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Tired But Wired
The Essential Sleep Toolkit: How To Overcome Your Sleep Problems
By Nerina Ramlakhan
Souvenir PressCopyright © 2010 Nerina Ramlakhan
All rights reserved.
Sleep in a Changing World
How did you sleep last night?
Did you slide effortlessly into a cocoon of thick, velvety sleep? Did you awaken filled with energy and enthusiasm, looking forward to the day ahead?
Or did you crash out exhausted and then find you just couldn't sleep?
Are you Tired but Wired?
This book is about helping you to get brilliant sleep and by this I mean sleep that is deep, nourishing, refreshing and peaceful – sleep that is the opposite of Tired but Wired. I firmly believe that our physiology is actually designed to give us this type of sleep. In other words:
Your physiology is designed to give you brilliant sleep.
You may not believe this if you haven't slept well for a while and, in fact, you may even have forgotten what good sleep feels like. But somewhere along the line, something has disrupted the natural process of your sleep and brilliant sleep is for you either a distant memory or something you have never had.
How can something that is so natural, so innate and actually hardwired into our physiology go so wrong for some of us? There are many factors that can disrupt sleep – and you will learn more about this as you read further. But I believe that there is something about our 21st Century world that has had a particularly significant impact on our sleep and the ability to renew our energy.
Faster and Faster
At the time of writing, I've never been busier – juggling writing, professional commitments, time for my family and friends, time to look after myself and time to sleep. But I'm not alone in this – everywhere I go I see the same pressurised busyness and go, go, go!
The world we are living in is going faster and faster driven by technology and globalisation. We struggle to keep up and find ourselves reaching for caffeine, energy drinks, anything that will help us to fuel the manic need to do more and in less time. For many of us in the Western world our days are relentlessly linear, we rarely go 'offline'. The word 'downtime', originally used to describe the cessation of operations in a manufacturing or engineering environment, is now used to describe the guilt-ridden periods of rest that increasingly we have less time for. At night we retire to bed desperate for some rest and then find we just can't relax, we just can't stop and be.
I began using the phrase Tired But Wired firstly to describe my own sleep and then that of my clients and patients. For many years, I went to bed with crazy snippets of conversations I'd had throughout the day, music I'd listened to and random to-do lists, all playing at extra loud volume in my brain. It was driving me mad and stopping me from sleeping – even if I was exhausted. I never questioned it. It was just me, wasn't it? And then I started working in a clinic and seeing stressed out bankers, teachers, lawyers, over-stretched mothers, and even anxious school children and noticed that they would describe the same 'noise' to me.
At the same time, the pace of technology had taken off and everyone seemed to be grappling with the same challenges of information overload, and trying to fit even more into their lives. It seemed the treadmill had stepped up a few notches and this played havoc with my clients' energy levels and, in particular, sleep. When I used the phrase Tired but Wired I would see an immediate look of comprehension and relief on their faces. 'At last! Someone who understands.'
Technology – Friend or Foe?
Don't get me wrong – I'm definitely not a technophobe. I love the fact that I can press a few buttons and in the blink of an eye, my parents who are thousands of miles away will see the most recent image of their 5yr old granddaughter. I love the fact that browsing the Internet has saved me hours of precious time that would have been spent getting to a library and then finding the material that I needed to write this book. I'm amazed by the fact that in realtime using Webcasts and Webinars, I can get my message out to thousands of people living in a different time zone. Technology is amazing!
But I'm also sadly aware that something is slipping away from us ... In this millennium we increasingly see relationships that are managed by text messages or in chatrooms, school children who have forgotten the art of reading or creating their own stories as they lift paragraphs of easily accessible homework from the Internet. We hear about more and more problems that have arisen as a result of using, or rather abusing, technology. At the hospital we see young people suffering from technology addiction, people complaining of loneliness because of the lack of real human connection, and people suffering from Tired but Wired and insomnia.
The fundamental flaw in all of this is that we as human beings haven't quite caught up with technology. As James Gleick says in his book Faster, we are reaching 'the biological, psychological and neurological limits of just how much we are capable of doing.'
