Cognitive shuffle and a reason to talk nonsense

I was intrigued by Oliver Burkeman’s column in the Guardian from last month about insomnia:  Shuffle your thoughts and sleep in which he reports on  the Canadian cognitive scientist Luc Beaudoin’s newly invented cure for insomnia, which he calls the “cognitive shuffle”. Counting sheep and similar ways to cope with insomnia don’t work because they empty your mind and leave the intrusive thoughts – the ones that are keeping you awake – to take over your mind and conitnue to deny you sleep.

The idea of the cognitive shuffle is to fill your mind with a random sequence of objects – anything that makes no sense.

This theory lit a light bulb for me. There are a few ways I have found help me get to sleep – one is to listen to the radio, preferably something inane: what Oliver Burkeman calls deliberately overloading your attentional bandwidth. I often listen to the same radio programme over and over, falling asleep after the first five minutes. Talk shows with an element of comedy are often best, especially if the sound quality isn’t good or it’s a little too quiet to hear.

Another way in which I help myself get to sleep, particularly when I find myself pulled towards a wakefulness I don’t want, is to let myself murmur random words. Just say whatever comes into my head – random words or made-up words, so long as it’s complete nonsense. I can often go back to sleep without fully waking up.  It might annoy anyone else in earshot though…

This cognitive shuffle can probably be used to beat stress as well.  From turning on the TV and watching a random TV programme from a point where you haven’t a clue to what’s going on, to being randomly creative, anything complex and unpredictable will probably do. So an evening of card making or art journalling is a good thing, that doesn’t engage my brain enough to prevent sleep later, but engages it just enough to dislodge the unwelcome thoughts about my responsibilities and worries.