits to Sleeplessness? Sleep tip 4 of 9

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One of the vexing problems about insomnia–worrying that we won’t fall asleep prevents us from falling asleep! It’s a vicious cycle.

One strategy to reduce anxiety about insomnia is to re-frame it. There is no law that says you must replenish your sleep debt in one 8 hour shift. Many cultures value the siesta, brief periods of sleep during the day. Instead of dreading wakefulness at 3 AM, call it “the night watch,” and welcome brief periods of wakefulness during the night.

This time can become valuable if spent:

  1. writing. See Alice W. Flaherty’s marvelous book, The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain.
  2. praying. For the spiritually minded the night watch is sacred.
  3. segmented. Periods of wakefulness during the night balance out periods of sleep during the day. Taking is daytime nap is not to be feared or something to be ashamed of. Being awake at 3 AM is not to be feared or cause of shame.
  4. planning. Silence and darkness are often the creative environments we need to pay attention to ideas we were too busy to notice during the day. Thus, getting out of bed and jotting down creative ideas frees the mind. After jotting down your gems tell yourself, “I don’t need to remember this any more. It’ll still be on this paper when I wake up.”
  5. creating. Salvador Dali said, “I dream my paintings, I paint my dreams.” Some of the most creative ideas, inventions, and discoveries happen during that halfway zone between wakefulness and sleep.
  6. soothing. Remember that the world looks terrible at 3 AM so fight the urge to exaggerate our problems, find conspiracies everywhere, and turning mole hills into mountains of regret, self loathing, and depression.

Tomorrow: How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Why Can’t I Fall/Stay Asleep? Sleep Tips: 3 of 9

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Sleep disorders fall into a couple of categories: not being able to fall asleep, not being able to stay asleep, and not being able to fall back to sleep once you wake up. Causes of insomnia, disrupted sleep, and sleep deprivation include:

  1. Body clock out of whack (jet lag, shift work, binge watching TV, all night study sessions)
  2. Noisy neighbors, dogs, traffic, sirens, creaking bed.
  3. Twitchy/snoring bed partner.
  4. Babies in your bed.
  5. Chronic pain. Roll over on that strained muscle and you wake up.
  6. Too much light before retiring. TV, computer and telephone screens trigger our inner tuba player causing wakefulness.
  7. Too much stimulation–caffeine, stress, and noise triggers our inner tuba player.
  8. Too much worry: instead of shutting down our active brains continue to problem solve, imagine worst case scenarios, and gnaw on fears like a dog chewing a bone.
  9. Too many “issues”: some people hate bedtime because it forces them to be quiet and alone, with their thoughts. Perpetual motion “forces” issues to keep at bay until we collapse.

The secret to a good night’s sleep is a good day’s waking. The person with joie de vive, a deep sense of passion, aliveness, and natural energy will sleep great. Ironically, the secret to a good day’s waking is a good night’s sleep. One affects the other. Since I’m not a doctor I don’t prescribe sleeping pills to help clients sleep or waking pills to help clients perk up during the day. My approach to sleep hygiene is psychological.

Tomorrow: Are There Any Benefits to Sleeplessness?

Sleep Tips: Are You Sleep Deprived? (2 of 9)

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Imagine two people in your head, a sleep fairy sprinkling sleepy dust (melatonin) on your brain making you drowsy, and a frenetic tuba player trying to wake you up with noise (serotonin). These two guys take turns being boss: as night approaches the fairy takes over, as morning approaches the tuba player takes over. What triggers their activity? Dusk unleashes melatonin and dawn unleashes serotonin. Dusk is nature’s sleeping pill and light is nature’s alarm clock.

Sleep allows our bodies to recharge and our brains to slow down, calm down, and recalibrate thoughts. On a good night, with the fairy’s help, we pass from consciousness to semi-consciousness to deep Rapid Eye Movement sleep where the best restorative work is done. When this rhythm works well we wake up feeling great. If our sleep is interrupted by the tuba player–insomnia, apnea, sleep walking, nightmares, wailing sirens, or anxiety–we miss our recommended daily sleep requirements (between 6 to 9 hours a day).

That “sleep debt” makes us vulnerable to all manner of hazards, from drowsiness at work, to forgetting important daily routines, to increased irritability. Hints that you are sleep deprived include:

  1. Napping when you don’t plan to.
  2. Napping “at will.” The person who boasts, “I can sleep anywhere” is really saying, “I’m exhausted!”
  3. Falling asleep within 30 seconds of your head hitting the pillow.
  4. Friends and loved ones mention how cranky you’ve become.
  5. Above average need for caffeine, energy drinks, no-doz, drama-induced adrenaline, refined sugars, and other stimulants to wake up, and an above average need for sleep aids–prescriptions, alcohol, postponing sleep until you pass out.
  6. Work performance suffers due to lack of concentration.
  7. Addiction to the snooze button.
  8. Micro-sleeps during the day: head bobs, loss of awareness. Very dangerous when driving.

Our hard working American ancestors chided the slothful, lazy, and indolent. Two hundred plus years later laziness isn’t our national problem, it’s burning the candle at both ends. Millions sacrifice sleep for school, work, and socializing.

I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “I’m an insomniac; what’s your excuse?” Pulling all nighters to cram for exams, writing computer code all night and sleeping under your desk during the day, or working 100 hour hospital internships are lauded as exemplar. Learning to live with a sleep debt, rather than learning how to sleep better, is unhealthy.

Tomorrow: Why Can’t I Fall/Stay Asleep?

Sleep Tips From A to ZZZZZ (1 of 9)

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Humans spend about one third of their lives sleeping and 10% (or more!) of those suffer from sleep disorders. It is therefore worth thinking about sleep.

Untreated sleep disorders are serious because sleep deprivation:

  1. is responsible for disasters like automobile accidents, the Exxon oil spill, Three Mile Island, railroad crashes.
  2. contributes to loss of sense of humor, lack of motivation, indecisiveness, and cognitive impairment.
  3. robs us of resiliency; we get more irritable than usual.
  4. makes it hard to concentrate. Foggy thinking is a real problem for students and especially if being alert is part of your job.
  5. leads to decreased daytime energy, sighing, and the common complaint, “I’m so tired!”
  6. leads to depression and depression leads to sleeplessness. Depression could be the body’s way of saying, “I need to manage my energy-restoring sleep better!”
  7. leads to alcohol abuse, especially when used as a sleeping aid.

Getting a good night’s sleep involves:

  1. biology (getting our brain chemicals in balance)
  2. sociology (matching our circadian rhythms with our rock around the clock society)
  3. psychology (off loading stress and anxiety)
  4. nutrition (digestion and stimulants affect sleep)
  5. the environment (dealing with noisy dogs, fussy babies, lumpy mattresses)
  6. economics (juggling jet lag and shift work)
  7. couple’s mediation (when snoring, twitching, and tossing and turning drive you crazy).

Early in my career I noticed how often disputants in mediation meetings yawned. Tiredness was so common among my clients I took extra classes, read extra books, spent the night wired up in a sleep clinic, and learned as much as I could on how to help people enjoy better sleep hygiene. For the next eight days we’ll look at the highlights of my research.

Day Two: Are You Sleep Deprived?
Day Three: Why Can’t I Fall/Stay Asleep?
Day Four: Are There Any Benefits to Sleeplessness?
Day Five: How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Day Six: Sleep and Marriage
Day Seven: Why Do We Resist Rest?
Day Eight: Hints on Shift Work
Day Nine: Free Sleeping Aid