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Early one morning, too early to be awake by most standards, my wife ventured through the living room to the kitchen to get some water. On her way she notices that I am not in bed, she finds me in the living room and asks "why are you sleeping on the couch?." I explained that this is my nightly ritual, a few hours in bed, a couple hours on the couch, and then slipping back into bed.

Up to this point in my life, a consistent night's sleep that did not involve waiting and hoping to fall asleep, was rare. I grew up staring at the ceiling or bunk bed until exhausted, wandering the house at all hours, hopping from bed to couch to recliner back to bed. This did not seem unusual, my father was a poor sleeper as well.

To cope with the lack of sleep, I often napped or slept in school, even through college this was habitual for me. But as a career, fatherhood, and marriage took root in my life, my daily naps and lack of sleep were becoming an issue. I set on a path to find a few methods which would bring me into that glorious land of slumber, deep sleep, and rejuvenation.

Today I will share those methods with you.

Dr. Hart's Sleep Method #1 - Brain Dumping

I am not sure where I initially heard of Brain Dumping. The general idea is to clear the streaming thoughts in your mind to give the brain a chance to shut down. There are two steps, 1) list everything you are thinking about, good or bad, on piece of paper (it must be written). You are listing it so you do not have to think about it. 2) Once the list begins to get redundant, put one line through the list.

This one exercise was life changing for me. It gave me the room to sleep without my thoughts racing. It also started to show me that it was possible to quiet the mind. Make this a consistent habit every night and anytime throughout the day you would like a quieter mind.

Dr. Hart's Sleep Method #2 - Magnesium + Herbs

While brain dumping helped me fall asleep, I needed something more to get into deep sleep. In my teen years, I used anti-histamine medications, but this left me feeling hungover in the mornings and wasn't healthy. At this point in my life, I had sworn off pharmaceuticals for daily issues. With research I decided to use 800mg of magnesium per night and valerian root. This did the trick to keep me asleep and feeling rejuvenated most mornings. I did this consistently for 3 months and then did not need it daily to stay asleep.

Dr. Hart's Sleep Method #3 - Darkness + Quiet/White Noise

Having a dark room is important for the pineal gland to produce melatonin and allow cortisol to be reduced. Research has shown that even a laser shined on the back of the knee during sleep is registered by the brain. Having either a quiet room or non-stimulating quite noise/music is conducive to sleep. These methods did not make a huge shift in sleeping ability on their own but allowed me to keep my sleep consistent.

Dr. Hart's Sleep Method #4 - Cultivating Relaxation

For a good portion of my life, my thoughts raced constantly, my brain told stories about everything, I was restless, and did not sit still well. Because I was sleep deprived yet stuck in overdrive, any time I slowed down enough to sit still I would fall asleep. Brain dumping began to help slow them down but it was not enough to create consistent relaxation. Two things helped to shift this for me:

1) Questioning the voice in my head and 2) Somatosensory Awareness exercise.

Questioning the Voice

If you stop to listen to that voice in your head, you realize some things. One of those things is that I'm not completely controlling it. The voice is basically talking on its own much of the time. Another is that most of what the voice says is unhelpful. When the voice is chattering away, especially telling fearful stories of what could happen or rehashing old stories, begin to ask it "who are you talking to?" or "Who's talking?" These questions work because they interrupt the story.

Somatosensory Awareness

I have detailed this in multiple of my lunch lectures but a brief summary is: Sit or lay back, close your eyes, take a few slow, deep breathes and begin to feel all the sensations in your toes. Don't internally talk about the sensations or judge them, just feel them. If they are unpleasant, take deep breathes as if you were breathing through the sensations. When ready, move to the feet and do the same thing. Continue sweeping the rest of the body this way until you get to the head. Once you have scanned the whole body, rest in the whole body sensation while breathing, and feel the body all at once. This exercise in itself is restful and rejuvenating and can be done on those nights when you are lying awake in bed.

Bonus Benefits

In the process of improving my sleep, I started having more moments of inner calm and peace. I found that I could pay better attention, was less anxious, and had decreased sympathetic dominance.

This is not a try it once and never again method. It is a practice to cultivate sleep and relaxation. Consistently put these practices to use for 90 days and see if it doesn't create rippling improvements in your life and health.

In health,

Martin C. Hart, DC, NASM-CES

Chiropractic Physician

Informational purposes only. Not intended to diagnose or treat any conditions.

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