How to Put Your Mind to Sleep
When it won’t shut up
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My sleep schedule:
8:30: Get ready for bed
9:00: Be in bed
9:30: Hopefully be sleeping
9:55: Definitely be sleeping
10:00: Oh god, you’re not asleep? Why aren’t you asleep? You know what happens when you can’t sleep. Well, you just keep thinking about sleep. I mean wait, don’t think about sleep! Just don’t even think about the word.
10:05: Now it’s ruined, it’s all ruined.
12:30: Is someone vacuuming? I am pretty sure someone is vacuuming. I will find them, I will find them and I will hurt them.
1:00: *silent rage until sleep comes*
Much of my life is dictated by my fear of not falling asleep at the right time. I calculate how much sleep I need down to the exact minute. I lay in bed each night waiting for the unyielding thought-vomit to occur. I used to think that the endless stream of thoughts that plagued my nightly routine were unique to me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you have trouble turning your mind off at night, you aren’t alone. It isestimated that 30-to-40 million Americans have a sleep disorder and an additional 20 million have occasional difficulty sleeping. It’s so bad that the Centers for Disease Control considers it a public health epidemic. To unearth the reasons why we can’t turn off our mind at night, we should first understand the body’s mechanisms which govern sleep.
Until as recently as the 1950s scientists believed that falling asleep was a completely passive process. Scientists now think that the body’s wakefulness and sleep mode is dictated by a two-process model. Process S:Promotes our desire to sleep and inhibits our arousal centers at night.Process C: Maintains our wakefulness during the day. This two-process model is also influenced by the circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is the body’s clock that regulates our activities and behaviors. It’s controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) — a part of the brain known as the circadian rhythm pacemaker. Morning light lets the SCN know ‘Hey, it’s time to get up and start this process over again.’ As the sun sets, the SCN signals our body to calm down and prepare for sleep.
Disruptions to the circadian rhythm can prevent us from falling asleep at night and feeling overly tired during the day. These disruptions can also adversely effect our health.
(Night) Shift workers have an increased risk of heart problems, digestive disturbances, and emotional and mental problems, all of which may be related to their sleeping problems. The number and severity of workplace accidents also tend to increase during the night shift.
Okay, so we understand the process that drives us to sleep, but what happens to our bodies once we are in bed?
here are two kinds of sleep, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non-REM (NREM) sleep. Both of which are necessary for the body to go through its restorative process. There are also five stages of sleep. The entire process takes about 90-120 minutes. In an ideal situation, it would look something like this:
When we can’t turn off the mind it is because we are having trouble transitioning from the alpha waves of stage 1 to the theta-band waves of stage 2. Those with severe sleep disorders often enter REM sleep immediately upon falling asleep. As we begin the transition into sleep our brains are letting go of a lot, but this is by no means a passive process. Our brains are reordering and assessing the day’s events, working to promote new memory formations, and cleaning up debris.
Turning off our mind — as anyone who has tried to do will tell you — is easier said than done. There’s no magical switch you can flip to make yourself fall asleep, but there are some tricks you can do to help quiet your mind.
- Cool yourself down
- Part of the body’s process for falling asleep each night involves a lowering of the body temperature. If you are in a room that is too hot it can disturb your internal sleep processes. To get slightly more technical, the metabolism of your brains frontal cortex wants to be cool when falling asleep. Insomniacs have a higher metabolism in their frontal cortex which is said to contribute to their inability to sleep. The bodyloses its ability to regulate its temperature at night, so finding the right balance is important.
2. Buy red lights
- You know that sort of bluish glow given off by our TVs, computers, and phones? That seemingly serene blue light is literally robbing you of sleep. The short-wavelength of blue light stops the production of melatonin— a hormone necessary for sleep. Exposure to blue light can even throw off our circadian rhythm. If purchasing all red lights is a bit too drastic for you, aim to reduce the amount of light you use at least two hours before bed...