Current studies estimate that more than one third of the general population suffers from insomnia. Dr. Pokea addresses these disturbances in our sleep from a perspective of Mind/Body alignment with practical understanding and remedy.
The greatest thing, then in all education is to make the nervous system our ally instead of enemy.
William James, The Father of Psychology
The most important part of the integration of personality is to make peace with one’s own body and be at home with it.
Susan Rako M.D & Harvey Mazer, M.D.
For our evolution to continue we must let go of any remnants of the “Slave/Master Paradigm” from previous and archaic civilizations. This affects our minds and bodies even now more than we realize.
Darryl Pokea, Psy.D.
We all can easily make the mistake of “trying to go to sleep.” The “trying” is the mistake. In order to fall asleep we have to “let go” of all thinking, even our thinking about going to sleep. Our higher brain thoughts may include illusions of being in control. Our thoughts are gently relinquished as we trust and turn over all control to our brain stem (often referred to as our lizard brain) that quiets us down, as we let it lead us towards sleep. Each of us can easily slip into the habit of continuing our conflicts during the day in our home life interfering with and even preventing recreation, relaxation, and restorative sleep. Carrying these conflicts inside us from our day at work, school, or social life, places further demands on our lizard (brain stem) and autonomic limbic (emotional) brains and interferes with a harmonious alliance between mind, brain and body. When we are reluctant to trust the wisdom of these brains within our brain and relinquish control to their natural pace-making and regulation processes, we will likely create an internal battle with them that manifests as difficulty falling asleep.
The rhythms of sleep and attunement to the needs of our bodies have been severely disrupted in our busy complex life styles. Recently Duke University cut early morning classes because they recognized that so many students were sleep deprived and in a pattern of sleeping only four to five hours nightly. They recommend that college students sleep 9 hours nightly for wellness in meeting the social and academic demands of college life. Current studies estimate that more than one third of the general population suffers from insomnia with about half of that third (15-20%) having very serious difficulty falling asleep. The sleep difficulties grow worse each time the mind attempts to override the body’s cries for more rest and less frantic activity.
It is important to realize that there are many types of sleep disturbance. A consultation with a physician to rule out possible physical reasons is imperative. Insomnia will be addressed in this article from a neuropsychological mind/body perspective. The focus will be on insomnia in its form of difficulty falling asleep. This is different from the insomnia many experience in the form of early morning waking that is accompanied by difficulty returning to sleep, a common symptom in more serious depression. While there are many possible reasons for difficulty falling asleep, this author will approach the subject by focusing on dimensions of fear and control. In understanding the traps of these processes, we can recognize that insomnia mirrors the extent to which we participate in the illusion that we must appear to be in complete control of our fears and our lives.
If we have acquired the habit of keeping our mind-set to give the appearance of being in control of every moment throughout our day, this unhealthy habit may manifest itself at night as we continue the control. This habit is contrary to recreation, relaxation and sleep. In these conscious (recreation and relaxation) and unconscious (sleep) states of mind and body, all illusions in the various forms of pseudo control are to be suspended. The processes of rest, recreation, relaxation, and sleep are maximally beneficial when they occur spontaneously. These healing and restorative processes contrast to what is often expected in the workplace or during certain public or social events where rigid planning and control are the norm and feelings and effects upon our body are for the most part suppressed and ignored.
Going to sleep cannot be forced and is usually beyond our waking conscious control. We simply just let go, as we understand that most things outside ourselves are beyond our conscious control. We may admit to ourselves that we are never really in complete control during our daily activities. Too often during our day we exhaust ourselves by thinking that we can be completely in control of events and other people that have effects upon or lives. Exhausting ourselves daily, by a sense of this pseudo control, sets up a pattern of approaching sleep only through exhaustion. We can fall asleep from complete exhaustion, but both our physical and mental health still suffers. Eventually as a habit of excessive control dominates our home life, it pervades into all recreation and relaxation matters as if they too were routine tasks.
When the discrepancy between the mind’s expectations and the body’s natural rhythms becomes too intense, symptoms begin both in the body and mind to let us know of the imbalance. One of these symptoms is insomnia and it originates mainly when the body can no longer meet our demands for complete control. The body cannot be forced beyond a certain load point, and forcing sleep is a particularly sensitive area in healthy mind/body relationships. If we force, we simply won’t sleep. Continual control and force are just too detrimental to the body’s natural rhythms and process in approaching sleep. Our lizard and limbic brain in their wisdom won’t let us do that to ourselves.
