Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Peaceful Restorative Sleep

 

                                             PEACEFUL RESTORATIVE SLEEP         

 

Aaah! Those blissful hours drifting in and out of la-la land. We can all look forward to those times of happy contentment. Or not? Do you find yourself tense, irritated, angry when sleep does not come? Do you watch the minutes, then hours, ticking away? Cheer up! There is a path to those restful hours.

 

I've written before on my website about techniques useful for sleep and reprogramming nightmares. I've also written about the problems with sleep medications which promise great sleep but deliver uncomfortable "side" effects and drug dependence. The latest research in the British Medical Journal reveals that sleep drugs cause an increased death rate! In this article I want to describe additional paths toward peaceful nights.

 

Let's start with a new perspective. The human body was never designed to turn off at bedtime and sink into eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Our caveman ancestors spent time on and off during the night in sleep and waking phases. Modern sleep studies demonstrate that we sleep in 90 min. cycles and alternate between different brain states.

 

As background, it's helpful to understand different brain wave states. The la-la land of deep sleep is Delta, .5-4 Hz. Almost everyone is totally asleep in deep Delta. (An exception would be some monks who learn to meditate in Delta in their mountain retreats.) The "magic" brain state is Theta,    4-8 Hz, a restful meditative hypnogogic state, where the mind can roam freely while the body rests. Alpha waves, 8-12 Hz, indicate a peaceful but focused brain state. Beta waves, 12-30 Hz, is our usual thinking state, while the higher levels of Beta indicate anxiety and agitation. Today I’d like to describe techniques which could keep you in the Theta-Delta zone. I think of this as a magic state where you can spend peaceful and restorative time while you drift in or out of Delta sleep. You might even find yourself relaxing in a peaceful Alpha state, not really asleep but restful and contemplative. You don't want to be in Beta at night where your focus in mind is incompatible with sleep. Even worse, your mind may notice that you're not sleeping and transition to high Beta where you toss and turn in frustration, your body tense, your mind racing. This is what happens when you worry about falling asleep.

 

My suggestion is that you stop worrying about the need to fall into eight hours of deep sleep each night. You can learn to enjoy periods of Theta and sometimes Alpha during the nighttime knowing that these are peaceful and restorative states for your mind and body. You can even rest peacefully in low Beta at night knowing that you can slip into restful sleep without enduring the turmoil of insomnia. In fact, you'll be able to reconceptualize "insomnia" and even see that restful nightly episodes have benefits for you including quieting the mind, a chance for peaceful creativity and innovation, a time to listen to your inner voice, a time to feel heartfelt gratitude for the good in your life.

 

Now that you know this strategic secret about peaceful nights, I'll describe some nighttime strategies and a helpful book, "Restful Insomnia", Conari, 2010, by Sondra Kornblatt.  Kornblatt is a veteran survivor of insomnia, using the techniques herself and also with her coaching clients. She describes the insomnia villain as the "Conscious Mind" which thinks and plans successfully during the day but blocks the "Unconscious Mind", the intuitive dreaming state which lulls us into peaceful sleep. Kornblatt and I agree that both deep rest and sleep provide nighttime benefits to help you greet the morning relaxed and refreshed.

  

I'll organize my comments around the five categories described in her book. Once you get the general concept of restful insomnia, then you can develop your own methods for bouts of sleeplessness.  First, "Create a soothing night environment." You'll find that this point is as effective for you as for your children. We all need sleep routines and rituals. Lowering lights, turning off TV and other stimulating or emf--emitting devices, a warm bath and cool dark bedroom are important. You can invest in white noise machines, soothing nighttime music and aromatherapy with rose or lavender essential oils. Family pictures by your bedside, crystals, special objects or plants, soft pillows or comforters, can make a "night nest" and contribute to a positive sleep atmosphere. Reading can be helpful with a low light, avoiding stressful content in magazines or books.

 

Next Kornblatt discusses "Befriending the body." Paying attention to your physical needs will help you make nighttime choices for quieting and relaxing. You can direct your "Conscious Mind" away from daytime concerns with techniques such as slow breathing, quiet humming, nighttime yoga poses and left-nasal breathing.  You can focus and relax specific body parts; how often have you said hello to your toes since your parents played little piggies going to market? Your eyes actually roll up into their sockets as you go to sleep. You can facilitate this by voluntarily rolling your eyes up (down also works) as you drift off to sleep.

 

You must “Diminish the power of the Conscious Mind." If you are dealing with upsetting issues, schedule a "worry time" earlier in the day to brainstorm and record your problem-solving. Also make your list of "to dos" before you enter the sleeping area. If worries pop up during the night you can remind your self that these problems are already recorded in writing. Focus your attention upon sensations and let your awareness drift. You can sing little songs softly or entirely in your mind. You can visualize special places such as a beach or drifting down a stream as you relax. Meditations can be useful here; I've written about the beautiful Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

Kornblatt recommends that we "Release the hold of emotions" by which she means upsetting or negative emotions. Previously described techniques will promote positive emotions and diminish worry and tension. Kornblatt describes some helpful energy psychology practices such as tapping with positive affirmations. One technique she describes involves slowly rolling your eyes in a large wide circle in one direction and then the other direction.

 

Kornblatt advocates that we connect to the "Natural or Spiritual self." The heart is the best place to access your spiritual center. Meditation or prayer can connect you with the cosmic awareness of the comfort and peace surrounding you. For more information about this topic, you can consult the series I'm writing on Unconditional Love in the Advice Line section of this website. Kornblatt has supplemented her book with a newsletter, a blog and list of products at Restfulinsomnia.com.

 

I'd like to add a word of advice. When you wake up, no matter how well or fitfully you slept, greet each new day with a feeling of positive anticipation, an early morning energy routine and bright natural light. This positive attitude will work wonders for the start of a new productive day. On the other hand, grouching, complaining, lamenting lost sleep, will ensure that you will feel tired and hassled as you drag through your day. You do have a choice and you too can have restful nights and happy, energetic days!

Please note that you can find other articles about sleep and sleep topics such as nightmares in this Reading Room.