The Pulse of Life
Human beings are not meant to be relentlessly linear – we are meant to oscillate moving rhythmically between energy expenditure (work) and energy renewal (recovery and renewal). In the 19th Century Claude Bernard was the physiologist who was responsible for a major breakthrough in the understanding of how living organisms remain in a state of balance and equilibrium despite fluctuations in our external environment. He called this homeostasis, which is described as the maintenance of a constant internal environment that is essential for survival. What this means is that living organisms make small internal adjustments – oscillations – to maintain an internal state of balance and equilibrium. For example, in response to eating a piece of delicious chocolate your blood sugar rises. To stop the level of sugar in the blood from reaching critical limits (and damaging the brain), the pancreas produces insulin that carries the sugar away for storage thus causing a fall in blood sugar. So the rise in the sugar level in the blood triggers reactions that then cause a subsequent fall. Thus your blood sugar hovers around an equilibrium point. This oscillation process is vital for your health and when it stops working normally – for example in diabetes – you become ill.
Many years ago, I noticed that whenever I talked to my clients or students about the control of body temperature, stress, appetite, breathing, in fact, any physiological process, I would draw an oscillating curve that went up and then down. I went on to use this as a symbol for my business 'Equilibrium Solutions' as I began to realise that every technique I taught was focused on creating balance or a constant internal state. I also noticed that the 'oscillating line' was particularly relevant to sleep.
The big oscillation of the day is the circadian rhythm or 24hr cycle. This means that within a 24hr phase we are awake and active and then, as the light drops, we rest and sleep.
However, built into this 24hr cycle – and this is where I believe Tired but Wired has its roots – is a shorter cycle of about 90 minutes. This is called the ultradian rhythm. This is the pulse or 'hum' of our energy as we go through the day – our basic rest/activity cycle. And the relevance of this shorter cycle? It means that we are designed to renew our energy throughout the day, build pauses into our day, stop, rest and then go again. We are meant to build oscillation into our day. When we don't, we accumulate fatigue and the sleep process itself becomes disrupted as it tries to overcorrect the imbalance that has been created during the day.
In the Western world, we have simply lost the art of stopping – and it really is as simple as that. Ten to fifteen years ago I worked in organisations where it was normal for people to stop for a tea or coffee break for 15 minutes or so. We stopped and had lunch. We stopped working when we went home and we certainly didn't work on the way home. In today's world it has become harder and harder to stop. There's always something else to do and this relentless drive to keep 'doing' takes us further and further away from the ultimate form of rest – that of sleep.
I recently worked with Ben, a very successful lawyer who was suffering from insomnia. He came in to see me clutching his mobile phone which he glanced at constantly during our session. He said,'I'm good at thinking. I'm paid to think and I love thinking. The problem is that I can't stop thinking when I get into bed at night and it's driving me mad. I have to get up around 3am to work because I just can't switch my brain off. My day is relentless and at night I need to get some sleep!' My work with Ben was short and sweet and mainly involved getting him to set some rules about when he switched his phone off – particularly at home in the evenings. Initially, he was sceptical that such a small change could make such a big difference. After two weeks of developing a healthier relationship with his mobile phone, Ben's sleep was not only more peaceful and restorative, but he woke in the mornings feeling energised and looking forward to the day ahead.
The Return to Sleep
When we sleep – and in order for us to be able to sleep – we return to a child-like state of trust, acceptance, and softness. We let go of worries and anxieties. We relinquish control and needing things to be just so.
But for many the stress of life means it becomes impossible to let go and stop trying. Throughout the day we become more and more tightly coiled, trying harder, not letting go, and at night this softness, trust and acceptance is simply inaccessible. Some people are so tightly coiled it is as if they are actually 'working' all night not just mentally (thinking all night) but physically (restless, jerking and twitching). Not surprisingly, they wake up exhausted and with aches and knots that have developed while they slept.
When I work with my clients, my greatest intention is to move them closer to this state of letting go and softness – because this is when they will sleep. I do this by using techniques and tools that I will be sharing with you very soon but for now, I would like to tell you a little about how I arrived at using these tools.
If we search with sufficient persistence, we will nearly always find an evolutionary explanation for human behaviour. After all, all human physiology and behaviour can be attributed to the process of evolution. So is it possible that the way we slept so many years ago can offer some solutions to the sleep challenges we face today? The answer to this question is a resounding 'yes!' and this belief is borne from the work I have done with my own sleep and my work with thousands of sleep-challenged individuals.
Let's take a brief journey back in time ...
Sleep in an Unsafe World
It was a blazing hot morning. The sun rose in the sky and with it rose the temperature. The hunters longed to stop and seek shelter from the burning heat but they couldn't. Food and water were scarce. They had been hunting for more than three days – running, walking, stumbling across rough terrain – and though they needed to stop and rest, this simply was not possible. They desperately needed to replace the fuel that their activity had burned away.
