Change the story (DW#716)

We have been discussing ways to quiet our busy brain so that we can we rest and sleep.

Todays’ practice is one that I find most effective.

Sometimes, when I am feeling really frayed or the buzzing thoughts are very persistent, it is really challenging to settle down. I find that body scans, breath focus or imagery does not work as well as I would like it to. My brain seems to be insistent on telling stories and getting into the nitty gritty of today’s happenings or tomorrow’s schedules.

At times like this I find that I need to distract myself from my own stories and get lost in someone else’s. And for this, I find that listening to audio books or podcasts works really well.

So the next time you find meditating, body scans or other methods are not working, try listening to something. (Watching TV does not work well for all the reasons we have already discussed)

It is best to choose something that’s overall pretty even-keeled (even monotonous), without...

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Get out of your mind and ride your breath (DW#715)

Today’s strategy is similar to yesterday’s one where we slowed our thoughts by focusing our attention on the environment around us.

Today let us get out of our mind by focusing on our body.

You can start with noticing your breath. Are you breathing fast, shallow, deep? No need to change it in any way or judge or label it. Simple notice it. Just "ride the breath" and focus your attention on it. And when you notice that your attention has wandered (which it will), simply bring your attention back.

That is it actually. The whole exercise.

Notice your breath.

When you notice that your mind has wandered away from the breath, bring it back.

Repeat. Again and again.

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Slow down and engage your senses (DW#714)

Our brain is very good at at telling stories using words. They are language machines and very fast ones at that. Our thoughts are just stories that we (our brains) tell ourselves so that we can make sense of our world and our experience in it.

Now since so much information and input is coming into our brains from our environment at any given time, our brain must process these inputs super fast to make sense and keep up. This is why it seems to be racing at a million miles per hour. And it can be exhausting, especially if we trying to switch off and rest.

The good news is that we can slow down this thought train with a simple strategy and that is to focus on the imagery rather than the words.

For example, your brain is remembering the conversation that you had with the rude person in the parking lot. You are replaying this event and thinking of all the things that you should have said and could have said instead of what you did end up saying.

How do you slow this down?

Get your other...

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Download your thoughts (DW#713)

Now that you have scheduled your worry times (as discussed yesterday), there should be far fewer anxious thoughts that interfere with your nighttime rest.

However, there will still be thoughts and ideas that your brain will keep spinning because you might forget something important. And we all know that the best thoughts and ideas come to creative people when they are trying to sleep (or shower or pray).

A very effective way to deal with these thoughts and ideas is to download them – out of your brain and onto paper. Please do NOT use your phone for this (for obvious reasons). Simply keep a notepad and pen/pencil next to your bed. Just before bedtime, write down any random thoughts and ideas that are occupying your mind at that time.

Of course there is no pressure to make this a literary project. It doesn’t have to be profound, poetic, or grammatically correct. You need not write in full sentences or make it legible for anyone but yourself.

Once you are done, your brain...

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Schedule a “worry window” (DW#712)

The first strategy that we will explore to wind down our buzzing brain may sound counter-intuitive at first, but please hang on.

Instead of allowing our brains to stress and worry about the next day or anything else that may be on our minds at the moment, we will schedule a time to worry.

So go ahead. Set your alarm for tomorrow during the day. From 4pm to 4.20pm, for example, plan on indulging every worry and anxiety that comes your way. If you cannot think of anything to worry about, try hard. You can kick start your worry session, says Stephanie Silberman, (author of The Insomnia Workbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Sleep You Need), by simply asking yourself, "What are the things that come to my mind when I’m lying in bed at night?"

If a worry doesn’t seem that big during your worry session, go ahead and amplify it in your mind. Your soul purpose during this "worry window" is to welcome and indulge your worries and anxieties about things that you cannot...

