June 11, 2016

"Listening to 'Sleep with Me,' I often feel as if Ackerman’s ramblings work by tricking my brain into believing it is drifting off..."

"... emulating the peripatetic workings of the dreaming mind. But, when I asked sleep experts if that sounded plausible, they dismissed the idea. Milena Pavlova, a neurologist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, warned that, if the podcast was prolonging my slide from wakefulness to sleep—during which it’s possible to have fragmentary dreams—it might even be harming my rest. Even the doctors who saw nothing wrong with the podcast considered it, at best, 'a Band-Aid,' in the words of Rafael Pelayo, a clinical professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. Distracting a racing mind, they insisted, was no substitute for ameliorating it through better sleep hygiene: limiting caffeine, alcohol, and screen time, and soothing anxious thoughts through meditation or circumscribed list-making before hitting the bedroom, which is reserved for 'sleep and intimacy' only. But Ackerman, who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, thinks the podcast may work, in part, because it isn’t prescriptive like a doctor’s orders—which present insomniacs with yet another opportunity for failure. The podcast 'is there, but you don’t have to fall asleep,' he said. 'There’s not a right or wrong way to use the show.'"

Writes Nora Caplan-Bricker in The New Yorker.

I had not heard of this podcast before, but I have used audiobooks to fall asleep for more than 20 years. I'd have a problem using Drew Ackerman's "Sleep with Me" podcast because it ends after an hour or 2, and I know I wake up if the speaking ends. But I think the idea for the podcast is great and I'm sure it helps many people. I'm annoyed by the doctors arguing that this approach to falling asleep isn't as good as other things like meditation.

Having a lot of interesting thoughts flowing through your brain isn't a problem. It's a good thing! It gets in the way of sleep, so you need something to displace it. A recorded voice supplying something that's like your own thoughts relieves the brain of its natural habit of producing thoughts. In the passive, receiving position, you fall asleep.

Why cut off your thoughts the hard way, with meditation, which is getting the brain to cut off its own thoughts (or to stop paying attention to its thoughts)? I'm happy preserving my own brain's tendency to produce continually interesting thoughts and to use the trick of an audiobook to switch off the thoughts to sleep.

To me, the doctor sounds puritanical (and not a little self interested). And, by the way, I have used the iPhone app Headspace and am familiar with the sleep meditation  routine. I ended up not wanting to spend my time doing that with my mind. It was solving a nonproblem.

44 comments:

rhhardin said...

As a 10yo I fell asleep listening to NSS sending five-letter code groups in Morse code. This improved your code speed in addition to putting you to sleep.

I have no idea how fast they sent it. Probably about 15wpm, the idea being that some sailor has to be able to write that fast, and that's about the limit for writing.

rhhardin said...

Klavan podcasts are good sleep material. The page goes on to the previous date on its own.

podcast page

traditionalguy said...

I like falling asleep to Mark Twain's Life on The Mississippi read by Grover Gardner on Audible. Twain writes the same way I think.

David said...

"Having a lot of interesting thoughts flowing through your brain isn't a problem. It's a good thing! It gets in the way of sleep, so you need something to displace it."

That's a reason sex can be a good sleep aid. Usually all the other thoughts go away.

Ann Althouse said...

"I like falling asleep to Mark Twain's Life on The Mississippi read by Grover Gardner on Audible. Twain writes the same way I think."

I've listened to a lot of Grover Gardner — 4 long Caro books on LBJ and the very lone "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" — and I love his crisp and meaningful phrasing, but it doesn't seem like a good sleeping voice. I like a gentle male voice without too much urgency.

But "Life on the Mississippi" is good subject matter for sleeping, based on some other sleep books I use over and over, like "A Walk in the Woods" and "The Sex Lives of Cannibals."

Ann Althouse said...

"That's a reason sex can be a good sleep aid. Usually all the other thoughts go away."

I think that's what men say.

Or.. I mean... you're not talking about sleeping during sex, but AFTER sex. Why would your mind not recover and begin thinking again?

Fred Drinkwater said...

To fall asleep I imagine myself on a racing sailboat during a long upwind leg. Long ago I developed the skill of getting some quick shut-eye while sitting on the windward rail with an arm wrapped in the shrouds, just half an ear cocked to hear the skipper's first warning of a pending maneuver. Works a treat.

Lyle Smith said...

ASMR... Big community of it on YouTube. Works like a charm in getting folks to relax and fall asleep.

chuck said...

