The Art of Sleeping at Will (Sleeplessness to ZZZZ)

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The Sleep Problem

Charles Dickens opens A Tale of Two Cities with a famous phrase that says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The thought is perhaps as applicable today as it was in the setting of his work.

These are the best of the times because if we can think of something, we make it possible. We reach for the stars every day and feel so good about it.

These are the worst of the times because our faster than ever evolution has resulted in our undermining certain incredibly important aspects of humanity—like our sleep. Our current bittersweet relationship with our sleep hasn’t had a long history. So how did we get here? What can we do about it?

As a matter of fact, tonight is going to be a big night, like any other night, because certain 10 million Americans will not be able to sleep well tonight. Around 200 million people worldwide will not be able to sleep well tonight.

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Here are some more numbers about our sleep (the data is sourced from various researches and surveys listed at the end of the article).

  • 33% American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
  • 6 million sleepy people are driving on roads, walking on streets and generally yawning through their days.
  • 7% reported falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month.
  • 27% people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.
  • Americans spent an estimated $41 billion on sleep aids and remedies in 2015.
  • Humans sleep 20% less than they did 100 years ago.
  • The economic cost of insufficient sleep is close to 2% of GDP ($ 400+ billion for America)

Why is sleeping so important?

Let’s spend few seconds to remind ourselves why sleep is so incredibly important. Let’s not go over the obvious facts: like it increases concentration, attention, decision making, creativity, overall health; And that it decreases mood changes, stress, anger, etc.

These are all very valid reasons–but these are only the external manifestations of the underlying neuroscience processes. So let us instead talk about the neuroscience phenomenon that is perhaps the most foundational factor underneath it all.

The moment one mentions neuroscience, half of the audience loses interest because the concepts of neuroscience may be hard to understand at times 🙂

So let’s make it simple. Let’s imagine a running washing machine. Let’s imagine the dirty clothes in the machine and how the liquid detergent is getting the dirt out of clothes and draining it to the waste outlet. Now imagine brain surrounded by a large pool of cleaning fluid called CSF (cerebrospinal fluid). Imagine CSF pulling the wastes from inside the brain and draining it into the blood, which routes it to the waste outlets.

Our brain uses about 25% of body’s nutrients and oxygen to fuel the brain cells that in turn produce waste as a byproduct. One of the main elements in this waste is Amyloid-beta—it’s a protein that’s produced by brain cells at all times.

Now here is the part to pay careful attention to: The sleeping brain clears Amyloid-beta waste many times faster than the waking brain does. We can even say that sleeping enough is foundational to brain’s overall waste clearing solution. Inadequate sleep causes this harmful waste to remain in the brain for a longer period of time.

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That’s one of the primary reasons why we have a clear mind when we have had enough sleep, and a murky one when we haven’t. In fact, Amyloid-beta not clearing from the brain is considered to be a key contributor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Why can’t we sleep when we want to? 

So why can’t such a large chunk of population sleep—when sleeping is one of the most precious gift to humanity. How, only a few years ago, our ancestors could sleep effortlessly, at will, and we find it hard to do so?

A most common response to that question is: ‘Hey, the life has become very busy.’

Well, that’s true, but that argument doesn’t stand its ground when we look at the sleeping habits of some of the highly successful world leaders.

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If these world leaders can afford a 7 hours sleep, most of us probably can too. In other words, issue of sleeplessness is not caused by lack of time to sleep, but because of the enemies of our sleep.

The enemies of our sleep 

This is perhaps going to be the most shocking thing that you would hear today. You are the tribe leader of the enemies of your sleep! In other words, you are the biggest enemy of your own sleep.

So what does your tribe comprise of?  Obviously, since you are the head of the tribe, you should know better that there are hundreds of members in your tribe, yet the majority of them belong to three primary parties. For sake of understanding them better, let’s imagine them in the context when you are trying to get sleep in your bed.

  1. Your own brain:

Your brain simply can’t stop chattering. And it just doesn’t allow you to easily put a break on this largely a nonsense chattering.

  1. Anxiety of the unknown:

The basic theme in this party is: Not having a clear view of what the world around expects from you. It leads to the anxiety about an unclear view of your readiness to deliver to the world around you—which, in turn leads to the anxiety about negative and unfounded consequences.

