Sleep issues

Matthew Stickney, modified 4 Years ago.

Sleep issues

Posts: 7 Join Date: 10/3/12 Recent Posts
I've had issues sleeping after doing formal (or sometimes not-so-formal) practice, and I wanted to solicit advice because it's basically put me off formal practice, which is a disappointment.

I've never been the best sleeper, but the issues fall into two categories:

1. Falling Asleep
Particularly after doing mindfulness or noting practice, but also often after doing concentration work, I find myself in a sort of hyper-vigilant state, where I'm constantly trying to monitor and interpret everything -- physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, those pre-sleep visions you get, just about anything. The monitoring seems to be associated with a tight focus that I can't get out of, though it doesn't seem quite as absorptive as normal concentration practice (it does feel kind of forced in the same way, though). Trying to relax seems to help a little, and focusing on bodily sensations can also help a little, but the problem is that doing either of those means monitoring sensations to look for tension, which puts me right back at square one.

2. Staying Asleep/Sleep Quality
On nights where I have the aforementioned issues falling asleep, I tend to toss and turn quite a bit, and I also wake up at unusually early hours. Sometimes I can go back to sleep, but sometimes not. Usually when I wake up I feel really tense and agitated; relaxing some of the bodily tension can help with falling asleep again. At one point I just let this continue for a while to see if it would balance itself out, and after about a week I was so sleep-deprived I couldn't function at work, so it doesn't appear to be a reduced need for sleep.

Does anybody have useful techniques for dealing with this sort of issue, or know of faulty practices that might cause it? I suspect I may be applying too much force during concentration or noting work, which is making it harder to get out of that mode (I haven't had a formal teacher, so problems with my technique wouldn't surprise me). I've heard teachers talking about noting sensations until you fall asleep, but I can't imagine how you'd do that without just staying up all night.
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supaluqi, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 45 Join Date: 4/12/16 Recent Posts
Matthew Stickney:
I've never been the best sleeper...Particularly after doing mindfulness or noting practice,
but also often after doing concentration work, I find myself in a sort of hyper-vigilant state...associated with a tight focus that I can't get out of...
it does feel kind of forced...Trying to relax seems to help a little, and focusing on bodily sensations can also help a little, but the problem is that
doing either of those means monitoring sensations to look for tension, which puts me right back at square one.

I believe I recognise this, and have recently been attempting to resolve it. It has led to trying to learn how to relax properly, correcting samatha technique and purposing insight towards learning how to relax properly (for the time being).
Until recently I'd've been the first to punch out one of those hippies who exhorts 'relax! be happy!' emoticon Alas, I found myself grinning at myself telling myself 'just relax! be happy!' this morning. For me trying to learn how to relax has had more impact on 'well-being', general mindfulness than did white knuckling first path.
There are sources of tension and stress which are better treated more as silla issues to resolve than vipassana issues. It turns out, unbeknownst to me that Iam 'highly strung' carrying alot of unnecessary tension and stress. The way I did things (e.g. samatha, vipassana, work, socialising) increased and accumulated tension and stress on top of the default numbed out tension and stress I already carried, and I didnt know how to deliberately 'reset' or 'relax, be happy!'.
I'm guessing, but as you write that you were never the best sleeper and mindfulness and noting practice exacerbates this...perhaps you are in the same ball park and thus more, trying harder vipassana is not the best way forward.

You write that "I find myself in a sort of hyper-vigilant state...associated with a tight focus that I can't get out of..." reminds me of 'fight or flight'. There maybe a degree of fear/survival unconscious response going on, but also, Iam told, tension around the lower mid back overstimulates the adrenal glands, and you might be dumping arousal chemicals into your system...(just a thought, could lead to punching out hippies and disrupted sleep ;) ).

It seems to me then, it becomes first figuring out how to shed as much of the unnecessary default tension & stress as one can (vipassana will eventually take care of the fundamental stuff) and second changing the way one does things so that one stresses oneself less.

