An exploration of sleep and insomnia, with a single destination in mind:
a good night's sleep.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Boring Wins the Race to Sleep

By Bill Adler

Do you remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy realizes that all she has to do to get back to Kansas is click her heels three times? The power to return home had always been within her.

Just as Dorothy always had the power to get back home, but had to learn that for herself, you have the power to fall asleep, too. Here's how:

Do something utterly and totally boring in bed. Specifically do something that you know puts you to sleep. 

There's likely to be something that you do at work that's a real snoozer. Is there a particular spreadsheet at work that forces your eyes closed within 30 seconds? Is there a colleague whose analyses could have been authored by Rip Van Winkle?  Is there a regular, weekly or monthly report that you need to write that's monotonous? Then do it at home and do it in bed.

For this technique to work, you need to be involved in that sleep-inducing activity in your own bed so there's no gap between when you fall asleep and when you get into bed. Forget all that nonsense that says your bed should only be used for sleeping and sex. That's not true -- and it's not practical, either. (Only using your bed for sleep and sex is one of a nearly infinite number of medically misinformed myths, like the now debunked advice that you should drink 8 glasses of water a day.)

Bring your most boring work home, and make sure it's really, really boring. Work that stimulates you will defeat the purpose. 

Brush your teeth. Put on your PJs. Be totally ready for bed. Turn on a dim light, lay in bed and start to work. Chances are that wakefulness won't last more than a few minutes. 

If your work is the kind that you can't bring home, there are plenty of alternatives. Was there are particular subject in school that made you fall asleep either in class or while doing homework? (Why am I even asking? Of course there was.) Find a textbook in that subject and read it in bed. Chances are if microeconomics liquified your brain cells in college it will do the same thing now.

If, for some reason, you can't find anything lifeless enough to help you sleep, the Congressional Record online will induce a coma. Here's an example from a proposed law, HR 702, "To adapt to changing crude oil market conditions."
    Congress responded to the [1970's Arab oil] embargo with new laws attempting to control the price and supply of crude oil. The Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act of 1973, and later the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), led to price controls on domestic crude oil, tariffs on imported crude oil, and restrictions on petroleum exports. The lessons learned from these failed energy policy initiatives were explored during the Subcommittee on Energy and Power's December 11, 2014 hearing entitled ``The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975: Are We Positioning America for Success in an Era of Energy Abundance?'' In his testimony, Dr. Charles Ebinger, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, testified that "in reviewing the history of U.S. energy policy since the early 1970's, it is apparent that whenever the U.S. government has tried to favor a particular fuel absent market realities there have been unintended consequences which have been deleterious to the U.S. economy and U.S. energy security.''
This bill's text seems as long as the universe is old. You won't run out of boring stuff to read. It's best to print from the Congressional Record, rather than read it on a screen, because screen light can thwart sleep. 

YouTube, often a source for inspiring cat videos, has dark corners of boredom. Again, pick a subject that put you to sleep in school. Find a video on that subject that's at least 15 minutes long, has few or no cute animations or graphics, doesn't do music, uses text to illustrate points, and in which the narrator speaks in monotone breaths. I found a video on empiricism. I watched it, and didn't survive long.  (This video is informative and knowledge-rich; it's just doesn't make me feel like I want more.)  
Because screens have bright, blueish lights, they can work counter to your trying to fall asleep -- YouTube isn't perfect when it comes to helping you fall asleep. But if the video is dull enough, that video will become a sleep bomb that overpowers the screen's light. 

With the right dose of boring, you will be enjoying dreams soon. 

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