Note: Some people successfully mitigate this anxiety by maintaining a list of things next to their pillow so that if certain thought worries them, they simply add to this list to be able to worry about it later. This also helps them lessen the feeling of missing something completely unknown. Doing that certainly helps immensely, but doesn’t fully solve the sleep problem.

  1. Anxiety of the known:

The theme in this party is: excitement or worry about an upcoming event – like, anxiety about your marriage on the following day, or, anxiety about the election results and its impact on you, or, impact of an evening news on the market next day, or, an upcoming business deal, etc.

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Are the traditional techniques effective in defeating the enemies of your sleep?

Times are a changing—the traditional techniques used in getting sleep aren’t much effective any longer and our sleep techniques need to evolve as rapidly as our life style has, in order to cope with it.

Here are some of the traditionally recommended solutions to help getting sleep.

  • Avoiding working till late
  • Making your bedroom darker
  • Not thinking about work
  • Not doing screen time before bed
  • Avoiding caffeine too late
  • Avoiding consuming alcohol
  • Avoiding eating junk
  • Avoid sleeping during afternoon
  • Doing physical exercise at regular basis

Seriously? Other than exercising, which generally produces good results if done regularly, the other seem to address something which is far from reality. Even though it certainly helps to try these traditional techniques, none of these is as effective as a technique we want.

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The reality is that the lifestyle has taken rollercoaster of a turn. For example, working till late hours, landing in a hotel at 1 AM, getting up early to attend a big event, thinking of excercising but finding no time—these events are becoming more frequent than ever. And the current trend doesn’t seem to slow down over next few years.

In other words, the sleep problem today is not as much about being able to sleep for 7 hours; it is more about being able to sleep when you are ready to.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is one of the very few ways known today that provide simple and effective techniques to get sleep without causing any side effects. As a matter of fact, the mindfulness techniques make your body healthier in general.

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mental state, an ability, to be fully present in the moment, to be fully aware of where you are and what you’re doing. In this state, you are not overly reactive to or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you. Instead, you calmly acknowledge and accept your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

How does mindfulness achieve ability to sleep at will? Mindfulness helps controlling your thoughts, thus reducing the brain activity. Our mind loves being a doer. The overall aim of the mindfulness technique is to have you take charge of your mind and move it from state of “doing” to the state of “being”.

Effective techniques to defeat the enemies of your sleep

Here are two of the quickest and the simplest techniques that have helped a large number of people across the world in achieving state of mindfulness as a bridge to their ability to sleep at will.

First Technique: Focus on your breathing

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Let’s Assume that you are in your bed in a comfortable position to make you fall asleep.

  • Step 1: As you try to sleep, recognize that the thoughts swimming through your mind neither represent the truth nor they predict the future. Imagine your thoughts to be interfering signals to your true state of being.
  • Step 2: Turn your mind into an observer of these thoughts so that you’re not attaching an emotional value to any of these thoughts—you are just looking at them and letting them pass.
  • Step 3: Focus on your breathing—feel it coming in and going out. If your mind wanders, don’t bother and go to the step 2 again—that is, become and observer again.
  • Step 4: Put 1-2-3 in a loop until you can’t any longer—because you are asleep

Note:This is not a class to teach how to breathe correctly—but it’s important to highlight that you must try to breathe from your stomach and not your chest. An easy way to figure out if you are a stomach breather or a chest breather is to put your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your stomach. As the air goes in and out of your lungs, make a note of the hand that moves the most. If it’s your left hand: congratulations, you are a stomach breather! If it’s your right hand: you need some work to do in becoming a stomach breather. If you are a chest breather, it means you don’t effectively use your diaphragm for breathing.

Second Technique – Body scan relaxation

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Let’s Assume that you are in your bed in a comfortable position to make you fall asleep.

  • Step 1: Give your mind a task to scan your body—to travel from its current position to every part of your body.
  • Step 2: Observe and notice how it feels as it stops at each part of your body. Take note of any areas of tensions in your body.
  • Step 3: Try to see which part of your body the most tense? Focus intently on this one area of tension and imagine that the muscles here are trying to let go of their hold, thus becoming loose, and becoming more relaxed. Your limbs would start to feel heavy and ready to sink comfortably into your mattress.
  • Step 4: Put 1-2-3 in a loop until you can’t any longer—because you are asleep.