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, our world wasn't quite as it is today: climatic conditions were harsh, food was scarce and the environment was rife with predators. Maybe there would have been times when it simply wasn't safe enough to sleep – we needed to stay awake to hunt and gather food, or to ward off predators. Of course if all was well in our world, we slept as the sun went down and woke when the sun rose. But some of the time sleeping simply wouldn't have been convenient or conducive to our survival.
SO HOW IS THIS RELEVANT TO SLEEPING IN THE 21ST CENTURY?
Well in many respects we are still cavemen (and women). It takes thousands of years to change your genetic code – the DNA that contains the blueprint or recipe for every aspect of your biological functioning. Although neuroscientists have yet to discover a specific 'sleep gene', it is still possible that the 'sleep formula' of a primitive hunter-gatherer is still encoded somewhere in your sleep pattern!
Many years ago when I began helping people with their sleep problems, it became very apparent to me that there were elements of our ancestral sleep programming that were not only relevant to how we sleep in the 21st Century but incredibly important in helping to restore and create the brilliant sleep that we all crave.
Back to the Future
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
- Charles Darwin
By going 'back to the future' I have come up with four key elements that form the core of my sleep programmes and these are:
1. Rest is the essential precursor to brilliant sleep;
2. Flexibility creates brilliant sleep;
3. Resourcefulness – we are far more resourceful than we think and sleep is only one way of renewing our energy;
4. Safety is strongly linked to sleep;
The Rest-Sleep Connection
I have said there may have been a time when human beings slept very little and sleep was a luxury. So what did we do? Well we rested – whenever we could. We rested to build up our energy for hunting and gathering and to maintain our wellbeing and this would have had to be enough. And then, as we evolved and became better at protecting ourselves, building shelter, and foraging more efficiently, the intensity of our rest periods became more intense and we slept. Again, it may not have been conducive to our safety and survival to pass out for hours at a time and sleep, so throughout the day we slept or rested in short phases, whenever we could.
In other words, rest was the substitute for sleep.
So how have I used this information in my sleep programmes? Early on in my work I realised that a key to getting my patients to sleep was to 'go back in time' and teach them how to rest properly! This might sound obvious but, as I have said before, for so many people rest is a distant memory – the thing that you do at the end of the day, at the weekend, when you go on holiday. Or as one of my more cynical clients said 'when I die'!
The problem with living so rest-lessly is that it's almost like a muscle memory – when the body forgets how to rest it forgets how to sleep. This may help you to understand why even though you may have been going at full tilt all day (and therefore should be tired enough to sleep) you get exactly the opposite – Tired but Wired! In my sleep programmes, I show my clients exactly how and when to rest so that sleep becomes less of a distant memory. In fact, this is one of the ways in which my work differs from many other sleep programmes in which sleep-deprived patients are told that they absolutely must not sleep or rest during the day in order to be tired enough to sleep at night. Now this may be the case for some sleep problems, but often I will teach my clients how to start attuning themselves to rest during the day so that their bodies are ready to accept sleep at night.
What do I mean by 'rest'? I'm often asked this question. Don't worry, when we get to the Sleep Toolkit in Part 2 I'll show you exactly how to rest, but now, because this is such an important part of the programme, I would like to illustrate what I mean by sharing my neighbour Brian's story.
Brian was having some problems with his sleep – his main problem was that he was so tired in the evening that he would fall asleep in front of the TV, often sleeping for one or two hours, he would miss his favourite programmes and then find he couldn't sleep when he dragged himself to bed. As a director in a telecommunications company he was extremely busy, working long hours with very few breaks in the day. Each day, he drove to and from work while listening to the news on his radio. Brian's day was filled with information; his day totally lacked oscillation and his working memory was in overdrive. In the evening, when he finally stopped, his brain immediately went 'offline' and he fell asleep.
I wanted to help my neighbour so I suggested he start building some downtime into his day. I mentioned the word 'lunch break'.'Oh, I do take a break,' he said,'I just muck around on the Internet for half an hour or so while I eat.' So of course I told him about breaks and the working memory. He immediately decided to change his lunchtime routine and maybe even go for a walk sometimes. He sometimes even has a 15-minute power nap in the afternoon. Brian has stopped falling asleep in front of the TV in the evening.
Simply, rest can be defined as passive or active. The most important aspect of your rest break is that you do something unrelated to stimulation and information and that you give your brain the chance to go offline.
Excerpted from Tired But Wired by Nerina Ramlakhan. Copyright © 2010 Nerina Ramlakhan. Excerpted by permission of Souvenir Press.
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