Sunday, May 9, 2010

A simple but totally unproven exercise for getting to sleep

(I was very bored with the layout of my blog, so chose another template and mucked around a bit with colours – any feedback welcome, including feedback on readability. I’ve also rearranged the links and added subject headings. Lastly, though you would never know it, I got rid of quite a few labels, but the list is still too long.)

I developed this sleep exercise about a year ago, based on some reading I’d done on the brain. I decided to include the exercise in my blog because I’ve been having sleeping problems for the last few months and hadn’t been doing the exercise for a while. I tried it again recently and it seemed to work. I thought it was worth putting in the blog, but I’m warning you it sounds very silly, and is probably based on childhood memories of sci-fi films.

I would be very interested to know if it does work for anyone else (and if it doesn’t), or if readers make their own adaptations.

The exercise
  • Do this exercise slowly.
  • You can do it more than once at a time.
Picture the frontal cortex of the brain being turned off (picture the frontal area of the brain, along the forehead, being plunged into darkness as ‘electric lights’ are switched off).

Picture the visual cortex being turned on (picture the centre of the lower back of the head lighting up as if an electric light is going on).

Imagine you are a director giving instructions to an operator sitting at an operating panel that includes buttons. Picture the operator carrying out the following instructions as you give them.
  • Produce 200 mg GABA ( as you ‘give the orders’, picture the operator punching the amount in, the substance, and then an ‘Enter’ button).
  • Produce 200 mg melatonin (as above).
  • Produce 200 mg tryptophan (as above).
Now order the operator to ‘Activate the sleep process’. Picture the operator slowly moving a large lever, like a gear stick, in a downwards motion.

Now, gently focus on any images your brain is producing rather than words. Let the images turn into dreams.

Please note the following:
  • This exercise has no scientific validity – it’s only been tested on me.
  • I don’t have problems getting to sleep, but waking up too early in the morning and being unable to get back to sleep. I therefore use this exercise in the early hours (4 am to 6 am), and it doesn’t plunge me into deep sleep but light dreaming.
  • Part of the reason it does work for me may be habit – ie my brain now sees this exercise as a signal to move into sleep mode.
  • It does seem to relax me a bit, perhaps because it occupies the mind.
  • If I’m really alert it won’t work – sometimes it acts like a test as to whether it’s worth trying to sleep or just giving up and getting up.
  • The exercise is based on my very limited and probably completely inaccurate knowledge of the human brain. The frontal cortex is the seat of active thinking, and the visual cortex is active during sleep.
  • The exercise refers to sleep-inducing substances that the body produces, and I am in no way recommending that people buy these as supplements.
  • The ‘amounts’ of these substances are totally arbitrary.
  • Everyone’s different – if trying this exercise produces distress, stop.
I know this exercise is daggy. But it works for me, and I thought it might at least inspire others to make up their own exercises.

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