Why do we sleep? Why do we have to sleep? Why can’t I sleep?!
Sleeping, actually, is one of our body’s most natural and automatic processes – right up there with breathing and pooping. If it is so natural and automatic, then why is it that estimates for insomnia in the U.S. are around 50 million. That is a staggering number.
Blame Your Brain
So what’s the deal? You see, our brain, what I call the automatic brain (or AB), is quite primitive, not much different than how it existed in the craniums of our prehistoric ancestors. When it detects danger, threat, or vulnerability, it causes us to fight or flee. To our AB, sleep can be processed as a dangerous undertaking. For our prehistoric ancestors, sleep represented a vulnerable state. It is likely that they did not often achieve a deep sleep. But what about you and me in the 21st century. Doesn’t sleep represent a vulnerable time. After all, shouldn’t we be attending to the massive to-do list that pops into our heads the minute we hit the pillow?
The Most Common Cause
The inability to achieve a restful sleep or even get to sleep can be caused by many factors, but one of the most common is anxiety. It is important to realize that the AB will never cause you to fight or flee unless there is some circumstance that triggers it; in other words, something that it processes as dangerous or threatening to you, or makes you feel vulnerable. There is always a trigger. Unfortunately, that trigger often goes unidentified, because the state of insomnia is so brutally uncomfortable, that the sufferer begins focusing on that; thinking about it all day long and wondering if they will be able to fall asleep tonight. Insomnia is just another example of the fight-or-flight response. How can you sleep if your brain has you charged up to fight or flee?
I have written in my book Brain Drain and discussed in my program The Brain Code, that the physical manifestations of the fight-or-flight response are so uncomfortable and persuasive that they stand in the way of recognizing our true gifts which we can recognize via our mind—the gateway to our Divine nature.
Natural Ways to Cure Insomnia
Whether you are having difficulty falling asleep or you suddenly awaken from sleep these 8 supplements, techniques, and perspectives can be helpful. Because nothing creates a bad mindset more than not being able to sleep.
1. You’re not sick
Don’t label yourself as being sick or having a problem. If being human is an ailment, then that is what you have. I have experienced insomnia at different moments in my life—sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few months. What has always gotten me out of it is the understanding that what is happening is not my normal and is related to some circumstance that is triggering me. By continuing to move ahead as though nothing is wrong has allowed me to get back on track. Never call yourself an insomniac or something similar.
2. Most insomnia is related to anxiety
You may kick and scream and try to deny that anything is wrong, but your AB knows better. After all, it is what is keeping you awake. It detects something about you sleeping as dangerous. Whether it means your bills won’t get paid, or your children are on the wrong track, or you have health concerns—there is something that is triggering your AB to cause you to fight or flee and that is not compatible with a good night’s sleep. What results is a new fear: not being able to fall asleep, or falling asleep only to jolt yourself awake with a rapid heartbeat. Seeing a therapist may be helpful. The below supplements may help with this also as well as seeking out materials such as personal growth websites (as mine), talking with clergy, or listening to motivational content.
3. Don’t count sleep
I find thinking about not being able to sleep causes me not to be able to sleep. The more I think about my breathing, or counting sheep or counting backward from 1000, or trying to think of relaxing thoughts the more disruptive it becomes. I may fall asleep, but soon I jolt myself awake. These are distraction techniques and they can be very effective for anxiety in general but I don’t find them so effective when I am trying to fall asleep. That brings us to four.
4. Don’t fear/Don’t fight
The fear of insomnia itself ends up becoming a major trigger. As you put your head on the pillow, it is not uncommon to begin wondering, “Am I falling asleep now?” Your brain starts micromanaging every breath, every thought, wondering if this is the start of the falling asleep process. When the next thought kicks in, “I’m not going to be able to fall asleep” that is enough to trigger the AB, causing fight-or-flight, and often an anxiety or panic attack. If that happens, don’t fear or fight the attack (this goes for anytime you have such an attack). When your body revs up, as long as you don’t feed it with more thoughts of impending doom, it will last only a minute or two. What it will leave you with is an activated parasympathetic nervous system response—a relaxation response, which is very similar to how you might feel if you took a tranquilizer. So let yourself go with the anxiety and panic, as long as you don’t fear it or fight it, will help you fall asleep, naturally.
Prior to sleep, not while in bed, sit in a comfortable seat with your eyes closed and meditate or pray. I suggest this time be spent on images and thoughts of gratitude for what you do have, not what you don’t. Generally, I do not recommend looking too deeply into the past, but in this case, I want you to for one particular reason. Focus on those events in life about which you once worried and recognize how they worked out for you. Give thanks for what worked out and give no thought to what did not. I have several meditations on this website that you may find helpful.
6. Avoid stimulation
At least two hours prior to bed, shut down any stimulating activity (for example, exercise, sex for some, although for others this can be relaxing). Avoid caffeine or suspenseful television. Laughing can be very relaxing and therefore comedy television, for some, may be very helpful. Electronic devices can be over-stimulating, but if the content is relaxing, they can be used as aides. If you awaken in the middle of the night, don’t look at the clock and don’t put on the lights.
7. Try these supplements
My favorite is GABA. Depending on how bad your anxiety is you may need to take as much as 1200mg of GABA. Pharma GABA is probably the best form, but it is also the most expensive. I usually recommend starting low and titrating to a dose that works for you. And it does work. Other supplements include L-theanine, magnesium, valerian root, taurine, lavender oil, and chamomile powder or tea. Melatonin can be helpful for some. Usually, you need at least 3mg and some require up to 12mg. For me, it leaves me with a “hangover” feeling. You can find some of these supplements separately or in combination. Leave a comment on this blog and I can send you a link to some other examples.
Most medications mimic what the supplements do, but can be much stronger. They often work to “knock you out” so they can be quite seductive. Remember Michael Jackson. He couldn’t sleep, so he hired a private doctor to administer him Propofol—a powerful anesthesia agent. Sure it knocked him out, but it also killed him. I would reserve sleeping pills and tranquilizers, like Ativan, Xanax, or Valium, for intermittent use. Instead use higher doses of the supplements, especially GABA. My favorite medications and ones that are non-addictive are the class of medications called beta-blockers. They are generally prescribed for high blood pressure or various heart ailments, but what they do effectively is block the effect of the fight-or-flight response. Bystolic, Nadolol, Toprol, Atenolol, are four examples (in order of preference) that I usually recommend for anxiety and/or insomnia. You must take these under strict doctor supervision.
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