4 Practical Facts Every Insomniac Needs to Know

BY Peter Mutuc | October 14, 2016

If you haven’t been sleeping right, listen up:

The immediate effects of insomnia include but are not limited to the following: physical fatigue, headaches, poor memory, micro-napping (a known cause of car accidents), poor vision, poor hand-eye coordination, slower response time, and the inability to focus on logical tasks.

Long-term insomnia is even scarier; when left untreated, years of on and off insomnia can significantly increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and coronary heart disease.

So what’s the silver lining?

Over the last century, because of how common insomnia has become, there’s been a staggering amount of research on the subject.

This means that there’s no shortage of reliable scientific information on how to deal with insomnia – a treasure trove of interesting and practical information for anyone who’s suffering from the sleep disorder in one way or another.

Let’s start with something that every insomniac on the planet needs to know ASAP:

  1. Sex Fights Insomnia

It's called sleeping together for a reason.
It’s called sleeping together for a reason.

According to New York Times best-selling author and world-renowned sex and relationships expert Dr. Laura Berman, having sex can cause the release of endorphins – naturally-occurring chemicals that act like harmless versions of heroin and morphine.

Just like these dangerous drugs, endorphins are also opiates – chemicals that can elevate mood, reduce your perception of pain, produce feelings of euphoria, and elevate your confidence, all by interacting with the body’s opiate receptors.

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But while heroin and morphine are addictive substances synthesized from the opium plant, endorphins are non-addictive chemicals produced by the body itself.

In fact, the brain automatically releases endorphins as a way to counteract the effects of pain and stress.

And according to Dr. Berman, another way to prompt the release of endorphins is through sex.

Similar to how you can experience a ‘runner’s high’ by exerting your body to a certain point, so can you experience the euphoric, stress-melting, and sleep-inducing effects of endorphins by engaging in sexual activity.

That’s basically why you tend to feel sleepy after getting lucky.

And that’s not all.

Sleep Increases the Body’s Levels of Endorphins, Oxytocin, and for women, Estrogen

In an article published in Women’s Health magazine, Dr. Saralyn Mark of the Yale School of Medicine says that the hormonal changes that occur during intercourse also contribute to post-coital relaxation.

Apart from endorphins, sex can boost the release of oxytocin, a complex hormone that’s responsible for strong feelings of bonding with people that we like, love, or trust.

More importantly, oxytocin can also significantly decrease the production of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that’s released by the adrenal glands whenever we’re confronted with factors that cause stress or fear.

Cortisol actually helps us be faster, more alert, and better able to respond to such factors, but at the same time, it also induces more stress.

Anything from facing actual physical danger to ruminating about work before bedtime can turn up your body’s production of cortisol, amp up your stress levels, and ultimately cause insomnia.

A surefire way to lower your levels of cortisol is to confront whatever’s causing your fear or stress.

Whether it’s fight or flight, take action: do the work you’re so anxious about, or make sure that you’re not in any danger – cut off the stress at its source.

You can also just have sex.

The oxytocin boost from having intercourse is a good way to deal with spiked up cortisol levels and allow your mind and body to prepare for sleep.

Dr. Mark explains further…

Sex May Have Even More Sleep-related Benefits for Women

Apart from endorphins and oxytocin, estrogen levels also increase during sex.

Higher estrogen levels, particularly before bedtime, can enhance a woman’s REM sleep cycles and induce a deeper and more restorative sleep.

So before you reach for the sleeping pills, reach for the person next to you in bed instead.

If you can satisfy each other’s sexual needs, you can also give each other a sleep-inducing chemical cocktail that’s free, natural, and certified 100% organic.

But what if your insomnia is not exactly putting you in the mood for sex?

What if you just want to lie there and fall asleep without having to do anything at all?

Well, you’re in luck…

  1. There is a Podcast Designed to Bore You to Sleep

It’s called Sleep With Me, and it’s a brilliantly boring way of turning off your mind and preparing it for sleep.

All you need to do is just lie in bed and listen.
All you need to do is just lie in bed, play the podcast, and listen.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

You know that mildly funny friend we all have who tells inane, droning, unconnected, and ultimately boring stories that seem to have no connection or end?

Sleep With Me is that friend, but in podcast form.

Creator and host of the podcast, Drew Ackerman (aka Dearest Scooter) seems to have perfected the art of the bedtime story.

His ramblings range from extremely mundane all the way to mildly interesting – a unique storytelling style that has become the creative backbone of his podcast/auditory sleep cocktail.

For instance, on their first-year anniversary episode back in November 2014, Scooter started by explaining what Sleep With Me is and how to use it.

In his signature early morning, graveyard voice, he says:

“… put aside any racing thoughts or whatever’s running through your brain… Just pay attention to (my voice), loosely, kind of like you’re holding a baseball made of ice cream.”

