Getting to Sleep and Out of The Big Squeeze of Stress

This entry provides an alternative to sleeping pills.

It's for you if:

  • you have insomnia -- either chronic or occasional
  • you've experienced the downside of taking a drug to get to sleep
  • you want a natural alternative
  • you're able to get yourself to try something different

Who I, the Author, Am
I'm a clinical practitioner of method of brain retraining used to dissolve stress and trauma.  I developed this approach based on the principles of my field, a branch of mind-body training called, Clinical Somatic Education.  I, myself, have used the method described, here, to get back to sleep, when I've awoken in the middle of the night and not been able to get back to sleep. It generally takes about ten minutes, once I've used it, to fall asleep. Based on its success with me (and with others), I published the, Getting to Sleep, audio program.

Getting to Sleep and The Big Squeeze of Stress
Are you insomniac? Does sleep deprivation make your life seem stark or extreme? Are you over-sensitized? Are you exhausted?

Here's a way to exit the cycle of insomnia. Understand why it works.

Two great polarities exist in every life:  activity and rest. Insomnia happens when we get stuck (stressed) in a state of emotional and physical activation.

That state of stress takes two familiar forms:
  • "wired" mind
  • relentless muscle fatigue

Three kinds of "wired" mind keep us from relaxing into sleep:
  • endless thinking
  • troubled remembering
  • fearful imagining

Those three ways of being mentally "wired" tie directly into muscular or physical tension.

Being "mentally wired" is today's high-tech version of being "plain old-fashioned wound up." Being it's the electronic age, we can talk about being "hard-wired" in certain ways and tie that idea of wiring to the brain's control of our muscles -- and I will, shortly. But what's wound up is still wound up:  Our "idling speed" is too high and our air mix (breathing) isn't too good either. We may be driving with the brakes on (resistance to life-developments), and what's more, our steering may be out of alignment (be misguided).

All told, this has nothing to do with body mechanics. It really has to do with our programming -- how we run our lives and how well we de-bug ourselves -- because, when we get bugged, sleep suffers.

Sound strange? Don't worry. I'm going to tell you about two natural ways of debugging ourselves, so that we no longer have "bedbugs".

We're going to start with two general ways people get bugged, what the "bugging" looks and feels like, and then how to debug ourselves. Onward.


People get crazy in life in two basic ways, ways that correspond to two basic reflexes of stress that get triggered in us, in life. One is a "fear or urgency" form of stress and the other is an urgency or "control freak" form of craziness. Sometimes they happen together, and yes, each corresponds to a reflex pattern that involves muscular tension.

The form of stress associated with urgency, or the drive (and felt necessity) to get things (often, too much) done, triggers the muscles in the back of the body. They get tight and they stay tight as long we we are uptight.

There's a healthy form of this reflex, which I am about to describe, and an unhealthy form, which I am also about to describe.

In the healthy state, this reflex starts our movement from rest or a position of repose into activity.  It involves the muscles that stiffen the flexible spine in preparation for moving from repose into the upright position of walking or other activities, when spinal support is needed. It tightens the shoulders and muscles in other places. There's a name for this reflex: the Landau reaction. You can look it up. It starts up as we first learn to crawl and continues at-the-ready throughout a lifetime.

The other state of stress, associated with self protection and fear, triggers a physical muscular reflex that tightens the muscles in the front of the body. It causes shallow breathing, speeds up the heart rate, and makes us want to bring our head down (cower) in an urge to curl up into a ball (fetal position).

This muscular action gets triggered every time we feel afraid or anxious and stays triggered as long as we're afraid or anxious. (It's also been identified as an underlying cause of heart attacks.) There's a name for this reflex: the Startle reflex. You may have seen video of people in this state: soldiers running in a crouched state, under fire. They have been trained to run that way because it's natural self-protection -- as natural as Startle Reflex. In fact, they're helped to run that way by Startle Reflex. Soldiers are afraid; you'd better believe it. They've just been trained to override their fear -- the way so many of us have learned to override our feelings.

About soldiers, what do you think PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is? It's habituated, reflexive states-of-craziness anchored in troubled remembering, fearful imagining, and compulsive thinking.

