Imagine solving problems and increasing creativity while you sleep! Grounded in current brain research, this book introduces a simple but revolutionary program that shows how to do just that by learning to tune into your brain's deepest intuitions. Case studies of ordinary people demonstrate how to use sleep thinking to tackle anxiety, weight gain, anger management issues, poor school grades, and more through a bit of self-inquiry, new bedtime and morning routines, and a few other lifestyle changes and additions.
Dr. Eric Maisel presents clear, useful information relevant to anyone working through any sort of problem: personal, creative, or career-related. Readers learn how to use their own brainpower to extract important information from sleep thinking, yielding answers that lead to actions and actions that lead to change.
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About the Author
Eric Maisel Ph.D. has a doctorate in counseling psychology and has served as adjunct faculty at St. Mary's College in Moraga, California, for ten years. He has lectured and conducted workshops for the American Psychological Association, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Paris Writers Workshop, and many other venues. His books include The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm, Rethinking Depression, The Van Gogh Blues, and many others.
Read an Excerpt
UNDERSTANDING SLEEP THINKING
My goal in this book is to teach you how to use sleep thinking to solve your problems, reduce your stress, upgrade your personality, and increase your creativity. After a bit of an introduction, I'll ask you to begin your own sleep thinking program, which will involve a little self-inquiry, a new bedtime routine, a new morning routine, and a few other changes and additions to your current lifestyle. I hope you'll give this program a try. If you do, your experience will be remarkable.
What exactly is sleep thinking? To put it simply, it is your brain continuing, while you sleep, to work on the issues and problems that matter to you. Your brain performs many functions while you sleep, and productive thinking can be one of them. But in order for your brain to work in an optimal way, it has certain needs; for example, it needs to know what it's being asked to do. You can meet these needs in a simple, straightforward way. Read on.
Sleep thinking is one of the most important basic human skills.
Yet most of us have heard little or nothing about it. Perhaps you've heard about a scientist who woke up with the solution to a problem or a writer who woke up with an idea for a book, but that's it. As powerful and profound as sleep thinking is, it has eluded our scrutiny because our attention has been focused solely on dreams. Because dreams are so fascinating and even magical, they have seduced us and lured us away from investigating the powers of the brain during the rest of the sleep cycle.
Dreams are such an exciting phenomenon that they've dominated the brain research and psychotherapeutic landscapes. New books on dream interpretation come out all the time, and experiments on REM sleep (during which dreaming occurs) continue. All the attention paid to dreaming, beginning more than a century ago with Sigmund Freud's work on the meaning of dreams, has caused us to miss the other extraordinary thing that the brain can do while we sleep.
That other extraordinary thing that your brain can do while you sleep is THINK. It does this primarily during NREM (nonrapid eye movement) sleep. There are two types of sleep: REM sleep, during which most dreaming occurs, and NREM sleep, during which slower wave, higher frequency brain activity occurs. NREM sleep is further divided into four stages. The time between stage one of NREM sleep to the first REM sleep is called the first sleep cycle. There are usually about four or five such cycles a night, each lasting about ninety minutes. It is during the NREM portions of the sleep cycle, and especially during stages two, three, and four, when sleeping is deepest that thinking and problem solving occurs.
For many years, people believed that no mental activity occurred during NREM sleep. But during the past few decades, this notion has been proven false. Scientists have discovered that a large amount of high-level activity, including thinking and problem solving, occurs during these stages of sleep. David Foulkes, a sleep researcher, made some important discoveries about NREM sleep and demonstrated that people awakened during NREM sleep often reported that they were thinking. For example, when one subject was awakened, he described how he was trying to answer a question that had been posed in a class he'd been teaching earlier that day. His brain was taking NREM sleep as an opportunity to problem solve and find the right answer. This is typical of NREM sleep; we use it to solve problems of all sorts.
We've all experienced sleep thinking at least occasionally. One of my psychotherapy clients, who was troubled by the way her VCR was acting up, went to bed thinking about what might be wrong with it. When she awoke, she went right to the VCR and fixed it.
The solution did not come to her in a dream; it just "came to her," which is how NREM thinking works. We do not experience it as dreaming; we often do not experience it at all. In fact, with this type of thinking, we are entirely unaware that our brain is working on a problem, making connections, and looking for solutions, until the answer "comes out of thin air." We might wake up in the middle of the night with the answer, the answer may be waiting for us when we wake up in the morning, or it might come to us during the day as the sleep thinking we did during the night makes its way into conscious awareness. But, however the answer arrives, it has that well-known "aha!" quality about it, that is, the quality of revelation.
Examples of our own sleep thinking are usually of the following sort. A therapist colleague had this to say:
When I was in college, I took a chemistry course. We were given ten problems to solve and a week in which to turn them in. I liked chemistry and was good at it, so when the answer to one of the ten problems wasn't immediately apparent, I figured I would come back to it later. In no way was I anxious about this or worried or even thinking it over during the week. Yet, several nights later I woke up with a solution to the problem, and in fact, it was the correct one.
Another therapist colleague explained:
I clearly remember solving a problem in my sleep. I was doing my undergraduate work in a math class. I had an equation to solve, but when I went to graph the solution, I got half a circle. The answer in the back of the book showed a full circle. It was late, and I was tired, so I went to bed pondering the problem. I awoke in the middle of the night as the answer came to me. I had forgotten that when you take the square root of any number, you get both the positive and the negative value. Problem solved.
These are typical examples of sleep thinking. What they share in common is that the sleep thinker was aware that a certain problem existed and wanted the problem solved. She engaged the problem and let her brain do the thinking for her while she slept. First there was awareness of a problem. Then there was a desire to solve it (often we do not want to solve our problems because the solution, say a job change or a divorce, feels like a bigger problem), then there was engagement with the problem, and finally there was surrender to the brain's natural way of working. Awareness, desire, engagement, and surrender are the four key elements of the sleep thinking program.
The sleep thinking program that you'll learn about in this book is designed to help you solve problems while you sleep. These can be the most important problems in your life, not just the occasional calculus or biology problem. Your life may feel off-track; sleep thinking can help you find your way. You may be working very hard at a new career but feel as if you're not progressing the way you'd like. Sleep thinking can help you figure out what's wrong and what to do next. You may be having relationship problems with a parent, child, or mate; sleep thinking can get you past the pain and confusion and lead you to a clearer understanding of the problem and then point you in the direction of a solution. Sleep thinking is also the way to incubate creative projects and solve intellectual problems of all sorts. It is a complete idea generation and idea management program, a problem-solving tool of the first magnitude, a stress reducer, and even a treatment for insomnia. Best of all, it is the way your brain really wants to work, if you will just give it permission.
Abby and Her Roommate
Before I lay out the sleep thinking program, I want to preview how sleep thinking can work for you. You'll see in the following vignette the steps that make up the sleep thinking program, steps that we'll explore in detail shortly.
Abby is nineteen years old and finishing her first year in college. For the past year, she's been living in the dorms with Jan, her best friend from high school. Soon Abby will need to make up her mind about living arrangements for next year. Jan has been talking about the two of them getting an apartment near campus, but Abby has reservations about this possibility. She has had a good time with Jan but has discovered that Jan is pretty wild and can be very irresponsible.
Jan never cleans up her part of the room, she's always late with the payment for her part of the phone bill, and she's up all hours of the night bringing people back to the room and partying. At the same time, Abby likes it that Jan is so much fun, and she often likes the partying herself. She just wishes that it wasn't all the time and all through the night. She and Jan have been friends for so long that it is hard to imagine parting ways, but she's not sure that she can take another year of Jan's irresponsibility.
As she struggles with whether or not she wants to continue rooming with Jan, Abby hears about sleep thinking from a friend. She decides to try it out, to see whether she can figure out what she really wants to do with respect to Jan and their rooming together. As she's instructed to do, she makes up a list of the first questions that come into her head:
Do I want to keep rooming with Jan?
Am I willing to risk our friendship by not rooming with her?
Do I want to stay friends with her?
Can I handle another year with her?
Will she get worse when we have our own apartment?
Looking over her list, Abby knows that the main question at hand is whether or not she wants to room with Jan next year. The answers to the other questions also will contribute to her decision, but she thinks that it is best to get to the main point first. So the first night she goes to bed reciting, "Do I want to room with Jan next year?" She generally doesn't have a problem getting to sleep; she's usually thinking about things she wants to think about. But it takes a lot of will power to concentrate on this question.
The next morning, Abby wakes up and remembers a dream she had. In her dream, she sees Jan drinking coffee in a cafe. She writes down this dream, although she can't see how it really relates to the problem at hand. She is surprised, though, that she had a dream about Jan.
To her knowledge, this is the first dream she has had with Jan in it. So she thinks that at least it is good that her thoughts and dreams became focused on this subject, although she did not receive an answer. She knows that it would probably be helpful if she could really recite her question more like a meditation, and that becomes her objective the next night.
That night Abby gets home late from studying at the library and is very tired by the time she goes to bed. She takes out her journal and looks over the notes she made about the first night she tried sleep thinking.
She writes her question one more time: "Do I want to room with Jan next year?" But by the time she hits her pillow, she is so tired that she recites her question only once and falls asleep immediately. Still, she has another dream about Jan. This time she and Jan are talking with Jan's boyfriend, Kyle. They're all laughing together about something.
Abby can't see how this dream might answer her question. She only sees that she and Jan are having a good time together, but she doesn't know whether that means that she and Jan should stay roommates.
Abby has always known that she and Jan have fun together; the problem occurs when Jan goes too far. So Abby doesn't feel as if this has brought up any new thoughts or solved her problem. She writes the dream down and doesn't try to analyze it any further.
