The Science of Falling Back Asleep
I have chosen sleep as my topic for this week’s quote, comment, and video because of the reaction I have received from my audiences recently.
First, we need to understand what sleep is so that we can produce this state of being when we want to. As this week’s quote suggests, sleep is simply a chemical change in our brain and body, and the chemical involved for the most part is melatonin. On the other hand, the chemicals that wake us up in the morning are adrenaline and cortisol. Of course, adrenaline and cortisol are also the chemicals we produce when we become worried, stressed, and/or frustrated. Therefore, when we wake up in the middle of the night and begin to worry about what we didn’t do the day before, or what we have to do tomorrow, or, when we start worrying about the fact that we have to wake up in a few hours, we become even more stressed and frustrated.
What is happening is that we are laying there trying to go to sleep but producing chemicals designed to wake us up!
Therefore, we need to change this experience. First, we need to recognize that we don’t go to sleep… we fall asleep. While this may seem like semantics, I’m suggesting that it can be an important factor because the visual of putting ourselves on the edge of sleep and falling in is more powerful than thinking sleep is somewhere we need to go. In other words, we can “go to the store” or even “go to bed,” but we can’t “go to sleep.”
Next, since sleep is a chemical change in our brain and body, we need to ensure that we know how to trigger the production of this “sleep” chemical. This begins with our pre-sleep ritual or routine.
First, we want to decide how much sleep we want (how many hours), look at the time we want to wake up to have a relaxed morning routine, and then count back from there. This gives us the time we want to go to sleep each night.
Plus, there are activities that also hamper the production of melatonin/sleep. Obviously, anything that triggers your excessive thinking and/or worrying (checking your email/phone) is something you want to avoid. The blue/white light produced by your computer screen mimics daylight, and thus suppresses the production of melatonin. In addition, watching intense TV, or TV that cuts between scenes quickly is also incongruent to getting tired/sleepy at a certain time in the evening.
Therefore, the key is to choose a time that you want to go to sleep (that gives you the number of hours of rest you would recommend to someone you love) and then, about 30 minutes before that, stop all activities that might interfere with your body producing melatonin, and start activities that create a trigger, or a series of activities that always precede sleep so that your body starts to see these as signals to produce melatonin.
These should be relaxing activities, such as meditation, a hot bath or shower, and finally, ending with a book that is interesting, but not compelling. The goal is for the time of night and the activities that you have chosen to work with your body and trigger the sleep you want. The idea is that you will be reading your book and begin to feel so sleepy you can hardly keep your eyes open – You then turn off the light and fall to sleep.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, you want to ensure that you give your brain something to do versus worry. Therefore, you want to begin to take slow, deep breaths, saying the word “relax” on the exhale. You do this until you feel in control, and then ask a question associated with the solution versus the problem.
One such question would be, “How would I like to be feeling now?” Obviously, the answer is “sleepy” or “drowsy.” Next, you use your imagination to remember a time in the past when you felt sleepy or drowsy, because any image we hold in our mind creates a chemical change in our brain and body (think, sexual fantasy:-), imagining a time when you were sleepy will begin to trigger the production of melatonin. You then notice the fact that you are now more sleepy and drowsy than you were at the beginning of this process, and you repeat the steps until you fall asleep.
By the way, did you notice that the steps spell BRAIN (Breathe, Relax, Ask, Imagine, Notice)? So, to bring this all together, the idea is to create a pre-sleep routine that each night begins to trigger the production of melatonin at about the same time. Then, if you do wake up in the middle of the night, rather than worrying, you use the BRAIN model to once again trigger melatonin and fall back to sleep.
The good news is that you are now partnering with your body to give it the sleep it needs, and becoming increasingly skilled at influencing the chemical make-up of your body and the quality of your sleep.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill