Reading Yourself to Sleep

This essay presents a technique that can be helpful for those with trouble falling asleep, or those who would like to advance their dream practice by achieving an increased awareness of the transition from wakefulness to sleep.  

Falling asleep has never been easy for me. My parents were well aware of this fact as my childhood self would make frequent late night trips into their room, looking towards the comfort of their presence as a salve for my fear and insomnia. 

My mom is herself a lifelong warrior in the struggle against unwanted wakefulness, and my constant arrival in her and my father’s bedroom at odd hours of the night was a huge nuisance. She was quick to give me a piece of advice that I have been using ever since to help myself fall asleep. 


Grab a good book, slip under the covers, start reading, and before you know it, find yourself reading right off the side of page, your mind drifting into a funky creative territory as your eyes start to droop and your head goes limp. 

You snap out of it, determined to consume another page, but you know that for better or worse, sleep is on the way. These little blips in the flow of normal waking thought are called hypnogogia. For someone with problems falling asleep they are a welcome arrival. 

As I’m reading my way to sleep, I continue until these hallucinations become overwhelming enough to put my book aside and turn off the light.

This is where my tried and true strategy hits a major road bump - one that I only just recently discovered a solution to. As soon as I set aside my book, my mind goes back into internal dialogue mode. I start thinking about a recent conversation or a trip I want to plan. In this state of mind, the hypnogogia often recedes, and I find myself once again laying awake unable to sleep. 

The solution came to me as I started considering what it is about the state your mind goes into while reading that makes it easier for hypnogogia to manifest compared to when you are thinking. When you are reading, your mind is an open, receptive state - observing and consuming information. Thinking by contrast, is a creative activity. You are planning, responding to your own thoughts, and actively generating the next line of internal dialogue.

Thinking aligns the conscious mind with creation. Reading aligns the conscious mind with consumption. 

Sleeping and dreaming correspond more closely with reading in this sense. In these states, the subconscious takes the reins of the mind’s creative engine, while the conscious mind sits back and observes. This is explains why it’s easier for the experiential logic of dreams to manifest in the mind of a reading person than a thoughtful one. 

This train of logic lead me to a thought(less) experiment which I recommend trying. After you set aside your book for the night and turn off the light - keep reading. 

Refuse to let the mind drift into a train of internal dialogue and instead look for the words etched in light onto the blankness of your mental blackboard. If there were anything there to read, what would it be? Once you have read one line or phrase, look for that next word instead of thinking it.

You might find that as you read in the darkness, hypnogogia greets you even more effortlessly than it does during normal reading. It is easier to hold the images, content and sensations of these hallucinations in awareness, observing them and surrendering to them as they shuttle you into the land of dreams.