Monday, 27 February 2017

Beyond The Wall of Sleep 4

Finalising the war on insomnia, from 6 hours sleep a night to 8 hours a night

In previous blogs on this subject I've explained that I used to be a very bad sleeper going back to childhood (as were my parents). When I say bad sleep in childhood I mean I grew up living above a pub  in the 1970s - so smoke, noise, overworked parent. Sleep was always a precious thing to be grabbed at, which made it all the more stressful later when I couldn't get it for whatever reason.

And over the last decade I've managed to overcome this with the aid of audiobooks and personal media players (thank you Steve Jobs) to get a regular 6 hours per night. This is a big personal achievement as I'm really Mr Hyde when tired.

An updare earlier posts is due as I have been refining this method. Lately I've been getting occasional 7 hours a night over the last week I've had two instances where I've gone right into 8 hours, smashing personal records.

Should say I'm about 50 years old, and track my sleep using a fitness tracker (Jawbone UP3).

What has made the difference?

Light exercise
Light exercise rather than heavy exercise - heavy exercise, like walking more than 10 miles in a day, will sure knock you out easily when your head hits the pillow, but that later sleep (where I am now picking up the time) will be affected by painful muscles. You might sleep better following nights but it is not guaranteed.
So light exercise, about an hour before bedtime, like a walk in the fresh air for 20 mins or so.

Later Sleep
my sleep 10pm-3pm remains as before. The difference now is I'm sleeping in much later than before. Part of this is recognising that sleep does come in two parts
with an intermission. And when you reach that horrible 'hour of the wolf ' in the middle the last thing you should do is lie there in bed. Get up, do ablutions in semi illumination and eat something. Toast or banana works for me.

Coffee builds up in the system
Not had caffeine (other than tea) for nearly two weeks

Change of listening material
In earlier posts I described how listening to audiobooks and podcasts were very effective in not only kicking off sleep but sustaining it long after you might otherwise have woken up. The more sensitive fitness tracker I had (Jawbone UP3) recorded how I would often kick into REM sleep at stages of the night when I new I'd woken and started up an audio book. I said some are better then others and this may be a personal thing.. I find Lorelei King's voice incredibly soothing to sleep to. Her voice on the BBC adaptation of Pattern Recognition and several other William Gibson sources make her No1 audio source for me.

This 'friendly voice to fall asleep to' phenomena would of course be hugely magnified if it were a close family member. I have suggested to grand parents that I know that they record their favourite poems or short stories for their family for this reason.

Refresh the listening material
The audio input must remain somewhat interesting and fresh - if you are are bored with listening, the mind (subconscious?) gets disengaged, wanders and insomnia is allowed back in. So you ideally need a regular source of audio input.
Radio! I can hear you say and many use this to fall asleep to - but the nature of live radio is that you cannot rely on the broadcast. A sudden news feature with harsh audio can really wreck your sleep over the night. I can remember being woken by the news of Princess Diana's death - that was rough - and Radio 5Live were nice enough to broadcast the news of Fay Wray's death with audio of her famous scream in King Kong.

Best example of this is the BBC Radio4 Today Show (6am -9am) which you might regularly find yourself dozing to in it's quiet moments until - usually American politics - jerks you into reality with all the gentle subtly of the electric chair at San Quentin.

Ideally you would have a regularly updated audio, perhaps with the gentle well spoken stars of the Today Show  which runs for hours on semi interesting subjects but without live broadcast interruptions or irritating trailers.

Ladies and Gentlemen - let me introduce you to The Economist Audio Edition
this is the entire magazine, every week recorded onto audio by familiar R4 news announcers. Approximately 8 fresh hours of audio every week. You might be thinking "Oh god - The Economist. That would be dull. I couldn't listen to that" - well, remember this isn't to consciously get you listening, its to make you fall asleep, and I personally find the mix here is right on the edge of engaging and ZZZZzzzz which is just enough to engage the troublesome demons in the mind and stop them from causing trouble in the conscious.

As a bonus parts of The Economist, particularly the Science and Technology, really is worth listening to (hi The Economist!) and you may find yourself listening to particular bits again during the day.

After 3am
I've found that regardless of the subject, if I find it vaguely interesting and I've not heard it before 15 mins controlled by timer on my media device (still an Ipod Classic) will knock me right to sleep after 10 in the evenings. 30 mins will knock me right to sleep after the 3am Hour of the Wolf intermission (+ banana) and here is the latest finding.. if I wake 5-6ish again as normal if I then let the media device run without a timer and start to doze the next time I wake it will be daylight outside, which I have to say personally speaking is INCREDIBLE way to greet the day after 40 years of insomnia.

And here is the interesting thing
 - If I use a timer at this 5-8am doze time I will awake immediately after the timer stops the audio.
If I let the audio run without setting the timer I sleep on about 1+ hour later. The audio actually prolongs the snooze.
Some part of the subconscious which ordinarily is getting ready for the start up into conscious mode seems to get pre-occupied, delaying the wakeup. Is it actually distracted with audio topics - or more likely cataloging human conversation? I don't know - I have varied awareness of what is being said and often get great REM sleep (as confirmed by my sleep tracker).

