Skip to content

Rock yourself to sleep? (6/29/11)

June 29, 2011

You’ve Got Rhythm

There are many effective strategies to help you sleep.

That’s a simple conclusion from two preliminary studies in the last two weeks demonstrating that brain cooling caps and gently rocking beds can both improve “objective” sleep measures. Both involve changing internal body rhythms.  The better news is that there are dozens of other techniques that most people can do on their own, naturally, in their homes – if they know how to do them.

Cooling Caps

Profiled last week (see June 20th’s article ) cooling caps drive quite cool water temperatures (57 degrees F) to the brain’s frontal lobes.  Devised by a group at the University of Pittsburgh, regular sleepers slept fine with them, but insomniacs slept just as well as regular sleepers, prompting much media attention and a new commercial company.  Our general level of arousal, which varies across the 24 hour day,  goes up when body core temperature is going up, and down when it goes down.  Cooling the body at night, whether through a hot bath, Tylenol, aspirin, or directly through ice or a cooling cap, changes and extends that natural rhythm (see “The Body Clock Advantage” for more detail.)  Whether it will work in many insomniacs remains to be seen, but the principle of changing body temperature works – as in the example of melatonin shifting the body’s core temperature curve.

Rocking Beds

The group at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne, led by researchers Muelethaler and Schwartz, used a special constructed bed that gently rocked people back and forth every four seconds.  The group looked at excellent young male sleepers only during afternoon naps between 2:30 and 3:15.  The surprise in the results was that people went into sleep more quickly; had much more stage 2 sleep than stage 1 sleep, which is deeper and presumably more useful to memory storage and learning; and had more sleep spindles,  which more recent studies are tentatively concluding may herald more restful sleep.

Will Rocking Beds Work For Me?

It’s way too early to tell.  The rocking bed has to be used for night-time sleep and for long periods of time with varied clinical populations (and no, this is not at all like a hammock.)

Different kinds of rocking motions have been tried commercially for decades without noticeably catching on.  It may prove that some rhythms are more effective at getting people to sleep than others – which will complicate life for couples, if their rhythms turn out to be different.  Of course, there is then the sensible British solution of separate beds – though some view that idea as heretical and destructive to intimacy.

Why Do These Varying Procedures Help?

Humans are profoundly rhythmic creatures.  You find music in every society.  Music seems to be in our genes.

We’ve got rhythm.  Rhythm everywhere in our genome and cells.

We have 24 hour rhythms that fellow the rise and fall of the sun; monthly rhythms, akin to that of the rise and fall of the moon; seasonal rhythms, of the sort that create hibernation; annual rhythms, tracked by the non-visual retinal ganglion cells in our eyes, which probably precisely tell the brain where we are in 365 days of time; plus a hive of rhythms of much shorter duration.

What should be do with them?  Use them, not fight them – as we do every night with our cellphones and late night television shows, our swing shifts at work and early morning school times.

How Can I Use Natural Rhythms for Sleep?

Here are a few ways:

1.  Use music.  Music can do much more than soothe savage beasts, as Shakespeare noted; it can improve the endurance of athletes, make cognitive processes more effective, and help us sleep (see my “Music to Sleep” of October 30th)

One easy way to use music is to play it during your normal sleep ritual, the hour before sleep when you wind down and prepare to regenerate your body throughout the night.  Different music will work for different people; classical music that soothes the spirit is a personal favorite (see “Music to Sleep”, but there are hundreds of personal playlists on the Net.

Rhythm works in other ways:

2. Simple yogic breathing.  In Star Wars its “use the force,” in The Dune books it’s “use the voice.”  For innumerable spiritual rest exercises developed over thousands of years, it’s use the breath.  Breathing in to the count of 4 and out to the count of 8, especially when part of yoga poses meant to relax you (mountain pose is really simple and can be done anywhere – see “The Power of Rest”) really helps many fall asleep.  The principle is simple – breathe in for half the time you breathe out, and just concentrate on the breath – whether you breath in or out through nose or mouth.

3. Rhythmic imagery.  People fall asleep more quickly and easily when they image natural scenery. Do it rhythmically.  See yourself running across a track in the high Andes.  Envision yourself paddling a canoe through the lakes of Cambodia, teeming with life.  Witness yourself surfing along a wave at Hawaii’s Pipeline Beach, feeling the surge of water flow upward from toes to temples as you sense the rhythm of the ocean speeding above the waves.

Music is in our genes.  The information systems we call our bodies live in the times wrought by our numerous internal rhythms, developed over hundreds of millions of years.

They’re so much fun to use, too.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: