How to hit the Kill Switch on “Motor-Mind”
How many times have you gone to bed at night, thoroughly exhausted from the day, ready to dive deep into a restful and blissful sleep only to lay awake for hours because you can’t shut off your racing mind?
A friend of mine calls it “Motor Mind” because no matter what he does, he can’t seem to find that kill switch to stop his brain from fixating on a problem or creating a new To Do List for the following day.
It is amazing when you think you’ve exhausted your brain from 16-18 hours’ of analyzing, processing, creating, communicating, storing and organizing the trillion bits of information we absorb each day. And yet, after all that, when bedtime rolls around, it seems like our brain is just getting warmed up for more!
There are times, at the end of the day, when I lay, quietly and patiently, waiting for my brain to slow down enough so I can be released into the beautiful and restorative sleep I crave.
In that in-between when I’m letting go of the day, I often end up getting some amazing downloads on creative ideas, new projects I’d like to try or additions to my daily to-do list that I would have rarely come up with during my busy day schedule.
But, as active and creative as your Motor Mind might sound, it’s working against your health and well-being if you let it control your sleep patterns.
We all need a minimum level of deep REM sleep to keep us refreshed and healthy each day. Studies have shown we typically sleep in 90 minute cycles, with the first REM cycle occurring in the first 90 minutes, but we’re only in REM for very brief periods.
As we go through the night, those REM cycles get longer as they occur which is, on average, 3 to 5 times per night. But, if your Motor Mind is the one in charge of when you go to sleep or how long you stay asleep, those REM benefits can be severely limited, affecting your immune system, mental clarity and overall well-being.
For years, I had severe issues with sleep and boy, did it do a number on my health. Only recently, I learned some interesting ways to nudge my brain out of the processing mode and into neutral, so that my natural sleep responses could kick in and take over.
So, how did I do it? Well, let’s try the first exercise together. If you aren’t in a place where you can do this right now, just listen and try it later.
1. Sit quietly in a chair or lie flat on a comfortable surface. Focus your attention on relaxing every part of your body, as you would do if you were meditating. Take some deep, long breaths in and then out to relax your diaphragm. Close your eyes.
Loosely clasp your hands in your lap or lay them on your stomach if you’re lying down. Now, instead of letting your mind run amuck as it normally would, ask yourself this question.
“How do I know my hands are at the end of my arms?”
Remember your eyes should be closed for this portion of the exercise. Without the visual cues of seeing your hands at the end of your arms, the brain is forced to shift to processing the physical sensations of your clasped hands so it can answer the question.
The important point here is that your brain can't effectively process thought AND tactile sensory simultaneously. It HAS to be one or the other.
But, once the brain has shifted out of thought processing and into tactile processing, what I call Tactile Redirect, it’s able to slow down and allow the body’s natural processes to kick in, including sleep.
There are some wonderful health benefits to this technique besides making it easier for you to fall asleep. After just a few minutes of using it, pay close attention to how your muscles and body frame tend to relax even more deeply, your breathing starts a calmer rhythm and you experience a more peaceful sense.
If you aren't comfortable doing the first exercise, let's look at some other ways you can slow, or divert away from, Motor-Mind brain activity.
2. Exercise later in the day, but not right before you go to bed.
Exercising is another way to divert the mind away from overthinking.
According to a report by John Hopkins Medicine, initially “exercise raises your core body temperature which signals to the body clock that it’s time to be awake. After about 30-90 minutes, the temperature starts to fall which helps facilitate sleepiness”.
So, it’s important that you don’t do your exercise too close to bed or it will only make Motor-Mind worse. Aerobic exercise is the most preferred type in promoting sleep as well as any exercise that builds muscle. So get those push-ups, squats and lunges going to increase your chances for a good night’s sleep!
Exercise also helps the body generate endorphins which is a great stress reliever! I love the quote in a Mayo Clinic report that called it “Meditation in Motion”.
Be sure to check with your Doctor before starting any new exercise regimes and don’t go out there guns blazing when you start a new work-out program. It can work against your sleep goals if you overdo and develop muscle pain that keeps you up at night.
3. Turn off electronics at least one hour before bed.
Recent studies have shown that the blue light from our electronics, such as TV’s, tablets or phones can actually decrease or suppress the production of melatonin, which is our bodies natural hormone that helps us sleep.
In a 2011 Sleep in America Poll, SleepFoundation.Org found that roughly four in 10 Americans bring their cell phone into bed when trying to fall asleep. Mental and visual stimulation right before bed can fuel “Motor-Mind” challenges, so keep these activities to a minimum and, if possible, turn off phones and keep your bedroom as dark and light free as possible.
4. Watch your intake of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the hours before bed.
All of these stimulants feed “Motor-Mind” in a big way. Alcohol can initially make you feel sleepy, but studies have shown that although you may fall asleep quickly, you won’t stay asleep as deeply or as long.
Eating too close to bedtime, or heavier meals that are hard to digest, can also disturb the natural body clock process for sleep.
Paying attention to your body and understanding what to avoid and what will encourage better sleep patterns will fluctuate from person to person. But using any or all of these suggested methods can help you hit the kill button on, and reduce the chances of, “Motor-Mind” taking over your precious sleep.
So, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!