The first issue is the golden question and what Im working on and have had some success with I believe, but this seems to require a personal answer. Maybe Reichian Therapy: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5201846

The second issue...

Matthew Stickney:

Does anybody have useful techniques for dealing with this sort of issue, or know of faulty practices that might cause it? I suspect I may be applying too much force during concentration or noting work, which is making it harder to get out of that mode (I haven't had a formal teacher, so problems with my technique wouldn't surprise me).

I'd guess your intuition is correct. But why do you force the practices too much? For me, it was that the feedback sensation...telling me that I was trying hard enough, making enough effort so that I wasn't wasting my time, that I was on target etc,... was 'tension' especially around the eyes, the head and down my back...kind of bracing against the chaos and grasping on to doing the technique with white knuckles, as a point of reference and to prevent myself drifting away into the hurricane of mindlessness (I exaggerate, but you get the point). If I wanted to make more effort, try harder, the feedback of increased tension confirmed for me I was doing it.

Contrast this with CMarti's recent comments on samatha (http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6030602):
"I don't know if this will help you but -- I find it's really easy, at least for me, to get very controlling, almost overbearing, in my approach to concentration. I had assumed, on starting a concentration practice, that the goal was to focus like a laser beam and thus be able to tune out literally everything but THAT ONE OBJECT. Well... it doesn't actually seem to work that way.

Concentration can be hindered as much by bearing down and trying to control the process (intent - right?) as it can by distraction. In fact, I'd offer that trying too hard is another form of distraction. Bearing down and trying to put your mental processes in a vise can easily cause all manner of physical twitching, straining and the like. So my advice would be to try to relax into the object you are trying to focus on. Alight your attention on it like a butterfly landing and sitting on a flower.

Soak in that feeling and see what happens."


Matthew Stickney:

I've heard teachers talking about noting sensations until you fall asleep, but I can't imagine how you'd do that without just staying up all night.


Given that ones samatha attitude/state is the base from which one vipassanas from, it becomes conceivable that one could note sensations until you fall asleep... emoticon

Just one more thing...if one has an attitude of striving and performing whilst doing physical exercise, this may be counter productive. Going outside and exercising is as everyone know always a good thing, but perhaps try something like 'intuflow' (on youtube) and shaking first, as the warm up/relax down to start from a more relaxed foundation, and try to do things with minimal tension. I suggest this last part as this is my mode of mindfulness practice at the mo (interesting and relaxing, mindfulness for free), your mileage may differ of course.

ps essentially a similar issue (I think):
http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6043315
neko, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 756 Join Date: 11/26/14 Recent Posts
In my case, difficulty falling asleep was a form of clinging (upādāna) to wakefulness and sensate experience and aversion (dukkha) to the idea of letting go of myself: false view that there is a self that disappears when I lose consciousnes (anattā).

My first cessation eradicated the problem entirely, and I have started falling asleep within seconds of lying down on the bed. Try to have a look if that might be the case for you too. Observe how you (don't) fall asleep, it might be the key. (It might take months.)
neko, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 756 Join Date: 11/26/14 Recent Posts
Matthew Stickney:
I suspect I may be applying too much force during concentration or noting work, which is making it harder to get out of that mode (I haven't had a formal teacher, so problems with my technique wouldn't surprise me).


I firmly disagree with this. Strong, focussed practice before going to sleep will carry on through sleep in the form of lucid dreaming and/or lucid dreamless sleep, not interfere with the falling asleep process.

I've heard teachers talking about noting sensations until you fall asleep, but I can't imagine how you'd do that without just staying up all night.

You can note sensations while you fall asleep well into the hypnagogic state, and keep being mindful during the dreamless sleep too. What is keeping you awake is, again, probably some form of clinging IMHO.
Matthew Stickney, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 7 Join Date: 10/3/12 Recent Posts
neko:

I firmly disagree with this. Strong, focussed practice before going to sleep will carry on through sleep in the form of lucid dreaming and/or lucid dreamless sleep, not interfere with the falling asleep process.
This is very interesting. I think one of the reasons for my tossing and turning is that I'm realizing that I've fallen asleep and am waking myself up to get back to the noting/analysis. I wonder if knowing that you can note through lucid dreams/sleep, or a strong mental resolution to do so, would avoid that.

