The simple and intuitive answer is Yes, and here’s a break down of my observations that demonstrate how this is true.
When we finish the day and put our head to rest on the pillow, finally, we cease activity, and this is when our nervous system shifts gears to complete digestion of the day's activities and associated hormones. If we have had breaks during the day that allowed our nervous systems to regulate and flow between activity and rest and digest, there will not be that much residual charge to process, and falling asleep comes soon. If however, our day was crammed full of non-stop activity without breaks, there will be more material to digest, and that takes longer.
Last summer I used Marie Kondo’s brilliant book to do a deep decluttering and organizing of my home. I took the time to observe every single item I own, and decide if it sparked joy, or served me in any relevant way. I concur with Marie that each object could be categorized as relating to past, present or future. Each item was holding associations and energy that took up real estate in my mind.
It’s the real estate in the mind that haunts us, the memories and regrets, the worries, fears and concerns for the future, the conscious or unconscious nagging that we need to do something with regards to these items each time we look at them, separately or in piles crammed into drawers or corners, piled up on the backs of chairs, reminding us that there is more to do, we are behind, we can’t keep up, there’s not enough time. Eventually, our mind tucks it all away in a vague uneasy feeling, a stressful feeling; we are suffering from abundance, it’s following us, and adding to what our mind attempts to process at the end of the day. It accumulates and gets bigger, more vague and shadowy as time goes on.
Take for example a cloths drawer stuffed full. You have bought new cloths and mixed them in with 10 year old pants that are threadbare and no longer fit. You have grown and matured, you no longer wear florescent miniskirts, you are not going back to Burning Man, and if you did, you would wear a completely different get-up. Every time you reach in to get dressed, the past is mingling with the present, and your brain registers confusion and disorder, and consciously or subconsciously adds sorting out the drawer to your already too long to do list. When facing choices, you are confronted with debris from the past that is irrelevant to the now and no longer sparks joy
Then theres concern for the future. Someday I might want or need X, Y and Z. Whether it’s a kitchen gadget, dress up business suit and heels, box of photos and memorabilia. We think someday we might use that, might want to make a cheese cake, might want to apply for a job at a corporation. This too adds to the storage chest in the mind, and is a distraction in the present that reinforces a fear that there is not enough, that I will not have what I need or the means to acquire it when I need it, I have to cling to what is here, because more is not coming. I may never have good times again so I need those mementos. The old box of stuff obstructs the view of the goodness that surrounds us in the present, what we have right now, the friends in our circle, the cloths we wear every day, the objects we use in our kitchen.
How many times have you noticed that once something is stuffed into a cardboard box, a barrier of resistance arises that blocks you from wanting to search for it when you need it?
If all of our belongings are swimming in a sea of past present and future, mingling and clinging together, every time we reach for something, we confront the cloud of vagueness, vagueness about ourselves and our purpose, our path in life, obstructing the view of the present. It haunts us in our mind when our head hits the pillow, especially if the bedroom is too full. And it can be that, simply too full. Too many choices, too many options to sort through, overwhelming choices in what could be simple living. Our minds are longing for an empty place to rest our vision, to give space around the things we love so that we can enjoy them.
I followed Marie Kondo’s book, I picked up each item, in the order she recommended, I did my cloths all in one day, and at four in the afternoon, I found myself in tears.
What were these tears about? Mostly grieving for who I have been, who I no longer am. Realizing the passage of time, the loss of connections, relationships, the changes in life circumstances, the simple loss of time, dreams realized and unrealized. Revealed were my worries and fears about the future, projections about who I am supposed to become, outdated visions and expectations, unrealistic visions and expectations. One by one, I held each item up in my hands, and released them to the Light of the Present Day, and my heart grew and swelled, doors opened, dark closets in my mind saw the Light of Illumination, gently sweeping clean the dusty corners, the vague nagging sense of overwhelm made way for clarity.
What came next really astonished me. Marie recommended that you keep letting go of stuff until you feel a click inside, signaling that you have arrived at the ideal number of belongings for you. I let go of a lot. I had a massive yard sale and made some money. I playfully hung my Burning Man outfits on hangers and felt true joy when someone walked off wearing my old treasures. I got rid of half used jars of cream, old herbs and vitamins, piles of plastic food containers.
