We hear so much about how sleep is important, and the dangers of not getting enough sleep, that this can actually make us fear all the damage that we are doing to our bodies when we can’t sleep, which impacts our sleeping patterns and our ability to think clearly during the day! I myself have done this. In fact, I have done almost everything when I cannot sleep: counting sheep, deep 4-7-8 breathing, hot baths 90 minutes before bedtime, switching off my cell phone two hours before going to sleep, exercising at night and in the morning, removing the TV from my bedroom, avoiding work before bed, reading a book in bed, taking melatonin, drinking chamomile tea...I have even tried to convince myself I am asleep, and I still stayed awake trying not to worry about being awake!
So, as someone who has battled with sleeping issues for years, and considering the field I am in, I decided to became a “sleep detective” to find out why I wasn’t sleeping well, and why so many people battle to sleep at night. I became my own subject in a “research trial”, and what I discovered is so simple, yet often overlooked: the secret to better sleep is not some pill, it is understanding and managing your mind correctly!
Here is how you do this:
1. The first tip is to stop worrying about your sleep patterns or lack of sleep, and stop reading about all the bad things that can happen to you if you don’t sleep. The more you try to use this to force yourself to sleep, the less you will sleep! We never do anything well if we are working under a cloud of fear or foreboding. Indeed, this is called the “white bear effect” – if you tell yourself not to think about a “white bear” you will inevitably think about! Just try not thinking about how sleep can cause heart disease now that I have mentioned it!
I am not saying that sleep isn’t incredibly important, nor am I saying that what I have just described is not important. However, the first tip to get your mind right before bed is to stop worrying about not sleeping, and stop reading what the lack of sleep is going to do to you, because this can mess with your head, and is pretty much a guarantee you are not going to sleep well. Rather, focus on how powerful your mind is—it is the 99%o of who you are. Your mind controls your brain and body, not the other way around.
It is also important to recognize that sleep patterns are not stable—we all go through periods where we battle to fall asleep, so don’t panic about this!
2. The second tip is to realize that unmanaged, chaotic, toxic thoughts will create chaotic and toxic energy in the brain, which can keep you awake at night, causing brain damage and mental health issues. Chaotic and toxic thoughts need to be embraced, acknowledged, isolated and compartmentalized in order to be processed and reconceptualized in a healthy fashion—they should never be ignored or suppressed. You can do this proactively by getting into a regular 7-15-minute mind detox routine. Just 7-15 minutes a day of detoxing your mind can improve your sleeping patterns because you are cleaning up the mental mess in your head and getting your mind right before bed, which helps your brain and body regenerate at night.
My new app Switch is a great tool for helping you go through this process. It is based on my 5-step program, which is designed to help you identify and eliminate the root of your toxic stress, and help you build a healthy new thinking habits through the mental process of reconceptualization.
It is important to remember that there is no quick fix for detoxing your mind and brain; capturing thoughts and reconceptualizing them is a lifestyle. This is basic mental self-care, as necessary as bathing and cleaning your teeth. It keeps your brain healthy and heals the brain damage from toxic thinking, which may be contributing to keeping you awake.
3. The third tip is to not allow yourself to lie in bed panicking about not sleeping. Instead, get excited and embrace the fact you are awake. Think that “this is going to be a nice, quiet time, where I am not bugged by texts, emails or people needing something. I am going to get that research done, finally read that book, watch that program on the Discovery Channel, tidy that closet or work uninterrupted on a project!” This excitement lowers your cortisol levels, balances the HPA axis (the “stress axis") and makes stress work for you and not against you, activating your resilience and changing your genes in a good way. So, when you can’t sleep, develop a positive expectation mindset that this is a special time just for you, and you will use it wisely. This will help you get your panic under control and improve your health. A negative expectation mindset, however, is just going to damage your brain and make you feel worse--it’s not worth it!
See my book Think, Learn, Succeed for more on this.
4. The fourth tip is to have more “thinker moments” through the day: many of us tend to panic at night as we are trying to go to sleep because our brains are exhausted from chaotic thinking patterns during the day. This is why is it is so important to take “thinker moments”, when we switch off to the external and switch on to the internal and just let our minds wander. These moments give your brain a rest and allow it to reboot and heal by letting your mind wander and daydream, which increases your clarity of thought and organizes the networks of your brain, rather than just letting toxic mindsets build up in the brain.
So, be intentional about creating “thinker” breaks throughout your day by taking just a few moments every day, or when you are feeling stressed out, to switch off and mediate and daydream. For more information on thinker moments and how to make them a part of your daily routine, see my book, Think, Learn, Succeed.
You can also try sleeping propped up, which give your brain and body the signal that you are more in control and can help balance your neurochemistry, calming you down before bed.
5. The fifth tip is to not let that adrenalin keep pumping! If you get into bed at night, fall asleep and then wake up with that "wooossshh" of adrenalin, don’t’ lie there marinating in this potentially-damaging energy. Instead, sit up immediately, open your eyes, breathe deeply (in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, and out for 8 counts) and start shifting your energy in the right direction. Reconceptualize the situation into something positive and do something constructive, because lying there trying to sleep is not unhelpful. Get your phone or a journal and write down whatever is in your mind—just pour it out. If it’s a bunch of worries, write them down and plan to work on them as you do your daily detox (you can learn more about this in my app Switch). If it’s a list of things to do, write them down and work out when you are going to do them, how long it will take and who is going to help you. Pray over them if you wish. Tell yourself you will deal with them tomorrow. Choose to be excited and expectant that solutions will come and no matter what they are, you will be at peace! This generates a healthy, healing energy flow through your brain and can help you fall asleep.
