- Up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, the most common of which is insomnia; 10 percent of American adults struggle with chronic insomnia and 30 percent report occasional or short-term insomnia
- Research finds you can remain consciously aware even while your brain and body are sleeping
- Insomniacs who report being awake even when their brain wave patterns indicate they’re sleeping have increased activity in brain areas associated with conscious awareness during the dreamless phase of sleep
- If you struggle with insomnia and frequently feel you’ve not slept a wink, processes involved in reducing your conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired. Practicing mindfulness meditation is thought to target these processes and may help improve your sleep experience
- Sleeping pills are very limited in their effectiveness and have serious side effects. Safe and natural sleep aids include melatonin, 5-HTP, valerian, chamomile tea and CBD oil
According to the American Sleep Association,1 up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, nearly 40 percent unintentionally fall asleep during the day at least once a month and nearly 5 percent have nodded off while driving at least once. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with 10 percent of American adults struggling with chronic insomnia and 30 percent reporting occasional or short-term insomnia.
Interestingly, insomniacs will often insist they’ve not slept a wink all night, even though they’ve actually been sleeping. Researchers have now discovered there’s a reason for this discrepancy in experience, and it has to do with consciousness. In a nutshell, even though the brain is sleeping, insomniacs remain consciously aware, and therefore believe they’ve not slept at all.
Many Insomniacs Remain Conscious Even When Asleep, Study Finds
Daniel Kay, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah who led the study,2 told Medical News Today,3 “… [Y]ou can be consciously aware and your brain [can] be in a sleep pattern. The question is: What role does conscious awareness have in our definition of sleep?” Traditionally, it’s been believed that sleeping involves the absence of conscious awareness, but Kay’s team was able to conclude that this is not categorically true.
To investigate the role of consciousness during sleep, the team analyzed the sleep patterns and subjective experience of 32 people with insomnia and 30 who reported sleeping well.
Once the participants were deemed to be asleep, based on their brain patterns, a radioactive tracer was injected into their arms. Using brain imaging, the researchers were able to examine neurons that remained active during sleep, and their exact locations. The following morning, the participants were asked about their subjective experience of their sleep. Medical News Today explains the results:
“The study found that people with insomnia who reported that they had been awake, even when the polysomnography showed otherwise, had increased activity in brain areas associated with conscious awareness during the dreamless phase of sleep — that is, nonrapid eye movement sleep …
[I]t is normal during the process of falling asleep for the brain to send inhibitory neurons that make people less and less consciously aware until they’ve reached a state of deep sleep. However, what the findings of the new study suggest is that people with insomnia may not feel as though they’re asleep until their brain experiences a greater inhibitory activity in areas that are linked to conscious awareness.”
Normal Sleepers May Not Get as Much Sleep as They Think
As noted by the authors,4 “Brain activity in the right anterior insula, left anterior cingulate cortex, and middle/posterior cingulate cortex may be involved in the perception” of insomnia. People who reported sleeping well turned out to have increased activity in the same areas of the brain as insomniacs. The reason for this is because your brain goes through “an inhibition process” when you fall asleep, gradually lowering your conscious awareness.
While insomniacs require a greater level of inhibition before their consciousness recedes, many good sleepers report falling asleep long before their brainwaves indicate that they’re actually sleeping. This is basically the reverse situation of insomnia: Good sleepers lose conscious awareness at a very low level of inhibition, making them believe they fell asleep much faster than they actually did, based on their brain patterns.
Mindfulness Meditation Recommended for Insomniacs
So, if you struggle with insomnia, frequently feeling you haven’t slept a wink, what can you do? Kay says, “In patients with insomnia, processes involved in reducing conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired. One of the strategies for targeting these processes may be mindfulness meditation. It may help the patients inhibit cognitive processes that are preventing them from experiencing sleep.”
Practicing “mindfulness” means you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you’re mindful, you’re living in the moment and letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications.
You can add mindfulness to virtually any aspect of your day — even while you’re eating, working or doing household chores like washing dishes — simply by paying attention to the sensations you are experiencing in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, is a more formal practice in which you consciously focus your attention on specific thoughts or sensations, and then observe them in a nonjudgmental manner.
