Category Archives: Stress

Tips for handling Sleep problems

There is nothing like a sound sleep to keep one fresh and going. With me it’s much more; I sort of have a dependency on it. My mind almost refuses to function if I have not had a real sound sleep. So naturally, sleep has been an area of interest to me. Recently, I have had several discussions around sleeping problems with many people. It looks like quite a few have one or the other issues. Therefore I thought it makes sense to write a post on it. And as it looks, it turnt out to be an unusually long one.

Typically there are three problems: Getting in to sleep, maintaining the sleep and lastly not feeling fresh even after 8 hrs of sleep. When one or more of this happens regularly, that’s a sure sign that something is not really right

Most common and simplest of the problems is getting in to sleep. This is an indication that the mind and or the body is very active. First get the basics right: avoid exercises/ coffee/ smoke for 2-3 hrs prior to the sleep. Also avoid stimulating mental activities. A gap of 2 hrs between your meals and sleep is recommended and it is also advised not to drink plenty of water before getting to sleep.

 Contrary to the general perception, alcohol does not induce a good sleep. The quality of the sleep is severely impacted by alcohol and in higher quantities, it interferes with the memory. The process of storing temporary memory to permanent memory happens at night through a process called ‘memory consolidation’ and alcohol has a direct influence with it.

 Most of the restlessness in the body and the mind comes through an imbalance between the energies in the body and mind. If by nature your body energy is very high and mind energy low, you will have a lot of restlessness in the body. On the other hand, if your mind energy is very high and body energy low, you will have a lot of issues with obsessive thinking. In the first case, you need to include some relaxing activities in your daily schedule (like meditation) and in the second case you need to take up some solid exercising. Most issues with restlessness will be taken care of.

 Getting in to sleep becomes a problem when the mind is under stress, caught up with some compulsive thinking, brooding over a conflict/problem or is excessively obsessed with some planning. More compulsive the thinking is, more the effort to break it and get to sleep. In the case of stress, it is very common that people wake up in the middle of night (~2-3AM) and even before they know get sucked in to thinking and unable to resume sleep. In such cases, it’s a good idea to break the thought train and that will let you sleep peacefully.

Gibberish meditation is a simple but very handy technique to switch off this stream of thinking, even for those who do not have prior experience with mediation. I have written a separate post on it and advise you to read it. If your mind is too busy and does not let you sleep, practice it just before going to bed. You will sleep like a baby.

 For some people the problem is with scattered thoughts and off it goes from one thought to another. Such people will find it beneficial to do some ‘focusing’ just before going to bed. There is a great technique called ‘candle flame gazing’ that can help you (In yoga, this is called Trataka, in case you want to Google). Here is how you practice this. Place a glowing candle at arm’s length at the eye level. Sit relaxed and look at the flame of the candle. The flame should not flicker. After a while, when the eyes get tired gently close them and focus on the after image of the flame in the dark space before your eyes. When the image begins to fade/ move away, try to hold it steadily. When you can no longer hold the image, gently open the eyes and repeat the practice. Do it 4 or 5 times.

Practice notes:

  1. Instead of the candle flame, you can use a dot (.) on a wall
  2. People who suffer from any eye aliments should not practice Trataka
  3. People who suffer from epilepsy should not practice Trataka on a candle flame, instead should practice on the dot.
  4. It’s not recommended to practice Trataka for a prolonged period of time, as it might leave a permanent impression on your retina. Once a certain level of focus has been achieved, use some alternative techniques to maintain it
  5. When you practice Trataka, lot of suppressed impressions and emotions will surface. Sometimes they may surface too quickly and can make you down. If that happens, do not practice this technique.

 For people who have a strong unconscious mind (generally the emotional type of people), the problem is to do with the day’s events and other information need to be processed. Even when you are asleep, the unconscious mind keeps analyzing the events and tries to make sense. If you are a person who dream a lot, that’s an indication of this problem. This results in two issues. Firstly, you have no idea what the unconscious mind is doing with the information. Secondly, this consumes a lot of energy, so that you don’t feel fresh in the morning even after an 8 hour sleep. Here is a brilliant technique to handle this:

                Let’s call it the ‘rewind technique’. Just before you sleep lie on your back, close your eyes , relax your body and start re-playing the entire day’s events backwards from the moment you closed your eyes. Just watch as you watch a film. Don’t start thinking about it. Try to go in to as much detail as possible, like what you felt, what thoughts were going on in your mind at that time, the sense perceptions etc. Should you get distracted in between (very likely), gently bring your mind back and continue. Thought it may sound very simple, this is a profound technique and if you can practice it on a daily basis, not only that you will sleep like a baby, you will also be freed from the unconscious mental processing that makes your life miserable.

