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How to sleep anywhere (1/19/11)

January 19, 2011

Can You Sleep When You Need To?

You’re exhausted, strung out, and can’t wait to fall asleep – but you can’t.  You’re on an airplane or bus or holed up in a hotel waiting for the weather to turn, a place where a nap or long, restful sleep would be very welcomed.  Yet you feel so hyped up such rest appears impossible.

Perhaps not.  There are many techniques people use to sleep anywhere.  Hank Aaron was famous for his ability to take naps no matter where he might be. Many well known performers and CEOs lay much of their success to their ability to quickly and comfortably sleep.

As occurs in psychophysiologic insomnia, many people have trouble falling asleep because they’re worried about falling asleep. This is particularly true in airplanes, where relatively “good” sleepers often find themselves incapable of shuteye – or active forms of rest.  Certainly, falling asleep during the day or evening can be difficult or itself problematic  – humans are designed by body clocks to sleep at night or take naps during the early-mid afternoon.

Yet where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Watching obstetric residents fall asleep in a bed next to groups of women giving birth convinced me early on that sleep can be obtained by the sleep deprived, even in loud, uncomfortable settings.  Safety is always an issue – if you are in a place where you have to keep one eye open to continue to possess your belongings, sleep may really prove difficult. However, when safety is not an issue, many techniques can be tried. Here are some:

1. Find a place to lie down. Sleeping at a desk or in a chair is generally much harder than sleeping on a flat surface.  Any space that is carpeted or padded, generally 3 by 6 six feet, will usually suffice.  If a chair is the only thing available, tipping back a little, with sufficient support, is usually more effective than staying completely upright.

2. Learn paradoxical relaxation – a technique  where you pay attention simply to one muscle group at a time, only noting and feeling the relative muscle tension. Useful in innumerable ways, it is also a great way of getting rest anywhere, and in preparing you for sleep.  It sometimes works astonishingly fast when you’re  sleep deprived.

3. Use rhythmic techniques. Often people fall asleep to music – different play tracks work for different people. I would suggest for starters early music people generally do not hear, like that of Hildegard of Bingen, Jaoquim des Prez, Heinrich Schutz, or John Dowland.  Others fall asleep to white noise, and many cell phones download white noise programs for about a buck or two, while some are even free. Sometimes imagining the sound of waves or surf works, while others will key to train or airplane engine noises.  Having a good, small recorder-player with comfortable earphones helps – the earphones can also be used, if you prefer, to cut out noise.

4. Get an eye mask. If you do not have a simple eyemask-eyeshade, a rolled up hand towel can suffice.  Light will tend to wake up many of us, even at very low levels.

5. Focus on natural scenery. People fall asleep more easily when imagining themselves in beautiful places.  Use your mind to move step by step through the most beautiful walks and hikes you’ve ever  had – or can imagine.


Putting It Together


Rest is regeneration.  For a population as sleep deprived as Americans, even small bits of sleep can prove very helpful.  There are data that even naps of six minutes can improve memory and learning, as well as providing people a sense of feeling refreshed.

There are dozens of techniques, yet no one technique will work for all or all the time.  Yet simple things – rhythm, music, visualization, simple behavioral maneuvers like an eyemask, which can tell the brain it’s “okay” to sleep – all can work.  They should be used freely and in combination.

Putting things together is what really works.  So try these techniques, alone, or in combination, as you please.  Often techniques people find challenging, like paradoxical relaxation, become the most enjoyable – and the easiest to use.

The national sleep debt rivals the Federal budget deficit.  Every little bit of rest helps.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news


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