The state of overactive, out of control muscles goes exactly along with troubled remembering, fearful imagining, and compulsive thinking -- which all trigger the "ready responses" we've learned, ostensibly to handle the situations about which we are feeling urgency or fear, but which simply make us crazy and make sleep impossible. Are you an exception? Is insomnia not like that, for you? OK. I've got something for you, at the end:  The Gold Key Release. It's for the exceptions to the rule. You'll like it.

When you're "crazy awake" at night, when no position in bed makes a difference -- and no bed makes a difference -- have you discovered it's next to impossible to stop thoughts, memories and imaginings?  Efforts to stop them reinforce them, don't they? They leak back in. Even if you distract yourself with reading or counting sheep, do you end up thinking about what you've just read -- or about sheep?

I'm here to suggest to you that there is a secret, "back-door" key to get thoughts, memories and imaginings -- and sheep -- to stop taking over your mind. There's way to release the muscular tensions that go along with them. Those muscular tensions have a certain feeling that goes exactly along with your compulsive thinking, memory replays, and fearful imaginings; they are the feelings of your compulsive thinking, memory replays, and fearful imaginings. One triggers the other and back again, and around and around, we go.

You need a way to release to get the relief. There's a "back door" way. It works. No kiddin'.

I will tell you right away that stretching is not the "back-door" key to release. Neither are breathing exercises or yoga (neither of which go deeply enough for to reach and reprogram chronic insomnia). None of those approaches reaches the control level where the reflexes of stress, Startle reflex or Landau reaction, live, which is exactly where they MUST reach, for you to get to sleep. Certain kinds of meditation might help -- but you've got to be far enough along in your mindfulness practice for it to work. Are you? (You are? Why are you reading this?)

Neither, by the way, do "sleep number" or "Tempur-Pedic mattresses" change your stress level, and neither do "sleep-aid" drugs. How can you reprogram your insomnia with things that have nothing to do with your body's programming?


What you need to do is get control of yourself. No, not that way.  I have something else, in mind: a way to release the muscular reflexes of stress that trigger your insomnia, from inside. That means, learn to relax, to relax by unlearning keeping yourself wound -- or wired -- up. You learn to relax the way you might relax a clenched fist. You don't stretch a clenched fist open; you relax it by natural, internal control. That's the direction you go, to unwind.

Only, you seem to have lost your way. So, you need to re-learn that kind of natural internal control that ordinarily would function, naturally. The way to that kind of control is related, actually, to yawning. It has a strange name: it's called pandiculation.


Pandiculation is an movement or action pattern that every animal with a backbone does, generally when arising from rest and upon finishing an activity -- and also at random throughout the day. Cats do it, dogs do it, even lumbering hogs do it. They do it, naturally, but for certain reasons related to "way of life", humans have to be re-taught to do it. Pandiculation feels good. It's good for you.

Here's a five minute video explaining pandiculation.

But instead of pandiculating, at work, to regulate their stress (which they could do, in minutes, in an office chair or at a company gym or even on the carpet in a private office), people go for coffee to get "wired". Then, at home, they go for a "drink" or something related -- or for a run, or watch video -- to get unwired -- but they don't do the very thing that would actually get them unwind: pandiculate. So, they accumulate unmanageable stress.

Pandiculation is good to do after long periods in a particular position (such as when working on the computer or during any repetitive motion activity). What pandiculation does is refresh and relax us. What's not to like?

Generally we pandiculate, in private ...

... but you can pandiculate in public and get away with it.

Pandiculation always starts with a firm tightening of ourselves into a particular movement pattern or shape, followed by a leisurely release and movement into activity. You've seen it; you've done it. When it comes to yawning, that pattern involves your face, jaws and neck, and your breathing. What people call the morning stretch isn't a stretch, at all. The typical morning stretch involves yawning and the muscles of the back, shoulders, arms, the hands, the buttocks, and other places. It has a particular feel -- a very different feel from that of athletic stretching: It feels good. It isn't a stretch, at all. It's a pandiculation.

