It’s a frustrating paradox. You are exhausted, yet can’t fall asleep.
There you lie in bed, tired and cranky, full of bodily tension, with a mind that wanders on autopilot. The inner commotion yields plenty of tossing and turning but never any sleep. It seems that no matter how depleted you are, your mind and body just won’t let go.
Tired and wired is the way you go through the world. Now what?
Sleep medication is always an option, but not a very safe one, especially over the long-term. Herbal formulas abound that come highly recommended, and they do work for some people. Others need something extra.
That autopilot internal commotion machine needs to be turned off!
Interestingly, medical research has proven that an obscure brain region called the Default Mode Network (DMN) is responsible for the steady stream of mind wandering, self-referential thoughts and bodily tension that naturally occur when you are not engaged in a conscious task.
In other words, when you are not thinking purposefully, your mind is still generating thoughts on autopilot. The DMN is the source of those thoughts and accompanying body tension. When the DMN is hyperactive, you can’t turn off your mind. Sleep is impossible.
The March 2010 issue of Scientific American magazine features DMN pioneer Marcus Raichle, MD. In the article, Raichle tells the story of how fMRI scans were able to identify DMN activity and that subjects were able to totally disengage this brain network by performing specific cognitive tasks. At first, research journals were skeptical, as they did not believe this was possible. Raichle reports:
“….we even had a paper on such findings rejected because one [editor] suggested that the reported decrease in [DMN] activity was an error in our data. The [DMN] circuits were actually being switched on at rest and switched off during the [cognitive] task. Other researchers, however, reproduced our results for both the medial parietal cortex—and the medial prefrontal cortex (involved with imagining what other people are thinking as well as aspects of our emotional state). Both areas are now considered major hubs of the DMN.”
It comes down to this: You can “turn off” the part of the brain that destroys your sleep. Engaging in specific kinds of cognitive tasks, also known as awareness practices, has been scientifically proven to alter brain circuitry (not brain chemistry, but actual circuitry) without the use of drugs!
This is useful for a variety of symptoms, including lack of sleep. When the commotion machine is turned off, sleep happens on its own. If you doubt this, you should know that this has been proven among the most difficult insomnia population, combat veterans, who experienced an unprecedented 90% success rate for reducing or eliminating symptoms of insomnia (Gavin West, MD, 2009).
The practice of turning off stress and turning on sleep has three levels. Roughly 50% of people only need to learn the first level, which is outlined below.
1. Clear your mind by writing down on a blank sheet of paper every thought or concern you have, right before getting into bed. Just write your thoughts and feelings, without editing yourself, until you feel you have covered all the bases.
2. Choose a mundane sound in the room to tune into. It could be the sound of a fan. It may be the sound of distant traffic or the hum of a refrigerator. It could be any form of white noise, including radio static at a comfortable level.
3. Tune into that sound until you fall asleep. Don’t try to relax. Don’t try to do anything. Just listen to a meaningless, mundane sound. (Don’t use music or the sound of someone’s voice).
As simple as it seems, medical researchers have proven that this kind of cognitive task disengages the DMN and its autopilot, mind wandering, sleep-destroying tendencies.
Just do it.
Mike Bundrant is a life coach and founder of the iNLP Center, which offers training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. He is also host of Mental Health Exposed, a Natural News Radio program. To learn more about natural sleep and receive a free life coaching session, please visit iNLP.
Editor: Cassandra Smith
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