I read "... emulating the peripatetic workings of the dreaming mind." and thought The New Yorker. The sentence is strangely self referential.

AReasonableMan said...

Althouse said...
I'm annoyed by the doctors arguing that this approach to falling asleep isn't as good as other things like meditation.


Nonetheless, it is probably true. If you have had sleep problems for 20 years what you are doing is probably not working very well.

Sleep hygiene is a funny term and requires a bit of discipline that is not always easy to muster, especially when you are tired, but it might be worth a try. Meditation is not quite as mindless as you seem to imagine.

Bob Ellison said...

I've had insomnia since I was pretty young, and the main thing for me has been to stop trying to fall asleep. Go ahead and give up trying at 4:00 AM, and I might still catch an hour. That's pretty standard advice, I know, but it applies to lots of other methods (listen to something, meditate).

When there's audio in my ears above the perception level (where I don't have to strain hard to understand what's being said, played, or whatever), I find it very difficult to fall asleep. Podcasts no workee at all. A movie or TV broadcast almost muted can work for me.

Virgil Hilts said...

The reference to alcohol as a potential sleep-inhibitor seemed a bit odd. Based on years of experimental data, a small glass of cognac or brandy just before tucking in does not make it harder to fall asleep.

Eric said...

The New Yorker really ought to be required to print "A Caricature of Ourselves" on their masthead.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Eric: Bravo.

Carol said...

I also have had sleep problems since I was very young. Like Bob, if I can make out the words I can't sleep.

In recent years I've found that thinking the words to the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary etc makes me fall off very quickly. Amazing what a strain it is to think the words when your mind is tired. I rarely have to repeat.

Good poetry would probably do the same thing, if I knew any.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that by the time you are Ann's and my age, you should expect sleep problems. Saw a chart the other day (when I was taking a sleep study) about how much you sleep at different ages. At our age, most people, statistically, seem to spend 1-2 hours in bed a night not sleeping. Down to 6-7 hours of real sleep a night, but in bed 8-9 hours. My problem has long been that I fall asleep fairly quickly, but wake up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night (using that time to study got me through law school almost 30 years ago). Except that now, if I get up in the middle of the night for more than five minutes, it will wake up my partner, who won't be able to fall asleep again, until the next evening, and then we would go to bed at 7, instead of our usual 10. So, now, I just toss and turn for an hour or so in the middle of the night, then get up at 5 or so, when the birds start chirping.

Today, I fell asleep for most of an hour listening to a podcast about the Scotts-Irish. I think that I retained essentially none of it while asleep. Never have been able to, since I tried to learn the ecological ages in seventh grade. Just doesn't work for me.

I mentioned taking a sleep study a couple of weeks ago. The purpose was to see how bad my apnea is. Not that bad. But was surprised that it is closely tied in me to REM sleep. Go into REM, and would start having apneas. Go out of REM, and it would stop.

C Stanley said...

In recent years I've found that thinking the words to the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary etc makes me fall off very quickly. Amazing what a strain it is to think the words when your mind is tired. I rarely have to repeat.

Haha me too, I say rosaries and usually drift off after a couple of decades. An unfortunate side effect is that now I get sleepy when I try to say tge rosary during daytime!

tim in vermont said...

Or.. I mean... you're not talking about sleeping during sex, but AFTER sex. Why would your mind not recover and begin thinking again?

Sigh... The gulf is just too wide for common understanding.

tim in vermont said...

I read "... emulating the peripatetic workings of the dreaming mind." and thought The New Yorker. The sentence is strangely self referential. - Chuck

When I saw that word "peripatetic," I thought that the writer didn't want to say "rambling" or "wandering", good old Anglo Saxon words, OK the second is cliched, and went to the thesaurus only to came back with a latinate clunker in grasping for higher tone. I might have gone for "picaresque" if, for some reason, I felt that accuracy of expression took a back seat to stylistic considerations.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Tim: Mars and Venus are currently about as far apart as they ever get.

Laslo Spatula said...

Let Laslo whisper sweet soothing words of discomfort into your ear as you try to sleep.

Ten dollars a minute.

A bargain, that.

You will wake up crying for the dying puppy you never had.

I am Laslo.

Fred Drinkwater said...

BTW, Mars is just past its closest approach to Earth right now. If you've got a scope tucked away somewhere you might want to drag it out. Jupiter is pretty close, too, and the primary belts were quite prominent last night.

