My teenage boys can sleep and sleep. And sleep. I’m envious.
My friend’s teenage daughter was recently feeling sick, and literally slept it off. She slept all day, woke up to eat, then was able to continue sleeping! Bless her.
Or curse her. Depends on whether at this point you sleep well at night or not.
I’ve written about the importance of good sleep before (for weight loss, mental clarity, hormone balance) but today I want to expand on one point:
Brain training for sleep.
Some people call it “sleep training” and I think this is the right phrase when you’re doing it to someone else, like a parent teaching a child to sleep. When it’s yourself, it’s “brain training” – you are literally training your own brain.
First let me back up a step and remind you of what we call “sleep hygiene”. Sleep hygiene is how we medical people refer to the period of time leading up to you going to sleep, and all the things you do, or don’t do, during that time.
As I often say to my patients, this is the part I can’t help you with – the part where you go to bed.
Here are some major points of good sleep hygiene: turn off screens (computer, tablet, phone, etc), get your rituals done (face washing, teeth brushing, etc), don’t drink alcohol, don’t start doing all the household chores you think you can’t do with your kids around, and, last but not least, get yourself to bed at a time that allows you to get enough hours of sleep.
So where does brain training come into the picture?
“Tired and Wired”
Many of my patients are “tired and wired” – they are tired enough to go to bed but then stare at the ceiling, their mind now starting to rev up and go the opposite direction from sleep.
I help my patients with the chemistry and hormonal part of this situation. My strong preference is for people to use natural things, such as progesterone or supplements, including melatonin, L-theanine, etc, rather than prescription sleeping medicines to help with falling asleep.
These supplements are non-addicting, and you pretty much can’t overdose. I know people who routinely take up to 20 mg of melatonin every night (1 to 3 mg works for most people). Sometimes you may need to use a prescription sleeping medicine, but they are all pretty much addicting and hard to get off of later on, so I don’t recommend them for the long term.
Regardless of whatever assistance for falling asleep, you have to also train your brain. You need to figure out your own method of having something, quiet, calming, boring, and repetitive to do as a mental process after you close your eyes and before you fall off to sleep.
Counting Sheep – Boring!
As I often say, there’s a reason someone invented counting sheep. Counting sheep meets all the criteria – quiet, repetitive, and for sure boring.
Instead, this process can be a poem, a prayer, a visualization, a short story, or even a song or melody (that you think through, not actually listening to it through an iPod). One of my patients hears her favorite (quiet) symphony.
It doesn’t have to be exactly the same every night (as you’ll see below when I share mine with you), but remember, you are training your brain, so there has to be a simple structure to it that you can easily remember it and your brain will associate it with going to sleep.
I started doing my own brain training process about 12 years ago. I now rarely get all the way through it because as soon as I start it, my brain takes note and passes out.
One process I use less often is to visualize myself slowly walking down a staircase that turns to the right at the bottom of each set of stairs. (Imagine walking down the sides of a square well.) I imagine whatever I need there to be to feel safe (wide stairs, nothing scary down the middle, etc).
But the process I use the most is based on the structure of Jewish prayer services.
(By the way, I confess that I’m a little reluctant to share my process with you because it’s so personal! But it is so effective for me that I am sharing it with you here in detail for the first time. So here goes.)
What I Do:
There are three parts: praise, requests, and thanks.
It’s a simple structure that I can fill in with phrases based on what is going on for me at any given time. I do it all quietly in my head, with my eyes closed, linking the process to relaxing my body and calming my brain down into a state that leads to sleep.
So first, praise. Regardless of your belief about God or “Source”, this first part of the process I do praises whatever that force is that exists (“out there” or “inside” or wherever you believe it resides) that allows or helps people who are scared to find courage, people who feel weak to find strength, people who are confused to see and comprehend clearly, and so on.
Second is requests. This is the part where I request from God (or Source or the universe or whatever term or word or name resonates with you) specific things. Sometimes the list is short and sometimes it is really long!
Last is thanks. This is where I express thanks for as many details of my life as I can think of. This of course fits with the gratitude work that many people are doing now on FaceBook and in other venues.
(I’ll write another time about the scientifically demonstrated connection between “elevated emotions”, including gratitude and appreciation, and healing.)
As I said, at this point, I rarely get all the way through this process. I usually fall asleep before reaching the end of all three parts. When I first started doing this many years ago, I often got all the way through it. Now only on occasion am I still awake when I finish the third part.
Then what? No problem! I just start over again. I have not yet made it through the whole thing twice 🙂
I hope you can see that the content is not as important as the intent of whatever process you use to help train your brain for sleep. Please share with me below your tricks and techniques to help you fall and stay asleep.