6. The sixth tip is to build your brain during the day so you don’t go to sleep with damaged nerve cells. Every morning you wake up you have thousands of new baby nerve cells born through a process called neurogenesis. These are meant to be built into the networks of your brain through deep intellectual thought. You are a deeply intellectual being designed to constantly learn new information and build memory throughout the day. And, as you do this, you use the new baby nerve cells and you grow new branches; you change the structure of your brain constantly, which is called neuroplasticity.
If you get lazy and don’t do this, however, your brain builds up waste, much like your house gets dirty if you don’t clean it, and this can affect your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep. So, what’s the solution? Spend at least one hour each day learning new information and building memory in the correct way (for more information on how to do this, see my book, Think, Learn, Succeed). Listen to a podcast, read a book, learn a language and teach others what you have learnt—the possibilities are endless!
One way I love to build my brain is using the Blinkist app, which teaches you key ideas from thousands of bestselling non-fiction books in a short period of time, and is perfect for those of you with busy schedules! For free week go to: https://blinkist.com/drleaf.
7. The seventh tip is to talk to a sleeping buddy. As you practice mastering the tips above, it’s a good idea to have someone in your life who you can talk to in the dead of the night when you feel you are battling with an issue (or many issues!). Sometimes just talking through something with someone you trust and love is enough to help you process what’s worrying you at that moment, which makes it easier to fall asleep. Find one or two people you feel you could do this with and discuss with them in advance so they know you may call them or wake them up in the middle of the night. Make sure you also help them in some way as well and pay it forward—this will improve your mental health and your sleeping habits!
8. The 8th tip is to build the following into your lifestyle, remembering these won’t work in a sustainable way if you don’t do the steps above:
- Find out if any medication you are on affects sleeping.
- Eat real food mindfully (for more on this see my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart). I love drinking superfood lattes, elixirs, coffees and blends throughout the day to help boost my mental and physical health so I can sleep better at night, which I get from Four Sigmatic. And you can get a 15% discount off your order today at foursigmatic.com/DRLEAF, or using coupon code DRLEAF at checkout. I also recommend drinking organic, fair trade tea to keep you calm and hydrated, and, before bed, a good herbal tea like chamomile or rooibos. I love the easy-to-use Pique Tea crystals—you just add hot water and enjoy! They are perfect when you are traveling or on-the-go, and can easily fit in a purse or travel bag.
- Exercise regularly.
- Take hot baths or showers before bed.
- Control your screen/phone time.
- Visit with your doctor to check your minerals, vitamins, hormones and so on.
- Get a good prebiotic fiber and probiotic to help digestion and improve your gut health, as a disturbed tummy and unhealthy gut can also affect sleep! I personally love the probiotics and digestive supplements from BiOptimizers, which have helped improve my gut health and sleeping patterns. You can get 20% off your order of BiOptimizers at www.bioptimizers.com/drleaf with the coupon code: DRLEAF20. I also recommend incorporating more bone broth into your diet to improve your gut health and digestion. Bone broth contains glycine, an amino acid that supports the Central Nervous System (CNS). When taken before bed as a supplement, studies show glycine may support sleep quality. It’s even more effective when paired with other sleep-supportive nutrients, like calcium and magnesium! I personally love Kettle & Fire’s delicious selection of organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised bone broths and soups, and you can get up to 15% off your order and free shipping here.
- Consider using Red Light Therapy: The spectrum of light associated with red light therapy has the unique ability to stimulate our cells, and, in particular, our mitochondria (the power houses of our cells), which creates more energy in the body through increased adenosine triphosphate production, allowing it to function on a higher level. This enhanced mitochondrial function and increased blood flow can potentially lead to reduced inflammation, better sleeping patterns, healthier-looking skin, improved muscle recovery, less joint pain, better moods, enhanced memory and much more! One company I love is Joovv, which makes affordable, easy-to-use red light therapy products that can help improve your sleeping patterns. For more information and to get your special offer go to: www.joovv.com/drleaf.
I am not, however, going to tell you how many hours you should sleep because no-one is really sure. Even though the 6-8 hours seems standard, new research indicates that some people need less sleep than others, and sleep time is very cyclic--it’s going to differ depending on the context of your life at any one point in time. It is important to get enough rest for you. Your brain and body will tell you if you aren’t getting enough sleep, so listen to the signals they send!
What is important to remember is that sleep is the regenerative housekeeping function that allows the mind and brain to sort out and cleanup the thought-building process that has occurred while you were consciously awake (in response to the events occurring during your day). It’s kind of like a carwash for the brain, where the cerebrospinal fluid washes out toxic waste, sorting out of thoughts built during the day. In this way, it consolidates and improves memory, increasing our ability to self-regulate our thinking, feeling and choosing. This, in turn, boosts our immune system, protecting the brain and body, which is essential for our overall mental and physical health. It also helps us process traumatic experiences, and can even help prevent DNA damage and prepare the body for healthy cell division. However, to get these benefits, we need to get our minds in order first! So, re-read this blog and re-listen to our podcast as many times as you need to in order to do just that!
If you would like to learn more about how to improve your mental and brain health, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit this December in Dallas, TX December 6-7, 2019! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click here.