And finally, the obvious disclaimer about this article.

Disclaimer: Mindfulness Exercises enable you to develop awareness of stress in your body-mind. These mindfulness practices are intended for leisure and education purposes. These practices are not intended to diagnose or treat disease. As with any health issues, consult your physician prior to practicing Mindfulness Exercises. The information contained here is for general information purposes only. It is not affiliated with any health agencies or intended to offer medical or health related advice and must never be used as such. The content is not a substitute for qualified medical advice. The author accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any injury, loss or damage in any shape or form incurred in part or in whole as a direct or indirect result of any use or reliance upon the information and material provided here. Do not use any of the material in this article while driving or in any situation where it is not safe to relax and fall asleep.

References: All the numbers quoted in the article above and all the images used are from publicly available on the websites below.  Even though the numbers are from reputed research agencies mentioned in below links, and are only used to support the article, the author is not responsible for their full accuracy. No copyrighted material is used in this article and if you are reading it and think otherwise, please reach out to the author through a comment and the author would be very happy to remove the part in question.

https://sleepfoundation.org/http://www.artofliving.org/http://www.health.harvard.edu/http://www.nosleeplessnights.com/http://www.amusingtime.com/funny-sleep-of-father-and-son/https://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/http://www.consumerreports.org/sleep/why-americans-cant-sleep/http://www.better-sleep-better-life.com/insomnia-statistics.htmlhttp://bitemagazine.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/sleeplessness-1.jpghttp://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/11/13/the-sleep-habits-of-highly-successful-people-infographic/#59936ee2386fhttp://scienceintheclassroom.org/research-papers/deep-clean-your-brain-one-easy-step/universityhttp://psychosissupport.com/images/anxiety2.jpghttp://www.nosleeplessnights.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/worry-infographic2.jpghttp://aintviral.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/faceonhead_funny_haircut.jpghttp://oddstuffmagazine.com/45-funny-pictures-taken-while-you-were-in-deep-sleep.html/funny-baby-506-2http://img.uphaa.com/uploads/1083/02.jpghttps://www.rand.org/randeurope/research/projects/the-value-of-the-sleep-economy.html

One Year of Love for Coinman!

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The Coinman book was launched on this day in 2015. The link below provides a glimpse into the love that the people across the globe have showered on the book. A very humble appreciation to all the readers for all the continuing support!

Thanks to all my friends and family without whose help the Coinman launch on this day last year couldn’t have been successful. Here is a brief look at how the book has done in last one year. Thanks for being an integral part of the journey!

One Year of Love for Coinman

To know more about Coinman, Visit:

http://www.coinman.info

Have a wonderful life!

Pawan Mishra

The Friendship

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The obvious matters are more imperceptible today. Just as the hoi polloi continue to fasten their interest to the less obvious touchstones of the moment, the otherwise very obvious ones become less obvious with every passing minute. These very-obvious-turned-less-obvious ones then start receiving the spotlight. It’s then that, in order to attend these new less obvious ones, the hoi polloi again end up turning a blind eye to the other very obvious ones that lie exposed to them at that point in time—oblivious that these will soon rise on the palpability scale to become less obvious and demand greater attention. In the end, it’s not the obviousness or the complexity of these things that’s deftly deluding mankind. It’s man himself. Management literature may suavely attempt to wash its hands of it, calling it a lousy time management practice. Yet, doing that will never succeed in tracelessly sweeping this harsh truth, a severe development opportunity for mankind, under the carpet.

This is so true for a friendship. Obvious and seemingly harmless things that just manage to irritate your friend a little bit at a time, if not addressed then and there, may build up over time to give rise to a complex issue. Such an issue would manifest it at the most unusual time, would challenge all explanations, and would expand quickly to leave no time to respond before the friendship loses the passion.

My neighbor and his friend realized this–but it was too late. This is their story.

