When I was a child I looked forward to bed as I did going to the cinema and there was a time when I was rarely disappointed. Where else but in a dream, could I fly? Where else could I enjoy experiences I could not see in the cinema?
And — yes– if you realize it is a dream – and you don’t like it you can always wake up or if you are feeling really bold turn around and talk to that monster chasing you asking it a direct question like, “Excuse me, I think I know you, can I help you with something?” And then suddenly laugh as the monster melts or dissolves much like the witch in Wizard of Oz or better yet becomes someone you know like the kid down the street who is less than kind.
One cinema evening, however, didn’t end well at all for me. I must have been around four years old and I had not yet fully realized that dreams were distinct from waking.
In that dream, I had been given a candy bar. I decided to hold on to the chocolate bar tight enough that it could make its way back with me upon awakening. Ready to be… devoured.
After I awoke, I remember looking everywhere for that candy bar blaming my older brother Ken for stealing it and asking my parents if they had seen the candy bar anywhere. I was in a sour mood and furious…until my mother asked me a few questions on where I had gotten that candy bar and where I had seen it last. She then told me the bad news: dreams are not real. You can’t take things from dreams and bring them back here so easily.
And then I became deeply curious. What were dreams and what were they good for?
Around the age of seven, my experiments lead me to use sleep differently. I would read something at night and then set my alarm very early around 6am and re-read the material I wished to know one more time.
I realized that during the night my mind was working in wonderful ways while I was resting. As I loved sleep, this pleased me immensely. I enjoyed this method so much that as a reward to myself after completing the early morning study ritual in bed, I set up my alarm clock once again – this time for an additional 20 minutes of sleep.
During those 20 minutes of time I would let my body fall asleep but remain slightly aware. Everything during those 20 minutes of “light” sleep became even clearer. Answers to my questions came. Material was effortlessly absorbed. Creative ideas abounded.
And when I awoke after those 20 minutes, I felt incredible as if I had three additional hours of rest. Rest of a different nature.
It is only years later, that I realize that position on my back was shavasana and that the sleep technique was a form of yoga nidra. Had I been more knowledgeable at the time, I would have used my sleep for far better things then just acing tests and being good at academics or coming up with creative ideas.
Had I known…
So, these next entries are for those who are a bit curious.
Perhaps you want to sleep more, perhaps you want to sleep less, perhaps you want to experiment with what is most beautiful within or a new direction in your life. To each his own: I let you choose, but do be curious, test what you think you know (as I did) and experiment with a few. Sleep — less or more of a variant of it– may just change your life.
- Assess Your Sleep (SWAN): Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambition, Needs
- Memory, Learning, Creative Problem Solving
- Sleep Well at Night
- Power Naps Equal to Three Hours of Sleep
- Use “Conscious Sleep” for Meditation
- Assess Your Sleep (SWAN): Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambition, Needs
Sleep is one of my most beloved moments in a day. A serious moment to be reckoned as my husband will surprisingly attest — for when I get sleepy, I become warm as a baby and nothing NOTHING (not even mounds of laundry nor gold scattered on my bed) could stop me from nudging everything aside and letting everything melt away. Hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, it might just not matter at that moment.
Anywhere, under any condition I can sleep–just kindly give me two minutes. As funny as this may sound, the capacity to relax instantly has saved me more than once.
It is not that I was always sleepy, but when I want to sleep, I can. And soundly.
And how about you – what are your strengths with sleep? What are your weaknesses, ambitions and needs regarding sleep?
Take 5 minutes to assess your sleep: Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambition and Needs
Strengths: Are you a good sleeper? Do you wake up well rested and full of energy and ideas? Can you fall asleep easily? Do you need many hours of sleep or just five or so (imagine all you could do if you only needed 5 hours of sleep and felt GREAT)?
Weaknesses: Is it hard to fall asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? Do you always feel a bit tired as if on empty? Do you have bad dreams that disturb your sleeping hours?
Ambition: What do you want from your sleep? Is it a way of resting? Is it a means to explore? Do you use sleep to get new ideas or absorb information quickly? Do you feel sleep effectively solve conflicts from the day? And how about using sleep as practice for being conscious at the time of the ultimate sleep: your death?
Needs: How many hours of sleep do you need to feel rested? When you are tired can you take a quick nap and recover fully or do naps make you more tired? If you need 8 hours of sleep do you calculate at what time you need to go to bed so you can wake up naturally without an alarm clock? Do you find you need less or more sleep depending on what and when you eat?
Jot down a few ideas. After all many people spend at least 1/3 or more of their lives in bed. Might as well think for five minutes on the value of all this time and make it work towards your health, happiness and well-being.
2. Memory, Learning, Creative Problem Solving
The technique I used for memory and learning during sleep as a child and young adult that helped me do well academically (took classes at Harvard Law, Harvard Undergraduate, Fletcher School, Amherst, Berkeley, HEC business school) was simple enough:
- Read, review or study something before going to bed for as long as needed (the last thing you see before sleep) and then wake up an hour or earlier to review it fully.
- As a reward allow oneself 20 minutes of sleep after the review where one can lightly dose in bed and rest soaking everything in on a different level.
Little did I know that this 20 minutes was the crucial technique that allowed the information to enter effortlessly and remain in my short-term memory.
3. Sleep Well at Night
Usually, I go to bed around 10.30pm and like to wake up without an alarm clock early in the morning (I nevertheless set one just in case). But most days I wake up naturally anytime from 3.30am to 5.00am. Five hours of sleep is usually sufficient for me, but when my body is healing it can be later. I enjoy this early morning time alone immensely as the air is fresh, cool and my mind and spirit are at their best.