As the late anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, has suggested mind and nature have a necessary unity. He further reminds us that at best we can only influence the external ecology of this world, not control it. We also may actively participate in the natural circadian rhythms within our own internal ecology. When we enter a hostile relationship of rigid control with our mind and body, systems loose balance and fail. This applies to many of the mind patterns in insomnia. As Bateson reiterates, you can lead the horse to water, but not force it to drink, but also the horse must be by the water before it can drink. The external battles and conflicts that take place so often in modern daily life do not have to carry over into our mind and body in our personal lives and distance us from recreation, relaxation, rest and restorative sleep. We do have to do our part in getting mind and body near the water, but not force the drinking of the water.
As is now common in our busy and often imbalanced life styles, conflicts and daily hostilities are easily internalized without realizing it. These worries and conflicts may prevent us from being near the water that allows the process to start restorative rhythms of sleep. To sleep we have to understand our nature; how we are put together neurologically. We can return to a state of letting go, letting our hair down and relaxing even though the demands of most of the other parts of our day are otherwise. In the safety of our personal lives we can let go, trust, and accept both the wisdom and invitation from our natural lizard brain healthy rhythmic pacing that tone us down and gently direct us towards sleep. Our pets illustrate the process of letting go very well. They model for us the ease in which we can return to and be attuned to bodily rhythms by both their playfulness and ease in falling asleep.
Our limbic (emotional brain) also contributes to our sleep process. Our emotions are intermixed with learning, memory, regulation of body systems and our attention responses to the outer world. Together these pace our brain waves that allow for the variable states and levels of consciousness possible throughout our day and night. This limbic system is most similar to a cat’s brain and functions differently from our lizard brain. If you tell a cat in imperative tone that you want it on your lap, it will assert its independence in lieu of your commanding tone and walk away.
Our limbic brain does not respond well to orders, demands and carry-overs of pseudo-control that we may have gotten our way with in our daily lives. It will rebel against disrespect or being treated like a slave, computer or machine. The disturbances in our daily life processes are registered throughout our limbic brain, but in insomnia they may specifically impact the thalamus, a sensory modulator and brain wave regulator within our limbic brain. It sets the paces (frequency pulses) of our brain waves for whatever state in the continuum of consciousness is required in the moment. This includes the full range of states of consciousness required for attention processes that continue into unconscious states that encompass healthy dream sleep (rapid eye movement, REM) so necessary for good psychological and physical health.
To prevent disturbances and internal battles, rather than approaching this cat brain with commands and demands, you simply welcome its guidance and detach from outcome. Let the cat gently know your intention (such as your desire to go to sleep) by inviting rather than forcing the cat to be on your lap. The cat in its own wisdom and independence will set its own pace in deciding when it will respond to your invitation. With demand, command and control diminished, the cat eventually ends up on your lap that is where you wanted it to be. This comes about not by our force of will, which may have been our style or method throughout the day, but through gentle non-controlling invitations. When we approach all of our limbic/emotional processes in a gentler manner we easily slip into better mental health as well and are able to fall asleep with ease. This is the respect we show to our own nature for good mind/body health.
Both dimensions of lizard (brainstem) brain and cat (limbic) brain come together for approaching, entering and maintaining restorative sleep. We can lead the horse towards the water with our cooperation of letting go of control with a gentle intent towards going to sleep. We do this primarily by letting go of high energy demand thinking that allows the lizard brain to start its toning down process. Then the horse will start its own process in deciding when it will drink on its own. We can always keep in mind that the limbic brain responds best to being understood like a cat. The cat, if properly treated within its own style free of the mind’s force, demand and control, will end up on your lap and start the rhythms and cycles of catnaps and sleep.
All systems are neurologically interactive and must come together including your own mind’s intent, understanding of, and interaction with the body. As all interact respectfully and in balance with one another, both an ambience and synchrony is achieved. The body’s basic systems, respiration, heartbeat and cortical energy for thought are gradually toned down by a dance between lessoning the mind’s demands and letting the brain stem taking more of the lead. This lizard brain knows how to keep you alive without consciousness, without thinking of every breath or every heartbeat. Your mind can return to a habit of trusting it, as it has always proved itself worthy of that trust and will continue to throughout our lives.
