Can’t Sleep? There’s an “Off” Switch.
“Thinking doesn’t seem to help very much. The human brain is too high-powered to have many practical uses in this particular universe.”
There’s much to be said for that whimsical quote by the Slaughterhouse Five author. After all, we’re talking about a machine that’s got a hundred billion nerve cells, two million miles of axons, and a million billion synapses, making it the most complex structure on earth. And yet, it often has no idea as to how to turn itself off at night. For those who struggle with insomnia, the “Off” switch seems to be hidden from itself. Does this make sense to you? Because to me it’s ridiculous.
As a sleep specialist for twenty-four years, this is what I’ve found: you have within you the switch to a great night’s sleep. The only trick is locating it. Seriously, you’re a skills machine. You learned how to tie your shoes, how to use a computer, and let’s not forget how you took to that crazy app you love. But turning off your mind? Despite the fact that up to 40% of the populace is sleep deprived, there’s no instruction manual for sleeping naturally and without drugs.
Let’s not get too wound up over the Pharmaceutical Industry’s dog in this race. They want people to need their nasty little concoctions, and they’ve stacked the odds against you. Another problem we’re as unique as our dysfunction. Some people can’t sleep because they are in pain, and others because they have digestive issues. For most people, the problem lies in that most curious of organs, the human brain.
Perhaps you’ve been overworking lately, or simply too festive. We like being festive; between eating and imbibing, and burning the candle at both ends, we can be fun machines. When you were 21 you could do it every night and do it all again the next day/night. However, if you’re reading this you’re probably no longer 21. At some point your body starts pushing back against the abuse by making you feel like crap. What it’s really doing, though, is sending your brain a message that you’re doing something that’s got to change. Losing sleep is a pretty strong signal, and one you’ll have to pay attention to whether you want to or not.
But first, you try doing it the easy way. You’re exhausted, and your doctor nudges a prescription across the desk at you. You may be tempted to pick up that slip of paper just to get some relief. Unfortunately, that solution is shortsighted. Medication cures nothing. What’s worse, after you take benzo’s or Ambien for twenty-one days, you are officially addicted to it. Your doctor didn’t warn you that by day twenty-two you would be hooked. Shame on you, Doc.
So, let’s talk solutions.
The First Step Toward Slumber
The brain wants to be soothed so it can relax your body (and vice versa). One way to rewire your brain for sleep is by doing this exercise nightly. This is just one of many that I go into in “Rewired for Sleep”. Necessary tool: something to write with and on.
Rewire Your Brain with the 5, 5 and 5 Exercise
Take three deep breaths. On the first breath, let your shoulders slump down. On the second breath, clench and then unclench your jaw. On the third breath, close your eyes for five minutes. As you breathe rhythmically, imagine a calming image, such as an awesome sunrise, or a tree with roots that nourish you. Or, you can create your own image.
For the next five minutes focus on a word that you would consider a positive word, such as “Easy,” or “Comfort.” Don’t worry if your mind wanders, that’s natural. Return to the word you’ve chosen.
For the last five minutes, jot down whatever comes to mind without judgment, letting your hand go freely. If an image, feeling, or thought you’re not “proud of” comes up, keep writing.
This is a good first step in rewiring both body and mind; for retaking control of that switch, and learning how to “turn it off.” I invite you go to my website and peruse it. There are recordings and diagrams galore there for you.
Dan Bernstein, with Rewiredforsleep.com