This is just one type of meditation; there are many forms available. Transcendental meditation, for instance, is one of the most popular forms of meditation, practiced by millions of people around the world. It’s simple to perform. Simply choose a mantra that has meaning for you, sit quietly with your eyes closed and repeat your mantra for a period of about 20 minutes, twice a day.
The idea is to reach a place of “restful” or “concentrated” alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance. Some aspects of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and other forms of meditation overlap.
For instance, focusing your mind on your breath is one of the most basic, and most rewarding, relaxation and meditation/mindfulness strategies there is. To learn more about meditation and the different forms of practice available, see “Meditation Connects Your Mind and Body.”
Common Factors That Keep You Awake
Aside from the possibility that you’re simply misperceiving your inability to sleep, certain environmental factors can make it more difficult to fall asleep. This includes such things as:5
- Your pillow being too hot. A cool pillow, and more importantly the room temperature overall, will decrease your core body temperature, which induces drowsiness. In one study, insomniacs equipped with a cooling cap fell asleep within 13 minutes — three minutes faster than normal sleepers — and remained asleep 89 percent of the night. Reader’s Digest6 suggests placing your pillow in the freezer for a few minutes before bed to cool it down.
- Starting a new medication. A number of different drugs can cause insomnia, including blood pressure medications, antidepressants and steroids. Oftentimes, this side effect can be ameliorated by changing the time at which you take the drug. Beta-blockers, prescribed for high blood pressure and/or arrhythmia, for example, are typically best taken in the morning instead of at night.
- Pets. As much as you love your fur-babies, if they’re hogging your bed or filling it with hair, consider keeping your pets out of your bed. According to one Mayo Clinic study,7 while some find their pets help them sleep better, approximately 20 percent of pet owners admitted the animal disrupted their sleep in one way or another.
- Cold feet. While cooling your head induces sleep, cold feet can keep you tossing and turning. The solution: Wear socks to bed.
- Exhaustion. While exhaustion is frequently confused with tiredness, the two are not the same. When exhausted from stress or overwork, your brain tends to be on high alert. This “cognitive popcorn” can make it difficult to fall asleep, no matter how exhausted your body is. Rather than falling into bed right away after a long day, try winding down, allowing your mind to settle before trying to fall asleep.
When Anxiety or an Overactive Mind Keeps You Awake
One of my favorite tools for resolving anxiety that contributes to insomnia is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which combines tapping on certain points of your body with verbal statements that help pinpoint the underlying issues. In the video above, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for sleep.
EFT helps to release worries, fears and even physical symptoms that stand between you and a good night’s sleep by reprogramming your body’s reactions to many of the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, making it easier to take them in stride.
When stress triggers are reduced, you will naturally sleep better. In 2012, a triple blind study8 found that EFT reduced cortisol levels and symptoms of psychological distress by 24 percent — more than any other intervention tested. This is enormously significant, as there are few things that will destroy your health faster than stress.
Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine discovered that how you cope with stress might have an even greater impact on your sleep than the number of stressors you encounter. They also found that mindfulness therapies worked best for suppressing the “mental chatter” that inhibits the onset of sleep. Lead author Vivek Pillai, Ph.D., wrote,9 “While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it’s what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia.”
Avoid Sleeping Pills for Insomnia
To learn more about the ins and outs of sleep, and lots more tips and strategies to improve your quality and quantity of your rest, please see “Sleep — Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It.” Whatever you do, avoid sleeping pills. Not only do they have extremely limited benefits, the side effects can be quite severe. Take Belsomra, for example, a next-gen type sleeping pill that acts on a neurotransmitter called orexin “to turn down the brain’s ‘wake messages.’”
The company’s own clinical trials showed the drug allowed people to fall asleep an average of six minutes sooner than those taking a placebo, and stay asleep 16 minutes longer. More than 1,000 consumer complaints against Belsomra have been filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with complaints ranging from lack of effectiveness and next-day drowsiness to sleep paralysis, heart problems and suicidal ideation. One in 5 reports claim the drug made them the opposite of sleepy.10
Other research has found sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata reduce the average time it takes to fall asleep by about 13 minutes compared to placebo, while increasing total sleep time by about 11 minutes.11 Interestingly, participants believed they had slept longer, by up to one hour, when taking the pills. This is thought to be due to anterograde amnesia, which causes trouble with forming memories.
When people wake up after taking sleeping pills, they may, in fact, simply forget they’d been unable to sleep. Sonata is also associated with addiction.12 Studies have also shown that use of sleeping pills increase your risk of death and cancer.13 To learn more about the hazards of sleeping pills, see Dr. Daniel Kripke’s e-book, “The Dark Side of Sleeping Pills.”14
Natural Sleep Remedies
Fortunately, there are far safer options. While you work on addressing the root causes of your sleep problems, temporarily using a natural sleep aid may help you get to sleep easier. Following are a handful of alternatives:
- Melatonin. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep. Start with as little as 0.25 milligrams (mg) and work your way up in quarter-gram increments until you get the desired effect.
- 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). One of my favorite sleep aids is 5-HTP. 5-HTP is the hydroxylated form of tryptophan. It easily passes your blood brain barrier when it is converted to serotonin (thereby giving mood a boost) and then to melatonin (enhancing sleep). I believe this is a superior approach to using melatonin. In one study, an amino acid preparation containing both GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) and 5-HTP reduced time to fall asleep, increased the duration of sleep and improved sleep quality.15
- Valerian root. Studies have found valerian root helps improve the speed at which you fall asleep, depth of sleep (achieving deep sleep 36 percent faster16) and overall quality of sleep.17 Start with a minimal dose and use the lowest dose needed to achieve the desired effect, as higher dosages can have an energizing effect in some people. Typical dosages used in studies range between 400 mg and 900 mg, taken anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before bed.
- Chamomile tea. This herb is typically used in the form of infusions, teas, liquid extracts or essential oils made from the plant’s fresh or dried flower heads. It has sedative effects that may help with sleep, which is why chamomile tea is often sipped before bed.
- Cannabidiol (CBD) oil. Another alternative is to take CBD oil. By bringing tissues back into balance, CBD oil helps reduce pain, nerve stimulation and muscle spasm. It also promotes relaxation and has been shown to improve sleep.
Revelations is Bill Hicks’ last special ever, taped in 1992, and features him at the height of his genius. Recorded at the Dominion Theater in London, Bill Hicks opens our eyes and minds to the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of the world around us.
And meditate while we are doing it with the breeze coming in from the windows we just opened to let life in.
The best way to address the stress in your life is with consistent mind-body interventions.
With permission from
Anna Hunt, Staff Writer
Many people participate in practices such as meditation and yoga because they help us relax. At least those are the immediate effects we feel. But much more is happening on a molecular level, reveal researchers out of Coventry University in England.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, this new research examined 18 studies on mind-body interventions (MBIs). These include practices such as mindfulness meditation and yoga. Comprehensively, these studies encompassed 846 participants over 11 years. The new analysis reveals that MBIs result in molecular changes in the human body. Furthermore, researchers claim that these changes are beneficial to our mental and physical health.
Body’s Response to Stress Causes Damage
To elaborate, consider the effect that stress has on the body. When we are under stress, the body increases the production of proteins that cause cell inflammation. This is the natural effect of the body’s fight-or-flight response.
It is widely believed that inflammation in the body leads to numerous illnesses, including cancer. Moreover, scientists also deduct that a persistent inflammation is more likely to cause psychiatric problems. Unfortunately, many people suffer from persistent stress, therefore they suffer from pro-inflammatory gene expression.
Meditation and Yoga Reverse this Damage
But there is good news! According to this new analysis out of Coventry, people that practice MBIs such as meditation and yoga can reverse pro-inflammatory gene expression. This results in a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases and mental conditions.
Lead investigator Ivana Buric from Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement stated:
“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.
These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition. But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities.”
To conclude, the best way to address the stress in your life is with consistent mind-body interventions. You can begin with these simple practices:
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is the founder of Awareness Junkie, a community paving the way to better health, a balanced life, and personal transformation. In addition, she is the proprietor of OffgridOutpost.com, an online store offering GMO-free healthy storable food and emergency kits. Anna is a certified Hatha yoga instructor and founder of Atenas Yoga Center. She enjoys raising her children and being a voice for optimal human health and wellness. Visit her essential oils store here.
