Trouble getting to sleep at night? - Hush little human, don’t say a word…

The irony doesn’t escape me that my bedside reading is a book about the adventures of sleep, and it’s a good book too, Dreamland, the kind you find hard to put down (dammit). David K Randall, author, writes ‘sleep is the missing third of the puzzle of what it means to be living’, and I am right there with him, woozily and curiously trying to piece together the new science of snoozing…

Since the light Wizard, Thomas Edison, patented the light globe in 1880 our sleep habits have been changing. Sleep and our perception of its value has altered drastically, we have all but forgotten that we are circadian beings, and have been since our single celled ancestors awoke at the ‘dawn of time’.

It is like the night light came on and getting to sleep has become more and more difficult. From the light globe came: motion pictures; television; computers; mobile phones and an ever mutating force of portable light backed ‘devices’. The light emitted by the screen you are reading this blog off, has an output you can measure in lumens or lux, most significant is the blue spectrum of light, so bright that it allows you to see your mobile phone screen even in the bright light of day. It is this light that is the most destructive, looking at a day screen at night can delay melatonin production in your pineal gland by many, many, hours. This staves off that luscious wave of drowsiness that helps us naturally drift to dreams, actually it can put it off altogether.

Screens can really upset our sleep, and disrupt other hormones including oestrogen, and there is absolutely no place for them in the bedroom. The next time your teens are pleading with you, desperately searching for the reason why you are turning off devices and locking them away in cupboards, get them to watch this 4 minute clip from SciShow (and then dramatically whip the device away):

So, what if you’ve wrangled all the devices, turned off all the TV’s over an hour ago… You’ve introduced a wonderful sleep hygiene routine for the Family: you all got a bit of exercise during the day; you had your last coffee at midday; everyone has had a sleepy smelly bath; they have snuggled down in warm bed; they’ve been lulled with bedtime stories or read from a paperback; you each have personally selected white noise soundtracks; you’ve made your bedrooms beautiful sanctuaries of sleep; you’ve followed all the sleep rules you can find; and then switched off the lights. But…you just lay there, you fear Mr Sandman is going to drive right by your window again tonight…sleep just doesn’t seem to come…and the longer it takes the more you worry about it…

You feel like all the thoughts you didn’t have time for today have parked in a massive cue at the doorway of your mind, and they’re angry, and they all want a bit of your time… Hyper-arousal of the autonomic and central nervous system has been identified as a common pathway of chronic insomnia. It is a state commonly seen in the brain scans of children and adults alike. When we find out why your brain is finding it hard to sleep we can develop a personal treatment plan with you to put things right again.

Neurofeedback is an effective treatment to better regulate production of the brain waves you need to work productively during the day and those you need to sleep well at night. Biofeedback training helps to return calm coherence to an irritated nervous system. These treatments combined, and with a dash of the education Perth Brain Centre Clinicians strive to provide in Clinic, may be the magic you need to get back the restorative sleep you really need.

Because we know about critically important brainy busyness that happens when you sleep…your body may rest, but your brain does not. Organisation, encoding and consolidation of memories takes place, and the incredible clean-up system in your brain can ONLY work when you are sleeping. Jeff Iliff speaks brilliantly about the brains unique method of flushing toxins:

Finally, after reading all of this, visiting all the links, when you get off to sleep tonight, and you wake up in the early morning please don’t feel all is lost. It was just last year, my meditation teacher, Eric Harrison, taught me about the concept of first sleep and second sleep, now I am finding it everywhere. Eric writes about this in an article entitled Dualities and the Night, highlighting that these meditative midnight waking hours, usually occurring somewhere between midnight and the early am, can be quietly and peacefully productive, though brief. Or can be put to best use for deep and profound meditation practice. We have high levels of prolactin  pumping around our system at this time, a hormone that helps reduce stress.

So as long as we don’t turn the lights on, we can use this time profoundly well, then lay down for our shorter second sleep. Just like your grandmothers grandmother used to. Nighty night.

About the author - Emily Goss, OT. Senior Clinician, The Perth Brain Centre.

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