Sleep or meditation

“As a result, the treated subject appeared to lose its sanity and disappeared.” Unfortunately, this also seems to happen to blogs where the owner takes up a practice of meditating for hours a day. It seems to work fine in moderation though. Well, at least for the not disappearing part, so far. For the rest, judge for yourself.

We humans, and most animals, seem to have been made to sleep. Nocturnal animals sleep during the day, diurnal animals sleep during the night. Humans seem to naturally sleep some 9 hours a night, although most of us can get by just fine on 8, 7.5 or even 7. Much less than that and the majority will start to experience negative side effects.  Some have trouble even on less than 8.

Since our furry friends also need sleep (and feathered and scaled ones too), it seems pretty obvious that this need is biological rather than psychological. I mean, you could tell someone that hunger is just a feeling, and he may believe you strongly enough to go on without eating for quite some while, but he would invariably fall ill after a while. It is the same with sleep, if not more so. Pretty much any healthy person can go a week without food (as long as they have water, at least!) but a week without sleep is virtually impossible to arrange, no matter how much you engage the person to keep them awake. And even should you succeed, most will turn clinically insane before the week is over.

So why then is it a scientific fact that some meditation gurus can get by on half as much sleep, or in extreme cases even less?  And that even while they sleep, they still remain self-aware at the very least? Is it a miracle, a divine intervention overruling the usual laws of nature?

Actually there is a more this-worldly explanation, not that this world is not a miracle if you look at it in a certain way. But anyway! When you meditate, your brain waves gradually become synchronized across most of your brain. This also happens during sleep (except for the intense dream sleep, also called REM sleep). We spend some time early in the night in such REM sleep, especially as children and then gradually less over the years. Likewise we also spend some time, especially at the start of the night, in deep slow-wave (“delta”) sleep.  But most of the night is taken up by theta and very low alpha sleep. And this is brainwaves we can also have while meditating.

Usually people spend their meditation time generating alpha waves. This corresponds to a state of quiet and relaxed awareness. The same frequencies appear naturally when we lie down and begin to relax toward sleep, if we don’t have insomnia. Actually, people who start meditating will have a tendency to fall asleep if they get too comfortable.  But for an experienced meditator it becomes easier to stay awake and aware during meditation, and eventually more aware throughout the day… and finally throughout the night, for a few. Those who are able to reliably meditate even during the deeper theta waves, will basically get much of their “sleep” while meditating. The body and the brain both relax, but they remain aware instead of their mind drifting through fragmentary dreams.

So you may say the distracting functions of the brain are asleep, but the awareness is not. This, I believe, is how it works. But anyway, it works, but you are unlikely to see much of it if you start meditating during your midlife crisis. It tends to take a couple decades to get that far even if you start while you are young.


What else appeared to me in this context was acceptance. I had this idea that a lot of our sleeping brain activity is about problems, things we struggle with, things we fear or hope for, things we can’t let go of. I know that my own dreams at the beginning of the night tends toward the nightmarish – criminals, accidents, huge spiders –  while late in morning the dreams are often erotic or social, or occasionally religious. So it is a subconscious – or at least unconscious – form of thinking that is more involved than thinking in words. A form of processing. Working through our fears and worries toward what we really wish for.

What if we become more accepting of reality? What if we pare down our worldly desires and our attachment, and thereby eventually our fears? Then the brain would simply not have the need to do a lot of processing of that kind, right? So that may also be another mechanism by which meditation and similar spiritual practices reduced the need for sleep. It may be a two-pronged attack, both psychological and biological.


Unfortunately for the topic, I cannot explore this in my personal life. I am not a guru or anything. I began meditating when I was fairly young – in my late teens if memory serves – and did so actively for a while. But I had some experiences that seemed supernatural, and decided to cut down on meditation to avoid this. So after that I meditated only when I felt an intense need for it, for the most part, until now in my middle age where I have experimented more systematically with meditation and brainwave entrainment. (They are not the same thing.)

It does seem from my experience that using deep brainwave entrainment (delta frequencies) does reduce the need for sleep a bit and generally makes me less sleepy during the daytime. But I have not tested using theta brainwave entrainment for several hours a day, to emulate the hours spent in theta each night. I am not sure I am motivated for it even now, even for the sake of science.  Perhaps you or I will come across the writings of some actual guru who can tell us from firsthand experience. I am perfectly happy to take this second- or even third-hand. At least for now. You never know who I will be in the future, if any.



Our 3 bodies & their sleep

Is this physical body my true form? Well, probably more so than a unicorn (your unicorn may vary), but it is not the only body. In a manner of speaking.

You may be unaware that you have (at least) 3 bodies. I did write about it last year when I worked my way through the ILP book, but you may not have been there, or it may not have made a deep impression on it, perhaps because you have been busy taking care of your family and have not had time to stare intently at your own soul.  (Or navel, though chances are you won’t find your soul there. But at least your navel may remind you of just how much you owe your mother. Hopefully staring at your soul will remind you of your celestial Parent as well.  But not while your own kids are starving. Or, more likely, pulling each other’s hair out.)

So, as I try to say, you can verify this by observing yourself. Or you can just take it on my stubbly face value, because I am going on to the next point. Follow if you dare.  For I venture into the land of sleep.

I said Saturday that dreams are the realm of the subtle body, or at least so say the sages.  The subtle body (or “energy” body) is conscious in your dreams, but you are not conscious of being conscious.  Not very much, at least.  You may still be able to remember fractions of your dreams, if you take the time and strive to memorize them and put them into words before they disappear.

It is possible to have one’s waking consciousness while dreaming. This is called “lucid dreaming”.  This is largely a matter of training (doing reality checks at set points in waking life until you start doing them in your dreams), although it may also become inevitable given enough meditation or similar practices.  However, the lucid dreaming that comes from technique is often used for wish fulfillment, whereas the lucidity that follows from meditation is a passive observation.

This passive observation even takes place in the deep, dreamless sleep.  This sleep is said to be the domain of the “causal body”, which we may also call spirit body.  The individual human spirit (or spirit-soul, as opposed to the mind-soul usually studied in psychology) is the lowest level of us that can be differentiated from the Divine, as far as I know.

((I say this from the perspective that humans are an epiphenomenon of the Divine, somewhat like waves arise from the sea and are not separate from the sea, but the sea is different from the waves and does not have the properties of waves that make them waves.  But that’s just how I see it right now; don’t bet your eternity on it.))

Even if you are a goddamning atheist, you still spend some time in deep, dreamless sleep.  Unless you are old, you do so each night, although the time spent in such slow-wave sleep is fairly short in adults and keeps shrinking with age. This is the deepest, most restful sleep, but strangely it is also when sleepwalking and night terrors (not nightmares, just a formless fear) occur.  In this deep dreamless sleep there is still a kind of knowledge, a faint awareness. Awareness not of name or person, and not of memories of the past.

In a sense you can think of meditation as exercising this “causal body”. As you make progress in this, after some years (decades usually) you start to have a witnessing awareness at all times.  This witnessing awareness is the nature of the causal body.  Usually it is so faint that you don’t really notice it in everyday life, except as a fundamental notion that you are the same person even though your body has exchanged nearly all of its atoms, even though your hopes and dreams have changed, even though your loves and hates have changed, even though your political affiliations have changed, even though your religion has changed.  You are still there, observing all that happens, quietly, silently. This internal “I am” is the most we usually notice of the causal body, but in its field of consciousness all phenomena arise and pass.

As the connection, or identification, with the causal body grows stronger through meditation or other spiritual practices, you may start to experience the same kind of awareness during deep sleep.  I don’t do that, though it happened once by accident. Only a few people have come that far, and they tend to not sleep a lot anymore anyway, as they don’t need it that much.

As I have mentioned, I usually spend some time in delta brainwave entrainment in the morning.  (Delta waves are the slow waves associated with dreamless sleep.) I am for the most part not conscious during that time, although that is what it was originally meant for.  I guess I am just lazy. I use it to induce dreamless sleep in the morning, when such sleep does not occur naturally.  It only happens at the very beginning of the night naturally. But even though I am not awake, I am sometimes present to the degree that if dream fragments arise – pictures or drifting thoughts – I turn them away and go back to the silence.  This is a practice of meditation, where we do just that, detach from images and thoughts. To myself I call this “meditative sleep”. I am not sure if it can happen without entrainment, but I mention it for context.

