Mnemonic Tip: Drift to Sleep in a Palace

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life--Youth

The third in a series of short posts on new wrinkles for old mnemonic techniques. What all have in common is that I have found them useful and have seen them described nowhere else.

The previous post discussed constructing a memory palace from a place you visit. I suggest reading that post before this one.

In any case, this post assumes you have constructed a memory palace, and that it is associated with pleasant memories. This post does not actually deal with a mnemonic technique as such,  but describes a related mental hack. I have found that a pleasant mental palace is a useful tool for falling asleep.

Falling asleep is never an issue for some people, but is an issue at least some of the time for many. That's why drugs are sold with the sole stated purpose of helping one fall asleep.

Assuming that one is prepared physically to fall asleep (i.e., bedroom conditions are suitable, one has not just awoken, etc.), a common source of interference is an overactive mind. On any given day I have at least nine different issues that I am capable of obsessing over while lying in bed. Some may be pleasant, others unpleasant but when trying to go to sleep I don't need them. Calming this internal mental chatter is necessary.

Much easier than trying to think of NOTHING is to replace the mental chatter with some other thought pattern. And for this the memory palace is useful. For me a memory palace typically consists of 50 to 100 locations.

The method consists of this: Breathe slowly and regularly, in and out. With each breath, visualize one palace location in succession. That's all there is to it. With a hundred locations (for example), it would generally take eight minutes to run through the entire palace. Usually I fall asleep before making it that far. Focusing on visualizing the palace locations quietens the mental chatter and replaces it with mental associations.

If you practice this, you may find you become aware of the peculiar mental activity that accompanies the process of falling asleep (the hypnagogic state). Generally I find my thoughts become chaotic or take a silly turn. It is as if dreaming begins before one is fully asleep.

When this happens to you, generally you will lose track of the sequence of locations you were sequencing through. You may come back to full wakefulness and realize this has happened. This is not an occasion for frustration, either because of the losing track or coming back to wakefulness. It is a good sign that indeed you are starting to fall asleep. Just pick up the sequence of locations where you left off.

For stubborn cases, you may practice refinements of the technique. Along with each location, pose yourself a simple problem (to be solved in the span of a single breath). What would the location sound like if your eyes were closed? What would it look like if it had existed in ancient Egypt? If built out of Legos? And so on.

Pleasant dreams.

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