Jean Paul Garnier struggles with chronic insomnia, but the Los Angeles musician and sound artist has learned to make it work for him. He creates abstract electronic soundscapes rooted in his own study of sleep. One of them is an eight-hour, work-in-progress he calls a "Sleep Map." Reporter: Steven Cuevas
While millions of people struggle with chronic insomnia, a Los Angeles musician and experimental sound artist has learned to embrace the condition.
He has turned his erratic sleep pattern into abstract electronic soundscapes rooted in his own study of sleep -- and neuroscience. Among those pieces is an eight-hour work in progress that he calls a ‘"Sleep Map." He hopes it can someday help the sleepless get a good night’s rest.
Jean Paul Garnier is a sound artist and sound designer. “During the day I work at a rehearsal studio,” he said. “I also sell sound effects. I’m also a freelance house painter.”
Garnier’s struggles with sleep date back to his childhood. “I remember going back to when I was 5 or 6 years old being an insomniac,” he recounted. "Because it’s been so long and I’ve fought against it for most of my life, I’ve been happier and my life’s been better since I decided to embrace it and work with it instead of fighting against it. So, now that’s just what’s become normal in my life and it works for me.”
The diary that Garnier has kept on his late-night activities shows that he has become a productive insomniac:
It’s now 3:28 a.m. Just been working for the last few hours on building instruments for the visible light frequency tuning system after doing all the math. And I’m also going to attempt to turn in at this point.
Garnier added, “I sleep in several-hour increments, I don’t tend to sleep for long periods of time, although once every couple of weeks I will sleep for a long period of time. But generally I’ll go to sleep, or attempt to, which will take about an hour. I’m usually frustrated by that and just get up and work. If I do fall asleep, generally I’ll wake up around 3 in the morning and be up anywhere from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. But that all varies. I mean, there will be a week when I sleep like a normal human being and fall asleep at night, wake up in the morning. It’s really not pattern-based.”
Garnier’s diary reflects the inconsistency of his sleep:
It’s 2:22 am. I’m not tired at all actually; after my nap last night I wasn’t up for too long, sleep for at least 10 hours, which is miraculous. I get that about once a month and it's rejuvenating.
During his battle with insomnia, Garnier has found that being active, rather than remaining sedentary in bed, is the key to getting rest.
“You know, if I have an erratic sleep pattern and I’m only going to sleep for two hours and be up, then I might as well work with it and do something while you’re up instead of agonizingly lying in bed, which I think is what a lot of insomniacs do, and that tends to just feed it,” he said. “Whereas if I get up and pursue an intellectual activity or whatever that may be, eventually that will drain me and I will fall asleep.”
In his studio, Garnier busies himself by layering isotonic tones. “Actually, a lot of the music I’ve created is to help myself go to sleep,” he added. “I make a lot of more ambient, ethereal music.” Still, sometimes even a busy night’s work is not enough to sufficiently tire Garnier:
3:35 a.m. I just completed my invisible light spectrum to scale conversions … still not quite tired but I’m gonna try and turn in anyhow.
The sounds that Garnier designs are specifically tailored to aid the listener’s sleep.
“Some of the work that I do is arranged around building the perfect night’s sleep in an audio pattern, so that an eight-hour recording will gently guide you through these brain-wave states -- as is what a normal night’s sleep is, if there is such a thing,” Garnier said. “You go through the four stages of sleep and they are associated mostly with theta and delta waves. So, if I wanted to take you from a waking state right now at this point, I’d probably start it out in alpha waves and move that from theta to delta and adjust back and forth throughout the night for different time periods.”
For those who don’t usually like background noise while they sleep, Garnier said the sounds he creates can be effective at low volumes.
“I imagine some people hear that and think: 'That’s an irritating sound. How is that going to help me sleep?' I turned it up so you could hear, but the nice thing about these is they can be listened to at really low volumes. For your brain to entrain to a beat, it doesn’t have to be super present. Your brain will actually hear the beat created by those differences in cycles, so your brain will begin firing at that. Basically it’s a rapid on-off switching of the sound that does the same thing, so that your brain will start firing at this particular frequency.”
While Garnier hopes that his efforts ultimately result in better sleep, he is completely unfamiliar with a life free of insomnia.
“So … to wish to just go back and be able to sleep eight hours a night and like a regular pattern?" he asked. "It’s alluring to me, of course. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be building the audio sleep map and trying to help other people with the same problems with things like that. But I’ve never had it, so I don’t know if it would be good for me either!”