I hope this was of a little interest.  I suppose I may also mention that according to the Japanese religion “Happy Science”, when you die you wear an “astral body” that looks and feels like the one you used to have. But after some weeks, it has become more idealized.  If you died from wounds, they will heal; if you died from old age, you will grow younger, and you will start wearing your favorite color.  But when you move on upward, you lay off the astral body as well, and ascend in just your soul.  So at the 6th dimension for instance, that is what you wear.  You are still humanoid, but your appearance is more up to you, based on your thoughts rather than just habit.  And a couple more dimensions up, you lay off even that and spend your time as merely rays of sentient energy.  Or that’s what they say.

I don’t know anything for sure about the afterlife myself.  But if we instead look at it as if we look inward in ourselves, it seems pretty reasonable.  First you have your habitual mind, which identifies with your body.  Deeper down you have the spirit-soul, the deeper individual.  And finally you have the actual spirit, which is not really human in the sense that our body is.  It is more like… well, to quote the Bible, “The spirit of a human is a Lamp of the Lord.”  In other words, it is a light source that gets its light from the Light itself.

Now, the spirit is not easily observed.  But through simple scientific meditation you can pick up the rest of the “bodies” fairly easily and within reasonable time. It is not some kind of fable.  It can be verified by anyone who bothers to take the time and keep at it for a while.  We can certainly discuss the wisdom of referring to these layers as “bodies”; I am not too comfortable with it myself, but I am a bit short of good expressions in any European language to describe them, so for now I’m sticking with it.

Holosync vs. LifeFlow

Or, more exactly, not. Something I have noticed on the Project Meditation forum is that there are people who go for LifeFlow because it is cheaper than Holosync, which they have considered before or even started with. (I am guilty of picking up LifeFlow after Holosync as well, although for other reasons. Holosync has a lot more PR, so people tend to discover it first.)

The thing is, the two competitors have quite different approaches. You cannot just substitute one for the other and use them in the same way, then expect the same results. Oh, there are similarities: They both use binaural beat technology to create a standing wave in the brain of a desired frequency, and they both warn their users that this may cause weird experiences as formerly unconscious material comes to the surface. Even unpleasant or scary stuff to some degree. But they both maintain that for most people, the pleasant experiences dominate. And reports from several users seem to bear all of this out.

However, Holosync uses more of a “brute force” approach. They start with delta waves from day one, which may be nice if you want to substitute meditation for sleep, but is very hard to assimilate. They actually claim that the intention is to overload certain parts of the brain in the hope that it will reorganize on a higher level of efficiency. I have mocked this in the part, I hope, saying that if so they should play the sound of screaming babies. No other sound overloads my brain at least faster than that. Clearly that cannot be what happens, or at least not the only thing that happens.

LifeFlow takes a different approach. While meditation is optional with Holosync, it is a central part of the recommended use for LifeFlow. And LifeFlow starts with pure alpha wave soundtracks, a form of brain waves that occur naturally in humans while awake, although it is most common just as we are about to fall asleep. Still, many people experience alpha waves simply by relaxing and closing their eyes. And if that is not, rolling the eyes back gently (as if trying to look through your forehead right above your nose, the so-called “third eye”) will usually trigger it. To further recognize this type of brainwaves, you will notice that it is incompatible with mathematics and other stuff that normally would make you furrow your brows to solve problems. Even long sentences may be hard to handle in this mode. However, you are still very much aware, in fact in some ways more than before. More present, perhaps. And sounds may sometimes seem louder.

Anyway, you should be able to recognize the alpha waves from daily life. If all goes well you should be able to spend most of the meditation session in this state. Not that you can’t do that without artificial stimuli too. But after about a month, you move on to a slightly deeper alpha level. Each month you get access to a deeper frequency. After something like three or four months, you are within the range we call theta waves. I think those are kind of overrated, they appear naturally in shallow sleep if I understand it correctly. Contrary to the claims on their website, vivid dreams (REM) actually use beta, same as waking thought and experiences. Although in me at least, dreams during shallow sleep can be scaringly intense and lifelike, as I have written about earlier this spring.

Over the course of about a year, you gradually get used to lower and lower frequencies, until you can supposedly experience delta waves and remain conscious, or at least aware. I wonder about that. It probably takes much longer time for most. But at least it should be theoretically possible.