After the lizard brain has lowered and quieted thought energy settings, with fewer emotional conflicts, the thalamus in your cat brain begins its new pace making of your brainwaves. Eventually the thalamus allows for the sleep cycles to begin including the highly cherished REM dream sleep. The REM sleep can have even further restorative features for the brain and body as dreams may re-enact, repair and heal the wounds from the day’s conflicts and emotions. For this to occur it must now be, for the most part, under the thalamic unconscious mind’s control. An overbearing conscious mind with conflicted emotions during the day, carried into our approach to sleep, will interrupt this natural process. Both these brain stem and limbic brain processes interact together in our unconscious when we approach, enter, and stay in the cycles of healing restorative sleep.
If we are a defensive and controlling person throughout the day, we may continue those habits in our attempt to control the processes involved in entering sleep. Chattering thoughts and repetitious review of our day, coupled with fear induced worrisome thoughts, do not allow our brain stem to dampen and quiet our brain and body metabolism for sleep. We each can override our cycles and rhythms with our mind’s demands, and sometimes not even realize that we are doing this more and more habitually.
Insomnia is the teacher, a reminder that we are loosing synchronous harmony within our nervous system as more and more controlling thoughts block our natural drift towards sleep. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, it is a matter of looking at your own issues in both fears (limbic sub cortical brain) and the habitual control in overly attached thinking (cortical brain). Too often we may innocently carryover conflicted feelings from the day. We further complicate falling asleep then by manifesting our primary fear of loosing control during the day, at night as a new fear about our falling asleep. That fear originates from our habitual control issues that are unresolved in our relationship with our mind and our body. As we begin to understand the futility of these habits that are imposed on our naturally healthy mind and body processes, we can cease trying to take control over matters that we have no control, including surrendering to natural sleep processes.
As we realize our issues in “control” we can return to better mental and physical health and respond again automatically by “letting go.” This is how insomnia may be viewed as our teacher, not an enemy. It teaches us that we are out of balance, out of tune with bodily rhythms within ourselves. Doing battle with it only increases the imbalance. We can all learn from insomnia to let go of the illusions that we are in control and receive the healing sleep that we need as we surrender to sleep as our ally and become unconscious without fear of loosing control. The cat on the lap illustrates that neither the master nor the cat have fear or dominating control. They have a trusting relationship with one another. A balanced healthy relationship with our limbic brain is just so.
The lizard brain (brainstem,sub cortical) has different characteristics. It may be referred to affectionately in neurology as our lizard brain because, in its wisdom, it handles the most basic life systems, regulating them in the best interest of the body for the preservation of life. Falling asleep every day illustrates the process of surrender as we relinquish all sense of control. Within our lizard brain, this surrender is necessary to allow for its assuming full regulation of our brain and bodily systems. All personal control, that we think we have during our regular waking states of consciousness, is suspended.
We can understand that our higher order thinking in consciousness (cortical) was the last to develop neurologically and it is the first to fail when we are exhausted. Our lizard brain (sub-cortical) was the first to develop in us neurologically and continues to function till our death. It has greater neuronal endurance than our thinking brain, just as our heart muscle has greater endurance than the other muscles of the body. The lizard brain, in its deepest biological awareness, knows how to begin shutting down bodily systems hierarchically and sequentially to preserve life. If we see it as our ally and let it take over by not thinking so much, it will cease sending up into our cortex (higher brain functions) so much energy for thinking, processing, and worrying. Then as we stop thinking so much we let the lizard brain (sub-cortical) reset and quiet our cortical tone. As we let relaxation occur we are able to fall asleep. All of us can be attuned to these aspects in the rhythms of our brain, mind and body.
Cortical (higher brain) fatigue is just as real as fatigue within the body. Cortical fatigue shows itself by a type of attention deficit in which we loose focus and can no longer effectively selectively attend to what is required in the moment for our welfare and survival. We can be appreciative and grateful towards our lizard brain that it can assume regulation of life sustaining processes without us, even when we are unable to think clearly and make reasonable decisions about our survival. Cortical fatigue may result from boring repetitive tasks during the day just as it does from habitual thoughts. Recent estimates show we may have as many as 60,000 thoughts per day, and in our stressful, frequently defensive style of modern life, 95-98% of those thoughts are the same.