On a random dry afternoon of otherwise ordinary consequence, two young men aged in their late teens—my neighbor and his hitherto close friend—walking on a narrow street in front of my house, suddenly began to fight quite seriously.

A few minutes before, arms over shoulders, they had been merrily whistling a song together. But the friendly conversation had ceased the second the close friend said something that the neighbor’s volatile temperament could not endure. And the fight ensued.

The details of the conversation were retrieved later through curious common friends.

“Who knows if the earth isn’t just a mouthful of food for huge, lizard-like beings dwelling in a larger part of the universe?” the friend had said, only a couple of minutes prior to the beginning of the fight, with his eyes wide in awe. “Our perception is perhaps not refined enough to be aware of their presence. They might be at an infinite distance, but coverable in few hours for them. Who knows if they cultivate planets as food, just like we grow apples? Just imagine if one of those lousy creatures mistakenly dined on the sun; it would be worse than his dining on earth. I don’t give a rat’s arse what would happen to the creature, or if the ambushed sun would boil the bile in its stomach. Maybe the creature would be just fine. They might grow stars as well, like some sort of high-calorie food? My concern is for us, damned mankind, especially boys our age. If the clumsy creature swallowed the sun, there would be no light anymore. Offices would close down, bringing our parents back home for the entire day to keep us under their miserable scrutiny, a harsher cruelty in the absence of TV. All earthly vitality would perish. Everyone would die. You and I, the best of friends, would die, without fate allowing us a remote opportunity to oblige ourselves of a meaningful debut with female beauties.”

The neighbor listened attentively, without disruption, as they continued to walk. But as soon as the friend paused, the neighbor stopped, backed one step away from the friend, stretched his left hand, and swung it like a horizontal pendulum. The hand kissed the friend’s right cheek hard enough to leave an exquisite red imprint.

The friend was taken aback. The neighbor had never come close to behaving this way in the entire history of their friendship. The friend speechlessly looked at him, completely dumbfounded, as if witnessing an eighth wonder of the world. It took him a few moments before he was able to breathe normally again. He looked around to gauge the amount of self-respect that might have eroded in any passerby’s eyes. Finding no one around, he spoke.
“Have you lost your mind, shameless son of a virgin? I pardon your momentary savagery this time, O dear friend. But for your own good, I advise that you not to repeat the act. You’d better not.”

The neighbor smiled. His hand swung again from the other direction and kissed the left cheek this time, even harder.

“Let’s settle this,” said the friend, calming down a bit. “You are my friend, and I respect you for that, but, O dirty sinner, if you render one more blow, relations between us may no longer remain harmonious. One more blow and you will see how I return the bloody knock.”

Without saying a word, smiling, and slightly biting his lower lip with his teeth, the neighbor smacked a wild one on the friend’s right cheek.

“My friend, you seem to be really angry at me. But beware, my volatile friend! As soon as anger knocks at one’s door, wisdom prepares to leave. You seem to be completely dried of wisdom at this point, and that simply troubles me! It’s for this reason I have not retaliated yet to your disgraceful behavior. Do not think that I can’t give it back to you. I am no wimp! I am just trying to help here. Whack my hurting cheeks one more time, and it’s my promise that no one can be as wicked as I.”

The neighbor lazily thundered another one on the friend’s left cheek.

By this time a small crowd had formed a circle around them, mainly comprised of middle-school boys and girls walking home, jobless men on their way to or from an interview, retired men trying to kill time, street vendors with half-rotten fruits, and a number of construction laborers on their way to buy lunch from the nearby tea stall that turned itself into a stand-up restaurant each afternoon. The friends treated them all to a fortuitous thrill amidst an otherwise unexcitingly passing day. So they did not wish to disrupt it.

“Look, my only true friend,” the friend tried to whisper in the neighbor’s ear, keeping his mouth as close as he could manage. “Although you have crossed all the boundaries today, I am still willing to leave silently now and settle this matter later in private. Fool, your beloved sister’s only brother, try to see the point here! Even if there is an issue, it’s personal, about us, and we can talk about it in privacy. Let’s not produce more material for these losers to laugh at behind our backs.”

The neighbor prepared another blow, but appeared to have lost much of his verve.