I still use Holosync to wake up in the morning. It has a great combination of the meditative background sounds and the clanging of metal bowls that helps keep one awake even if sleepy. But I am not so sure about the psychoactive effects. The standing wave seems to remain confined to the deeper layers of my brain (and it probably is real, since I seem to need less sleep when I use it regularly) but my mind is not affected, or not noticeably.

This may be just as well, since without getting used to lower frequencies gradually, I would almost certainly go into deep sleep. The ability to retain witnessing awareness during deep sleep is something only the most adept meditators experience. (Although it can happen spontaneously once or a few times in life for others. It happened to me once when I was sick and had been awake at a time where I should normally be in deep sleep. I did fall asleep again, but somehow I did not lose consciousness completely. I have described it as a single candle somehow burning in the lightless deep somewhere in the ocean, hundreds of yards below the surface and its light, but it was not actually scary, and it was not actually a candle, just the “light” of awareness. Perhaps a better description is in the song by G.O.L: “All sound had died away, and it was quite dark. But in the void and in the silence, there was still a kind of knowledge, a faint awareness. Awareness not of name or person, and not of memories of the past. The awareness knew only itself.” Unlike the rest of their song, however, the experience was absolutely peaceful and not at all creepy. Merely detached awareness, without reflection or wishes.)

Now, I have no such experiences with either Holosync or LifeFlow, and I don’t know if I ever will. Probably not. I seem to be quite resistant to the actual experiences, which is ironic since I can have intense experiences of alternate states from music or sometimes silent meditation. But I hope to continue my experiments for some time to come, if I have some time to come at all. (Not that I know anything else.)

There went my Sunday


Marrying a magical robot catgirl makes a lot more sense once you’re a vegetable. But that was my sims’ Sunday. How about mine?

I think I slept more than nine hours this night. And that does not include the half hour I was up in the morning before I crawled back to bed. It seems to me that the new MindFlow meditation actually makes me more sleepy, instead of less sleepy as Holosync did. Or perhaps that’s just my mind playing tricks on me.

(There are reasons why I would suspect those different effects — the two of them try to provoke very different waves in the brain. But I won’t describe that again today.)

I have a bottle of soda standing beside my bed these nights. (Well, technically it is a mattress rather than a bed, but it serves as a bed for me.) Each morning when I wake up, I am so dry that they cannot even swallow unless I drink something first. I could of course use a bottle of water, which is healthier and practically free. But what’s the fun in that? Lukewarm water is just disgusting, but soda is always soda.

Having already slept so long that I had lunch for breakfast, I soon made my pasta dinner for lucnh. (Hey, it is Sunday, why not?) While I was making food, the landlord’s grandmother was doing something garden-related outside. She is in her 80es now, but arrived with a bike and worked for a good while.  She probably has the utmost contempt for my yard skills, and rightly so. Even the road and parking space could need some serious raking after the ravages of the over-eager snow plow. And dry leaves keep piling up on the lawns.

The good news is that as long as the grandmother (and former owner) can still garden here, it is higly unlikely that the house will be sold. I could still be replaced with a better tenant, of course, if the place gets too ugly, inside or out. This reminds me that I really should get rid of more stuff.  Like the issues of New Scientist that I did not find time to read last year. (I did not renew the subscription, at least.) Or the crate of comic books I brought with me from the old apartment, when I had given to the second-hand store the hundreds and hundreds of comic books I was not absolutely sure I would want to read again and again.  Or in other words, I only brought with me those I knew for certain that I would read.  Of course I have not even opened them.

If I don’t read comic books on a Sunday, what do I do?  I have continued to play my Sims 2 “Build a City” project, but it requires only a fraction of my attention.  Today I have started blogging it, which is a lot more work. Pictures to scale and cut and upload… and uploading anything is a trial in itself.  Even though I have a broadband connection, uploading is hit and miss.  Now this is ADSL, not true broadband – it is much broader for download than for upload. This surely fit most people, since they consume a lot more than they produce when it comes to the Internet. But it is worse than just that.  Even the current upload speed should easily be enough for my needs, but both pictures and even text often time out.  I have to disable the firewall again, and even then it is not a sure thing. It could be a Dreamhost problem, I suppose.