Without novel creative thoughts and innovative problem solving, it is no wonder that our brains fatigue. The neurons throughout our brain both crave and enjoy new balanced stimulation. There is so much over-regulation, constriction, and repetitive patterns of hostility in so many work places. It is now common for most of us to internalize the thought and emotional patterns of our workplace. As we do so, frequently without conscious awareness of what we are doing to ourselves, our brain eventually fatigues. This exhausts the entire nervous system and the body as both metabolically attempt to support the driven, conflicted, intensely worrisome thoughts we have mistakenly taken in and/or generated by our need to control. These congested patterns of thought and emotion during the day, can easily carry into our home, recreation and sleep life. The way we are designed, what we think and feel, are just as important to brain, mind and body heath as what we eat.
We all can know and understand that with our mind, the brain can rest and restore by thinking about images of a Hawaii vacation without actually being there. This makes the economics of good mind/body health less expensive than a travel agency. As we understand and practice this wonderful neurological feature, changing both tasks and images in our mind frequently during the day, we can give ourselves a free vacation with refreshing restoration.
Cortical fatigue and insomnia can result whenever we let all the over-regulation, constriction and repetitive patterns of thoughts and hostile and wounded emotions from our daily routine intrude into our home life. In our homes, all the unresolved conflicts may be rekindled as we are approaching sleep. We can easily develop habitual thoughts in an effort to deny fear and support our illusion of being in control. These habitual thoughts may be understood as effort to deny our fear and as an attempt to regain control. The illusion of thinking we can be in control of everything may express itself as we begin worrying about “getting to sleep” and then begin “worrying about our worry about getting to sleep.” Sometimes we stay up all night worrying and sometimes we worry ourselves to a point of exhaustion and then fall asleep. Neither of these complications in sleep is healthy and both may become alternating habits.
Sleep comes naturally as a dance between mind and body with the body taking the lead. It is important that we both value and understand this process. We are designed neurologically to make a transition from full waking states towards sleep by gently surrendering our conscious waking minds (cortical) and go unconscious letting our lizard brain take charge. We simply trust the life sustaining process of the body directed by our lizard brain. Our mind simply must give up its normal waking consciousness. Each time we surrender to sleep we are supporting the alliance between our mind and our lizard and autonomic brains. We are entrusting the shift from consciousness to unconsciousness in sleep to those lizard and limbic autonomic brains. Both reside deep within our brain (sub-cortical) and have been mistakenly regarded as primitive as they have been erroneously compared to our thinking brain. Their real cellular wisdom and multi-task functions, as well as all their interactive processes, support the well being of our mind and our body.
We are not fully aware of the sophistication and order within the lizard and limbic brain processes and we refer to them as parts of the unconscious mind. They surpass the best multi-tasking we do in our waking states of consciousness. When we attempt to over-control their shifting us towards restorative rest and sleep, we contaminate the processes that they perform well. When we do so the horse won’t even be near the water and the cat will run away. These parts of our brain developed first and sustained our life long before we had any higher consciousness thoughts. They are naturally entrained neurologically and biologically to preserve and support our brain and body health in the most dedicated life-sustaining ways. They also have wordless communications with one another at the deepest biological and neurological levels as they automatically support our life when we are unaware. In addition, they also regulate us whether we are conscious or unconscious of their processes during our normal waking consciousness, even when we make errors in our conscious decisions that may jeopardize our body.
To enter sleep we only have to trust that our lizard and limbic portions of our brain will maintain life in the best interest of our mind and body. With trust and appreciation, rather than control, we can allow them to quiet the body systems from the task orientation, conflicts and mind chatters of the day. In this regular daily change process, our mind and body are particularly dynamically interactive in this shift away from conscious control necessary in preparing us for sleep. As we surrender to these autonomic functions that quiet our body and brain systems, all we have to do is trust. Our conscious mind may make its own formulations during the day that “others” are not to be trusted, but we may can be safe and secure in knowing and trusting our lizard and limbic brains as they keep our systems balanced, sustained and maintained throughout the night.
If others have stressed and disrupted us during the day, we do not have to carry these perceptions into our personal life at night and express it as distrust towards our lizard and limbic brains within. In a psychological sense, any distrust of others during the day cannot be displaced onto our lizard and limbic brains. These autonomic centers have our best interest patterned in their rhythms and sequences of the neuronal and biological pulses that maintain our life. They regulate heart beat, breathing, and even set in motion the constellations of brain waves that cycle in our stages of sleep, including the REM (dream sleep) so necessary for our both our physical and psychological well being.