On the third night, she sees similar results. She has a dream in which she is in the dorm room that she now shares with Jan. She is hanging up a new poster of a band that Jan likes. Abby records this but, again, doesn't know what to make of it. She does find it interesting, though, that for the past three nights she has had dreams that had to do with the question she was asking. She is surprised by how quickly everything she dreams about has become focused on this question. But she is still having trouble reciting her question in a meditative way.
The fourth night, she goes to bed and decides that she will spend extra time repeating her question. So she says it over and over again.
Finally, she falls asleep. The next morning, she can't remember any dreams at all. She finds it odd that on the night she managed to repeat her question several times, she had no dreams she could remember.
She takes a few minutes to think about the way that she said her question. She realizes that she said it harshly, as though it were a chore — something that she needed to get done. She can still hear herself saying, almost angrily, "Do I want to room with Jan?" Saying it that way didn't put her into a contemplative state. So she decides that this has to change if she wants to see results; she has to become relaxed and at ease with saying her question.
On the fifth night, Abby doesn't follow through with her plans. She falls asleep before she can recite her question even once. In the morning, she wakes with the slight remembrance of a dream that had to do with Jan, but she can't remember what it was about. She is getting a little upset by her lack of will power and her inability to go to bed early and really prepare herself for sleep thinking.
As this process is going on, things with Jan remain pretty much the same. Jan is still partying a lot, and Abby is more torn about her own feelings. On the sixth day, Jan and Abby have a nice lunch together, and Jan brings up seeing a table in a store that she thinks would look great in their apartment next year. Abby ends up feeling more confused.
On the sixth night, Abby stays up with her friend Carly watching a movie starring Mel Gibson. She goes to bed tired and, against her own wishes, falls right asleep. That night she has a dream about being in a big table store. That's all she remembers about the dream, although she thinks that Mel Gibson might have been the sales clerk. Abby feels that the dream was influenced by the events of her day rather than by anything having to do with her question.
On the seventh night, Abby finds that she's able to say her question a little more gently than usual. She's also able to repeat it quite a few times before falling asleep. In the morning, she recalls the dream she had and writes it down. In the dream, she and Jan were in their room, and Jan was making phone calls. Abby wanted to tell Jan to hang up the phone. She's surprised that yet another dream has focused on her question, but she still doesn't know what to do, although she realizes that her dream brought up her anger toward some of Jan's behavior.
On the eighth night, Abby gets home quite late and falls asleep as soon as she gets into bed. In the morning, she has no recollection of any dreams.
On the ninth night, Abby really tries to make some progress. She turns down an offer to watch another movie and goes to bed a little earlier than normal so that she is not "too tired." When she gets into bed, she says her question particularly gently and several times over before she falls asleep.
That night she has a dream that she feels may be the answer to her question. She wakes up in the morning and writes down her dream.
The first thing she writes down is the word intense. She seems to know that this dream is important. In this dream, Abby is at a concert with Jan. Jan is screaming and dancing all over the place. Abby is trying to hear the music, but she can't because Jan is behaving so wildly. Jan spills her drink all over Abby and doesn't stop to apologize or help her. Abby leaves Jan in the stands, saying, "I've had enough." Then she moves down closer to where the band is playing. The last thing that Abby remembers about the dream is a song with these lyrics:
"Go back and say something. Go back and say something."
In the morning, Abby feels good about this dream. She feels that it is different from the others. She writes down all that she can remember. Although some of the other dreams seemed more related to the main point (of whether to room together), such as the one in their dorm room, no dream has felt as important as this one. She's purposefully been avoiding analyzing her dreams because she hasn't felt that they were worth analyzing, but she thinks about this dream and sees that two main things are happening: Jan is acting in the way that Abby fears she will always act, and Abby seems not to be able to take it anymore. In addition, the song was telling her to go back and talk to Jan. Abby thinks that the point of the dream may be that she has to tell Jan that she is having real problems with some of her behavior.
The dream has made her more sure of what she must do, though she knows that it will not be easy for her. She needs to figure out what to say to Jan about what she is feeling. So she decides to do some more sleep thinking.
The new question she poses to herself is: How can I talk to Jan about her behavior? This time, to her surprise, Abby gets an answer right away, the very first night, and not in the form of a dream. She wakes up and knows that she must "just do it." This makes sense to her, but she can't make herself talk to Jan that day or the next — or even hint at the fact that something is bothering her.
Excerpted from "The Magic of Sleep Thinking"
Copyright © 2000 Eric Maisel.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Understanding Sleep Thinking
2. Learning the Steps of the Sleep Thinking Program
3. Zeroing in on Problems
4. Getting Ready to Sleep Think
5. Evaluating Sleep Thoughts
6. Making Changes
7. Solving Your Problems
8. Reducing Your Stress
9. Upgrading Your Personality
10. Increasing Your Creativity
Postscript: Working the Sleep Thinking Program