Before I arrived at the “Click”, I had to do another sweep. For many categories of items, like moisturizer, I had to get down to one choice, and there I had my “click”. It was in simplifying the choices, or actually eliminating the choices all together. Just one face cream, just one bathing suit, just one pair of black boots. Simplifying to this degree was illuminating, and the miracles rolled in...rolled into areas I did not expect. My time was more free, my clarity with my money was increased, my ability to keep my house clean was magnified. There was freedom and space everywhere, oozing out of corners that had been stuffed full with mind numbing material. I could move with ease, I could breathe, I could count my blessings and appreciate each one, and my happiness and sense of well being grew.
It became easy to go to bed early, wake up early, and set out to accomplish my day with more clarity and energy. I felt more whole. There was no looking back, nothing I let go of came back to haunt me. Nothing saved for the future has become needed and lacking, and nothing from the past has brought regrets. I have times when spontaneous feelings that there is enough pop out of my mind unexpectedly and spread the sense of ease even wider, gleaning more space in my mind, expanding my sense of abundance and the feeling that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, that the now is a perfect and spacious place to live.
I cannot rest on my laurels however, as I discovered that space requires defending, at least this type of mental space. Objects sense my fortress of emptiness and seek refuge in my possession. From the tower in my decluttered castle, I have to defend the boundaries against give away free boxes, coupons, event postcards, sale items, broken gadgets, electrical chargers and technology cords. My “click” of perfect balance ebbs and flows, and my garden of peace has to be attended mindfully to maintain clear spaces, ease, shelves without stale bags of chips, lifeless droopy spinach in the refrigerator.
This is a battle worth fighting, for my peace of mind, for my space to sleep and wake without effort, to lighten the burden of processing at the end of the day on my way to rest, digestion and repair.
An astounding change also took place with regards to choosing what to buy and bring home. I now contemplate what I am acquiring, planning my wardrobe, estimating my food budget, considering pillows for the chairs. I pause, and wait before I buy, and the result is that I end up getting much nicer stuff that I truly love and adore by actually spending less money.
Marie’s title for her book is “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I found the process to be one infused with magic, the kind that makes things new and imbues lightness and sparkle. If our inside reflects our outside and our outside reflects our insides, the items we surround ourselves with are of utmost importance. Many of us long for deeper embodiment, health and passion in our lives, but how would we know when we arrive there, especially if we are buried in material possessions steeped in past memories in anticipation of a deprived future? Wouldn’t anyone just love to live full rich productive days followed by deep restorative dreamy sleep?
So yes, my conclusion is that less clutter equals better sleep. The task itself can seem like moving a mountain, but taking each item one by one invites a spacious and clear present, and before you know it, you are retiring unencumbered to the land of joyful sleep.
Many people already know that counting your blessings as a practice is uplifting, and can lead to greater well being. There is much information out there about following a daily practice of gratitudes, and how it can lead to health, happiness, and greater abundance.
I’m going to show you how to take that practice to the next level, and explain the mechanics behind how it works.
Those who work in the field of Somatic Psychology are familiar with the term “resource”. My understanding of this concept is based on the work of Peter Levine, as described in his book “Waking the Tiger”. Simply put, a resource is something in a person’s world that is solid and anchoring, something that when brought to mind, brings feelings of being safe, relaxed and strong. When a person focuses on a resource, their nervous system is strong and more anchored, which allows them to relax and let go of charged or uncomfortable energy in their bodies, which leads to greater wholeness and well being. That is an extremely simplified version of what can take a few years to study in depth.
Next, we have the Vagus Nerve, and a similarly oversimplified notion about this important nerve. This Tenth Cranial Nerve is named the Vagus, or wandering nerve, and it exits the brain and wanders down through the torso, embracing the heart, lungs and digestive tract along the way, enabling rest and digest functions of the body. Much research is now being focused on this nerve in relation to all kinds of functions.
According to the Mayo Clinic Website, Vagus Nerve Stimulation near the heart is being used to control epilepsy and chronic depression. “Researchers are currently studying vagus nerve stimulation as a potential treatment for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, headache, pain and Alzheimer's disease.”
What this means for us regular people, is that stimulation of the Vagus nerve can alter our chemical state and affect our bodies. I know of three really easy ways to gently stimulate your Vagus Nerve in the area of the heart without any sort of electrical device. They include humming, yogic ujjaya breath, and the Golden Gratitude Practice I am about to explain.
