Insomnia: Waking up too Soon
While the bulk of this site is about creating relaxing sounds, I would like to spend a little time writing about a specific type of insomnia* that plagues us all from time to time. Early awakening. We have all been there. You fall asleep at a decent time only to wake up hours before you need to. You know if you get out of bed you will feel groggy all day so you lay there and try to fall back to sleep. For some reason it does not work so you get up and begin your very long sleepy day. While the majority of the medical community researches sleep from a scientific perspective, I have studied falling asleep from a practical point of view. I am no scientist or medical doctor. I am an insomniac. A really, really bad insomniac. The reality of my situation is that I cannot fall asleep like normal people do and had to learn how to willfully simulate the sleep process or submit to pharmaceuticals and the accompanying negative side effects.
The human brain transitions from Alpha, to Theta and then onto Delta brainwaves during sleep onset. This is scientific fact. Now, in real world language. You relax (Alpha) you get daydreamy (Theta) and you fall asleep (Delta). One of the first things you will probably do when you fall asleep is dream. Our dreams are seemingly random images that morph from one scene to the next. If we know ahead of time that our brain wants to activate the Secondary Visual Cortex (used in imagination and dreaming); then I suggest that this knowledge is practical information we can use. So, lets go back to laying in bed after waking up many hours too early. I developed a simple technique that I use on such an event. First and foremost, don't get up as you are probably still in a Theta brainwave state. The Theta state exists between the waking Alpha state and the sleeping Delta state. They are vying for control. It is a virtual tug of 'awareness'. If you get out of bed Alpha wins... and Beta brainwaves (fully alert) are soon to follow. Stay in bed! You already know that slipping back to unconsciousness will bring on non-R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) dreams as dreaming is one of the first things your brain likes to do upon falling asleep. Help it out. Assist your brain to fall asleep by willfully visualizing a series of random images. Picture in your mind a series of objects, one at a time; inanimate or otherwise.
What you are doing is stimulating the secondary visual cortex in the occipital lobe of your big human brain. The secondary visual cortex (or cortices to be more accurate) is active during dreaming and visualization. You are, in effect, 'priming the pump' as your brain can and will respond to these random images as if it is dreaming and naturally fall back to sleep.
Another method I use to fall back to sleep is to visualize the last dream I can recall, whether that dream just occurred or is days old. Try to manually put yourself back into that dream. While you might not go back to the same dream it is an excellent way to trick your mind back into sleeping.
Necessity is the mother of innovation. I did not happen across this method in a book or on the Internet. My flawed human brain simply cannot fall asleep normally. 25 years of personal research and the need to survive chronic insomnia is behind not only this simple technique but this entire site. An interesting note for sleep researchers who read my ramblings. This morning I woke up at 7:00 AM . This is not unusual for me but, being a Saturday morning, I thought I would try out my willful visualization technique at a time when I would normally get up (I'm always experimenting). Completely randomizing the images I saw a coffee cup, a pair of socks, a cat, a toothbrush... all things that I see in my morning routine. I realized that, given its own 'head', my brain was saying, 'Sorry, Brad. That trick might work in the middle of the night, but it really is time to get up'. Therefore, I can theorize that the secondary visual cortices prep the sleeper for both sleep onset and arousal.
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*Insomnia can be an indication of a serious underlying health condition. Our opinions are in no way intended to be taken as medical advice. If your insomnia issue warrants it please seek the advice of a qualified physician.