Sleep has always been difficult for me at the best of times, but I go through phases when it's downright maddening. Some nights I'll lie there for two hours or more and still be wide awake.
I've learned that there is a physical "sleep zone" that I need to reach. In this zone I feel mentally drowsy and comfortable, the real world starts to retreat, the images in my head take on a hazy quality. Once I'm in that spot I can happily congratulate myself and be unconscious in a few minutes.
GETTING to that zone has always been the trouble, because there are "things" in the way. Sometimes these things are physical -- like a high energy level, an uncomfortable sleeping area, or blood sugar that's out of whack. But most of the time the obstacle is a mental one. I have "things on my mind" and my mind won't let them go without a fight.
One technique I've used for a long time is to let each mental "thing" appear in front of my eyes -- like a future task that's worrying me or an activity I'm looking forward to -- and then I mentally burn them in a quick flash that instantly disappears. If I can do this fast, for all those things, then there are no mental left-overs. But the difficulty is that the very mental process of imagining these flashes is ANOTHER "thing," and I must make sure not to dwell upon it in any way: just let the flash happen and instantly forget it happened.
When that doesn't work I try something I discovered last year: I visualize a bright white "square wave" -- a blocky line with a few 90-degree angles in it -- accompanied by a deafening, clean, unmusical tone. My brain instantly starts to whip around to concentrate on those other things," and each time it starts to grasp one I intensify the tone and bring the square wave in again. This works for more bothersome "things" but is easy to get tired of...if it doesn't work after ten minutes or so it just won't work at all.
For the past two weeks I've had A LOT of trouble sleeping, because I'm experiencing this burning creative urge: a need to devise new projects and consider old projects. I'll go to bed and instantly start writing blog entries in my head, or considering musical possibilities, or sketching out storyboards. When this happens I start to lose more and more sleep, which is ironic because if I actually GOT enough sleep I'd have the energy to follow THROUGH with all those plans.
All these visualization things I've mentioned are ways of turning abstract mental "things" into nearly physical objects, because physical objects can be destroyed or ignored or -- even better -- turned off.
So now, in this time of sleep-crisis, I've been trying out a new technique. I imagine a little cave full of filmstrip machines -- remember those? -- and each one is showing a different basic TYPE of "thing." Rather than projecting SPECIFIC things, like "I can't believe I said that thing to so-and-so last year" -- as I've always done before -- I now lump all those "things" into categories -- like "regrets," for instance. I let them play for a while and then, one-by-one, turn the filmstrip machines off until finally the cave is dark.
Besides "regrets" I commonly have an "anticipated worry" machine, and a "reruns" machine for all those times I obsessively re-run recent events in my head. I have a "chores" machine devoted to the things I haven't done yet (like clean out the litterbox) and a "work" machine for stuff I've neglected at work. I have a "self worries" machine for agonizing about my own shortcomings and another machine for "grudges."
Not all of them are negative. There's a "creativity" machine for all the projects I'm working on, and an occasionally-active "state of the world" machine that speaks for itself. There's one for "worrying about others" and one for "remembering neat things," and of course a "song in my head" machine for those pop songs that just won't let me sleep.
The one problem I've had with this new routine is that, as I'm walking around turning off these machines, I'm often thinking "I'll need to blog about this activity I'm doing," which is a sort of inconceivable meta-machine that can't be conceptualized and can only be ignored. Now that I HAVE blogged about it, I hope that hurdle can be overcome and that I'll sleep like the dead tonight.