It;s possible this is all very personal to me - I've been told I'm naturally a great listener and it it has become a central part of my business
but I now know of at least two of my friends who control audio in this way to prolong sleep,

Dreamlands explorers kit
fitness tracker (Jawbone UP3)
Media player (Ipod classic or old smartphone with sleep timer app)
Eye shades
earphones (best for comfort sleeping after 3am Hour of the Wolf intermission)
small speakers around bed (best for kicking off sleep initially and later morning snoozing)
Economist subscription

for snacks -

Of course you may have a partner which objects to all this.  Or they may find your new refreshed self an improvement in terms of moods and life quality. If not there is always separate beds, which might liven the sex up as well!

The downside of exposing your subconscious to this regularly is that possibly you find yourself heavily heavily immersed in current events and find yourself for example, on holiday volunteering to help a foreign political campaign.

Other wierd sleep notes
For some reason dieting often has me awake early in very low emotional states, to the extent that I often I cry or scream myself awake.
I cut down on the dieting.
It stopped :-)

Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901)

Sunday, 26 February 2017

IMMORTAL BELOVED (1994) reignites optimism for the future of the past

IMMORTAL BELOVED (1994)  is a great intro to a haunted, superhuman musician, and the disillusionment and hopelessness of Europe under Napoleon. It features career best performances from Gary Oldman & Isabella Rossellini and comes from noted horror film director Bernard Rose (CANDYMAN).

It's not perfect, it has a few ripe moments but is always entertaining and never dull. The presence of Barry Humphries as Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich should be an indicator of how bonkers/fearless the movie is. Imagine Ken Russell's GOTHIC turned down to 11, with an even better soundtrack :-)

But the date it was released, 1994, is of more significance.

Immortal Beloved's musical climax is a German masterpiece for humanity, the 9th Symphony. This piece of music is used as the EU national anthem, and is hinted at in the movie when one scene cuts directly to a field of stars, highlighting whole plot as a story of painful but triumphant reconciliation.

 1994 might be seen as a peak period for the EU and reminder of the optimism of the time. It was the year Schengen Agreement started and the year before Srebrenica. The introduction of the Euro was five years away. It seems an aeon from from our new world of dangerously imbalanced Eurozones and what will doubtless be corporate Anglo-American trade areas.

Despite the events (so far) of 2017 the optimistic worldview of 1994 still inspires. Exposed so much to politics I've lost myself in music recently and it's hard to listen to 9th Symphony without thinking that the vision of international reconciliation and harmony IS inevitable over a long period. I'm also reading Neal Stephenson's Seveneves, which has a similar "we will overcome - together" optimistic worldview.

One of the supposed ongoing threats to the human race is the Emerging Virus. A biological time bomb, like Ebola, which waits for the encroachment of civilization to emerge and attack human society. They are dangerous but unlikely to be fatal to the human race as a whole. We can wait them out.

Perhaps the idea of the Emerging Virus could be applied outside the biological, and applied to ideas, religious and political. What if the political turmoils of 2017 are just virulent viruses exposed by expanding civilisation to the sunlight before they dry up and blow away?

It has been obvious for years that the last decades struggle with Muslim fundamentalism is a predictable clash between what are now excepted values of human rights and the final holdouts of medieval culture. What were impenetrable parts of the world  are now permeated by the internet, much to the frustration of those power structures which would seek to perpetuate them. To consider them a long term threat to our way of life is to give them way too much credit. Their desperate struggles to survive are, like the Populists I will get to in a moment, merely hastening the end of their own dead ideas.

Looked over a long term we can see the beginnings of the final death gasp of organised religion, and that the persistent image of religion going forward will not be the crescent or the cross but two burning towers. The horrors of ISIS and Boko Haram and the others might seem intimidating in the short term but these actions will resonate through the generations. The future vision of the human race, if there is one, won't come from a cave in Afghanistan, and the last spasms of ISIS and their ilk make this obvious even in our short term perspective. Over a long period we can perhaps see the War on Terror as an inevitable reaction to the remorseless sweep of modern civilization over the globe from the most reactionary areas. A doomed reaction as the death gasp only highlights the redundancy of the medieval ideas it seeks to protect.

I think we can just start to the same with what they are calling 'Popularism':  the forces of Trump, Farrage, Le Pen were always likely to crawl out from under a rock in reaction to some crisis but are clinging to a nationalism which cannot survive the end of this century.  Under pressure from environmental and economic factors the sums just do not work for isolationism going forward.

And, real decider of course, the glowing elephant in the room with regard to nationalism, is nuclear proliferation. Nationalism and atomic weapons are a fatal mix - certainly for Nationalism in the long term. In the same way that the Twin Towers will be the image to define and warn against the influence of religion going forward, Trump and his followers will fill history books about the fall of the nation state.

I would seek to preserve my culture and your culture as much as we possibly can, that is what keeps us human after all. But if the alternative is Radioactive Ruins and Cockroach Culture, the flags and the d**kheads who wave them will be gone before long, one way or another.

Arthur C Clarke was a good judge of the future events. In 3001: The Final Odyssey he predicts the end of the nation state at 2050 (see below).

I'm more conservative, I'll say 2060.

"3001: The Final Odyssey," (c) Copyright 1997 by Arthur C. Clarke

She was the first visitor with a fluent command of Poole's own
English, so he was delighted to meet her.
'Mr. Poole,' she began, in a very business-like voice, 'I've been
appointed your official guide and - let's say - mentor. My
qualifications - I've specialized in your period - my thesis was
"The Collapse of the Nation-State, 2000-50"