Something I've noticed: as hypnagogic images come up, rather than letting them evolve as they normally do, I tend to grab them, analyze them, and try to categorize them or fit them into a narrative. Would that be an indication of too much grasping during noting practice? I've heard people say that you should be able to categorize anything you note, but that seems suspiciously analytical.
neko, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 756 Join Date: 11/26/14 Recent Posts
Matthew Stickney:
This is very interesting. I think one of the reasons for my tossing and turning is that I'm realizing that I've fallen asleep and am waking myself up to get back to the noting/analysis. I wonder if knowing that you can note through lucid dreams/sleep, or a strong mental resolution to do so, would avoid that.

Something I've noticed: as hypnagogic images come up, rather than letting them evolve as they normally do, I tend to grab them, analyze them, and try to categorize them or fit them into a narrative. Would that be an indication of too much grasping during noting practice? I've heard people say that you should be able to categorize anything you note, but that seems suspiciously analytical.



You absolutely have to drop labels and note non-verbally. After you do that, you should notice that your self-talk stream-of-consciousness verbal process starts forming nonsensical phrases. For example. they might be gramatically correct but meaningless semantically. So you have to let go of this idea of yourself categorising things meaningfully too! emoticon 
Jigme Sengye, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 188 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
What's your noting technique? Do you have a default object, like rising and falling of the abdomen in the default basic way of doing Mahasi-style, following the breath, etc.? Do you note or pay attention to any sensations related to the breath? Also, at what times do you meditate when doing formal practice and at what time do you usually go to bed?

My meditation practice solved my sleep problems, though it brought them back with a vengeance in the brief time that I did a meditation on breathing. Dropping that once again solved my sleep problems. Breath meditation is like coffee to me, as is standing qigong. Sitting non-breath-related meditation makes it dramatically easier for me to fall asleep.

I recommend that any meditation you do at night not have anything to do with noticing breath sensations. You can do the breath-related stuff ay any other time of the day. Basically, try give yourself enough time for the intense energy to wear off or get used up. It's hard to stop noticing the breath and pay attention other stuff at first, since the breath seems to be related to most sensations and is such a strong sensation. It doesn't take long to get used to paying attention to but the breath. It's still very useful to have a concentration focus, though.

If you pay attention to the breath and my suggestion doesn't help with your sleep issues, I'm still curious to hear how it affects the meditation and what happens after. If you don't pay attention to the breath, is there a particular sensation that gives you an excess of mental energy?
Jigme Sengye, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 188 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Matthew Stickney:
I've heard teachers talking about noting sensations until you fall asleep, but I can't imagine how you'd do that without just staying up all night.
I know this is obvious, but surprisingly not all insomniacs give it a try. I generally read a book until I fall asleep. Once I catch myself myself taking a couple of power blinks, I know that I'll fall asleep once I turn off the lights. The light's right next to the bed. Getting up to turn off the lights defeats the exercise in getting myself drowsy by reading. The book doesn't have to be outright boring, but fascinating suspense-filled page turners are to be avoided. The more technical the book, the better.
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svmonk, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Hi Matthew,

I have this problem all the time, and here is what I do.

Try between 3 and 10 mg of melatonin about an hour before you go to bed. Melatonin is a natural hormone that the brain manufactures when it's time to fall asleep. Many factors interfere with its production: blue/white light (like from a cell phone screen), changing time zones by more than a couple hours, etc. If that doesn't work, add one or two 25 mg tablets of Benadryl (diphenalhydramine), an antihistimine.

