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Sleep Modelling Project – Skill: Sleeping Like a Genius

by Vikki Rimmer(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 272 - August 2021

The demand for help for insomnia peaked during lockdown and as an NLP coach and clinical hypnotherapist I helped lots of clients resolve their sleep issues. This, almost daily, focus on the secrets of beautiful sleep prompted me to set up a modelling project to discover whether there was a unique recipe for success.  Since the early days of  NLP, the leaders in the field like Richard Bandler, John Grinder[1] Robert Dilts, promoted the process of modelling,[2)] with the simple underlying notion that if you want to be good at something, copy, or model someone who does it very well.

When people are amazing at doing something they quite often have no idea how they do it, they’re in the flow, and their genius skill is something they ‘just know’ how to do. Take the snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan, it’s generally agreed in snookering circles that he’s an absolute genius. He’s the best player to have ever picked up a cue. His skills are legendary. But in press interviews, following his matches, Ronnie can’t really break down the secret recipe - he’s either in the flow or he’s not. He’s either having a good game or a bad one.  He may contradict himself - sometimes he’s played well because he’s practised, sometimes he will play brilliantly because he’s not practised at all!!

People who are good at sleeping ‘just do it’. What can we learn from them?

Cover Coach yourself to Sleep

I put out a plea to interview fantastic sleepers, people who knew just how to go to sleep, easily and quickly every night.  I spoke to lots of people who declared themselves to be wonderful sleepers.  And while each person had their own ‘practice’, there were recognizable patterns shared by all participants in the modelling project.  It became clear that there was a definite process. Knowing what we now understand about the brain’s ability to relearn and reshape behaviour - it’s neuroplasticity- finding these recognizable patterns with my genius sleepers was really exciting.

Every time we learn something new our brains form new connections which can make the existing pathways in our brains stronger or weaker. The more we practise something, the stronger the pathway gets. If we practise poor sleep really well, then we will run that neural pathway quickly and easily. If we learn to practise sleep well then that new practice will become stronger and the old practice will wither on the vine as it goes out of fashion.

In order to practise something, we have to first decide or make a choice to do it. Rather like a robot, we can select the process we want to execute. At the heart of things, as humans, we are logical beings that know we need to learn skills to progress and to survive!

The more sleep geniuses I interviewed for the project, the clearer it became that although these highly empathetic people expressed every human emotion in the day, when it came to sleep, they switched into a logical mode. They became ‘sleep robots’, like the woman who wouldn’t discuss family problems with her husband after 8pm - there was a logical and defined cut-off period where that behaviour wasn’t welcomed! This systematic approach to sleep illustrates perfectly that there is a ‘mode’ or a ‘behaviour’ that we can model together as you read on and practise the exercises.

Common Practices Among Good Sleepers

The sleep geniuses who took part in the modelling project, all agreed that at night time, they let their logical brain take charge and literally ‘shifted’ as you do when you’re changing gear in a car, from daytime emotional mode to Night Mode or ‘sleep’. Much like a computer shutting down gently and going to sleep, in Night Mode, my sleep geniuses allowed their emotional applications to slowly close and their night routine to take them through the remainder of their shut down. In the same way that a Windows programme or a Mac shuts down in a certain order, the sleep geniuses performed their individual ritual dance, that for them had become a well-choreographed routine.

One sleeper described their evening routine like this: “my husband and I know just what to do. We turn the television off and one of us goes to the bathroom while the other runs the tap in the kitchen and draws two glasses of water, then we cross over in the hallway and then one cleans their teeth while the other goes to the kitchen to retrieve the glasses of water. Then when we get into bed we cuddle for ten minutes, then turn out the lights, and roll to ‘our positions’, me on my right side, facing away from him, and then I slow my breathing and sleep comes.” And while this beautifully choreographed routine may sound robotic to some, it’s actually just a set of automated processes that work because they are connected to a confident knowing state of sleep.[3]

Another participant reported saying the same thing each night to her partner as they fell asleep: “the train is coming into the station” (apparently a French saying!). To the untrained eye this sounds like a strange thing to say as you fall asleep, but to someone interested in hypnotherapy and state change, and how we can use our minds to affect our bodies, this sounds like an embedded command for sleep.