Each way of pandiculating works on a particular set of muscular tensions and feelings. Say, you're stuck in urgency; it's your back muscles and shoulders that are tight. If stuck in anxiety, it's the front and central muscles of your trunk. A particular pandiculation reaches particular muscular tensions. Free the muscular tensions, and your nervous system -- your mind -- quiets down. Emotions quiet down. Thinking quiets down. You start to drift. You forget yourself without noticing. The result: sleep.

Soon, I'm going to give you a link to a recorded somatic education program that uses pandiculation for sleep. You can use it just before going to bed or if you wake up in the middle of the night. I'll also give you a way to calm the emotions down, directly, because sometimes you need both approaches, if you've gotten particularly wired-up and stressed out.

Before I do, since I like people to have an understanding of my advice before they take it, I'm going to talk about why those two reflexes go wrong.


Two words explain it all: habit formation.

Habits form when we repeat actions frequently or sustain them at some level of intensity for periods of time. Then, they start to run on automatic, outside our control -- including at night.

When The Landau Reaction Hijacks Our Lives

In the healthy state, Landau Reaction comes and goes according to circumstances.  The more you need a heightened state of activity or alertness, the more intensely Landau Reaction gets activated -- and the tighter we get.  Our back arches, our shoulders pull back, our chest lifts, and our buttocks and hamstrings get tight -- we get a "swayback", where the "sway" is forward, over the fronts of our feet (giving rise to the expression, "being on our toes").  When circumstances pass, and the need for heightened alertness passes, we return to a rest condition -- more or less -- and the muscular side of Landau Reaction eases.  We relax.

However, the more time we spend in Landau Reaction -- in traffic, at work, in our busy lives, in competitive activities -- the "better" we get at going into Landau Reaction.  Our brain, which provides and regulates the Landau Reaction, learns to be more and more ready to go into Landau Reaction.  Eventually (and commonly) we stay stressed, in Landau Reaction, in perpetual readiness for action -- and this state of stress in Landau Reaction is so common that, in contemporary culture, people consider the posture of Landau reaction to be, good posture or somehow attractive (e.g., "buns of steel") It's not good posture, it's not attractive, it's not even a sign of fitness (to those who understand what's going on). It's a state of maladjustment.

The two states -- being in stress and in a state of rest -- oppose each other.  Where sleep is concerned, the reflexes of stress win over sleepiness.  Uncontrollable thinking, fearful imagining, troubled remembering, muscular tightness, and even soreness and stiffness (did you get an expensive "Sleep Number" or "Tempurpedic" bed?) become our nighttime experience of insomnia.

Now, it's also true that our circumstances in life may provoke anxiety in us -- and anxiety shows up as Startle Reflex -- and it has its place in life, and also its unhealthy form.

When Startle Reflex Clamps Down

Startle Reflex, by tightening the muscles of our abdomen, prevents deep, diaphragmatic breathing, reduces our overall mobility, and by pulling us into a curled-forward shape, causes us to shrink ourselves to less than our full stature.  It's the shape of "hiding".

In the healthy state, Startle Reflex comes and goes according to circumstances without lasting effect.

However, unhealthy stuckness in Startle Reflex forms the same way as stuckness in Landau Reaction -- by repetition and sustained intensity. It can get triggered by the news, by a stressful relationship, or by money worries -- fill in the answer from your own life.

In our current age, we can't get by in life by being curled up and withdrawn; we have to function, to be ready, to be active. It's the imbalance of our times, where stress and activity dominate leisure and rest. Stress even invades our leisure time and vacations -- and the relief of leisure and vacation ends all too quickly when we get back to our day-to-day lives.

And so, Landau Reaction (arousal state) combines with Startle reflex (fear and withdrawal) in a kind of "Big Squeeze", with one dominating the other, but both happening.

The result:  "stress" -- a combination of readiness for action and anxiety -- the feeling of being trapped in life -- The Big Squeeze.  Sound familiar?

And so, insomnia, chronic thinking, fearful imaginings and troubled memories, muscular tightness, and even soreness and stiffness become our nighttime experience.

Ambien, Lunesta, a nighttime cocktail, or other sleep aids do nothing to quiet these reflexes of stress. They just dull us and interfere with our necessary dream cycle.