Melatonin is available at health stores and Benadryl is an over the counter drug sold for allergies in the US. In Europe, melatonin seems to be available only by prescription and Benadryl availabilty depends on the country. Pharmacies in Germany sell it as an over the counter sleep medication. Melatonin tends to elevate blood glucose, probably as a natural mechanism to prevent hypoglycemia during sleep, so Europe requires a prescription in case you happen to have diabetes (in which case, you probably shouldn't take it in any case). Similarly, there have been recent anecdotal reports linking long term Benadryl use to Alzheimers, but nothing proved yet.

In extreme cases, where you've just done a retreat with lots of jhana or had a path breakthrough, even all this might not work. In that case, I'd recommend Shinzen Young's advice, just lay in bed and relax

Before you try any of this, however, I would recommend talking with your doctor in case there are any specifics to your health profile that are contraindicating.

Good luck!
Matthew Stickney, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: Sleep issues

Posts: 7 Join Date: 10/3/12 Recent Posts
Goodness, that didn't take very long. I've been meaning to post this for quite some time, so I very much appreciate the responses. Some comments:

It would be much easier to offer constructive ideas if you mentioned the type of practice, how long, often, when during the day you practice.
About 45 minutes or so, once a day, usually at night before bed (I'm a huge night-owl, and morning is basically guaranteed not to work for me). I usually start with concentration work until things feel fairly stable and settled, then move on to noting (typically breath sensations, but I got a major no-self experience off the end of the sound of  a car going by one time). When the weather is good in the spring/summer/fall I do lots of walking, and that frequently turns into walking meditation (total time is another hour or two a day).

Until recently I'd've been the first to punch out one of those hippies who exhorts 'relax! be happy!'[...]But why do you force the practices too much?

The force comes largely from (perceived) necessity; much of the time, I feel like the only way to get any practicing done is to power through all the sleepiness or leftover frazzle from work. It was a moderately effective way to stretch my limits in concentration once upon a time, and I can't note very well unless I really put lots of effort into it. I came across the advice to relax from Ajahn Brahm and one of Bhante Gunaratana's books, and they were absolutely right that too much force is a hindrance to jhanas. Funny story about punching hippies: I tend to laugh at the new-agey fluff crowd too, but I find it equally absurd to think I'm better than them because I'm some kind of meditation muscle-head. One should never take oneself too seriously, and I can also use a good chuckle.

In my case, difficulty falling asleep was a form of clinging (upādāna) to wakefulness and sensate experience and aversion (dukkha) to the idea of letting go of myself

Part of the difficulty is that getting the self to let go of itself feels like I'm trying to break into a box with the crowbar that's inside. I essentially wind up laying there thinking "am I gone now?" It seems likely that this (or part of it) is aversion-related, though: when I get tired or uncomfortable, it's super easy to half-consciously slip into a state like access concentration. It's pleasant, focused, and total rubbish at bedtime.

Breath meditation is like coffee to me

I usually follow the breath at my nostrils for both noting and concentration practice, since it makes for an easy shift from one to the other by keeping the same sort of object. The breath is a strong key to samatha states for me, which is tricky because it's also an important key to falling asleep (for example: slow, even, relatively shallow breathing is samatha; sleep breathing is a little deeper, quicker, doesn't use any effort to smooth out the exhale, and has longer gaps in it). I've heard people say that following sensations in your head tends to rouse mental energy, and that focusing on sensations in the abdomen or elsewhere in the body may help. Any suggestions for non-breath objects?

If that doesn't work, add one or two 25 mg tablets of Benadryl

Please be careful with this; my mother was a night nurse for a long time, and starting taking Benadryl to help her sleep during the day. It didn't take very long before she was taking so much her doctor made her stop (she no longer works nights).

A final note that might be relevant: avoiding formal practice makes these problems much less frequent, but it doesn't get rid of them entirely. Every so often, I get two or three days of over-concentration at bedtime and anxiety/tension in the morning, which eventually resolves itself. Could it be nana-related? I don't have a very good idea where I am in the paths; probably past A&P, maybe have first path but I'm really not sure.

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