The integrative work that takes place in the sleep state following an ayahuasca ceremony is deep, subtle, and usually not conscious. As a depth psychotherapist, I view sleep as an absolutely necessary element in ayahuasca integration, as well as in daily life. Sleep recalibrates our relationship with the subconscious and unconscious: in some mysterious fashion, ayahuasca seems to do the same.
Sleep is psychologically integrative in the way it draws together our disparate experiences and makes them cohesive. It removes worries, releases mental detritus, relaxes and heals the body. This repair work takes place nightly, just like the way highway repaving happens after-hours. As well, sleep brings us the integrative magic of dreams, allowing alternate states of consciousness to broadcast through the system.
Modern society sadly doesn’t acknowledge any of this, scorning sleep as a waste of time. We brag about how little we sleep and how much we get done as a result, relying on caffeine to power through the drowsy moments that are silently offering passage into a different realm.
Part of integration work is opening up to more deeply discern what your body needs at any particular moment. I invite you to honestly assess your sleep needs from a body-based perspective, recognising that sleep is as important as food and water to your well-being—and even more frequently overlooked.
What Happens During Sleep?
Sleep is a profound process that touches us all nightly, taking up an entire third of our total lifetime—yet in many ways it remains a mystery. Science has explored the shifts in brainwaves that signal different stages of sleep, along with the muscle repair, memory consolidation, and hormone release that occurs, but still doesn’t completely understand exactly what happens.
That’s because sleep is not just biological, but a profoundly spiritual and energetic process of healing and release. Every night the sleep state rebalances our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical bodies, as they receive the frequencies needed to stay vital.
For the ancient Egyptians and Greeks (as well as for modern Tibetan yogis) sleep was a time for spiritual learning. The soul was believed to leave the body each night, ascending to a higher level of consciousness. During the sleep state, it could receive new information and explore different realms.
At different times in my own life I’ve sensed some kind of mysterious energetic procedure taking place in my sleep . . . a complex rewiring that can seem to be happening in synch with the person I’m sleeping with. These processes can run for months, sometimes years, tapering off as the energy moves to a different level. Working with ayahuasca, I’ve sometimes noticed these kind of sensations in sleep, particularly around the upper chakras.
Occasionally people experience difficulty sleeping post-ceremony. Often this happens in situations where mental worries have already made sleep difficult. If this is happening to you, I suggest practicing every element of ‘sleep hygiene’ (avoid caffeine, set up a quiet bedroom and a soothing pre-sleep routine—more at http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips) and making sleep, or at least rest, a priority. Over time things tend to settle down.
In the very rare cases where ayahuasca use triggers mental illness (mania, psychosis), the lack of sleep post-ceremony can be a contributing factor, making a person more irritable and potentially dangerous. This is one of the few times when sedative medications can be helpful.
Practical Tips on Sleep and Integration
Sleep brings deep healing, whether the integration you need is physical, spiritual, mental or emotional. Even if you find it hard to fall asleep, or keep on waking up in the middle of the night, trust that simply spending quiet time lying down in the dark is restful in its own way. Use this time to meditate, do breathing exercises, or feel your way into embodied sensation. Don’t lie there chasing mental worries—this includes fretting about lack of sleep!
A few more suggestions for sleep and integration:
- Try not to go into ceremony sleep-deprived. In my experience this is a recipe for extreme discomfort: the spirit wishes to head one way, the body another.
- Allow for plenty of sleep in the days/weeks after ceremony/retreat. Go to bed earlier, or make time to sleep in late. Daytime naps can be delicious, if you allow yourself to surrender into the big waves that rise up to pull you down.
- Before you fall asleep, request that your body/mind/spirit receive what’s appropriate and needed at this time.
- End electronic screen time starting one hour before going to bed and extending through the hour after waking up, so that your sleep is as clear, refreshing, and untainted by outside influences as possible.
- Open to the possibility that important integration takes place in the sleep state that you may not clearly recall. Allow the unconscious to do its work.
Above all, honor sleep as the powerful restorative and healing mystery that it is.
Very loving advice. I fully resonated with your viewpoint that sleep is overlooked and how healing it can be.
Yes. It always amazes me how sleep is so powerful, and so ignored.
I thank you so much for so much information here. I’ve found relief reading your insights here, knowing that I can trust my feeling of taking my time and my lessons to integrate without necessarily wanting to go back to the plant. I’m so glad to have found someone who can understand me. And I’m also learning from you.
I couldn’t sleep for many weeks after my second ceremonies which were 3 nights one after the other. I used to close my eyes and just see the light everywhere, no darkness at all. It was so unusual and too much for me. I felt lost. The experience was so powerful that I had to ask myself many questions afterwards. I had a depression and it took me about 3 months to recover. I feel good now and blessed for what I had seen and received but no calling to go for it again. I think it’s ok for the time being. I also observed people searching for visions or bliss and it seemed to me like a search of an illusion. You’re so right, the path is spiritual. We’re very good at fooling ourselves around if we want to and the plant can show it, maybe. I’m not an expert. I was just so amazed by the power of the psyche that it changed my little views 🙂 We are so much more, no words to describe it. It’s very interesting what you write here about the dark side. I’d love to know more from you if possible, the direct experience still scares me. I will never forget it.
Hi Mariya, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It can be a very powerful experience. I’m glad you finally got the integrative sleep you needed. Feel free to email me if you have particular questions or want to know more about something specific—I’m always open to ideas for blog posts. (And yes, I’m working on another ‘Dark Side’ post.)