Insomnia and Deafferentation

Ever notice that when you first lie down to go to sleep, you are inundated with all sorts of body irritants (itches, feet too hot or too cold, etc.) that seem to want to keep you awake? Strangely enough this hassle is good news. This is the first stage of falling asleep, and is the first indication that you have entered hypnagogia, also called sleep onset. It also raises the question of how we ever go to sleep with all this sudden increase in physical sensitivity. Well, we have an answer to that question: deafferentation.

I suspect that you have never heard of deafferentation. But electrochemical deafferentation is in large part what allows you to go to sleep with all this extracurricular physical awareness raging. (See In Pursuit of Sleep pages 32 and 88.) Hypnagogia, the period of time between being fully awake and being fully asleep, starts by making us less aware of our surroundings and more aware of our physical state. But hypnagogia also starts another process that transfers our awareness from our physical state to our psychic state. To do this, the mind starts to electrochemically shutoff our awareness of the physical state in favor of activating the psychic state, which of course is our mental processes. This process of shutting off the physical senses is called deafferentation.

Deafferentation of the physical senses is not total; however, it is enough to enable us to go to sleep despite our physical uncomfortableness. We are not totally oblivious to the external world either. The cry of a child will still wake us, as will the blast of a car horn next door. Still, deafferentation is our friend, and we should pay homage to it.

How do we go about that?

Once we know about deafferentation, we can pay homage to it by not panicking when we first get in bed and encounter all these physical and environmental impediments to sleep. This is that first level of emotional control we need to exhibit to keep us from sabotaging our own descent into sleep. It is much easier to not become demoralized right off the bat if we know that this little hero of ours called deafferentation is taking over.

Other sleep disciplines want you to exercise complete control over your sleep environment. CBT wants you to make your room as dark as possible, get rid of all extraneous sound, and ensure the room temperature is perfect. CBT also wants you to make your bedroom a place only for sex and sleep. I think this may be helpful for some but is mostly hogwash. Most people use their bedrooms as a refuge, and I see no reason to stop this. Also many elderly people live in constrained housing situations where their beds are frequently in their living quarters, making this recommendation impossible to fulfill. When you employ the Transition Trek (In Pursuit of Sleep, Chapter 4 Charging the Gates of Slumberland), it shoves all this into the background and directs your attention toward sleep. Controlling your thought process through providing psychic images and sounds puts you fully in the psychic world and directs you toward Slumberland. This is all accomplished by following the Transition Trek.