I don’t know why I haven’t asked this question earlier, hopefully it is the right place. The point is I have extreme problems with sleeping. I can fall asleep, but not only I wake up 22 times every night, but also, when morning comes, I feel as if I haven’t slept at all. Tired to such a degree that I couldn’t even sit on a chair if that chair didn’t have a back support. After some years of quests I found out how to make a “soup” of green tea and other herbs which would give me enough power to make it through the day and lead normal life. The problem is (apparently it is a side effect of that soup), every afternoon life literally turns into a real hell. I don’t know how to explain… Everything seems awful, the world seems collapsing, life seems shattered, future seems to be unbearable and everything looks like there is just no way and something ominous is coming. It is so strong when it happens that I have to apply all the mental force to continue doing things. I can do that, but it is very difficult and I feel that I cannot sustain for too much longer. I know that Buddhists, during their long history, found many ways (exercises etc.) to combat various physical and mental ailments. Perhaps anybody can advice me an exercise, or some technique? Please help.
Go to a doctor and get a health check done first.
If you cant sleep, don’t force it just sit down and read the Sutta.
This is not a problem. It is blessing.
You clearly have insomnia. You can read more here.
The Buddha can be described as a doctor, but his teachings treat suffering and its causes, not specific medical issues. So, your first steps should be to visit a medical doctor and do tests (blood, endocrine, urine, psychiatric, and sleep monitoring). These kinds of tests can reveal underlying causes of your issue.
Of course, the Buddha’s teachings are relevant to the kinds of suffering you are experiencing, and can be useful in the process of healing. So in that regard, I’m grateful that you’re here.
I think it’s a great question, and I am personally glad you asked it. I can certainly recall that feeling of ‘going through hell’ and the sensation of seemingly endless suffering and bottomless pain. I am by nature a fairly anxious person, so I’ve gone through periods of insomnia, although not as bad as yours.
In short, it seems you need some sleep! I second the other’s suggestions to see a doctor if you can, and develop what we call in the health biz, sleep hygiene. Google it. There’s no magic exercise to replace the energy and vigor lost through sleeplessness. I had a laugh the other day when reading about this guy who ran into the forests of Maine at 20, and spent 27 years completely alone in the wilderness. His advice to share with the world after 27 years of contemplation in solitude? “Get enough sleep”
When I’ve gone through periods of insomnia, I can usually figure out why. It’s sometimes because I am too busy, filling my day with too many thoughts, or occasionally it’s because I feel some underlying guilt about something. There can also be medical reasons, or no reason. Anyway, getting to the bottom of your sleeplessness and finding a solution seems key. But you’ve got some work ahead of you.
Some things I do when I am sleepless/anxious -
I do this less nowadays, but in the past when thoughts swirled in my head, would just get up and write them down. Make my to do list, write some stunning poetry, whatever. Getting it out on paper was my way of letting things go.
Do a guided meditation. Listening to someone else’s voice and relinquishing the stranglehold on your consciousness is relaxing
Remember that it’s not forever. When you’re feeling really crappy, remember a time when you felt good, and when you feel good remember a time you felt rubbish. You’re always changing and it doesn’t really matter. Laugh at how seriously you take yourself and let go
Try Metta. Bhante’s metta meditation really helped me to feel a deep sense of great happiness I have never felt before and I draw on that to calm me down when I get a little head-crazy. Having a focused and regular meditation system helps.
Relax with meditation. Make sure your meditation time is a time to actually relax. Not to achieve anything or get anywhere. This is especially true if you have a busy life outside. Know yourself. If you are like me and restlessness is a strong hindrance, try lying down to meditate. I rarely fall asleep, but sometimes it actually helps me to relax when sitting is too tense.
Cultivate gratefulness. Ok, I feel like I made this up, so forgive me if it’s no good. But when I start to feel bad, I tend to go into this mental proliferation ‘life sucks, it’s literally all pointless, no-one cares, blah blah’. Maybe you know what I mean. Instead of letting myself go down that path, I think of someone or something I am extremely grateful for: an opportunity I’ve had, the love of family and friends, kind things people have done for me, my cup of tea. Whatever. And somehow there comes a deep joy and my mind finds that more appealing than the negativity. For me, that strong sense of gratitude inspires and uplifts.
Collect inspiration. Write down suttas, quotes, print pictures, etc, that inspire you or make you laugh. Pick them up when you feel bad. Seeing something powerful or reading something funny can be energizing.