Another aspect of the awake/sleep processes involves some interesting energetic cells. During the early neurological development within our brainstem, a collection of cells have gathered there like a pyramid to support all levels of attention required in daily conscious living. These cells sequentially and progressively “light up” as a type of “neuronal battery” for the brain according to the level of demand in our thinking and attention. When we think complex or abstract thoughts or are involved in complex problem solving or in-depth emotional processing, worrying about the past or anticipating the next days tasks, this cluster of cells in our brain stem called the reticular activating system (RAS) provide the necessary neuronal energy for such levels of consciousness required in the moment. When we first wake up after sleep, they respond to our minimal thinking power demands as a few in their pyramid cluster light up to wake us up in response to an alarm clock or radio. As we start our day and get out of bed, a few more clusters of these energizing cells come on line and light up to meet the brain’s still minimal power demands in brushing our teeth and showering. These routines require relatively low neuronal power demands from our RAS within the brain stem. They are low power because they are a ritualized, habitual type of routine brain thinking.
As we are preparing for our day and suddenly the phone rings a new power demand is placed upon the RAS. Let’s say that in answering the phone, we are asked by our boss to problem solve an unexpected event at work. Now these cell bodies rapidly provide the neuronal charge of energy necessary for quick intense frontal lobe problem solving and thinking. All firemen know the incredible flexibility of their RAS as one minute they may be sleeping and the next minute they may be rushing to a fire. Upon arriving at the fire they have to spontaneously do complex thinking on their feet, evaluating, strategizing and problem solving, and acting quickly in an unfamiliar, often life-threatening situation. Their habitual training on certain procedures has been entrained in their brain and eases the neuronal load, but each fire-fighting situation is still novel and requires quick and clever problem solving as life itself is often endangered.
Firefighters’ transition from sleep to complex frontal lobe problem solving thought may happen all in a matter of a few minutes. The RAS responds automatically to our quick thought and perceptual process demands. It serves us faithfully in supplying the power for the brain’s increased thinking demand for energy. The remaining portions of the brainstem set in motion energizing the many other brain/body systems necessary to meet physical power demands that our body requires moment to the moment. It is remarkable how quickly both brain and bodily systems are energized and how they can be taxed to the maximum, usually without loosing consciousness.
The RAS is generally thought to be less flexible and responsive in the variable power demands in all types of thinking tasks in children and adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). We too can experience ADD during sleep deprivation or through work-a-holic exhaustion, when our attention mechanisms in our frontal lobes battle are no longer in alignment with the needs of the body. In this kind of scenario, the frontal lobes battle with our RAS through their excessive desire to remain in control even when we are desperately in need rest or sleep. The RAS in people with ADD cannot keep up with the changing demand for power with the variable attention and concentration required in tasks throughout the day. Anyone exhausted in thinking at the end of the day, or those who suffer with insomnia know the ADD state of mind. This same loss of attention and concentration expressed through wandering and/or worrisome thoughts occurs in this sleepless state.
All of us can keep in mind that support and trust are necessary to make an alliance with our RAS. We can even visualize that these pyramid of cells within our brainstem as they monitor and meet the neuronal power demands of our thinking and energize us for whatever the level of thought activity is present in our mind. We can appreciate the versatility of these powerful and power making cells, as they both energize and quiet us according to the tasks we put before them throughout the day. As we appreciate them, we may appreciate ourselves deeply in our human flexibility in the many different tasks we accomplish during the day in our full range of consciousness. These tasks are often performed under stress and duress, as our superiors and/or the corporation may not value us. As we value ourselves regardless of the outer world demands placed upon us, we will also value our inner world’s processes both mentally and physically. This support and gratitude for our RAS meeting the energy demands in many levels of thinking is contiguous with support for us in our flexible and creative thoughts within the continuum of human consciousness. When we appreciate these aspects of ourselves, we form some of the deepest alliances with our mind and body. Our mind and brain are aligned with one another, as both are finely tuned instruments serving us daily in thought.
We can learn to avoid putting Mother Nature in a double bind, particularly when the outside world attempts to do so. Even if we are overloaded by work tasks and alienated by conflicts with others in our work situations, we do not have to take those battles home and loose our alliance with our nervous system and its wonderfully intricate design that faithfully supports us. As we understand this, we can let go of having to be continually in control with our conscious mind during the day and let ourselves feel comfortable and relaxed in our home life, recreation and in falling asleep. In understanding that complete control is an illusion, we can view the imbalances in the external world objectively and not internalize them by starting a war between our brains within.