I put together a set of questions to illicit answers that would illustrate how the sleeper represented their world just before bed; their visual cues, internal commands, anchors and core beliefs. I wanted to know whether the sleeper had good role models as a child, what emotions they associated with sleep and whether they taught it to others (their children/partners, friends) in the form of pearls of wisdom.

I asked each sleeper to take me through their afternoon and evening, and then the process of ‘falling’ asleep.  In essence, asking how they ‘framed’ the process of sleep.[4] As expected, everyone’s daily routines and evening practice differed to suit their needs and their environment, but it was clear that, for all, there was a ‘winding down’ pattern that began early in the evening. This winding down wasn’t necessarily ‘physical’ but was instead a  mental wind down.  Some participants reported being incredibly active up until bedtime, drinking caffeine and even reading screens in bed (going against traditional or perceived wisdom) but they all appeared to have a mental wind down that helped bring sleep on quickly.

At times, it was difficult for the participants to break down the process and explain it because they explained it as ‘automatic’ and something they ‘just did’. It became clear through the interviewees’ answers that there was a logical thought process underpinning the description of their practice – it seemed almost ‘robotic’. 

Some participants reported being ‘very emotional' in all other aspects of their lives, but logical when it came to sleep.  It was instinctual for all – a basic need, like feeding oneself.  It wasn’t something they would withhold from themselves, in the same way they wouldn’t withhold food.  They ‘allowed’ themselves to welcome in sleep and trusted their unconscious mind to get on with it.

Most participants reported having a ‘cocoon’, ‘a bubble’ or a ‘space’ that was theirs – something they ‘created’ for themselves either in the evening or when they got into bed which increased a sense of ‘inner peace’. 

Importance was placed on ‘tidying away’ the day, putting things to one side either ‘boxing it off’ or compartmentalizing it, e.g. praying and offering up the challenges of the day to a higher person - someone else to take care of it while they slept.

Much like with the shutting down of a computer, as the apps close one by one, I noted a shutting down move in the sleepers from; visual representations, to auditory representations and then kinaesthetic representations. So from 3 representation systems, to 2, down to 1 and then they were asleep.[5]

Most participants reported falling asleep on their right side, with a kinaesthetic aid - smelling their partner, their sheets, feeling the softness of the pillow, holding a teddy, holding themselves (in foetal position), just before sleep overcame them.

Even though some participants said they had ‘no sleep routine’, when questioned, it became clear that there was a repeated pattern that occurred for each almost every night.  And while the times they cleaned their teeth, whether they drew a glass of water or cuddled their partner and chatted or slept alone differed, there was a particular pattern that was shared by all. 

The Importance of Beliefs

All of the sleep geniuses I spoke to loved sleep and believed they deserved it and it became clear, the more people I interviewed, that the beliefs we have about sleep are absolutely integral to the success we have.[6]

All participants shared similar beliefs – sleep was animalistic, a birthright, a given ‘just something I do’ etc. All participants reported viewing sleep as being ‘pleasurable’ and something they ‘loved’.

The second key element to modelling in NLP is - once you have discovered the secret recipe of how someone does something, break down the process and either teach it to yourself or others.

The pattern below illustrates the pattern employed by everyone I interviewed.

Findings

  1. Great sleepers often Take time out in the day to mentally look forward to going to bed. They picture their bed with sensuous detail,  lovely colours (the colours that feel right for them) they imbue it with comforting feelings, e.g. the softness of the pillows, the lightness of the sheets.  They reported spending some time building that picture in their mind and consciously looked forward to being on that space later in the day;
  2. As bedtime approached they modified their internal voice, lowered the volume and speed and chose to speak to themselves kindly with words associated with calm. They spoke to themselves in this voices as they went about their routine e.g. cleaning teeth, getting a glass of water,  allowing themselves  to get lost in the act of preparation;
  3. Laying aside the day. Many people ensured that everything was completed and put away - laying aside their day. Some people left their day in the hallway - the conversations they’d  had, the things left unsaid, the things they wanted to do tomorrow - they left them in the hallway like a bag they could choose to pick up tomorrow morning, if they wished to;
  4. As they enter led the bedroom, they slowed their breathing and began the process of deep relaxation allowing the images of the day to recede and to float gently towards the doorway, and out;
  5. As they got into bed, they allowed themselves to feel the love they’d stored here mentally in this space in the daytime. Luxuriating in this feeling, their bodies relaxed into this space.  As they moved around, they moved gracefully and slowly, allowing themselves to feel their body, their breath and the bed;
  6. Wave goodbye to thoughts: if they still had thoughts to process, they allowed themselves to do that for five minutes and then when five minutes had passed. Participants then had their own easy reflective meditations that they’d personally developed –- their own self-hypnosis, if you like, even if they weren’t aware of it as being a hypnotic practice.