Do things without Tension During the Day (Relaxation and Ease is Rest)
Since I do the most important things first thing in the day when everyone is sleeping I am more relaxed the rest of the day as I have done what matters most to me (meditation). During the day, I try to do either things I love or at least do them in a way I love so my body is not tense. Naturally, daily exercise also helps in letting go of physical tension.
Eating Different Foods Creates a Body at Rest & the Need for Less Sleep
I used to need eight hours of sleep. However, my sleeping time dramatically decreased ever since I began to eat differently (became vegetarian and ate a good amount of raw fresh foods & raw organic juices so digestion happens faster and easier).
At one point when I was doing many organic juices and had many vegetables, I only needed four hours of sleep. This made me realize that my body was not working optimally on a “regular French diet” even if I came from a family of great French chefs and ate good quality food. This discovery has made me deeply curious about what foods bring energy and make you feel great.
Digest Well and Cleanse Away the Worries of the Day
Other things that help me sleep well is eating an early dinner around 6.30pm, a shower before sleep and a cup of warm un-homogenized organic milk with a pinch of turmeric 30 minutes just before bed.
Set up a Great Environment and Say Goodbye to the Day
I also like to light a candle in my room prior to sleeping with a little oil as it gives a beautiful glow to the room. As I watch its warm glow, I say a silent prayer (not to disturb my husband) and then usually take 10 or more minutes to write about what was most meaningful during the day; what I learned about myself and how I might do things differently if given a second chance tomorrow. If, as each day is a blessing.
Create Space for the Night for Greater Things to Happen
Just before going to sleep (if I am not already asleep as I usually fall asleep in two minutes) I try to disassociate myself from events or things during the day; creating a little space by reminding myself that I am not my body nor my mind. In other words, I try to disassociate from the many roles I play during the day: mother, wife, yoga teacher, chef, artist, Director of Beyond Our Best, writer or other.
Gratitude and Joy
In the morning, I like to wake up and see the glow from the lamp (sometimes it goes out at night) and smile that I am alive for another day. I like to smile too at my heart and thank it for beating while I was sleeping.
Do What Is Important
Another day is another chance for me to experience something worthwhile with people I love and to do what is important for me. Before I usually practice morning meditative techniques, I put a little ash on my forehead (like Catholics do on Ash Wednesday but I like to do it every day) to remind myself that today could be my last day and if it is I must use it wisely.
This may seem strange to some, but something as simple as a little ash is a reminder for me that I may not be here long. It changes the way I spend my day. And each day adds up quickly to a life. This simple morning ritual, can help me focus on important things such as calling my mother or a friend in need. When you think of your last day; it is not often the large glorious things you think about, but the really important people in your life and what matters most to you.
For more tips, here is a video by a yogi named Sadhguru who explains Good Sleep Rituals
4. Take Power Naps 20 Minutes Equal to Three Hours of Sleep
When and if I get tired during the day, I take a short 10-20 minute nap. After 10 minutes of rest, I can recover completely and seem like a different person. 20 minutes is ideal.
This 20 minutes of sleeping or resting is equivalent to 2-3 hours of sleeping time. For it to be done properly, you need to teach the body to fall asleep but keeps the mind conscious or aware. This practice is best done in the morning when one is not tired or else one tends to fall asleep…
You can use the Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs App to help Train Yourself to do this: Press on this link to download Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs.
It uses two different sounds in each ear so you need to use headphones.
Please note you can put relaxing sounds in the background such as raindrops or choose your favorite song in the background (good for teenagers who may not like elevator music). Some other apps do not allow this function and you get tired of their music.
After you download it, use the Power Nap function and set your alarm for 20 minutes. Put yourself in Shavasana pose (corpse pose) in yoga – lying on your back with your legs and arms spread slightly, palms facing upwards. During the practice try not to move and make sure you will not be disturbed.
Try doing this for at least 48 days until you get comfortable with it and can then do it upon will without falling asleep. When you are conscious or fully relaxed you can also say a “signal word” like — focused relaxation and let it be associated with the moement of intense relaxation you are currently in. Later when you repeat the same word at the beginning of a meditation relaxation should come quickly.
Use “Conscious Sleep” for Preparing the Mind for Meditation
Deep relaxation is key to many things; sleep, memory and meditation.
For those who wish to practice meditation the capacity to relax is the first thing one must learn. To completely let go or relax helps one enter states of meditation.
I practiced conscious sleep (putting the body to sleep and keeping the mind aware) in Shavasana for 6 months for about 40 minutes a day prior to learning sitting meditation.
For those who want to meditate, start with the 20 minute Nap practice in Shavasana.
Remember Conscious Sleep is best practiced when not too tired or you will fall asleep. You can practice it at bedtime if you have a hard time falling asleep and then let yourself sleep! If you are tired during the day try finding the time for a 20 minute power nap as it will deeply re-invigorate you. It is a must for people with long or intense working days or who may work night shifts. Flight attendants can use the practice during their “rest period” travelling, taxi drivers can practice it at night in their cabs when on “rest.”
Some Tools for Meditation that Give the Benefits of Restful Sleep & Far More
Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs App (Power Nap do 20 minutes)
Yoga Nida (Beginners from Bihar School excellent 30 minute)
Yoga Nidra (Intermediate from Bihar School excellent 40 minute)
Shoonya (Taught by the yogi Sadhguru)
Centering Prayer as taught by Monks such as Father Keating
Try one that seems right for you. The first three are easy to use and you can begin with the video or the app. Shoonya needs to be taught. There are books on Centering prayer.
Wishing you great sleep, good power naps, great memory and a deep centered awareness throughout your day and night.
About the Author
Nathalie Ishizuka, a Franco-Japanese from New York, is Director of the Movement Beyond Our Best: Re-inventing Ourselves Silently. She is a meditation coach accompanying visionaries committed to changing themselves with tested techniques of meditation and one area of competence beyond a previous best.