There are few more illustrations that assist in understanding the intricacy and complexity of these interacting brains and the amazing RAS. When we are reading a technical manual or complex or abstract material, more neuronal energy is required and more of the pyramid of neurons light up to provide the necessary support for those sophisticated understandings and thoughts. Some people can cortically exhaust themselves by reading such complex literature. Students do this frequently as they attempt to cram and then finally surrender to exhaustion and fall asleep. Particularly for someone with difficulty falling asleep, such cramming or reading complex material before sleep would not be advisable. Lighter reading materials such as novels or relaxing fiction, require less energy. They may be part of the solution for those suffering with insomnia that helps to ease the horse in the direction of the water. To go to sleep we simply let go and surrender to our lizard brain by not thinking about going to sleep. This is a type of “thinking about nothing” that some forms of meditation suggest.
When we worry in any way, this worry can quickly progress to worry about going to sleep, and then we start to worry about our worrying about going to sleep. All this complexity in circular thought tells our lizard brain with its RAS pyramid of cells that we are not yet ready to surrender to its calmer rhythms and natural pulsations of sleep cycle processes. We need their gentle calming-down process to guide our brain and body to rest, relax, and restore. In order to sleep we can’t be taking command, control or have strategic thinking about sleep, sheep or any subject. While the sleep approaching process is similar to what I spoke of earlier in the limbic, emotional cat brain, there is very little emotion in the energy battles that arise between our thinking and the RAS. It responds more lizard-like in all the survival issues in its response to our thinking and resting needs. It does not have the emotional loadings of the cat (limbic) brain, though it may be responding to those higher cortical thoughts driven by emotions.
It is possible for some people who do not suffer from insomnia to exhaust their thinking by reading complex material and then the exhaustion overtakes them and they are no longer able to think. In this manner, they become thoughtless and surrender to slower paces that the RAS is urging them towards and then fall asleep. For most experiencing difficulty in falling asleep, we only have to surrender to a thoughtless state that is part of our continuum of human consciousness. Truly child-like playful recreation, relaxation and meditation are all part of these thoughtless, but awaken states of consciousness. Letting go and letting one’s self move into the turf of the deep lizard brain processes occurs when one trusts all these basic rhythms and basic systems. These include basic life functions such as sleeping, respiration, and our heart beating. Each time we strengthen a trusting alliance with these brains within our nervous system our mind and body are more fully aligned and they dance gracefully together where neither is dominant and the leader role is exchanged comfortably.
In contrast to surrendering and letting ourselves sleep, our relationship with the RAS is completely reversed in waking up and it lets our conscious mind again take lead in meeting the power needs of for attention process during our regular waking state of consciousness. When we are about to wake up, a transition to the new leading dance partner is about to occur as clusters of the RAS pyramid of cells start to come on line with the stimulus of our alarm clock. They bring us into a waking consciousness activating our frontal lobes for day decisions as we respond to the noise of the alarm clock. The lizard brain as lead dancer at night has a type of awareness of our surroundings in case of smoke, fire, or other danger throughout the night. It would usually automatically wake us with any of these stimuli to alert us. Now, with the alarm having gone off, the day command and control is from our frontal lobes, now the new leading dance partner asking the RAS for the energy to attend to the tasks of the day at the level of attention we decide. The RAS has numerous pathways to and from the frontal lobes so that when the frontal lobes again take the lead during the day, they can ask for some power required in our first awakening and orienting thoughts. The RAS, through its many strong connections to our frontal lobes, receives our conscious mind demands for energy for all types of attention processes that we want to have moment to moment during our waking states.
In the shift towards sleep, the process is just the opposite and inverted with less and less frontal lobe demand for energy in its exchanges with the RAS. We must disengage our frontal lobe volitional conscious command center to lessen the demand for more energy so the RAS sends less up there for thinking and begins starting its patterned sequences for shutting down consciousness and entering sleep. We have to let go of demand and conscious control, making an alliance with our brain stem and limbic brain in accepting their processes now that will be under their control (unconscious). As they adjust neurological tone (that includes many levels including relaxed cortical tone (mind) and relaxed muscle tone (body), they will now direct us towards and during sleep. In all this the director of the brain’s orchestra has shifted hands. Another conductor, who has the rhythms well paced and music fully memorized, is now conducting and we must go unconscious and surrender the baton.
