Shards of Consciousness

Learn to Sleep Consciously - Part II

In the first article of this series I introduced the idea of conscious sleeping. It isn't a concept that is common in the West, but has a long history in cultures that have devoted more effort to exploring the inner world, such as India and Tibet. I detailed some of the benefits of learning to sleep consciously, and began sharing the techniques that will aid us in doing so.

This article will be devoted to the techniques to use when you lay down to sleep.

The Stages of Sleep

Normal human consciousness can be divided into two rough categories - waking and sleeping. Sleep itself has two rough divisions - REM (dreaming) and NREM (nondreaming). NREM sleep is usually divided into four stages, but stages 1 and 2 (light sleep), and 3 and 4 (deep sleep), are similar enough that here I'm going to look at them as two stages. Thus sleep has three phases - light sleep, deep sleep, and dreaming. As we go through a period of sleep, these follow one upon the other in roughly 90 minute cycles.

Normal waking consciousness is characterized by high body tone (tension), generally agitated breathing patterns, and a predominance of beta and alpha waves in the brain. Beta waves tend to denote a more active, alert state. Alpha waves denote a more relaxed state of mind and a lack of stimulation from the senses. You can actually trigger a burst of alpha just by closing your eyes.

As we lay down to sleep, our bodies begin to relax. Our breathing begins to slow and attain a more rhythmic pattern. As we enter light sleep, theta waves begin to predominate in the brain. We may see images or hear sounds that have no correlate in the physical world. Oftimes we can experience sudden jerks that bring us back to alertness. During this stage, if we are awakened, we often say we weren't asleep. In actuality, we were.

As sleep deepens, if we have not lost consciousness, we usually do so now. The body becomes more relaxed. Breathing becomes deeper and more rhythmic. Delta waves predominate in the brain. For most of us, the first half of our sleep time is dominated by deep sleep. The more fatigued you are, the longer you spend in this stage of sleep. It is during this time that much of the mechanical and chemical repair work of the body occurs. It is during this period that most sleep walking and sleep talking occur.

Roughly 90 minutes after going to sleep, we experience our first REM stage for the first time. A switch turns off our skeletal-muscular structure as our brains begin to exhibit a predominance of beta waves. Essentially, we are psychologically awake but have no contact with the exterior world. The first REM period usually last about 10 minutes, but REM periods increase as the sleep period procedes, until the last part of the night is spent predominantly in REM.

After an REM period, the cycle begins again. We spend the night going from light sleep to deep sleep to REM. Generally, when you wake up remembering a dream, you are awakening from an REM period. This is one of the first tricks to learning to remember your dreams - wake up at some multiple of 90 minutes. You are much more likely to catch hold of a dream.

Nighttime Practices

Much of the technique of learning to dream consciously revolves around consciously performing the acts that occur naturally as we fall asleep. In formalizing these behaviors, we are able to assist them in occuring more quickly and effectively.

Avoid Distractions

Marcus, in a comment on the first post in this series, remarked on the importance of minimizing distractions during the day as an aid to remaining conscious during sleep. This minimizing of distractions is even more important as bedtime approaches. You don't want to go to bed worrying about money, the fight you had with your partner, when to mow the lawn, who maimed who on CSI, or any of the thousands of other things that happen in our lives. The thoughts we take to bed will influence your night, making it more difficult to relax and influencing your dreams, so take this into consideration as you wind down your day.

Use Appropriate Posture

In Tibetan dream practices, your sleep posture is considered important. Laying on your side is usually recommended. If you chose to do so, feel your breath for a few moments, and lay on the side that has the nostril that is most open. Personally, I find laying on my back most effective. The only posture I recommend you don't use is laying on your stomach.

Intend to Remain Conscious

A random desire to sleep consciously is useless. As with so many things in life, you must have a focused, ongoing intent to do so. Think about this intent periodically throughout the day. Create an affirmation to focus the intent, and repeat it, with feeling, several times when you go to bed. Treat it as a prayer. You could do worse than to use this one -

May I awaken within this dream and grasp the fact that I am dreaming, so that all beings may likewise awaken, for the good of all, with the free will of all.

Most important is to create your own phrase, embodying your intent to remain conscious, and your motivation for doing so.

Breathe Rhythmically

As you saw, in the process of falling asleep, your breathing becomes deeper and more rhythmic. Rather than letting this happen unconsciously, become conscious of it. Breathe slowly and evenly. This will relax the mind and begin to relax the body. You must maintain focus, though. As you relax, consciousness will fray away if you allow it to do so.

Totally Relax

Next, totally relax. When most of us go to bed, we go to sleep within a few moments, but take with us tension in various parts of our body. Progressive relaxation will remove these tensions, allowing sleep to be more effective. In The Out of Body Experience and Lucid Dreaming I show an effective method of progressive relaxation. On a side note, some people experience a touch of nausea when lying prone and totally relaxed. This is why I earlier recommended you may want to have a little food in your stomach when you go to bed.

Conscious relaxation and rhythmic breathing reinforce each other, gradually sending the body to sleep while maintaining consciousness. At this point you have already accomplished something rare - entering the first stages of sleep with full consciousness, and knowledge that you are sleeping while conscious.


If you recall, in the first post of this series I recommended daily meditation, but meditation that was performed several hours before going to bed. Now we come to the reason for that. But.... You'll have to wait until next week. This article is already long.

In Part III of this series I'll start with an appropriate meditation technique to enter sleep consciously. In the meantime, you have several things to work on. These will take you more than a week to master, so why don't you start?

[tags]brain waves, sleep, conscious sleep, meditation, relaxation, rhythmic breathing[/tags]

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2 Responses to Learn to Sleep Consciously - Part II

  • Hey, thanks for this wonderful article! I've been practicing conscious living for the last several months. Gradually its been getting easier to sustain it for longer, but lately my biggest challenge has been going to sleep. Thoughts consume me, because I'm afraid that if I stay conscious, I'll be too alert, and will never fall asleep. Luckily this article was the first thing that came up in google search, so I'll try it tonight.

  • Barney,

    I hope it helps.

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