Monday, October 16, 2006

Pulling and pushing Z's.

I hate alarm clocks. I have always hated alarm clocks. My earliest memories of those wretched things are of the old wind-up models, back in the 1950s. They had spring-wound clangers that, when activated, would be enough to wake the dead, not only on earth but on planets in neighbouring galaxies as well. The jarring jangling would inevitably be triggered when I was in the deepest sleep and I would awake abruptly, disoriented and in a foul mood.

The logical thing to do to avoid this trauma, was to train myself not to need those pesky things. I now tell myself what time I want to get up, and I will awake within a couple of minutes of the desired time. Occasionally, if I wish to wake up extra early to catch a flight or something similar, I might ask my wife to set her alarm, or the service desk at my hotel to arrange for a wakeup call. I can't remember ever not being awake when the buzzer buzzed or the bell rang.

If I am not specific about the time I wish to get up, my internal system will wake me up at intervals starting an hour or so before I wish to get out of bed, allow me to fall asleep and then keep rousing me ten or fifteen minutes later. If I tell myself to get up at a specific time, I will awake at almost exactly that time.

How does this work? I don't know. I have met a few other people who are able to do this, but have never heard of a satisfactory explanation as to how it works. How do my inner workings know when it says 6:30am (or whatever) on my nightstand clock and it is time for me to get up? I have no idea.

I usually just open my eyes at the desired time, roll out of bed and start my morning. Sometimes, if I happen to be at a stage in my sleep (like in the middle of a very interesting dream) where I require a little extra jolt to wake up, I will hear my name called. It is not usually 'someone's" voice, just 'a' voice. Last night, I told myself I wanted to get up at 6:55am. In my sleep, I was slogging through some sort of dream epic (I have a lot of BIG dreams) when I heard a female voice call my name. The voice wasn't attached to any participant in the dream, and played no part in the plot of the dream. It was just an unknown female voice, offscreen (so to speak,) and it uttered my name once, not too loudly, but with a sense of urgency that I knew I should heed. I woke up, rolled over, looked at the clock on my nightstand and it said: 6:55am. Weird.

We are strange creatures. We know very little about our inner workings. It has been said that we operate at only a fraction of our capabilities. I agree. The trick is, of course, how to discover the secrets that allow us to tap into the resources we have, and then to use them wisely. I don't claim to have the answers.

Being able to wake up, either aided or not, is pretty important. Being able to fall asleep is even more important. When I was a teenager, I couldn't fall asleep at night. My mind would race around, bounce about within the confines of my experiences, and each thought and idea would lead to another, then another, until I was so tired that my body simply gave up. I was a wreck. In an attempt at self-preservation, I taught myself to fall asleep. Now, I crawl under the covers, whack my pillow a couple of times to make sure it keeps my neck properly aligned, and I'm gone. It takes me, usually, a few seconds to fall asleep. I am grateful for that, because not being able to sleep is terrible. Ask any insomniac.

My son is having trouble sleeping. I have tried to help him learn how to drop off into slumberland at will, but he is resisting. It doesn't work, he says. Nothing works, son, unless you work at it yourself. Everything worthwhile takes effort. Once the effort has been expended and the results are evident, you will have what you want. Whether that something is waking up when you want, falling asleep when you want, achieving the career you want, or anything else, you will have to exert yourself first. That's just the way things are.


  1. No wonder you like some science fiction! You have must have extra capabilities to get up exactly when you want with no other assistance than an internal desire.
    I'm quite envious.

  2. Yeah... but those abilities haven't, at least so far, helped me push away that second slice of pecan pie or chocolate cake, even though I know they aren't good for me. I guess I have to keep working on that!

  3. I bought one of those old mechanical alarm clocks for my emergency kit a few weeks ago (a "Baby Ben" replica made in China like everything else is, anymore). I wanted a wind-up or self-winding pocket watch, but they don't even make replicas of those - not even in China - but I know about the inner clock wake-up thing, too.

  4. Financial columnist Doug Casey tells us we should be prepared to have our children and grandchildren be houseboys and nannies to the Chinese. I'm not sure that I would go that far, but the North American economy is increasingly intertwined with and financed by Asia. There could be interesting times ahead as the East increasingly competes with the west for everything: oil, capital, skill, markets, etc.

  5. My Dad knocks his head on his pillow two or three times and says, "Six o'clock please" and he wakes up at six o'clock. I've never understood it, I've seen it happen time and again and I've never met anyone else that could do it, but it's true, so I believe you and I am interested to read that there are at least two of you out there. Very strange.

    Going to sleep.

    Two pieces of advice.

    #1. My Mother told me that at bedtime, there is nothing you can do or think about anything that you can change or solve at that moment. Sleep is neccessary and that all thoughts must be stopped as a precursor to sleep - whatever needs to be done or thought about can wait until morning. Clear your head.

    #2. I learned this in rehab.. putting your body to sleep. It works for me, as long as my head is clear. Wiggle toes.. stretch them, tell them to go to sleep, feel them relax, move up to the calves, thighs, so on. I've rarely made it to my head - it's like anesthetic.

    Also, cutting out television, books, exercise or other stimuli half an hour to forty-five minutes before bedtime aids greatly. Relax, stretch, take time to make a lunch (not rush), sit quietly, meditate, work to decompress, deprogram and debrief oneself. Many successful people use meditation half an hour twice a day - to ready themselves for the waking world and to prepare themselves for the sleeping one. But, like all things, it takes diligence and practice. Sleep is essential. I hope your son finds a method that will lead to a healthy regenerative sleeping pattern for his future.

  6. Penny: Your #2 is something I have used as well, to help me relax. I used that process to relax and then I would imagine myself entering an elevator in an office building here in London, Ontario. In my mind, I would get on the elevator at the 10th floor and the press the button for the basement. As I imagined myself going down, I would strive to get that falling sensation typical in an elevator ride and invariably, before I got to the basement, I would be asleep. I haven't had to do any of that for many years.

    The human body and mind are interesting things, aren't they?

  7. Your visualization in regard to relaxation reminded me of something else we did in rehab.

    The counsellor had us all lie on the ground in the dark and he put on soothing sound effect music of a stream or some sort of water, real low, and then he began to talk..

    It was our last day in therapy..

    He spoke really slow and meditative...

    "Now, imagine you are walking through a field.. nice babbling brook.. etc.. etc.. now, imagine you come across someone you don't like, someone who has done you wrong, someone you would like to get even with.. now, imagine taking him or her by the shoulders and pushing him or her into the water.. and now, you are holding down his head.. and he can't breathe.. and he stops moving..."

    The counsellor used this as his last-day joke, but the joke was on him as he had to stop and explain to us that it was indeed a joke and he looked quite shaken when he realized that we'd all be doing just as he said, and relaxing in it's enjoyment. He just couldn't believe that not one of us (out of a maybe the dozen that we were), hadn't called him on it.

    Power of visualization.
    Power of relaxation.
    Power of group persuasion.

  8. Wow, Penny... that's more than a bit scary. I have read about situations where research was being done in universities and student subjects were asked to visualize violence done to others at their hands, and what they were willing to do went way beyond what anyone might consider to be reasonable.

    As you put it:

    Power of visualization.
    Power of relaxation.
    Power of group persuasion."

    I would add to that 'trust' in authority or any sort of 'expert.'

    Goes to show that we need to be hyper-critical of anything we do or think of doing.

    VERY interesting story!