|Fight or Flight||(select)|
Eliminating Mind Chatter
There are any number of web sites that will tell you how to get a good night's sleep. I recently typed “sleep tips” into google (with the quotation marks—that requires that the article actually has those two words together) and got 112,000 hits. Add this sleep tip: if you read all 112,000 sites, you will probably get to sleep.
One thing for sure, people are getting less and less sleep. Historically, we are reported to have gotten 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night. Now, the average person gets only 7 to 7 1/2. While the need for sleep varies widely from individual to individual, it can be said that we are definitely getting less as a population and the high demand for pills that increase sleep would say that we want more.
Persistent sleep problems are usually caused by 1) Emotional Stress 2) Dietary Stress or 3) Electromagnetic Stress from the force fields of electronic devices in the bedroom. These work in combination as well. This results in high sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity, which is the"fight or flight" branch of the autonomic nervous system. When we experience stress, this system raises heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, which keeps us from going to sleep and staying asleep.
It also increases cortisol, the stress hormone, contributing to the “mind chatter” that everyone experiences when they wake up at night.
Nature built the fight or flight response into us largely to deal with external threats such as human invaders and wild animals. In that regard, we are better off than in the past since we don’t have marauders coming from over the hill and pillaging our families and belongings, nor do we have to run from attacking lions and tigers. But in trade, we have let other marauders into our lives in the form of the the 3 stressors identified above.
Fortunately, we can
do something about them.
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1. EMOTIONAL STRESS
For example, we all regularly suppress our true feelings in conversation or in actions with others, opting rather to follow polite, social custom. We may prefer to express anger or some other emotion, but history has taught us that we are better off hiding our true feelings. When the subconscious suppresses these emotions, it is disruptive to our energetic system and one of the symptoms is an inability to sleep.
Accessing the Subconscious Mind
To be healthy, we have to sooner or later experience our true feelings. We don't necessarily have to express them, but we do have to feel them. Contemplate the following questions to bring these emotions to the surface. Consider journaling with pencil and paper to thoroughly experience their full effect on your life.
Keep in mind that "No" answers to any of these questions indicates the presence of negative emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness—among a host of others. It is these emotions we must confront and hopefully dissolve. Otherwise, they run in the background of our consciousness at night and keep us awake. If the act of being present with these feelings does not totally eliminate them, consider making the necessary changes in your life that will.
2. DIETARY STRESS
Since 90% of our food purchases are processed, each of us ingests approximately 20 pounds of preservatives and food additives each year. These are toxic and increase anxiety.
Additionally, processed and fast food results in high inflammation in our bodies (to see how to change back, visit Ancestral Eating).
Inflammation is fought by cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone, which is supposed to be at its lowest level during the night. When it rises, it wakes us up. Just when we are supposed to be getting deep, restorative sleep, we awaken into a fight or flight state so cortisol can take on the inflammation created by our diet. Lack of sleep then becomes a stressor as well, further raising cortisol in a never-ending cycle.
The primary foods that should be removed from the diet that have been found to contribute to inflammation are the following:
Note: Several excellent books have now been written about the inflammation in the American diet. Visit your library or bookstore for a more in-depth treatment of how to eliminate this problem.
3. ELECTROMAGNETIC STRESS (especially in the bedroom)
Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is at an all-time high. We have cell phones, cordless phones, computers, TV’s, VCR’s, Wi-Fi, microwave ovens—you name it. Most of us have an electrical cord that runs along the wall behind our beds. Each of these devices put out an electromagnetic field.
While research investigating EMR and health remains controversial, it is undisputed that electromagnetic fields affect brain wave activity. Since proper functioning of the brain is necessary for restful sleep, many physicians now recommend that electronics in the bedroom be eliminated.
Take a look at the electrical devices in your bedroom, especially close to your head. Most of us have at least a clock, a light, and a cordless phone. Now, we have a cell phone close by as well. Consider removing these electronics, or at least going to battery power where possible. Some recommend that we return to corded phones, and shut off the electricity to the bedroom at the master fuse box as well.
We live a third of
our lives in the bedroom. It needs to be a sanctuary.
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To ensure quality sleep, I suggest that the 3 areas above be addressed. And there are many other issues that also affect our sleep such as alcohol, caffeine, and lack of exercise.
But once you're in bed, I recommend two other methods as well. They are rarely discussed in the “Sleep Tips” literature. Or, if they are, they are only superficially addressed. Both regard the ability to control the mind and eliminate “chatter.”
If there is one thing that is universally expressed by everyone who has difficulty sleeping, it’s the non-stop stream of thoughts in the mind that cannot be halted.
