What your mind does: Mentation
The mind is always active, creating mental content such as thoughts, images, wishes, wants, intentions, plans, assessments, feelings, stories, perceptions, recollections. The waking mind is usually engaged in a limited number of more or less conscious activities such as planning, imagining, assessing, ruminating, perceiving and/or listening. “Mentation” is the word that stands for all of these activities. It’s more general than “thinking”, if you assume that thinking and feeling, for instance, are not the same.
The mind is a sense making machine
At almost all times, whether you are awake or asleep, your mind is engaged in some kind of sense making. That is, your mind is trying to make sense of the information that it gets from its senses or that it generates internally. For example, if you see someone walking down the street, you might unconsciously infer that his purpose is to arrive at a destination. If he walks back and forth, you might conjecture that he is waiting for someone or exercising. You are probably trying to make sense of this document. When you are asleep and dreaming, your mind is trying to make sense of the various images, feelings, and perceptions that your brain produces. This kind of sense making we call “dreaming”.
Sense making is suspended at sleep onset
However, there is one time of the day where mental activity occurs but sense-making is radically reduced: just before you fall asleep. Psychoactive drugs, coma, [hypnosis,] and other abnormal brain states may also involve a suspension of sense-making.
The brain controls sleep onset
Sleeping is essential. If you stay asleep too long you will have great difficulty solving problems. You might even start to hallucinate and become paranoid.
However, it is not always safe to fall asleep. It would be very dangerous to fall asleep while you are being chased by an armed enemy. Or while driving. Some people have narcolepsy: they have little control over when they fall asleep. That is very inconvenient.
Therefore, the human brain has a mechanism to determine when it is appropriate to fall asleep. This mechanism is not located in the cortex (the parts of the brain most responsible for thinking and higher order mental activities). So, the sleep onset mechanism needs to use “heuristics” to figure out when it’s time to induce sleep.
The sleep onset mechanism is not completely under voluntary (cortical) control. Just like [Nature] has programmed us unable to “will ourselves” to stop breathing, so [Nature] has made sleep onset only partially under the control of the cortex. That is why most people can’t simply tell themselves “now I will fall asleep”. In contrast, most people can easily tell themselves to raise their left arm.
In order to figure out that the cortex is ready for sleep, the brain’s sleep onset mechanism must take into consideration what the cortex is doing. But because this mechanism is subcortical, it’s relatively “dumb”; so it cannot fully understand what the cortex is thinking. However, it is capable of detecting whether the cortex is involved in sense-making. And it can tell whether the mental activity is rich in diverse imagery and memories.
There are three kinds of sleep-related mentation:
- Mentation that prevents people from falling asleep. That is, “insomnolent mentation“.
- Mentation that helps people fall asleep. That is, “somnolent mentation“. This is the kind of thing that helps to push you over the edge, into sleep.
- Mentation that has no particular impact on sleep onset. That is “asomnolent mentation“.
It is an important challenge for cognitive science to determine which kinds of thought patterns are insomnolent, which are somnolent and which are asomnolent.
Research suggests that the most common types of insomnolent mentation are:
a. Rehearsing/planning and problem-solving.
b. Thinking about sleep and its consequences.
c. Reflecting on quality of one’s thoughts.
d. Thinking about one’s level of arousal.
Interestingly, all insomnolent mentation involves sense-making. This, we believe, is not merely a correlational fact: sense making, particularly about important, urgent, or insistent matters, is insomnolent. So long as the cortex is involved in coherent thought, in sense-making, the sleep onset mechanism tends to delay sleep induction. (This tendency can be overridden.)
As people are falling asleep, their thought becomes disorganized. They have very brief dreams. They can experience diverse remote memories, some of which may even be decades old. They cease to engage in coherent thought and sense-making. Beaudoin proposed that this thought pattern does not merely correlate with sleep onset, it is somnolent.
Most deliberate mentation techniques that folk psychology and professional psychology have devised to induce sleep are at best counter-insomnolent. That is, they are designed to interfere with or prevent insomnolent mentation. For example, meditation is counter-insomnolent because it (normally) involves focusing on a very simple theme or object, such as one’s breath or a mantra. While you are meditating in this way, you can’t at the same time be problem-solving, planning, scheduling, thinking about sleep, reflecting on your thinking, etc. These techniques can in fact help you to fall asleep because they remove some barriers to sleep.
However, these techniques are not inherently somnolent. For example, meditation experts state that if you meditate properly, you will be in an extremely aware, alert and focused state. While you are alert and focused, you are not asleep.
Super-somnolent mentation = counter-insomnolent + somnolent mentation
Suppose, however, that you are deliberately engaging in a mental activity that is both counter-insomnolent and somnolent. That would be a mental activity that (a) interferes with insomnolent thinking; and (b) signals to your sleep onset mechanism that you are primed to fall asleep. We would say of this activity that it is super-somnolent.
A new objective of cognitive science, then is to identify super-somnolent mentation. There are several candidates for super-somnolent mentation. One of them is serial diverse imagining, also known as “the Cognitive Shuffle”.
The Cognitive Shuffle is a mental activity that is both counter-insomnolent and somnolent. There are different forms of the Cognitive Shuffle, the major one of which is serial diverse imagining.
The Cognitive Shuffle involves imagining diverse items, scenes or processes one at a time, each for a short period of time. It involves “shuffling one’s thoughts (and images)”. That is why the mySleepButton slogan is “Shuffle your thoughts to sleep”. For example, you might imagine the following things one a time, for a few seconds each:
a motor home,
While you are doing this, you won’t be thinking about the concerns that keep you awake, because it’s difficult to think of multiple things at the same time. So this is counter-insomnolent. If your mind does wander back to your concerns, you just bring it back to random items.
The Cognitive Shuffle is somnolent
The Cognitive Shuffle is also somnolent. When your sleep onset mechanism detects this strange thought pattern, it may say to itself “The mind’s all over the place. Imagining all kinds of unrelated things. Looks like it’s getting drowsy. Let’s make it even drowsier.
This technique can induce sleep within a few seconds. But sometimes it can take minutes, even dozens of minutes. That’s because the sleep onset mechanism is an integrator. It uses several signals. That’s why it’s important to put all the odds in your favour and use the sleep tips.
An invitation to sleep researchers and cognitive scientists
The super-somnolent framework is a contribution to cognitive science. As such it is open to scientific assessment and criticism.
Source: http ://mysleepbutton. com/support/the-cognitive-science/