What to do?  How do we deactivate these reflexes of stress, so we can sleep?  How do we decondition ourselves from stress, so we can rest?

Ah!  The Essential Question!

Getting Out of The Big Squeeze So We Can Sleep

Let's summarize, so our answer can be concise.

The reflexes of stress are mind-brain-body states that get stuck, "on". Being stuck "on" is a learned state, running "on automatic".  The word, "learned", is key.  We learn our way into those states ("taught", by life); we can learn our way out of those states.

By now, you may be feeling mystified.  What kind of learning can teach us to disarm reflexes of stress running "on automatic"? Not one limited to the mind; that's for sure.

Here's the answer:

We shift the tensions of stress from "running on automatic" to "voluntary" -- and then turn them off.  When something is "voluntary" it happens only when you decide to do it -- and doesn't happen unless you decide to do it. (By the way, that also means that our stressful responses are voluntary, if habitual. They may not seem that way because they happen so quickly, but we never get stressed about something we don't care about. The difference I'm talking about here is that we can learn to voluntarily relax ways in which we've become habitually tense.)

How do we get from "automatic" to "voluntary"?  By cultivating "voluntary" in a unexpected way that, ordinarily, no one would think to do .

This "back–door key" is an entirely new way of thinking about and approaching a situation -- given our culture of "fighting" everything -- "Fight Breast Cancer", "Fight Drug Abuse", "Fight Terrorism", "Fight Domestic Violence" (!) . . . etc., etc.  Instead, of fighting, we cultivate voluntary control of what we would otherwise fight; we get into it (like a hand in a glove) and control it from within. Unexpected? Yes. Effective? Yes, very.

This approach works for sleep (and for many other stress-related disorders, such as headaches, various kinds of physical injuries and certain common breathing disorders).  We cultivate voluntary control over Landau Reaction and Startle Reflex so that, when we rest, we rest.

When we do, a very interesting thing happens:  our voluntary control takes over from (overcomes and replaces) automatic habits. We come to rest.

Then, when we stop doing something voluntarily, it stops happening as a constant activation habit; it happens only when needed.  With reduction of excessive stress, instead of stress dominating our lives, we have more "cushion", more tolerance for it, more grace, in life.  Even in stressful circumstances, our stress level is less.  Sleep returns -- and reduces our stress level further.

Since few people are familiar with these reflexes of stress and ways of quieting them, it's helpful to have guidance for assuming control of them.

I have created such guidance, a program to quiet these reflexes of stress. You can get a free taste of it. Use it consistently for a week or two, upon retiring for sleep, and then (once you know the steps), as needed -- such as on occasions when you awaken in the middle of the night or when you are experiencing the effects of heightened stress.

Along with that, you may need a way to calm automatic emotional reactions. I've provided a way. It's called, The Gold Key Release. It's a way to free your mind from the grip of concerns in an entirely new way that also opens the way for inspired action to handle the situation. There's a world of difference between suppressing something and releasing it. Read more about The Gold Key Release and test it, yourself. Click the gold key, below. It's VERY effective and it's free.

The Gold Key

You don't have to go it, alone. You can get help with The Gold Key Release, too.

Sleep-inducing drugs have side effects for some people -- daytime drowsiness, hallucinations, mood changes, suicidal thoughts; the drug companies say so in their advertising.  This approach also has side-effects -- good ones: increased flexibility, decrease of back pain, and heightened physical energy.


Now, you have a sense of the causes of insomnia and at least an idea of what to do about them. What remains is to test my words. Take action to free yourself from insomnia. Break the stress-insomnia cycle so that you can actually sleep.

The 'proof' of the 'pudding' is in the 'eating'.  Test this approach, for yourself.  Get out of The Big Squeeze and get to sleep. "Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy."


Presently a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, Lawrence Gold has been practicing as a clinical somatic educator since 1990, with two years of experience on staff at the Watsonville Community Hospital Wellness and Rehabilitation Center, in California. Clients have come to him from as far away as Mumbai, India and Brisbane, Australia. He works with clients in person and live online. He likes to bring a sense of humor to telling the truth. You may have noticed. See more on his background, here.



copyright 2015 Lawrence Gold

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