Somewhere along the line, he then recalls a discussion with a colleague on whether or not he should say “www” before “Sleep With Me podcast dot com” whenever he mentions their website.

Scooter’s ramblings are sometimes accompanied by the signature gentle downtempo acoustic stylings of the podcast’s resident songwriter, Jonathan Mann – the same guy who started writing literally one song per day since 2009 as a creative challenge to himself.

Jonathan’s music opens each new episode, but also later comes at strange and seemingly random intervals, never really relating to what Scooter himself is saying, which is okay because Scooter’s not really saying anything.

There is never a discernable pattern or story.

And when coherent stories do somehow emerge during the podcast, they quickly dissolve into the countless other unconnected thoughts and musings that Scooter consistently rambles on about.

Almost all episodes of Sleep With Me sound inane and pointless – and that’s the point.

Flooding Your Mind with Semi-Active, Non-Stimulating Thoughts Can Put You to Sleep

In a way, the entire podcast is an exercise in controlled insanity.

The pointlessness of each successive “topic”, thought, or scene that Scooter constantly ‘discusses’ makes it impossible for your mind to truly focus on anything.

If you just take his advice and lie in bed while listening to his voice without doing or thinking about anything else, rumination becomes impossible.

And without mental rumination, there’s no way for anxiety to take over your mind.

While Dearest Scooter’s non-stop train-of-thought bedtime storytelling seems completely random, each episode is actually meticulously edited until it can sufficiently serve its advertised purpose – to preoccupy your head with inanity and put you to sleep.

Ackerman confesses to spending an average of 14 hours on developing and perfecting every single hour of Sleep With Me, with each episode lasting for about one to two hours.

A lot of the editing and reworking that Ackerman does is to control the tone and pace of his own voice, cutting out parts where he gets too excited or talks too fast.

He also cuts out any words or concepts that could possibly elicit stimulating emotions or reactions.

The end result is an auditory sleep cocktail that successfully distracts the mind via a controlled dose of inanity – the perfect distraction for the anxious, ruminating mind of the insomniac.

From 2009 to 2016, Drew Ackerman and Jonathan Mann has released about 400 episodes of Sleep With Me.

That’s hundreds of hours of carefully designed randomness aimed at shutting down anxiety.

At 1.3 million downloads per month as of June 2016, Sleep With Me’s success speaks for itself.

But despite those impressive numbers, there’s no denying that some parts of the podcast can get too distracting.

Scooter’s self-effacing narratives, unnecessary backtracking, and delightful randomness can sometimes prove to be too funny not to laugh at – and nothing pulls you from the brink of sleep faster than a heartfelt chuckle.

While Ackerman and Mann succeed at being consistently boring and unpredictable, it’s not impossible to be stimulated and tickled by their hilariously random narratives, which is the opposite of the podcast’s intent.

So, if you find yourself unable to stop cracking up at Scooter’s brilliant inanity, Sleep With Me might be too entertaining for you, in which case you shouldn’t be using it to combat insomnia.

Not to worry – listening to Sleep With Me isn’t the only mental anti-insomnia method that can distract your mind from anxious rumination.

  1. The Cognitive Shuffle Scrambles Your Thoughts to Overcome Insomnia

No, the Cognitive Shuffle isn’t a dance craze from the future.

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It’s actually a simple and little-known mental exercise that can be highly effective at shutting up anxious brains before bedtime.

Just like the Sleep With Me podcast, the Shuffle’s main weapon against insomniac mental rumination is constantly distracting the mind with half-compelling topics, objects, scenes, and concepts – interesting enough to overtake worrisome thoughts, but not too stimulating as to cause the listener to become alert.

But while Sleep With Me mainly relies on the droning drivel of its loveable host and creator, the Cognitive Shuffle relies only on your ability to imagine a random sequence of objects.

Everything you need to try this mental exercise is already inside your head.

Just lie in bed, get comfortable, and begin imagining a random sequence of neutral and mundane objects, ie: a ball, a table, a towel, an apple, a loaf of bread, a door, a dog, and so on.

Give yourself 3 seconds to focus before moving on to the next object.

The objects can be anything, as long as you make sure that they’re totally unrelated and that the sequence is completely meaningless.

Remember: you’re not playing a word association game with yourself – that would only cause you to become more alert and prone to anxious rumination.

Instead, you’re doing the Cognitive Shuffle – the goal is to scramble your thoughts and preoccupy your mind with inane randomness, keeping it from thinking about issues that may prevent the onset of sleep.

If you’re having trouble imagining a random sequence of objects, you can employ simple patterns that won’t distract from the main goal.

For instance, you can use a guiding keyword like ‘SLUMBER’ to make it easier to imagine random objects and scenes – start by picturing as many objects that start with the letter ‘S’ as you can.

And when you run out of ‘S’ objects, move on to ‘L’, then ‘U’, then ‘M’… and before you even get to spell out the keyword, you’ll probably already be out like a light.