The brain stem (lizard) and limbic/emotional (cat) brain conductors will now assume all the orchestrations of mind and body. These two brain conductors are unparalleled when compared to what we think we know how to do consciously. During the day we can overdrive the RAS by caffeine, staying up late, encountering hostile relationships, processing conflicting emotions, having habitual over-stimulating and stressful responses to situations, meeting deadlines, enduring finals week, pulling all-nighters, exhausting ourselves by excessive complex and abstract thinking or worrisome fear-loaded thoughts, but these two brains will take us back to balance.
The brain stem and the RAS within it, as well as the thalamus in our limbic brain, bring us back to rest and restoration always in the best interest of our mind and body. These brains may not have the same conscious awareness and sophisticated thinking about relationships, over-stimulating news, TV, unhealthy escapism, or caffeine, sugar, alcohol or variety of other substances we put into our body and mind, but they know healing sequences for good biological, neurological, and brain mental health. They are extremely aware and sensitive towards the disturbances of mind/body health that we may have been exposed to or created for ourselves. In their cellular and systemic wisdom they know what to do to preserve and restore our life processes. There is an inter-communication between them at the deepest biological levels. Though they do not speak, they have continual wordless communication. These talented systems and their cells do respond with the best biological and neuronal wisdom entrained within them. They know how to bring mind and body back to healthy homeostasis. All of this occurs daily, nightly, and faithfully, as long as their processes are not dominated or interfered with by our conscious mind.
In our busy lives we may have busy, constantly chattering brains. The continuous chatter of both inner and outer dialogues during our waking hours has become common. In a world that still operates from old paradigms of previous civilizations, our thinking brain mistakenly socializes us to feel in control within a commonly competitive world, regardless if this goes against our nature and capacities in mind and body. For some time now, our minds and bodies have developed beyond those old ways of enslaving control from archaic civilizations. Just as Rollo May stated that creativity cannot be held back without destructive consequences, so too our own evolution cannot be thwarted any more than we can go against our newer, more evolved biological and neurological make up. Though enslaving life styles may have dominated many previous civilizations in controlling human beings against their nature, we do not have to allow such “slave/master” paradigms to impinge upon our recreation and sleep. We do not have to allow these erroneous paradigms, often times recapitulated in the workplace and “modern” life to encroach into our natural circadian rhythms entrained within both our biology and intricate neurology.
Our interactive mind and body have evolved beyond these controlling master/slave paradigms for some time. Though many corporate and social systems still cling to them, we can consciously recognize their impact and interference within our lives and we can consciously decide to leave them without. Though we use machines that are suppose to free up our minds and bodies, we do not have to allow our mind and body to be treated like machines. Though we use and our served by computers and electronics that mimic some of the very primal thinking functions in our brain, we do not have to enslave ourselves as a computer server by treating our primal brain systems in that manner. We can keep these antiquated slave/master systems outside our minds and bodies in our personal and home life so they do not create disturbances in our most primal need for sleep.
With these matters in mind, we can learn from the frequency of insomnia in our population, that old habits from “slave/master” civilizations are still being imposed in our conscience daily lives. They can interfere and even completely impede upon our personal and unconscious lives, including sleep. All the metabolic processes in the body may be seriously affected. Just as psychosomatic disorders show aspects of this infringement upon our biology through discomfort and dis “ease” in the body” and psychoneuroimmunology clearly shows us that what we think affects our immune system, so too, insomnia mirrors to us the primal interruptions in our rhythms between mind and body. All these symptoms are our teachers and demonstrate to us where we have brought too much of the outside world, its over-regulating controls, and sometimes enslaving ways into our minds and bodies.
As we require sleep to have optimal physical and mental health, so we can recognize our trappings and evolve beyond them. Insomnia is a particular potent and powerful teacher. The lesson is easy. We each have to let go of the “chatter habit,” the fear and worry about being in control that we have erroneously placed in our minds, our thoughts, and our emotions. When the day is over we need rest, re-“creation”, relaxation and restoration. We do not have to compete with our own nature. Some evolved workplaces and schools value periods of rest, re-creation, relaxation and restoration as needed throughout the day and view them as essential to natural healthy balance. If we are not yet fortunate to be in one of those places, we do not have to let disharmony continue in our home life in our space of interacting mind and body. We can make peace with our body, at the very least, in our home and sleep places.