In any case, the new site for the Sims 2 challenge is up finally.  You can find it here, not that I think I have any shared readers between the Chaos Node and my sims imperium. Still, I mention it because it took its sweet time getting started. Hopefully future updates will take less time, now that I have a site for it and have found a form I like.

Oh! And I discovered a new online roleplaying game, Ether Saga Online. It is one of those Asian free-to-play games, less detailed and lifelike than EurAmerican MMORPGs like City of Heroes or World of Warcraft. On the bright side, these Asian games run on cheap or old computers. And as I said, they are free.  This one certainly looks Asian in every way, but it is in English and both of the servers are in the USA.

Unfortunately, there is not at all time to even try the game, much as I would have loved to.  I don’t even have time to play the games I already have!  But this must be a wonderful time to be a NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) and a Hikikomori (someone who never leaves their room).  Speaking of which, the founder of my Sims 2 city is a former NEET and Hikikomori, and references to otaku culture pop up repeatedly in the story.

Well, that should be plenty for one day!

Short update

Did not get enough sleep last night after all. Stomach acted up, almost certainly because I ate a burger for lunch the day before.  Even one of these a month is too much.  I haven’t gotten any fat poisoning yet, altough that would typically not be until late this night or tomorrow.  Actually it is already late this night.  But I hardly ate any more fat the rest of the day, apart from some Opera mints (chocolate filled mint drops).  I estimated that it would be just barely little enough fat to not trigger an attack, and was pleasantly surprised by how long it stayed in the stomach. The slower, the better in this case.

Anyway, got only little more than 5 hours sleep.  But did get an hour of Holosync done in the morning so that should go a long way to make up for it.  I have no personal experience of bliss or joy using Holosync, but it is hard to deny that it does seem to replace sleep quite efficiently, possibly even be better than sleep when used in moderation. (One hour a day.)

Have continued testing LifeFlow. Still no quivering with pleasure, despite my excellent headphones. Unfortunately it does not substitute for sleep at the level I am testing. Quite possibly the opposite.  I feel sleepier after using it than before.

Actually, I am sleepy right now.

HoloSync vs. sleep


There are several reasons for lack of sleep… although in my case, our supergroup’s weekly gaming night isn’t until Wednesday. And even then I’ve usually had to skip it. Perhaps HoloSync can fix that too?

There is still some vegetation in my sinuses, although it mostly only blossoms up over the workday. Perhaps my workplace is cursed, there certainly are plenty of people who have felt the reason to curse us. Or perhaps work just sucks. There was some poll here in Norway a few years ago among the people on disability pension, and the vast majority of them reported good or very good health. This upset some people, who thought these folks were just relaxing with a drinking straw in our tax money, and not even sick at all. But the thing is, they were almost certainly ill, and many of them gravely ill, back when they had to work. Conversely, if we had the year off, we would be practically bursting with vitality. Work sucks. Even the Bible says so. But it has to be done. Even if that means my sinuses run full of stuff you don’t discuss during meals.

So on the night to yesterday, I went to sleep at a decent time, but told myself that if I woke up early, I would just get up and do a Dive (the entry-level HoloSync session) instead of trying to sleep more and get my bronchia full of goo. This also came to pass, although I should probably not have gotten up after only four and a half hours of sleep. In retrospect. Hindsight. 20/20 and all that.

The reason why I got up was actually also that I had just finished a rather dramatic dream, by my standards. It was certainly more exciting to me than I am able to describe it, but every bit as exhausting. I will write it later in the entry if it looks too short.

Anyway, I did the extra sync (I also do one after I come home, sometimes right after and sometimes later in the evening, but well before bedtime so I don’t go to bed too rested). I fell asleep, as usual, but I guess it helped. I did not fall asleep at work, or at least not for long. (I have written repeatedly about the value of naps at work. I don’t have as many of them as I used to, but often a short one, which restores my energy greatly in only a few minutes. Naps are good. People should do those instead of smoking and drinking coffee, and the world would be a better place.)

Fast forward to this morning. I had gone to bed too late, for reasons that fall outside this entry. So I only had 5:30 hours to sleep, while the optimum for me is 6:30 to 7, depending on my energy level. I decided against adding an extra hour to the timer, knowing that this will likely incur a cost when I try to get back. My body does not “go back” when it comes to wake-up time. Add that to the intestinal routines of my morning (again outside the scope of this entry) and I would soon end up at work after lunch. So once again I put my trust in HoloSync.

