If you’re plagued by insomnia or taking too long to fall asleep, you’ll find plenty of advice online. Yet a third of U.S. adults report not getting enough sleep, so that advice might not be helping much.
I have a technique to offer the sleep-deprived, and it’s not one I’ve seen mentioned on the internet as a way to fall asleep. This is the second technique or practice that I’ve published for this purpose. The first was described at this website several years ago, in a post titled, Taming the “Little Monsters” of Insomnia.
The “Little Monsters” technique involves recognition of the role that inner passivity plays in insomnia. When inner passivity is activated in the psyche, people can lie awake unable to sleep because they’re entangled emotionally in feeling helpless, which produces anxiety and stress. This helplessness often arises from the feeling of being unable to tame the worrisome, self-critical, or catastrophic thinking running amok in one’s mind. The technique involves acquiring self-knowledge, namely deeper awareness of one’s unconscious self-defeating readiness to resonate emotionally with feelings of helplessness and self-doubt.
The second technique is based on the loving-kindness meditation, which is derived from Buddhism and also found in ancient Hinduism and Jainism texts. Here’s how it works: When lying awake unable to sleep, begin to reflect upon other people in your life. Pick a person from among your family members, friends, work associates, or someone struggling with disease, finances, or other hardships. Begin to feel that you care about that person and that you’re sending that person your kindest thoughts and feelings.
If you are unable to do this, try instead to feel soft kindness toward yourself. Penetrate as deeply as you can into your sense of being. Feel that you care about who you are. Feel that who you are has standing in the world and that your existence is important. This is your effort to connect with yourself and support yourself emotionally.
Be conscious that you likely have, within yourself, emotional associations and identifications concerning self-doubt, self-criticism, and even self-rejection. These negative affinities do have some power, yet try to feel you won’t let yourself be defeated by this emotional, irrational self-alienation. Try to connect with some deep, ultimate belief in yourself.
As you’re lying in bed, do this caring for yourself and others. Do the caring for half a minute or more for a person you have selected, then go on to choose others. You can use words, repeated silently, that wish them safety, health, happiness, and joy. Soon you might be able to “feel into” the feelings of others.
People who practice this are free to believe or not in the possibility that some benefit or good fortune is transmitted from the sender to the receiver. That possibility is, for the purposes of this article, a secondary concern. Your main purpose in doing the practice is to help you fall asleep. Nonetheless, you do need to feel some genuine kindness for the practice to work. Why is that?
The kindness you generate within bypasses your mind and puts your attention deeper into a sense of who you are, your core being. Now you’re able to quiet your mind and, ideally, connect harmoniously with yourself. This is a huge improvement over feeling disconnected and consumed by feelings of helplessness. The kindness or empathy you produce releases you from self-centeredness and petty speculations and considerations. In short, it takes you out of your mental or conflicted self and puts you in tune with your best self and into the feel of kindness and generosity.
The practice also takes you out of inner passivity. You’re no longer lying helplessly in bed trying to fall asleep. You now can more easily determine the quality of your experience. Though the practice is an activity, it’s such a mild, inwardly peaceful activity that in no way does it impede you from falling asleep.
When we’re caring about someone, whether in our mind or heart, the caring is happening inside of us. It’s a good, positive feeling that manifests what is best in us. What a contrast with feeling angry or vindictive! What a release from worry and fear!
This caring for another person is a measure of our sincerity, integrity, and goodness. When doing this practice, you try to feel that you’re giving the best of yourself to that other person. The capacity to do this is a measure of one’s psychological health. Those unable to do it at all will know at least the direction in which they need to grow.
In addition to helplessness, people can be entangled in other negative emotions when they’re lying down unable to sleep. They might be weighed down with considerations concerning loss, refusal, rejection, betrayal, and abandonment, based on what they’re experiencing in daily life. These negative emotions, when churning inside us, are toxic and not conducive to full and restful sleep. Practicing the technique of caring for oneself and others frees us not only from helplessness but also from these other negative emotions. The caring is positive and it overrides the negative.
During the practice, the feeling of caring and kindness can deepen to become compassion and love. Ideally, we want to deepen our capacity to be caring and loving. The world desperately needs more people whose caring and love extends beyond their immediate family and tribal identifications. A 2010 University of Michigan study found that college students were 40 percent less empathetic than 30 years earlier. Perhaps this practice can have value in more than one way.
Sometimes people drift off to sleep while doing the practice. Other times they find that the practice has calmed them down after five or ten minutes of doing it, and they can then stop because they’ve induced a relaxed state that facilitates falling asleep.
Some people might have considerable difficulty doing this practice. If so, don’t stress out about it. Just try again the following night. If you can do it only for a few seconds, that can be very significant. The capacity to do it can grow over time.
Various schools of energy healing—including therapeutic touch, Reiki, and qigong—believe healing energy can be channeled from one person to another. However, scientific consensus cites evidence that the practice of transmitting good wishes and healing energy to others has no discernable benefit. I don’t concern myself here about what might be true in this regard. I have my own evidence that the practice described above works as an aid to falling asleep, and this is why I’ve recommended it.
It is appropriate to feel the practice has value in addition to helping with sleep. Someone is being honored—by you—for their very existence. We have all wanted to feel this recognition from the time we were children. The practice helps us to connect with our own self and feel united rather than divided.
My latest book has just been published. It’s titled, Our Deadly Flaw: Healing the Inner Conflict that Cripples Us and Subverts Society (2022), and it’s available here in paperback (315 pages) or as an e-book.