Forgive yourself, take it easy. Do something nice for yourself. You deserve it
It’s kind of embarrassing to write all that now that I look at it, and I feel like it doesn’t say all I want it to. But maybe something there helps. It’s just my personal advice about some things that helped me, so take it as you will!
I wish you much, much health and happiness
Wow! What a story this one of the Maine hermit.
This bit really impressed me:
Knight said that he couldn’t accurately describe what it felt like to spend such an immense period of time alone.
Silence does not translate into words. “It’s complicated,” he said. “Solitude bestows an increase in something valuable. I can’t dismiss that idea.
Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity.
There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant.
“My desires dropped away. I didn’t long for anything. I didn’t even have a name. To put it romantically, I was completely free.”
I think there’s some good advice above. Apart from that, try to understand what is waking you up- is it noise or pain or nightmares or just that you are sleeping very lightly.
You might want to try meditating - just watching your breath- before going to sleep. It usually sends many people to sleep!
Do go to a doctor…
This sounds serious. Are you having panic attacks? I think Mat’s advice of seeing a doctor is good. I have very little confidence in western medicine when it comes to most health ailments, but getting some professional advice as a point of reference is helpful. Basically, they try to make symptoms go away with medication that have harmful long term and/or short term side effects, and have no clue what the true root causes of the problem. That said, this is the world we live in and the short term benefit of treating symptoms may be necessary as a stop gap measure.
I’ve been doing Taiji quan, yoga, qigong, and lots of sitting meditation for a number of decades now. I’ll be happy to recommend some things in that area, but first I think you should get some professional medical advice.
What kind of diet do you have?
Many thanks to everybody for the replies! Sorry, I forgot to mention, I have this sleep problem for almost 15 years already and not only I have visited a doctor so far, within those years I have performed all the possible diagnostics and treatment, not only in Russia, but also in Australia and the USA. I even went to the Philippines to get treatment. Performed all the traditional and non-traditional things, from brain tomography to acupuncture. Spent many nights in a sleep lab and even ran my own sleep lab. Now I have been co-developing a new polygraph for sleep monitoring. None of the doctors found anything wrong. What my sleep patterns show is that I fall asleep quite easily, but instead of a deep sleep stage there is just a burst of activity and I wake up, so virtually I have no deep sleep at all. That is why is it so. Of course I have researched and read all the possible literature I could find. Thank you Frankk, my diet is just natural healthy food with restricted carbs, I do a good deal of regular exercises, so no issue with that. I totally agree about treating symptoms - I don’t take pills or any chemical stuff of that kind. So I believe the problem is somewhere in the head, hat is why I do believe that some mental exercises might be helpful, although Taiji didn’t really help.
Actually, I kind of found out a way how to live with that. The problem is that “hell on Earth” and it is definitely something from the head, rather then from the body. Many thanks to you, Cara, for such a detailed list, that is exactly what I need and I will try it right away.
There are many non-addictive medications that will help you sleep. No one can diagnose you over the internet, but I’m fairly certain there would be something to give you a night’s sleep, if no certain cause has been found. I hope ‘hell on earth’ is not because traditional medicines are your preferred option.
Thanks for sharing your story, I hope you find some relief. It sounds like you have done so many things to help.
My only thought might be to find, if you can, a therapist who has experience in this area, and can do some guided meditations with you. Perhaps a series of short, well-supported meditations can gradually give you the space that you need. If you were in Sydney I could help find someone suitable!
In Thailand, I had persistent bad knees, and tried many things to fix them, but nothing worked. I was speaking to a monk once, and he recommended all these things, and I said, “Yep, tried them all.” He just laughed and said, “Kamma!” It didn’t really help …
@Gabriel_L I read that article and I was going to quote exactly the same things! You beat me to it!
that may prove a fruitless task but maybe it’s worth trying to figure out what could have triggered it in the first place, like investigate the past in a meditative fashion, do total recall, and go from there, although you have probably considered and tried this strategy
Stanislav: is this you? https://youtu.be/budYvKkZqA0 If so, brilliant!
I note that (if this is you) you are a powerlifter (your second post gave me a hint). There has been an association with powerlifting and possible side effects from certain supplements that may contain ingredients (THG, HGH) that cause sleep disturbance, anxiety, paranoid ideation, etc. Check the ingredients carefully of what you are ingesting, and yes, this seems a medical and possible psychological issue that could be remedied medically. There are some supplement makers that are putting off label ingredients in the their supplements, and athletes are ingesting stuff they don’t intend to ingest.
All of the posters posted great responses, @Cara 's was excellent. I apologize in advance if you are not the same person as the brilliant pianist, above.