You may already know that yogis, gurus and Zen monks get by on much less sleep than most people. Because they meditate hours a day, and have done so for decades, something has changed inside them so that some of the meditation time counts as sleep time. Should I explain the biology of that? Normal sleep consists of several phases, which follow each other in a 90-minute cycle. The two supposedly essential phases are delta (deep dreamless sleep) and REM (vivid dream), but there is also time spent in vague, non-vivid dream sleep. People who wake from that “filler” sleep often believe that they have been thinking rather than dreaming, more so the older they are. (This type of sleep becomes more and more lifelike over time, in other words. It also makes up more of the total sleep time.) It is also worth noting that in the beginning of the night, delta sleep makes up more of the 90 minutes, while toward the morning REM takes up more time and delta sleep dwindles.

People who meditate very deeply enter into brain/mind states that are similar to some of the sleep states, but with the difference that they are passively aware during them, conscious instead of unconscious. In extreme cases they are also passively aware (“witnessing”) during actual sleep. I don’t know if there is any benefit to that except that it is cool. But making do with less sleep certainly sounds like a benefit to me!

Now HoloSync (and its competitors in the binaural technology) induce these altered brain waves through technology. The Dive starts with alpha waves, which are common in deep relaxation and just before falling asleep. It then moves on to theta waves, which plays some role during REM and possible also during filler sleep (I need to check that again) and which is slower than alpha. Finally it moves down into delta waves for the last part of the 30 minutes it lasts.

There is a second track on the CD, which you can set to play right after the Dive once you have gotten used to it, and it keeps you in delta for another half hour. That is substantially longer than you normally stay in deep sleep in one go, unless you are badly exhausted. I only use the Dive yet, however.

This time I stayed awake during most of the Dive, and minimally aware even during the last part. Although I lost volition fairly early, so that I could not have looked at my watch even if I wanted to (which I might be tempted to, since I did not have much more than the half hour before I had to go to work). I was surprised at staying aware so much for so long, since during all my earlier listens I have fallen asleep fairly quickly. (It still has some effect as long as your headphones stay on though, so no big loss.) This time I even had a very brief lucid dream scene, nothing interesting really (I was running toward our mailboxes and saw them coming closer and closer) but it was kind of cool to watch this and know that it came from my brain entering theta waves. (I can not normally visualize, the way most humans can, when awake. It just does not work.)

I was a bit tired at work, but I am pretty sure it helped at least somewhat. Normally I would have needed a 7 hour sleep at least since I was already in sleep debt from the previous day.

I think only the last 10 minutes or so of the Dive is actual delta, and perhaps 10 minutes theta, so it hardly makes up for a whole lost sleep cycle. But it does seem to mitigate lack of sleep somewhat. If I ever move on to add the 30 minutes of delta in Immersion, I ought to report any changes in my sleep habits here.

It strikes me that there are two groups of people who could benefit from this side effect. The most obvious is those who suffer from insomnia. If you don’t fall asleep when listening to the HoloSync tracks, that is considered a Good Thing. It is more effective if you are conscious at the time and can listen to it. If you fall asleep after all, well, sleep is what you don’t get enough of, right?

The other group is those who suffer from alpha intrusion in their delta sleep. There is a meme going around in the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome camp that this alpha intrusion is found in most people with the illness, and I have seen some who think it may be a cause of the chronic fatigue itself. Delta sleep is important for regenerating the body. There needs to be more study of whether delta without sleep has all the same benefits, but the few tests that have been done show hormone levels changing as if the test persons got lots of delta sleep. So theoretically binaural beat technology might restore function to ME/CFS patients, although they might need to use it for a couple hours a day for the rest of their lives. Also, they would lose their disability pensions, but if they are anything like me, they would probably rather work than be sick. Even though work sucks, being sick sucks more.

OK, this got pretty long. The dream was about getting off the train by mistake and chasing it. Not very exciting, I’m afraid. Then again it wasn’t a lucid dream at all. Lucid people rarely get off the train hours before their station. Although I am sure it happens and is more interesting to hear about than my dreams.