                 Stress is another common problem that causes sleeping problems. Stress affects both the ability to get in to sleep and maintain sleep. The root cause behind stress is that you have too much identified with your thoughts. If you generally have a lot of emotional burden, practicing some witnessing technique will help. The essence of this is to make a bit of distance with your mind, by watching it. But it’s not going to happen in one day. You will have to cultivate it gradually. Here is how you can practice it:

Before you go to bed, sit with your spine erect and watch the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Thoughts will distract you; gently watch them and come back. You might alternatively observe the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe in and out. The most important thing here is not to strain. Be as relaxed as possible and watch it with a sense of detachment. About 20 minutes would generally suffice.

 If you have too much stress accumulated on your body (which is indicated by stiffness, tightening of muscles in more acute cases aches and pains), you can also watch your body from inside. Take your attention in to the body and watch your body from inside. Relax every muscle as you do this. The stress accumulating in the body is a common problem these days because of sedentary life styles and bad postures. Exercises and massages will also help to remove stress from your body. The exercises should involve stretching and relaxing of the muscles.

                 The sleeping posture bears an important correlation with the quality of sleep. There is a direct relationship between your thoughts and body movements. That’s when a specific kind of thought occurs in the mind, it creates specific body movement. The converse is also true. A stress on any muscle in the body  in turn triggers a particular thought pattern in the mind. If you sleep with your body tightened in any way, it’s time to change it. This is more the case with those who sleep on their tummy and hands tucked below the neck. Lying on your back or side is a definitely a more relaxed posture.

                 The time just before going to sleep and just after you wake up is very significant. This is when the conscious mind is still not very active, but the unconscious mind is active. Normally this is the time you kind of hallucinate. People with very strong unconscious mind, this is the time very deep impressions are created and reinforced. These impressions have a deep impact on your personality, mood etc. Two things will help. One is that you sleep when you are really sleepy; try reading something before you sleep or try one of the exercises described above. Secondly, leave the bed as soon as you are awake. This is very important especially for those who feel down in the mornings.

                If you are feeling tired even after 8 hours of ‘good sleep’, check out one of these possibilities. If the room is not ventilated, you may not get enough of oxygen at night and that could make you dull in the morning. For some people, it could be that your natural way of breathing is very shallow and it becomes more shallow at night. For such people, either a deep breathing technique (like Pranayams) or engaging in some aerobic activities would help.

                 There is a medical condition called sleep apnea, which obstructs the breathing during sleep. But it is hard to detect. If you have anytime woken up choked at night, perhaps this is one possibility. You will need to get medical help to sort this out.    

                Another reason why you feel tired in the morning is that the unconscious mind is very active during the night. The techniques described above (especially the ‘rewind technique’) will surely help. This is important for those who have a lot of emotional stress and confused patterns.

                 Some people who feel tired in the morning, despite a regular fixed sleeping pattern, might need to try increasing / decreasing the duration of the sleep by say 30 mts. The mind goes through different stages during sleep and when you wake up in some of those stages, you feel fresh and in some other stages you feel down , irrespective of the duration of the sleep. Sometime it so happens that you have a fixed schedule and you always get to wake up exactly during the phase where you feel down. If nothing else works, try to change the duration and see.

 You will need to experiment with some of these techniques for a few days to see what works for you.

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Gibberish

 Long ago there lived a Sufi mystic, called Jabbar. He never spoke anything meaningful, but always talked gibberish. When people asked him something, he would just make some sound that didn’t make any sense. Initially people took him to be insane. But slowly they figured out that there was a great sense of peace in his presence and he had a very large following. And throughout his life, he never spoke anything that made sense…

We all have a compulsive need to keep talking – to make sense, to convey, to be right etc. What happens if we drop all these and just start talking whatever came to our mind? This is a form of meditation and is called the Gibberish meditation (This was popularized by the Indian philosopher, Osho). This is how the meditation is done.

Just start talking loud. There are two conditions. One is not to talk in any language that you know already and the other is to keep talking continuously without pauses. You could even make noises if that’s convenient to you. But just be spontaneous and keep making the noises without any gaps. After a while, just lie down and relax. You will be completely at peace. You will experience the state called ‘no mind’.

Many a times in our lives, we get caught up in compulsive thinking. When we get stuck with some serious problems, the mind clings to it so hard that it’s almost impossible to stop thinking. This is very prominent when people become stressed. Not only that it prevents you from getting to sleep, but many a times it happens that you wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking. Gibberish meditation is extremely handy to free your mind from this compulsive thinking. Just before you go to bed, practice it for some time and then go to bed. You will have a very sound sleep.

Perhaps, the more you don’t try to make sense of anything, the more peaceful you are. As they say, ignorance may be bliss.

Sleep like a baby

One of our coffee time conversations last week was about sleep. My colleague told me that she was having disturbed sleep these days that makes her drowsy during the day. I suggested her some techniques to for getting a sound sleep. Then it occurred to me that there could be many who would actually benefit from this and hence this post. A sound sleep for me is very important, without which my cognitive abilities do not function properly. A good sleep is also important for a good memory because the data transfer from the temporary memory to the permanent memory is done during sleep (this is called memory consolidation and that’s the reason why people under the influence of alcohol do not remember what happened on the previous night. An alcohol induced sleep is of poor quality and hence the memory transfer does not take place).

