A new, peculiar hybrid form of waking consciousness has been emerging in recent years. Because so many of us struggle nightly with inadequate sleep and dreams, we become chronically tired. At the same time, the excessive stimulation and hyperbole emblematic of modern life drives us to feel persistently wired. We are t'wired -- simultaneously tired and wired.
Although it's unnerving, being t'wired is the new normal for millions of us. I see t'wired people everywhere. Among my friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. And in public figures such as politicians, celebrities, heroes and even cartoon icons (e.g., Homer Simpson). And I routinely encounter the ramifications of t'wired consciousness in most of my insomnia patients.
Despite their chronic struggles with poor sleep, people with insomnia commonly report feeling energized during the day. But they are quick to add that beneath the surface they also feel persistently tired -- exhausted, spent, or fatigued. This incongruity has been examined scientifically. It turns out that, as a group, people with chronic insomnia actually appear to be less sleepy during the day than normal sleepers.
Research confirms that insomnia is commonly associated with hyperarousal, a kind of excessive, turbo-charged wakefulness. Hyperarousal is characterized by racing brain waves, a rapid heart rate, over heated core body temperature and dysfunctional hormonal rhythms -- all of which serve to both hinder nighttime sleep and mask daytime sleepiness.
While hyperarousal strongly draws us upward, sleepiness and fatigue simultaneously drag us down. We are uncomfortably stretched, pulled painfully in opposite directions by equally potent forces. I think of this as the psychological equivalent of being on the rack. Not surprisingly, insomnia and hyperarousal are strongly linked to depression -- which is commonly characterized by a persistent sense of feeling stuck.
We are stuck in relentlessness. Modern lifestyles impose a harsh, unremitting quality onto our days. We are deluged with information and entertainment options and virtually addicted to activity and productivity. We are walking and talking and driving and thinking faster and faster. Speeding, in fact, is the most common infraction of the law. And sleeplessness is epidemic.
We live in a world of unrelenting motion, a world that discourages slowing and stopping, a world that has lost its sense of rhythm and regard for rest. All life is by nature animated or in motion. But in the natural world, all motion is rhythmic, that is, it is tempered by rest. Things come and they go, they expand and contract, they are active and then they rest.
Being t'wired is a state in which the natural and complementary rhythms of activity and rest have become thwarted, jammed and stuck. Hyperarousal results from runaway, dysrhythmic waking that is no longer tempered or modulated by adequate rest. True rest.
Too many of us have forgotten how to rest -- how to truly rest. We commonly confuse rest with recreation. Catching a movie, going dancing or reading a novel may be enjoyable, refreshing and even restful -- but it's not true rest. We also confuse rest with inebriation. Whatever the costs or possible benefits, altering one's consciousness with substances is not a path to true rest. Tranquilizing medications, furthermore, provide little more than a counterfeit form of rest that inevitably backfires.
Because being t'wired is a pervasive and pernicious problem, we are tempted to look for grand or dramatic solutions. As ordinary, un-dramatic, and even 'boring' as it might seem at first, the essential prescription for managing the t'wired epidemic is learning and regularly practicing true rest.
True rest requires that we first slow and then stop. That we come to a complete stop. But too many of us have lost our brakes. We roll through the natural speed bumps and stop signs of daily life engaging in the psychological equivalent of "California stops" or "Rhode Island Rolls," rather than actually resting.
What is true rest? It's not simply the absence of activity. True rest is about intentionally cultivating a state of serenity. It requires engaging in a daily practice such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises that slows the body and mind. True rest not only modulates the velocity of our waking lives, it also serves as an essential bridge to sleep and dreams.
Practicing true rest is, furthermore, a social statement. In a world gone mad with motion, it's a subversive act, an act of cultural disobedience. It calls for a substantial personal and even spiritual shift that begins with the willingness to step out of the herd mentality. It invites us to march to a different drum, to the rhythms of nature, including our own true nature
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