Covering both his cheeks with his hands, the friend then turned to the crowd and shouted, “Hell, why are you standing here like ruined statues? Is there an exhibition going on here—or a free mujra? Some shameless celestial influence seems to have come over my friend temporarily. He will be all right in a minute. You’d better go your way.” Seeing no influence on the onlookers, he screamed with frustration. “Ah, you losers! Shake your rotten tails! You need more blood than I imagined!”

The neighbor saw the friend’s discourse as an attempt to divert his focus. He looked around the crowd, paid passing attention to each face, and started detaching his belt from his trousers. He took the belt in both hands, like an offering to God, and strolled solemnly along the inner side of the people-circle to allow everyone a close look at it. He swirled it in imperfect circles every few seconds, swearing loudly every time, and then placed it again on both hands in the offering form. The additional dash caused a momentary uproar in the crowd as the children and shorter people rushed to the inner side of the circle. The friend watched the neighbor’s activity in nervous awe, sweating with fear, aware of what was coming next, yet unable to move a limb.
After completing a full circle, the neighbor came back to the center, stood facing the friend, dropped to his knees, and held the belt on his skyward-facing palms. He then closed his eyes and reverently brought his forehead down to touch the belt in slow motion to worship it as a sacred weapon before its first use. He came back from that position after a few seconds, again in slow motion, drowsily opened his eyes, and whirled the belt with full force at the friend like a whip.

The friend writhed in horrid pain as the belt hit his buttocks, but quickly realized that he needed to be ready for his self-defense. He also thought that it was critical to get the neighbor to speak to help him escape the dangerous disposition he was caught in at the moment.

“All right, all right, I admit my unforgivable mistake. Tell me, what can I do to nullify it?”

The answer was another monstrous whip of the leather blade. This time a little lower, on his legs.
“All right, beat me. All right! As a dutiful friend, I will offer myself in entirety to thee, but I still find myself at the pinnacle of a doubt-hill when I consider whether this beating is truly going to grant you any satisfaction.”

The neighbor rendered another whip stroke, this time lazy and inaccurate. Everyone in the crowd stood extraordinarily still, as one big, well-behaved body, unwilling to move a limb for fear of drawing Satan’s attention and his leather whip.

The fear of dire consequences if the current business continued (not courage) sparked innate strength of self-defense in the friend; he grabbed at the other side of the leather blade. The unexpected rebellion irritated the neighbor-beast. He stretched his right hand as high as he could, hurled the belt in hard circles and threw it into the crowd after it had gained enough momentum. He then tore his clothes to expose his bare upper torso. His muscles swelled through the skin as though they were still unsatisfied and wanted to break free to batter everyone in the crowd!

He then tore the friend’s shirt apart and hit his chest vehemently against the friend’s chest. He then lifted the friend with both hands over his shoulders, spun around a few times, and lowered the friend onto the ground, safely and face down. He then sat over his back, held his head with both hands and pressed his mouth into the sandy soil, damp from the overnight rain. Scooping up a handful of this soil, he massaged it on the friend’s hair.

With that, his efforts lost their gusto, and beating the daylights out of the friend any further seemed to bore him. He stood up, languidly kicked the friend’s butt with his right foot, stretched both hands up in the air like a boxing champion, bowed to the spectators, and left.

This switch brought the spectators back to the real world. They applauded behind him, but he did not care to look back or acknowledge them in any other way. If there was ever a kingdom of indifference, no one else deserved to be its king more than he did for his outstanding ability to expand the kingdom’s sovereignty.

Review of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

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I read this book yet again today, and discovered another layer of truth. A masterpiece that’s written in such a simple language, the book deals in great depth with some of the most complex philosophical, spiritual, and psychological themes, without having to get into intricate framework that these areas typically demand in order to achieve something meaningful.

This is the story of Siddhartha. The story of a full circle of life. The story of everyone; each one of us. The story of a stream of constant realization that creeps in each one of us as we age; of the things in the past, and the emotions attached, and the balance in the larger ecosystem; all that we did not understand until we switched places to be the one on the other side.