Helpful meditation   Feel free to do the following, knowing that you are in charge of how deeply you relax and you can come back to the room at any moment. Ensure, that any and all hypnotic processes are undertaken in a safe space, and not while driving or operating machines.

  1. Lying down, move your hands gently together in front of you, picture the thoughts/sounds or feelings from the day that feel unresolved and gently lower the volume and push them away to one side, or off into the far distance towards the window or the door. Make this movement slow, graceful and elegant, model Queen Elizabeth II, gently movement of her waving hand, and using that same speed and softness to push the thoughts of the day away. Placing your day/your thoughts to one side or far away trusting that they will be looked after in that space.
  2. Picture 3 things you are gratefully to have in your life, or are grateful for today, as you picture them, describe them in a slow-motion voice, in a whisper internally to yourself. Then picture 2 things you are grateful for, then one. Next, think of three phrases that for you encompass relaxation: “all is calm” “or “all is okay”, “my lovely bed that I love”, very slowly and quietly say each word of the phrase on a gentle out breath. Then think of two further phrases that encompass calm - it could even be lines from a poem well known to you, or a story ending well known to you - repeat the words slowly on an out breath. Then think of one phrase and do the same, each word on an out breath. Finally feel 3 things in your body that you feel grateful to feel, eg. the slow steady, even breath that comes as you need it, the lightness of your eyelashes as they close, the relaxation of every muscle in your body. Then feel two feelings you’re grateful to feel, then one. (Ref: Some of number 2 is inspired by Betty Erickson’s  3,2,1 exercise)

If you wake in the night - repeat.

No part of this article is intended to replace medical help or advice. Take all due care when applying the hypnotic exercises to ensure you are in a safe environment and only do what feels right for you to do. It’s important to always take responsibility for your health and your choices.

Useful References

  1. NLP was developed in the early 1970s by an associate professor of linguistics,  John Grinder and a psychology student, Richard Bandler at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
  2. Modelling: Grinder and Bandler modelled Virginia Satir, the founder of Family Therapy, Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy and Milton H Erickson, a well-regarded Hypnotherapist.
  3. (3) States work is explained in Get The Life You Love Now, by Dr Phil Parker
  4. (4) Reframing: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Transformation of Meaning by Richard Bandler
  5. (5) Betty Erickson - 3,2,1 practice
  6. (6) Beliefs by Robert Dilts

Further Reading:

Heart of the Mind: Engaging Your Inner Power to Change with Neuro-Linguistic Programming

by Connirae Andreas

Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D, Vol. 1

Comments:

  1. Tom said..

    Interesting research. For me, no matter if I recently watched TV or had a cup of coffee or was online reading articles or stories, I can usually fall asleep within minutes of laying down (98% of the time). It's the second half or last third of the sleep period that is becoming an extreme challenge.

    Getting back to sleep after a bathroom break or just waking up is more difficult the closer it is to morning. So, I usually am cutting off sound sleep by 1-2 hours or sometimes longer. There are nights when I don't really know how long I was sleeping.

    I occasionally take a late afternoon nap of 1-2 hours, but then need to stay up later. Even being retired with no set day schedule does not lend itself to a standard sleeping regimen. And I wish the idiots would stop changing the clocks twice a year.


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About Vikki Rimmer

Vikki Rimmer Dip Clin Hyp NLP Coach has been writing about health, education and wellness as a freelance writer and PR for the last 18 years. In 2020 she qualified as a Master Practitioner in NLP and Coaching. She is currently in the process of publishing a book on her sleep modelling project  entitled Coach Yourself To Sleep: Becoming a Sleep Genius which will include brief explanations of the steps to incorporate, different sleep exercises, models, metaphors and stories to help people learn how to quickly and easily become sleep genii. Vikki may be contacted via vikkirimmer@gmail.com

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