Just to share, I’ve had similar problems my whole life combined with chronic mild depression. I went to a therapist for a few sessions, but he made me worse! No disrespect to therapists in general, just my own personal experience was a bad one.
(‘my own experience was a bad one’ <---- story of my life.)
Recently, I bought some melatonin from amazon and it has helped immensely. Instead of feeling tired all the time…all day…everyday, I now am able to sleep through the whole night and have some energy during the day.
My body-clock and natural melatonin production were obviously messed up, but no one had been able to spot it. In addition , I wear a sleep-mask, as I am very light sensitive, which possibly ties in with my natural melatonin production being messed up.
Hope you find a solution.
I don’t suffer from frequent serious insomnia, but some years ago, I had a couple of very bad panic attacks as a result of insomniac episodes. Your report sounds somewhat similar:
My panics were usually triggered by a kind of claustrophobic feeling that snowballed from some feeling of physical pan or discomfort, or a negative perception of the future. I felt trapped inside my own body, as though I had been buried alive in it and would never be able to escape from my physical pains and negative thoughts. That resulted in a feeling of terror, which would be exacerbated by the fact that I was all alone at 3 am in the morning and the world was asleep.
In my own case, meditation was a huge help, and I have not had a serious episode like this since I began meditating seriously, regularly and in the right way. Specifically, metta mediation and walking meditations appear to have been the Buddha’s antidote to fear, and they have worked for me. The Buddha allegedly taught the Karaniya Metta Sutta to a bunch of monks who couldn’t meditate in the forest because they were too frightened by the spirits that dwelt there and were haunting them. By learning how to wish the spirits good will, the spirits were transformed into benign spirits who wished the monks well, and then stopped terrorizing them.
Of course, one might wish to interpret this figuratively. What is most important is not whether there were spirits in the forest or whether the spirits were really transformed by the metta mediation, but how the monks’ own state of mind was changed by their meditation.
Whatever the objects of your dread and foreboding, try to wish good will toward them, even if these objects aren’t exactly a person or being, but just some harmful “force” or turn of events in the world. In my own case, I started metta mediation by focusing on people, but eventually it expanded into into a kind of outward emanation of good will and friendliness that was not always directed at persons.
You may find in doing this that the pain of your emotions is mainly lodged in your body as a set of bodily responses to events or prospects perceived as threatening - whether those prospects are rational or irrational. There is clenching of the muscles, the balling up into a defensive crouch, the elevation of the heart rate, a nausea, sweating etc. You an learn to let go of those reaction formations and prevent them from re-arising.
For me the powerful thing about this technique is that you don’t have to reorient all of your thinking. If you are worried about some awful thing that you think might happen in the future, you don’t have to convince yourself “Oh no, those bad things aren’t going to happen; something good is going to happen instead.” Instead you learn how to let go of the emotional reaction to to these things. The feeling of dread is just a feeling; emotional responses are just emotions. The intellectual perception of what is going to happen is one thing; the painful emotional response to it is another thing.
Of course, some of the intellectual picture you have of the future might indeed be irrational, and once things start appearing bad to a person, a frequent concomitant is that their minds start proliferating all kinds of absurd fantasies of even worse things. So learning to calm yourself and ward off the dreadful doom and gloom feelings can help with that too.
Try to do the meditation before you have been hit smack in the face with the panic. If you know the panic hits you in the late afternoon, try doing the meditation earlier in the afternoon.
The Buddha also reports that he relied on the walking meditation techniques as part of his approach to subduing fear and dread.
I have apparently tried everything existing, both addictive and not. The thing is it didn’t really treat the reason, which is unknown and at all I believe there is too little knowledge on sleep and too much feedback in the brain to treat sleep such obscure problems with chemicals. Too many side effects in general, so I prefer doing something natural and in my case I believe I need to change something inside myself rather then taking pills. Thank you Mat and I will definitely do Metta meditation.
Yeah I am now in Seoul, Korea. I totally understand what you are saying about the knees - my story is about similar, I will do meditations regularly and hopefully it will help.
I believe I had a certain predisposition to poor sleep since childhood - I am a pianist, artist, so it also adds to that. Artists have always had poor sleep.
Oh, thank you very much for your words. Yes, it is me on that video. I do powerlifting, but I don’t use any chemicals. I will do meditation.
Yes, we are comrades apparently I tried melatonin, it helped to fall asleep, but didn’t really improve my quality of sleeping. But the mask should really work, thank you for advising it.