This is a story of the complexity in the simplicity of life, and a story of the simplicity in the complexity of life. A story of growing younger in terms of knowing nothing, and a story of growing older in terms of knowing more. A story of how important friendship and companionship are; and a story of how worthless the attachments in the large scheme of overall life are. The story of a meeting place of Atman & Parmatman, and the story of the place of their separation. The story of quest for knowledge, and the story of living in ignorance.

Pure, melodic, poetic, this book should be one of the first ones on the list for every serious reader.

Pawan Mishra

My new year resolutions

Happy-New-Year-2016-Celebration-3Our perception could either be our path to nirvana or an invisible cage that bottles us up. Therefore, it deserves attention as much as the other important affairs. Unfortunately, one is often unconsciously surrounded by one’s own personal reality. Therefore, fixing our perception is never easy for it requires seeking where we are not much designed to seek.

Why am I speaking about perception—instead of my resolutions?

A while ago, I happened to know someone who would be mad on a new year’s day, and even on the day of his birthday! Fuck, I lost another year without getting anywhere, he would say. To hell with the resolutions, what difference does it make anyway?

But then, I knew many others who would use this occasion to refresh their positivity and alacrity about life—to realign their priorities in line with rapidly passing time; sometimes we all get dusty by a few mundane and tiring affairs—and merely need a gentle soul wash to see, and get deeply entangled with, the fervors of life again.

So here I am, trying to think, floating amidst the memories of the past, how I could get most of my life this year. In simple words, trying to think what I should invest my time in. But before jumping on it, let me scout out what matters to me the most. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes: relationships, knowledge, health, art, charity, work, climate change, and entertainment. In no specific order. This list is very different from the one last year, just like prior years. Perception is to be blamed. It, if given due attention, keeps changing.

Without getting into tiresome explanations, let me expand briefly on each.

Invest even more time in relationships:

Relationships are the flavors of life. Status of your relationships with your family, relatives, friends, and coworkers, determines a significant part of your inner composure.

Invest even more time in the pursuit of knowledge:

Availability of knowledge is only next to prevalence of stupidity in its overwhelming abundance. Spending substantial time on determining what to get into isn’t a bad idea. Planning ahead what to get into makes it easier to cut through the clutter.

Invest even more time in health:

A healthy body is a platform for flourishing a healthy mind. Given our work has been shifting from physical engagements to mental ones, physical well being requires extra efforts. Our ancestors, only a couple of generation ago, did not require a gym; because their life style consisted unending physical toil. But for us, exercising with a tight discipline is no longer optional.

Invest even more time in art:

We are all born artists. The nature generally doesn’t discriminate among newborns with respect to art. Yet most of us try very hard as we grow, without knowing, to stop being artists. The art wouldn’t complain if we leave her alone. Losing a touch with art, however, is losing a touch with our imagination. Engaging with art is engaging with beauty. Ignoring art is like leaving the most important corner of our mind in a cage for continuous decay.

I am going to allocate more time this year to reading, writing, playing music, and making animation. Sadly, I have been mostly out of touch with playing music for past ten years. That’s going to change this year. Who knows my next post carries a picture of once-lost calluses on my fingertips 🙂

Help the deprived/ underprivileged:

The underprivileged are byproduct of society’s material progress. The society must undertake a continuous course correction for unintended outcomes of development. A large responsibility lies on the shoulders of each individual in the society to help achieve this. The hapless souls need our personal time as much as they need money.

Invest even more time in talent and leadership development at work:

The complexity of day to day matters in Finance and Technology, the industries that I work for, has multiplied over years. Be the domain knowledge, the competition, the market pressures, the impacts of the new laws, etc, successfully mentoring and leading the experienced knowledge workers still remains one of the biggest challenges.

Help create awareness about climate change:

Global warming is the most devastating catastrophe that the mankind would face—unless drastic proactive measures are taken to combat it. While there is still a lot of debate on whether the threat is real, one has to be blind to not see it. The signs like unusual temperatures, shortening of fertile seasons, inconsistent rainfall, and unpredictability of weather in general are already increasingly visible. The melting of polar ice to the level of an apocalypse is not a far stretched possibility.

Invest even more time in entertainment:

This doesn’t require much elaboration. Toil hard on everything described above, and then unwind regularly.

Wish you all the best of everything this year, and beyond!

Pawan Mishra