Fred Drinkwater said...

No offense Laslo, I love your writing here, but I'm gonna decline that fine offer...

Fred Drinkwater said...

but I bet Hillary! could use some of that therapy. Why don't you have your people call her people?

Laslo Spatula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laslo Spatula said...


Amber, the Blacked-Out Possibly Raped College Girl says:

As I have mentioned, I have had problems with my boyfriend, but he can be SO kind.

It was one of those nights where I started crying but don't even know why. I had some wine, but I just felt sad, and when I begin feeling sad for no reason I inevitably think of my beloved cat Miss Tiff, who got hit by a car while I was watching, and then I get REALLY sad. I miss that girl so much, she would curl up with me and purr and try to lick ice cream off my spoon.

So I am drunk and crying and my boyfriend, he strokes my hair gently, and whispers words of reassurance in my ear:

"It's gonna be okay, baby: I'm right here."

"Just relax, and let me hold you."

"C'mon baby, just relax."

Things like that.

As I finally drifted to sleep I thought I felt his hand at my panties, but I drifted to sleep anyway.

I woke up in the middle of the night to pee, and there was a used condom, floating in the water like a jellyfish.

I looked back in the bedroom, but my boyfriend was sleeping, and I didn't want to wake him and start any trouble.

So I took some of the Vicodin I had left from my ski-boarding injury, and went back to sleep.

I thought being raped would be different.


I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

For University Professors teaching courses about the distinctions of rape/not-rape the Amber series could prove useful for stimulating discussion.

Please don't use it to masturbate.


I am Laslo.

Ann Althouse said...

"Nonetheless, it is probably true. If you have had sleep problems for 20 years what you are doing is probably not working very well."

But i don't have a problem. I'm just fine. I have a method that works perfectly well and I am not interested in replacing it. Why should I be?

You might just as well argue I should break my dependence on pillows. Perhaps I should train myself to sleep in the floor!

Ann Althouse said...

"At our age, most people, statistically, seem to spend 1-2 hours in bed a night not sleeping. Down to 6-7 hours of real sleep a night, but in bed 8-9 hours. My problem has long been that I fall asleep fairly quickly, but wake up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night (using that time to study got me through law school almost 30 years ago)."

I spend very little time trying to sleep but not sleeping, rarely as much as 15 minutes. Before I used my audiobook method, I would have the experience you are describing, hours in bed, bored and annoyed by the lack of sleep. I know the falling asleep and then being awake problem, but it happened to me when I was young. I solved the problem, and, though I have aged, I don't have it at all now. I'm not looking for solutions to nonproblems.

StephenFearby said...

There are different forms of sleep-onset insomnia, one of which is described below. Kinda important to separate the sheep from the goats.


"Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD), also called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), is characterized by an inability to fall asleep until very late at night, with the resulting need to sleep late in the morning or into the afternoon."

http://www.circadiansleepdisorders.org/




Christy said...

All my life I've insisted on total darkness and quiet at bedtime, but these days I need a bedtime story to fall asleep. Not just any story. At first it was Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series (sweet young witch-in-training,) then it was history podcasts, and these days it's Jim Butcher's new steampunk novel, but oddly enough, none of his Dresden Files. As near as I can figure it has to be a happy book or I have to be at great distance from the history. (Although I still mourn the end of the Republic of Rome.) Is it age? Or did my stroke reset my brain more than I thought?

rhhardin said...

The circadians don't start until nearly August.

I added 64" to my vertical backyard antenna today, improving performance noticeably. I just talked to a Frenchman with my 5 watt coffee-cup sized transmitter.

One thing to listen to at night is whatever comes up on the radio. Unfortunately it's mostly static from around the world. The guys go to bed on you.

Original Mike said...

"The guys go to bed on you."

Somebody's awake somewhere, aren't they? Or are you only able to access the night side of the planet?

Original Mike said...

I have the problem of waking and not being able to go back to sleep. But I have a prescription that handles the problem nicely.

Original Mike said...

"The guys go to bed on you."

In astronomy, adequate observing conditions requires a dark sky. And when you go through the effort of packing, traveling to a site a hundred miles away or more and then setting up, you want to get the most out of the effort, which requires all-nighters. I'm surprised that at 60 years old, I can do it as well or better than I could during college or my career of grant writing.

halojones-fan said...

