I toss. I turn. Sometimes my heart races or my chest hurts and mind will not stop talking to me. I lay in bed, breathing deeply to try and relax my mind and body. But my mind quickly overrides the process. I take supplements to help me relax and lower the anxiety and still can’t turn off my mind – I even wonder how bad I would be had I not taken the supplements or if I should take more. Sometime I am so tired, I can’t wait to go to bed and still, despite the utter body fatigue, my mind still will not shut up. Does this sound like you? Can you relate?
This was an ongoing problem for me and then I discovered “The Walking Dead” As I immersed myself in tales from the zombie apocalypse, I found that, after an episode, usually watched just before bedtime, it relaxed me more than any supplement ever did. Even thinking about it right now, as I write this, is making me yawn. Now there is logic as to why this works and it is not because I count zombies instead of sheep. I just find it fascinating to contemplate a world when everything has been turned upside and this is what I think about as I go to sleep. It completely occupies my mind. Yet I do not dream about it nor do I dream about any of the stressors in my life either. My dreams are actually quite pleasant.
Conventional wisdom says this should not be the case. In fact, the over stimulating effect of television and violent TV in particular, is something we are told to avoid, if we want to have a good night’s sleep.
So why does it help me sleep? It’s simple. By focusing on the episode I have just watched or thinking about the episodes to come, my brain finally shuts off from the stress in my life and I relax into a deep sleep. This is something meditating could never accomplish – for me. It does not have to be the perils of dealing with zombies for this to work for you – it just has to be something unrelated to your daily life and stresses that can occupy your mind.
According to Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D., and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, distracting yourself can help you fall asleep and doing a mental exercise helps take your mind away from your worries. It can be as simple trying to mentally describe an object or reciting the lyrics of a song in your head. Reading a book of fiction can do this for some people. Or in my case, going over, in my mind, my favourite scenes from the Walking Dead or contemplating what happens next. It needs to be something completely unrelated to reality.
This is a skill you need to master as trouble falling asleep has been linked to poor cognitive brain function during the day. One study found that those who had trouble falling asleep had it affect their ability to tap into their short term memory and their working memory (which works with the short term memory to help us perform our daily tasks). Another study found that lack of sleep can cause a loss of brain cells which may be permanent. Other studies have found that lack of sleep increases risk for hypertension, diabetes and a number of other physical health issues. So it is important to solve this dilemma and start the night off right by finding tools to encourage an easy time of falling asleep.
Here are few things that you can try:
- Go to bed at the same time every night – the brain and the body like routine.
- Create a positive sleep environment – do not have distractions in the bedroom like a television, do not read in bed (you can do it in the bedroom, just not in the bed) and do not use the bedroom for work related activities. Make sure the temperature of the room is consistent and comfortable. It also needs to be dark and as noise-free as possible.
- Some experts suggest having a consistent bedtime routine but this can backfire if circumstances prevent you from doing the routine. Your body and mind may get “trained” to start winding down when you perform the routine. If you cannot do the routine then the body won’t get the signal to start the usual process of going get to sleep. The routine should be something you do in your mind like doing affirmations or singing song lyrics so you can do it anywhere.
- Exercising on a regular basis during the day can reduce anxiety and help attain a deep relaxing sleep at night.
- A high complex carbohydrate meal 4 hours before bedtime will shorten the time it takes to fall asleep as it raises serotonin levels. What qualifies as a high carbohydrate meal? 90% carbs but with a GI of no more than 50. What could that be? Whole grains like brown rice or whole wheat bread or legumes with vegetables would do it and no meat protein (eat it earlier in the day).
- And finally, find your “Walking Dead” whatever it may be so you can pleasantly focus on that and leave all your worries behind.
- Self-Reported Pain and Sleep Difficulty in Older African Americans With Arthritis, Alyssa A. Gamaldo et al, Journal of Transcultural Nursing May 14, 2014
- High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset 1,2,3 Ahmad Afaghi, Helen O’Connor, and Chin Moi Chow, Am J Clin Nutr February 2007 vol. 85 no. 2 426-430
- Pathway Linking Sleep Deprivation to Neurological Diseases, The Journal of Neuroscience, 9 July 2014, 34(28):9179-9181;