Sound has a long history of being able to alter the way we feel. Brain waves have been scientifically proven to entrain to the sounds around us. As a result, many composers have created music to enhance creativity, promote relaxation and, of course, put us to sleep. Practically all of us use music at some time during the day. Try watching an action movie sometime without the sound on and you will get a totally different effect.
I have experimented with sleep music for many years. Many commercial, bedroom-style players offer nature sounds of the ocean, bubbling springs, wind, or the nighttime sounds of crickets, frogs, and owls. They can be quite effective.
I have my own sound preferences though, and have set up a CD music player next to my bed, letting the music gently play all night. My wife is a flight attendant and has to get sleep at some odd hours. She carries a music player with her as well; fortunately, we have exactly the same tastes in sleep music. We have experimented with a lot of it and I will tell you what works best for us. You may have to experiment as well to find what works for you.
Keep in mind that you would never select any of this music as background for your daily activities. It is meant to carry you into a deep meditative state, or in this case, a deep sleep.
1. The first music I have had good luck with is Delta Sleep System, by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson. Like a lot of sleep CD's, it is not really music with a melody. It is more of a droning sound but is embedded with beats that mimic the brain wave patterns of deep sleep. It can be highly effective and can be purchased here.
2. The CD I have most
utilized for sleep in the last few years is “OM Meditation Journey,”
by Peter Shane. "OM" is reportedly the sound made by the vibratory
universe and yogis report hearing it in deep meditation. I have listened
to many "OM" CD's and this is my favorite. Perhaps it will work
for you as well. It is available here.
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If it’s clear that you are awake and your thoughts start to race, you will need to still the mind directly.
The key to stilling
the mind is to give it something to do.
The breath is perfect for that.
Lie flat in bed with a straight spine and practice one or more of the following:
1. ABDOMINAL BREATHING
I usually start with abdominal breathing. I lie my hands on my stomach and either focus on the rise or fall of the abdomen, or on the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Both are effective. Sometimes, after only a few short repetitions I am back to sleep again. If my mind starts to wander, I just gently bring it back to my breath.
2. ABDOMINAL BREATHING
The next meditation is just a variation of #1. Hold your breath for a few brief seconds at the top of inhalation, at the bottom of exhalation, or both. Holding your breath at the top of inhalation awakens your higher sensibilities. Holding it at the bottom tends to ground us; this would seem to favor sleep. Holding your breath at the top and bottom has a balancing effect.
3. SPINAL BREATHING
Spinal breathing has been popular through the ages. In this technique, just imagine a ball of energy, or light, moving from the base of the spine to the top of the head with each inhalation, and back down with each exhalation. This balances your energies and is one of my favorites.
4. SPINAL BREATHING
This meditation is a combination of #2 and #3. While visualizing energy moving up and down the spine, hold the breath for a few brief seconds at the top of inhalation, at the bottom of exhalation, or both.
5. ABDOMINAL BREATHING
WITH A MANTRA
The meditations covered so far enlist two of our five senses: kinesthesis and vision (feeling and seeing). This meditation enlists our auditory sense as well, using a sound, or mantra. Find anything that works for you, but commonly used words are “joy” or “peace,” which are mentally repeated with exhalation.
Other sounds have been handed down from Eastern traditions and include “OM” or “Ahhhhh.” One of the most effective for me is to mentally repeat “So” on inhalation, and “Hum” on exhalation. Yogic science believes that “So” is the actual sound the breath makes during inhalation, and “Hum” is the actual sound of exhalation. Again, we are trying to just give the mind something to do.
6. SPINAL BREATHING
WITH A MANTRA
The sixth breathing meditation combines #3 and #5, thus utilizing audition, kinesthesis, and vision. We mentally repeat our mantra while visualizing light moving up and down the spine with inhalation and exhalation.
7. SPINAL BREATHING
WITH A MANTRA AND RETENTION
This meditation combines #4 and #5. The mantra is repeated while visualizing energy going up and down the spine. Additionally, one of the retention methods is used where the breath is held either at the top of inhalation, the bottom of exhalation, or both.
In practice, I find that I do one or two of these meditations and, combined with the music, I usually go back to sleep fairly rapidly. If not, I am still in a more restful state than just letting my mind wander. Find what works for you.
Work in the other 3 areas as well, addressing emotional, dietary, and electromagnetic stress. But you don’t want that to become the "mind chatter" that keeps you awake. If you have a great idea, or something you need to remember to do, keep a notepad by the side of the bed so you can write it down and let it go.
Then go back to your peaceful sounds and meditations.