According to Dr. Luc Beaudoin, creator of the Cognitive Shuffle and adjunct professor of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, the Shuffle’s effectiveness at fighting insomnia is rooted in the fact that the brain is a ‘sense-making machine’.

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The human brain is simply too good at finding patterns and creating meaning out of nothing.

And humans have evolved in such a way that if the cortex is engaged in sense-making, the body interprets that as a sign that you’re probably not in a safe place or situation to sleep.

Unfortunately, for many people, this constant pattern-finding and sense-making can translate into racing minds and uncontrollable thoughts before bedtime – not only are these common complaints among insomniacs and poor sleepers, they’re also the exact issues that the Shuffle aims to eliminate.

Doing the Cognitive Shuffle Temporarily Stops the Brain from its Constant Sense-Making

As Dr. Beaudoin explains, feeding your cortex with random and rambling nonsense can stop the mind from racing and ultimately signal the body that it’s safe to sleep.

Another even simpler explanation is that it’s impossible to seriously worry about your responsibilities when you’re preoccupied with picturing random, unrelated things.

Either way, the Cognitive Shuffle is a proven and effective mental exercise for dealing with pre-bedtime anxiety.

In fact, in a previous study conducted by Dr. Beaudoin and his colleagues from MacEwan University, the Shuffle was found to be highly effective at reducing the pre-sleep arousal as well as improving the overall sleep quality of the 154 student-participants who complained about insomnia.

The Cognitive Shuffle, then known as SDI or Serial Diverse Imagining, made it easier for students to overcome racing minds before bedtime.

It was from this study that Dr. Beaudoin developed the mySleepButton app for CogSci Apps Corp.

What is the app for?

If you’re having trouble imagining random objects or scenes on your own…

The mySleepButton app Does the Cognitive Shuffle for You

Just download the app, press the ‘Put Me to Sleep’ button, and picture whatever object or scene that the app mentions.

You can customize how long each session will run – from 1 minute to 24 Hours.

You can also choose how many seconds will pass before the app mentions each new random object.

As of press time, mySleepButton is available on both Android and iOS for about $1 – a small but highly practical investment for insomniacs everywhere.

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The app also sports an adorable logo.

You Should Try Every Viable Insomnia Treatment You Can Get Your Hands On

Insomnia can be a very tricky disorder.

No single solution exists for every insomniac on the planet.

While the 3 different methods described above have proven to be effective for some, there’s no guarantee that they’ll work for you.

And the only way to see whether they’re effective or not is to try every reasonable anti-insomnia treatment you can until you find the ones that are truly effective for you.

Not to worry, fellow insomniacs.

As mentioned at the start of this article, the dark cloud that is chronic insomnia is not without its silver lining.

Apart from the various existing methods of naturally treating the dreaded sleep disorder, there’s another thing that both short and long-term insomniacs can actually look forward to…

  1. The Sleep Health Foundation Pays Insomniacs to Participate in Research

The Sleep Health Foundation is a charity organization whose main goals are: to improve public health and safety as well as to raise public awareness on vital issues related to sleep health.

They’re partly governed by the Australasian Sleep Association (Australia and New Zealand’s peak professional body of sleep scientists and clinicians), and are partners with organizations like Sleep Disorders Australia and the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity.

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In short, when it comes to sleep-related research, you can trust these guys.

They’re also on the constant lookout for volunteers with sleep disorders.

In partnership with various public and private medical and research institutions, insomniacs, people with obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, and sufferers of other sleep disorders can volunteer their time to sleep and sleep disorder-related research.

Volunteers are typically fully compensated based on how long the study lasts, where it’s being conducted, and what the study entails.

Apart from the possibility of making money, participating in these studies, trials, and experiments can result in much more valuable rewards.

For instance, if you have OSA and are having severe difficulty using standard sleep apnea treatments, you might be eligible for a surgery trial that could prove to be an effective and cost-efficient long-term treatment for OSA.

Furthermore, whatever the study concludes, your participation means that you will have personally contributed to the wealth of modern scientific research on sleep disorders, directly helping your fellow insomniacs in their personal battles against sleeplessness along the way.

Volunteering for sleep disorder-related research is a very good way of making the most out of a tired, sleepless situation.

REFERENCES:

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/

http://www.mhhe.com/biosci/ap/vander/student/olc/n-reading22.html

http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/sex-before-bed-cure-insomnia/975867/

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/sex-and-love/sex-and-sleep

http://www.sleepwithmepodcast.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdw30RuCNi8

http://jonathanmann.net/

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-podcast-that-tells-ingeniously-boring-bedtime-stories-to-help-you-fall-asleep

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/15/shuffle-thoughts-sleep-oliver-burkeman

https://www.sfu.ca/university-communications/issues-experts/2016/need-better-sleep–consider-the-cognitive-shuffle.html

http://mysleepbutton.com/home/

http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/public-information/research-recruitment-service.html