Here is a brilliant technique that I have come across for getting a sound sleep. This is practiced by the ancient sages in India and suits people who lead a very stressful existence.

When you retire to bed, lie on your back, relax you body and close your eyes. Now trace all the events of the day backwards from the point of closing your eyes. Just watch yourself going through the activities in the reverse order. Recollect as much of detail as you can including what was going on in your mind. Continue this till the point of waking up in the morning (most of us won’t make it past the evening, we would already be asleep)

Try this. You will sleep like a baby.

This is not a technique to get a good sleep alone. The real purpose is to remove the subconscious impressions in the mind that are caused by the days activities. After few days of practicing this, you will find your mind very lighter. So if you have lots of emotional stress in your life, you know what to do.

Helplessness, Fear, Resistance and Stress

It is a common misapprehension that overworking leads to stress. While I agree that any demanding prolonged activity of the mind or body will lead to some sort of fatigue, I do not believe that this is what causes stress. Such a fatigue can be overcome (unless it is very prolonged and neglected) by breaks, some discipline in life or any activities that help you unwind.

What cause stress? When does it become a real serious issue? How do we know we are getting in to it? How do we overcome it? Here are some thoughts.

 Stress is caused by the mind and ego taking over an issue, typically in a relationship where there is some kind of hierarchy. A work place is a typical example; and that will be the focus here. Let’s see some common scenarios.

 To start with you have certain expectations on something or someone. You strongly believe that something needs to be done in a particular way and of course, you have your reasons.  Now you are asked by your boss to go ahead in a totally different way. You try to protest, but finally have to yield. This creates a conflict in the mind. The ego takes over and you feel wronged. You go ahead with the task but every mind your mind is churning out reasons why it wouldn’t work. Your ego really wants it to fail so that you can have your boss suffer for the wrong decision. Slowly the thought becomes obsessive. You wake up in the middle of the night and before you realize, the battle is already on in your mind. If you are a drinker or a smoker, you tend to over abuse, which aggravates the issue. You vent your frustration to your friends and they readily sympathize with you, which reinforces your feeling of misery. You don’t feel like going to office and secretly nurture a feeling of vengeance in not turning up for work. Before you realize, the stress catches up with your body and mind. And one fine day you wake up with a thumping heart and lump in your throat to realize that you lost the battle badly.

Look at another scenario. You are stuck in a situation where you are accountable but do not have power to solve it. A typical example from the Indian IT industry scenario is the role of a customer relationship manager. There is a fight going on between the customer and the offshore team and things have come in to a deadlock. There are big egos involved, which is obvious to you. But you cannot point this out. The management blames you for not resolving the issue. You are helpless and soon the stress gets it victim. The latter part of the story remains almost the same.

Another common scenario is responding to threat (not those obvious ones like – I will kill you, but those subtle ones). Typically many managers in India try to get work done by inducing subtle fear in the minds of team members. Your conscious mind may not realize this, but your subconscious mind reads the threat and you are preparing for a fight without realizing it. This also happens with intimidation – don’t try to act smart here, we know what to do. It leaves you badly hurt and because you cannot respond directly, you resort to playing those scripts in your mind.

In all the examples above, you can see helplessness, resistance and fear are common themes and I think our inability to deal with them gets us in to trouble. Sometimes we pull through, but to find us again in a fresh trap. It’s like a viral attack, every time the virus changes its structure and the body cannot find a permanent solution for it.

The trap is that we try to solve the issue always, and believe that everything will be peaceful after that. But the real problem is in our mind, which remains there as long as we understand.

So how do we tackle getting in to this mess? Here are some thoughts:

  • Speak out when needed. Even if it might be painful and your mind and ego will persuade you to avoid it.
  • Whatever be the case, if you cannot solve an issue and cannot escape from it, drop all your resistance and accept the situation
  • Don’t let issue based conflicts become people conflicts. Convey clearly to the person that you value him.
  • Seek help from someone whom you respect and who has a larger view of life. You are not helpless
  • If someone tries to instill fear in you, politely but firmly make it clear that you do not approve it
  • Do not respond emotionally to any issue, even if provoked. Stay calm not to feed the other person’s egoYour mind will tell you that the only way you can solve the issue is by getting out of the situation. Don’t believe this, unless you can really make that move. Otherwise, this creates a conditioning that makes you miserable.
  • Watch out for early signs, don’t neglect them. Typically the first symptoms are obsessive thoughts and disturbed sleep.
  • Finally, always have something that you really enjoy in life. May be a sports or some hobby, which will help you disconnect from the issue.

Escaping from such situations is not a long term solution, because you carry with you what really caused it – your mind and the ego. Stay firm and fight it out, and you have really learned something in your life.

Also Read:

  1. Surrender
  2. Why Cant we resolve our own issues by thinking?