Learn to sleep like a baby
This short film by neuroscientist, Matthew Walker, highlights recent research about the negative effects of sleep deprivation on the heart, the immune system, memory and brain function.
It seems that, during sleep, the glymphatic system opens like a tap, letting fluid flow rapidly through the brain. This recently discovered mechanism helps control the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
“It’s as if a network of hidden caves has been discovered and these exciting results highlight the potential importance of the network in normal brain function,” says Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D., a programme director at The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in America.
Yes, we all know that getting a good night's sleep is essential, but many of us have real problems either getting to sleep or staying asleep. Yet sleep is actually a conditioned response and, even if we have had years of poor quality sleep, we can still retrain the brain with new and more healthy habits.
Good sleep hygiene is important. Traditional advice includes practices that reinforce the body's natural tendency to want to sleep at night.
- Maintain a regular bedtime and waking time. 8 hours works best for most but be aware of your own natural pattern. Get out of bed at the regular time even if your sleep was poor, as sleeping in can disturb sleep the following night.
- Do not nap excessively during the day as this result in poorer sleep at night.
- Do not drink alcohol in the evening as this disturbs sleep patterns.
- Avoid caffeine after noon and limit total caffeine consumption.
- Do not smoke just before bedtime or during the night as this disturbs sleep.
- Get outside and walk or exercise during the day, but avoid exercising in the evening within 3 hours of bedtime.
- Do not use the bed or bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex. If it's used for non-sleep activities such as watching TV, or looking at your laptop or mobile, it may become a stimulus for alertness, rather than for sleep.
- Establish a routine in preparation for sleep. Engaging in frustrating activities or excessive worry close to bedtime may well prevent sleep.
- Maintain a comfortably cool temperature in the bedroom and keep the bedroom dark and quiet. Try to screen out any disturbing noise or light, use ear protectors and a sleep mask if needed.
STOP and sleep
The traditional advice when you can't sleep, has been to get up and do something boring until you feel sleepy again. However, getting up can actually wake you up even more.
The very best idea is to stay in bed and use the Blackboard Technique to train your brain to switch off when you tell it to, so you can fall into peaceful, relaxed sleep when you choose. It's true brain training. It has changed the lives of many long-term insomniacs by interrupting the worries and niggles that tap us on the shoulder at night, keeping us awake when we would much rather be in the Land of Nod.
The method begins by noticing that you are getting caught up in thinking and interrupts those thoughts by saying to yourself ‘STOP’. As soon as you say STOP, you have brought yourself to mindful awareness.
You now have an opportunity to think your thoughts rather than allow them to think you! Imagine, in your mind's eye, a very large blackboard.
The blackboard is as big as you are. You have a chalk and a blackboard eraser.
Your task in your imagination is to chalk the number 100 on the blackboard as large as you can. You then have the job of, in your mind's eye, of wiping away the number with the eraser.
Your next task is to chalk the number 99 onto the blackboard which you must then also erase. This task continues without interruption until you fall asleep or reach zero when the task begins again.
This insomnia busting technique improves with use until, in the end; you may find you only reach 97 or 96 before falling into a deep and peaceful sleep. So why does this technique work? Thoughts and worries catch the attention of the mind and keep it active.
Left unchecked, these intrusive thoughts can keep you awake and alert when you would rather be asleep. When the mind becomes focused on an un-stimulating, repetitive action, it becomes bored, loses interest and settles back down.
It's impossible to think two thoughts at once so the repeating numbers and images crowd out other thoughts. Behind closed eyelids; the eyes follow the chalk on the imaginary blackboard which mimics the rapid eye movement observed in dreamers known as REM.
The brain is a quick learner. If you repeatedly use the blackboard technique, the response is quicker and stronger as a new neural pathway is established.
Sleep is a conditioned response. It is easy to become anxious and interrupt the process of letting go.
Going to sleep is not something you actively do. It is something which happens all by itself.
So reclaim your right to a good night’s sleep and train your brain to let go of the day.
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