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self help

Sleep and the Noisy Brain

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The moment I lie down, it is as if the chamber of secrets in my brain gets an invitation to open up – darkness, doom, death, destruction, decay –worries and what if’s weigh me down. I walk down the staircase of negative possibilities unable to stop myself.

If you don’t remember the last time you felt rested, first and foremost meet with a doctor and rule out any underlying medical/age-related sleep problems including but not limited to menopausal symptoms in women and prostate problems in men. Next follow the plan below.

A 21-day 3-step plan to help with your sleep

Step 1 is environmental, popularly called as “Sleep hygiene” and written about extensively. In order to quiet the noisy mind, doctors recommend limiting caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. They propose avoiding exercise right before bed. This apart they suggest blocking out unwanted light by wearing eye shades and unwanted noise by using ear plugs or by listening to white noise. Screens are a definite NO before bedtime. It is highly advisable to mute your phones or better still, keep them out of your bedroom altogether. Some people prefer to sleep and wake up early and others prefer to sleep and wake up late – researchers focus more on the duration and quality of sleep than on sleep and wake up ‘time’ per sé.

Step 2 is behavioural. Simply put, you learn to do things a certain way, and get used to this way over time. Sometimes you pick up ways that you find difficult to get rid of – let’s call these “habits.” After years of brushing your teeth in a specific ritualistic manner, if I ask you to change the direction from where you begin to brush, you will need to unlearn and relearn a whole new technique – DRAT !! This takes reluctance, time and practice.  For starters, try to limit sleep to only the night. Get your body to physically relax – some people use yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, guided meditation, guided imagery, massages, repetitive chanting (“one black sheep, two black sheep…) tai chi and/or qigong. Calming music helps. Your bed and your bedroom should be decluttered. You are schooling your mind to understand that beds are for sleeping and tuning out not in, and this symbolism helps.

Step 3 is cognitive. As soon as you step into bed the band baaja baraat begins. Enter – horrible, terrible, worrisome thought number 1.  Either you welcome this unwelcome guest or you don’t. When you bargain with yourself regarding the “importance” of this guest, remind yourself that good sleep, in the long run, increases your longevity and reduces your morbidity. You get more done when you are sick less, and live longer. Worry number 1 has no good immediate solution and brings with it uninvited worry number 2, 3 and 4. “If only” all problems could be solved simply by worrying about them – at least then, worrying would be a constructive exercise. A simple solution to this problem of unwanted worries is to schedule them into your day.

Every day I keep aside 20 minutes in the evening to worry.

When at night my mind starts worrying, I ask to carry it forward to the following day at my scheduled worry-time. If you are familiar with the Japanese 5S methodology for organising spaces in order to work efficiently, effectively, and safely – I apply the same with my mind. There is a time for everything and everything has its time – therefore, there is a time to worry and worrying has its time – that time is not at bedtime.

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