"Limit screen time" is the new "avoid salt and fat". It's not actually a solution to anything but we sure do love our smartphones and by golly that must be bad, somehow.

tim in vermont said...

One thing that has been helping me recently to get to sleep, not that I need a lot of help, is binge watching Shakespeare's tetrology, Richard II, Henry IV, parts one and two, I just got to Henry V, so I run across stuff like this:

How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frightened thee,
That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum'd chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull'd with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leav'st the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common 'larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafing clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.


Unfortunately, it would seem that Sam Mendes, after producing brilliant and accessible versions of the first four histories, did not produce a version of Richard III, or at least it's not available on Amazon.

John said...

I tried this last night. It worked like a charm. I set it to turn off after half an hour but then woke up 2 or 3 times thinking I was still listening.

A very strange podcast but maybe effective. I did get a great nights sleep

John Henry

John said...

I was on a tape every 3 weeks from Books On Tape for more thanadozen years. Economical and a greatif somewhat quirky çatalog.

I have never cared much for Audible f2 reasons

First the format. I lo g files combining multiple chapters. When I use them to fall asleep I can never find myplace again.

Second, many of the books seem more acted than read. All i want is a straightreading.

Audible is also pricey.

An alternative is librivox.org, sort of a gutenberg of audio. 20,000 or so public domain books to choose from. Readers range from mediocre to superb but i find it doesn't matter as much as one might think.

At least one reader with whom i have exchanged emails also reads for Audible. He is a professional auctioneer and perhaps the best reader I've ever heard.

JohnHenry

rhhardin said...

Somebody's awake somewhere, aren't they? Or are you only able to access the night side of the planet?

On 40m you get a few hops at night, that is reflections between ionosphere and earth; the best is along the sunset line, giving you Australia in the early morning this time of year.

But the guys out there have to be awake.

In the day the lower atmosphere it too ionized and absorbs too much. Higher frequencies reverse the problem, being indifferent to low absorption but needing more ionization higher up, so working in daytime only.

Ann Althouse said...

"First the format. I lo g files combining multiple chapters. When I use them to fall asleep I can never find myplace again."

I just have a few books that I use over and over again, 100s of times, and they are all the kind of thing that doesn't need to be completed. I wouldn't use a novel, except that I did use "Life of Pi" for a while. Because of the subject matter, it worked. I didn't always start with chapter 1. I'd pick different places. It was kind of cool.

"Second, many of the books seem more acted than read. All i want is a straightreading."

Right. Many readers are too dramatic. It's also a problem if music is put between chapters (as in a David Sedaris book, which is also problematic because it will have chapters that are read live before an audience, and I hate to hear applause).

For me, the best reader is Bill Bryson. Best reader and best sort of book, wandering about from one thing to another, almost aimlessly: A Walk in the Woods, In a Sunburned Country, At Home, The Summer of 1927.

MayBee said...

Right. Many readers are too dramatic.

The creepiest for me is when a male reader tries to kind of indicate a female voice.

MathMom said...

I like and dislike Bill Bryson. Some of the story will be entrancing, then he'll start to piss me off. Weird.

As to getting to sleep, there are 8-hour train rides, B-17 bomber flight, rain on a canvas tent - really cool things.

StephenFearby said...

Anne Althouse said:

"...My problem has long been that I fall asleep fairly quickly, but wake up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night (using that time to study got me through law school almost 30 years ago)."

FWIW:

Daily Mail (15 June 2016):

Should we be sleeping TWICE a day? Two shorter periods of slumber may suit our body clocks better and increase alertness

"...Dr Melinda Jackson, a psychologist specialising in sleep disorders at RMIT University and c, said split sleeping used to be the norm, and going to bed for a continuous eight hours is a modern invention.

From medical texts to court records and diaries, throughout history there have been accounts of segmented sleep - and such patterns are seen today in cultures who take a siesta, they said.

Sleeping in two periods may increase alertness in the day and provide people with more flexibility to carry out work and spend time with their family, they said.
Writing for the Conversation [ http://tinyurl.com/zhgax24 ], they explain the history of segmented sleeping, and why two slumbers might be better than one...


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3642608/Should-sleeping-TWICE-day-Two-shorter-periods-slumber-suit-body-clocks-better-increase-alertness.html

For my money, it's still "middle insomnia"...which affects my wife, but only when she has been under stress (which I can easily produce for her)...or especially when she has a sleep deficit...(which is also a stress).