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Calming down your buzzing brain (DW#711)

Do you have nights when you toss and turn and are unable to switch off your mind? Nights when your mind keeps nagging you with to-do lists, with next tasks from unfinished projects, with worries, plans, doubts and replays of what you should not have said or even jingles and songs that stuck in your head in a never ending loop?

I find that when I am juggling too many things, when I have too many balls up in the air, my brain simply refuses to wind down in the night. In fact, the more exhausted I feel, the more alert it seems to get. Sigh.

Even though on nights like these, it seems that the entire world is asleep but me, it turns out that struggling to shut your brain down for the night is actually very normal.

After all, our brain is designed to be buzzing all the time to help us remember, anticipate, analyze, plan, problem-solve, and do all the things that make us productive humans. And of course, since we live in a society which seems to be on 24/7, it makes sense that our brain...

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How about a nappacinno? (DW#710)

Yesterday we talked about how some of us may need to forgo that shot of afternoon caffeine if we want to sleep well at night.

Today, I want to introduce a VERY interesting idea from the book Whenby Dan Pink. The book, which is about the science of perfect timing also talks about how to manage the energy variations we experience throughout the day.

He is a great believer in the power of power naps and calls them "Zambonis for our brains". A Zamboni (had to look that one up J) is a machine which is used to resurface ice and make it smooth so that it can be played on.

Here is what he says about the power of naps: "A large body of research shows that naps improve cognitive performance and boost mental and physical health. In many ways, naps are Zambonis for our brains. They smooth out the nicks, scuffs, and scratches a typical day leaves on our mental ice."

He calls these power naps "Nappaccinos" and lays out a 5 step process for the perfect "Nappaccino"

1. Figure out when your energy...

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The cost of Starbucks (DW#709)

Isn’t it amazing how much a cup of coffee can cost these days in a fancy coffee shop?

Well, it turns out that shot of expresso is costing you more than money.

Caffeine does not actually give us energy. What it does do is mask our fatigue. It basically deactivates that part of the brain which tells you that you are tired. What this means is that you are not "getting" new energy from caffeine. You are simply ‘borrowing energy’ from your future self.

Plus caffeine stays in your body for a long time. It has a "half-life’ of 5 to 6 hours which means that if you have 100 mg of caffeine at 4:00 pm, around half of that caffeine is still bouncing around in your brain at 10pm. Half the caffeine is STILL with you even 6 hours later. No wonder you cannot sleep.

Now many people firmly swear that caffeine does not impact them and that they can sleep like babies even after several cups. Are you one of those? If so, great. If not, consider a caffeine curfew.

Stop drinking...

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Four ways technology is making us lose sleep (DW#708)

To recap our discussion about technology and sleep, here are the four ways that our screens are keeping us awake at night:

1. They Suppress Melatonin.

2. They Keep Your Brain Alert.

3. They Wake You Up.

4. They are hard to control especially when you are tired

So what are we to do?

To start with, let us consider setting ourselves a "tech curfew" at the very least an hour before bedtime. In other words, we stop using all screens an hour before we plan to sleep. This is also called a "digital sunset" when all technology around us goes to sleep well before we do.

For parents of young children, I really hope are already doing this for our children. And that we will consider doing this for ourselves as well.

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Binging on technology (DW#707)

Have you noticed that your willpower wanes along with your energy throughout the day?

Recent research has clarified that willpower is a finite resource and that we have less willpower as the day wears on and we get tired (ever been mindful of what you eat through the day and then completely let go from late afternoon onwards?)

When we combine the decrease in willpower along with the addictive nature of technology, we have a perfect storm for sleepless nights:

• "One more level" turns into another hour of hunting orcs in a favorite game.

• "One more episode" becomes finishing a season from favorite streaming services.

• "One more text" becomes an all-night comfort session when a friend needs a shoulder.

• "One more email" becomes a late-night work session to iron out problems with a presentation.

In other words, "one more minute" – when it comes to screen time at night – can easily turn into several hours.

In other words, we are much more likely to...

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