To do the practice, you simply bring to mind a resource, something pleasant, something that gives you strength and supports you, something you are grateful for. I often use the face of my mentor/teacher who has helped me in immeasurable ways on many levels.
See a picture of that resource in your minds eye. It could be a person, place or thing. If it is something intangible such as love, hope, or abundance, make up a symbol that represents it, maybe a sphere of color or a shape. I often use a golden infinity symbol.
Next, see that image surrounded in a golden bubble in a size that will fit in your heart.
Now gradually let that golden bubble with your image in there float down into your chest, right into your heart. Hold your awareness on your golden orb in your heart for a few moments. If you are using an image of someone’s face, you can visualize them looking up at you from your heart smiling. Just let your image be a medicine for your heart, and notice how you feel.
I will sometimes feel relaxation around my heart, and warmth. This is a sign that your image is sending relaxing messages to your vagus nerve, which will help your entire system to relax.
The sensations will become easier to feel with practice. You can focus on one image for just a few moments anytime of the day or night.
Another way that I use this tool is right before bed. I will make a list of 3-5 things that I am especially grateful for in the current day. I will take a moment for each item, and drop an image for it into my heart, allowing it to spread it’s medicine to my body.
For people experiencing turbulent thoughts right before bed, this practice can give you something to focus on instead, gently steering your focus away from the thoughts and towards the sensations of the feelings in your body.
In essence, in doing this practice you are using an image of your resource to stimulate your own Vagus Nerve, promoting the creation of feel good chemicals in your body, and allowing them to bolster your sense of happiness, relaxation, safety and well being.
I am so moved, inspired and also hopeful after picking up Matthew Walker, PhD’s book “Why We Sleep”. He has gifted the world with an easy to read summary of his twenty years of sleep research at UC Berkeley in an tasty and digestible form.
Here is a morsel from his conclusion,
“I believe it is time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the damaging stigma of laziness. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixer of wellness and vitality, dispensed through every conceivable biological pathway. Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake during the day, infused with the very deepest plenitude of being.”
So far, what I have been reading has only reinforced what I have come to know from the inside as I made my personal pilgrimage through devastating insomnia in my late 30’s and early 40’s, adrenal burnout in peri-menopause, and collaborating with sleep in my menopause.
I found through these years that there is not one magic bullet for ending lack of sleep, lack of resting, and burnout. I was willing to forge my own path, and live by my own clock and program. I had to. Now I am discovering that science is behind me, and my choices and discoveries were nature’s way of leading me to a cure.
Ending lack of sleep, or moving towards living in healthful wakefulness is a multifaceted endeavor that starts with willingness. I began 10 years ago offering small group classes to introduce the methods I found most valuable in finding healthful sleep. There would always be some point in the class when a participant would arrive at an impasse. Usually this would happen at the point when I was explaining why one should turn off the computer at 8pm, stop work, stop answering emails. This would be the double bind moment when a person’s drive to survive financially collided head on with the suffering with lack of sleep. Usually the need for sleep was defeated, and thrown under the bus.
Getting through this impasse is complex, and requires moving into a realm that is unfamiliar, unpopular and requires tough decisions. I challenge you to try it though, for health’s sake, for the one magical incredible life you have to live here right now.
If i could recommend one thing to you today to move towards more enriched wakefulness, I would implore you to turn off all electronics, TV, Computer, Phone Screen, iPad screen, and cease working by 8pm. Be a Ninja Warrior and just do it, and do it for one week. There are multiple reasons why this would be healthful ranging from reduction of stimulating blue light, and increasing melatonin to giving your nervous system time outside of work to digest your day and perhaps even enjoy your evening. With the enjoyment and time off comes the metabolizing of stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, and the production of a biological state conducive to happiness and relaxation. The more you do this before bedtime, the less it will keep you awake and restless during the time you need for deep restoration and reorganization of your brain.
In the free time you have created before you lay down to sleep, do something restful, something good for you that helps you digest your day. Here’s a list:
1. Talk to someone
2. Take a gentle walk outside
3. Read a paper book
5. Recall what you did today in sequence starting from the present back to when you got out of bed in the morning
6. Write out 10 things you are grateful for and feel the presence of each one
8. Take a bath
Then lay down to sleep.
If you can do this, you have taken a first step to reclaim your life from the Goliath of the Industrially Developed World.