Friday, March 12, 2010

Unintended Acceleration

I'm suffering from unintended acceleration. I woke this morning greatly relived to have had a good night's sleep. It has become something of a rarity these past few weeks, and I have consequently been suffering from a good deal of fatigue.

Here's how it goes: I get to sleep just fine. Occasionally, worrying about the lack of sleep the night before, I will take half an Ambien to help me drop off. But then, even with the Ambien, Nature will insist on calling in the middle of the night--at 2:30, say, or 3:00. I stagger off sleepily to the bathroom but by the time I get back to bed my brain is wide awake and going furiously to work. It wants to write the blog entry for the next morning, or plan to the next speaking gig, or take care of some other business in advance.

(This past week, that business has entailed the search for a new part-time assistant: the trusty Daniel is leaving us after several years for more profitable full-time employment with a company that markets "ethical merchandise." Here's his blog, Ethix Merch. It's in fact an interesting--and I have to say somewhat sad--reflection on the state of the current job market. Once he decided that it was time for him to move on, we placed an ad on Craig's list and were immediately flooded with applications for this low-paying, 10 hour per week job. Most of them came from highly qualified applicants, all deserving of attention to their resumes and a good number deserving of interviews. This task has kept me busy.)

Back to this sleeping problem, then. Once my brain is in gear, it is proving difficult, if not impossible, to shut it down. I drive a Prius. It's like those errant vehicles that get stuck in acceleration mode. The damn thing (the brain) gets stuck in forward and keeps going faster and faster, no matter how hard I apply the brakes. A friend asked me yesterday if the skills I have learned in years of meditation are of help, and I realized, no, what meditation teaches is not how to go to sleep, but how to stay more awake. I'm just a bit more alert to what the brain is doing. I try to use the breath to slow it down, but my success has proven limited. In fact, the same problem has been showing up at those times when I actually sit down to meditate. The brain thinks this is a wonderful opportunity to go to work. This morning, I considered myself lucky to get just a few breaths at the end, after half an hour of busy thinking.

I did come to the realization, though, in this morning's sit, that this is all about planning. It's the delusion that, with sufficient forethought, I can control the outcome of future events. What I need is to relax into the understanding that no matter how much I plan, things will turn out different. The old joke is that a plan is what you make when you want to see God laugh. I don't believe in God, but the point is good.

So what to do? Understanding the cause of the problem is one thing; getting past it is something else again. Maybe it's a first step. I'll remind myself before I go to sleep tonight. (Another plan!) I've thought about counting sheep--which is a little like watching the breath, when you think about it. In the meantime, I'm just grateful when a good night comes along. Any suggestions, anyone?


robin andrea said...

No suggestions, only commiseration.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, Robin!

michael w said...

hi a few tips from a fellow sufferer-
forget sheep - try counting all the people you know personally, naming and giving a thought for each, but without interrupting the count,you'll sleep well before a hundred.

imagine driving on your most familar longish coastal or mountain road each hairpin bend, each famliar sight - you'll sleep before you get to yr destination.

slam the brakes on yr brain at its fastest on the first clear thought and write it down on paper.

wake ellen to tell you a very long story. good night!! michael w

Steven Crisp said...

How's your physical exercise level?

I find that running (for me) works well on three counts:

1. LSD runs (that stands for long, slow distance ;-) are themelves a meditative experience. Have some of your 'aha' moments on the trail rather than the cushion.

2. Physical exercise makes you more alert and productive throughout the day -- so you can accomplish more, and therefore have less to 'worry' about.

3. When the end of your day (= alertness) finally comes (and for me that actually is later when
I'm running regularly), your body's need to re-energize will kick in more, and you should get a very sound sleep.

I hope that might be of some assistance. It need not be running, mind you. Whatever works for you.


TaraDharma said...

when I wake in the middle of the night, I grab my novel and read. that usually puts me back to sleep fairly quickly. My issue is falling asleep in the first place. Then I have a back-log of anxiety around not being able to fall asleep. Ambien has been a great assist for me. Ambien, however, makes my wife sleep walk, talk, and consume products on the internet. Not good. She remembers none of it.

Lorianne said...

Echoing what Steven Crisp said, I find that "physical" practices such as bowing (prostrations) and chanting are helpful when a racing mind makes it difficult for me to sit. I don't suppose chanting in the middle of the night is very practical, but a brisk round of 108 bows takes only about 11 minutes, and I'm usually both mentally & physically tired when I'm done.