About Sleeping, or, How to Get to There

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For many years I had problems falling asleep. Most nights it’s not too bad; go to bed at a regular time, read or watch TV for a bit, turn off the light, and fall asleep in ten-fifteen minutes or so. But some nights can be very difficult.

  • I get a song stuck in my head, or
  • I start worrying about something, or
  • Some idea or thought or remembered conversation starts rolling around in my head, or
  • I’m on the verge of sleeping, sleeping …, and then some sound or twitch in my leg or switch goes off in my brain and I’m awake, or
  • A dream will wake me in during the night, or
  • I just wake up. For a few months I was going through a sleep cycle where I woke up, fully alert between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning night after night. I began to worry that I was becoming like my mother who for many years now wakes during the night, stays awake for hours, and then needs to nap during the day. At least she’s retired so she can keep this kind of sleep schedule.

When any of these things happen I know that I’m in trouble because my history tells me that it’s going to take me hours to fall asleep. And I need my sleep.

Recently my wife picked up a used book because she had heard that it has helped some people who have sleep difficulties but I told her that I didn’t need it. She asked me didn’t I have sleep problems? It was then that I remembered that I used to have sleep difficulties but now it’s become so manageable that I’d forgotten that it used to be a problem. I remember having all these sleep issues that I’ve listed above, but none of them have been a problem for me for at least a couple of years now.

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So how did I overcome my sleep problems? Maybe I should charge for the answer. It really has given me a lot more control over that part of my life; no more lying in bed feeling helpless, tossing and turning while agonizing over how difficult tomorrow will be because I’m going to be sleepy.

The problem with charging for this sleep aid is that I’d have to package it in such a way that it couldn’t be easily copied or I’d have to do it in person. For example I scored in the 99th percentile in the GMAT exam (99th percentile in qualitative, 95th percentile in quantitative) and I could sell techniques for prepping for the exam. If I did that in person so it would be a valid sale. I guess I could package my sleep technique into a live presentation too, but I think I’ll just give it away. My contribution to the freedom of the internets.

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Counting sheep never helped me, but the process I’m going to describe does work. It’s very simple, but it does have some requirements.

  1. You really have to want to go to sleep. It can’t be one of those times when some interesting fantasy or thought process is keeping you partially awake and oh, it’d be nice to sleep but hey, this is pretty interesting/useful stuff.
  2. It’s hard work. Once you understand the process you still have to mentally work at it for it to succeed.

Ready? Here’s how it works:

  1. Get relaxed and comfortable.
  2. Focus your vision straight ahead. I know; your eyes are closed, but when my mind is wandering my eyes and my visual focus wanders as well. Pretend that you are trying to see a floater in the center of your eye. Focus straight ahead.
  3. Now, count your breaths. One way of counting is to count to ten; one count on your inhale, one count on your exhale. Once you reach ten start from one again.

Essentially this is a form of zazen or meditation. One of the objectives of counting your breath during meditation is to stop your mind from wandering. Here the object is the same; stop your mind from wandering so that you can fall asleep. Don’t force your breathing. Don’t manage you breathing. Try to remain separate from your breathing and just listen and count.

Pretty simple, eh?

Maybe too simple. It’s not difficult to breathe and to count. You may find that random thoughts still appear. Try to focus and to still your mind.

  • One trick that can help is to visualize the numbers appearing before your eyes as you count. This helps to keep your visual processing units occupied.
  • If your mind still wanders, try counting in another language. Un, deux, trios; Ichi, ni, san; Uno, dos, tres; Eins, zwei, drei. If you can’t count all way to ten in this other language just go as far as you can, counting once only for each breath rather than counting for both the inhale and exhale.
  • If that seems too easy and your mind still wanders while you count, try counting backwards in this other language.
  • Or, take two languages and alternate language each time you restart the count.

It can be hard work. You really need to want to sleep. Keep visualizing, keep counting or counting backwards, but don’t tense your body. It’s all in your mind, let your body just lie there. Keep focused. Wait for your breath, see the number and count. Wait for your breath, see the number and count. Wait for your breath, see the number and count.


Preparing to take the GMAT

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(More copy of “life, as seen by a poker player” posts into this blog)

Years ago I was considering doing an MBA.

Along with grades from undergraduate studies, recommendations and relevant work experience, the other thing that MBA programs consider for admission is the score on the Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT. This is the equivalent of the MCAT for med school or LSAT for law school.

Image by PerfectoInsecto

Back when I did the test, the lowest acceptable GMAT score that I saw was 550. Most universities require 600, and the highest minimum score for admission was 650. I scored 720. Relative to the other test takers, I was in the 95th percentile for quantitative, 99th percentile for qualitative, and in the 99th percentile overall, implying that most of those that scored higher than me in the quantitative did poorer than I did in the qualitative. Scoring must have changed over the years, because if I look at scoring now the averages seem quite high relative to when I took the test. For example, INSEAD, which sought my application back then, now apparently claims an average score of 705, or almost my score, so unless the scoring has shifted, that doesn’t make much sense. Or maybe they’ve never accepted anyone who didn’t score in the 90th percentile.

Years later I discovered later that I scored high enough on the GMAT to gain admission to MENSA, but after investigating the organization I decided that joining a group where people seemed to sit around doing word jumble puzzles didn’t seem my style.

Anyway, at various points I’ve considered offering tutoring for people planning to take the GMAT exam because I did well and because I think that I used a good approach to preparing for the exam. As I remember the test, essentially the GMAT tested two things; high school level math skills, and reading and comprehension skills. And it tests for speed on both. You do do half hour sections, and you cannot go back to previous sections once you’ve finished a section. There are 7 half hour sections to write, over a four hour period. Endurance, speed, accuracy.

My exam preparation involved buying two books with tests from previous years and doing one 1/2 hour test at a time at first, later building up and doing longer test sessions. After each session I would score my results. And the crucial aspect, I would then categorize my mistakes into 1) carelessness, either misreading the question or misreading the answer options, 2) speed errors; ran out of time to do the question properly, 3) unable to answer given the restraints. The last ones were ones that I for whatever reason I couldn’t get my head around, or would have taken me too much time to work out properly. Those ones all I could to was to learn to recognize them before I used up too much time and mark them to come back and finish, if I had extra time.

As I took more practice tests, I focused on eliminating the careless errors, with some background awareness of the speed errors/constraint. Over time I got both of those down to a minimum, and then even found myself with time available before the 1/2 hour ran out for dealing with the difficult ones.

With that kind of preparation for the exam material and the structure I didn’t feel pressured and did fairly well.



Two things come out of this for me with regards to poker:

  1. I should be fast and accurate with math skills.
  2. I can draw from my preparation for the exam to improve my poker play by using similar analysis of results

Unfortunately, 1. does not seem to be the case anymore. Since the advent of computers, I never add, multiply, subtract or divide anything in my head anymore. (And no, calculators and computers are not allowed when taking the GMAT exam). My math skills have gone down the tube and I don’t seem to be interested in redeveloping them. When faced with pot odds calculations, I tend to do eyeball estimates if it’s at all complicated, rather than make any effort to work out the correct ratios.

The second I apply sometimes, more when I was first starting out. But we can probably all spend more time reviewing our hand histories than we do. In the heat of the moment for example, I often tend to put players on a narrower range of hands than I should, seeing what hands I’m behind and missing the ones that I’m ahead of that might also explain his move. In the other direction, when I started out I often missed seeing straight draws that filled on the turn or river, though that ability tends to come with time and especially if you play Omaha.