This article (Meditation and Yoga Change Your DNA to Reverse Effects of Stress, Study Shows) is copyrighted by Awareness Junkie, 2017, and is reposted here with permission.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Moreover, views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Awareness Junkie or its staff.
“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep.”
Waking up at the same time every night without an alarm clock might be a sign that you need to pay attention to. You are a human being with energies flowing through your body that you may be unaware of.
Previous articles have explained energy meridians that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. These energy meridians are important for the practices of acupuncture and acupressure.
The energy meridians of the body are also connected to a clock system that according to ancient Chinese medicine is energizing different parts of your body at different times of the day. Waking between 3am and 5am every night is a sign that energies in that corresponding part of your body are blocked or weak.
TROUBLE SLEEPING BETWEEN 9:00PM AND 11:00PM
Between 9 and 11pm is typically bedtime for most people. Difficulty falling asleep during this time is a sign of excess stress and worries from the day. Positive mantras, meditation, or successive muscle tension and relaxation exercises are recommended to help you sleep.
WAKING BETWEEN 11:00PM AND 1:00AM
According to ancient Chinese medicine, this time frame is the time that the energy meridian of the gall bladder is active. Waking up at this time frame is associated with emotional disappointment. Practice unconditional self-acceptance and forgiveness of others in order to get back to sleep.
WAKING BETWEEN 1:00AM AND 3:00AM
This is the energy meridian associated with the Chinese medicine body clock and the liver. Waking up at this time is associated with the emotions of anger and excess yang energy. Try drinking cool water and taking ownership of the situation that caused you to feel angry in order to rest peacefully through the night.
WAKING BETWEEN 3:00AM AND 5:00AM
Waking up between 3am and 5am is associated with the energy meridian that runs through the lungs and the emotion of sadness. To help yourself get back to sleep, try some slow, deep breathing and express faith in your Higher Power to help you.
If the time that you awaken is between 3:00 am and 5:00am, it could also be a sign of your Higher Power alerting you to pay attention to messages that are being sent to align you with your higher purpose. Read more below about this important time frame for wakefulness.
WAKING BETWEEN 5:00AM AND 7:00AM
The energy flow is in the large intestines during this time of the morning. Emotional blockages are also associated with this time of the early morning. Try stretching your muscles or using the restroom to help yourself get back to sleep.
IF YOU WAKE UP AT THE SAME TIME EVERY NIGHT, THIS MAY BE WHY
BRAIN FUNCTION AND WAKING UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
Our brains are not quite fully awake when we suddenly awaken at night. According to The NewYorker.com ‘One of the consequences of waking up suddenly, and too early, is a phenomenon called sleep inertia. First given a name in 1976, sleep inertia refers to that period between waking and being fully awake when you feel groggy. The more abruptly you are awakened, the more severe the sleep inertia.’
When we suddenly wake in the night, the prefrontal cortex part of the brain that is involved in decision-making and self-control is not awake yet. We are not capable of intelligent thoughts when we wake in the night so avoid making any important decisions.
WAKING UP AND FULFILLING YOUR HIGHER PURPOSE
Your sleep cycle is a time when you dream and you can also receive messages from the Divine about your path. Dreams can reveal details about the spiritual journey that you are on. As a human being on a spiritual journey, you need to be aware of the signs that your Higher Power is sending to you.
In the same way that emotional problems can manifest in the body as pain, your spirituality can also manifest in bodily form as well. The divine inner spark that we all posses is being called upon at the time that you are waking up. This signal from your Higher Power is something to tune into.
Many people believe that we are here to learn and develop our being and to become the best versions of ourselves. Some people call this process of moving to a higher level of awareness or consciousness an ascension. Being aware of your higher purpose is part of this process.
Breathing is not just for consuming oxygen; it’s also related to brain function and behavior.
June 19, 2017
Breathing is not just for consuming oxygen; it’s also related to brain function and behavior.
Northwestern Medicine scientists have found for the first time ever that the rhythm of breathing causes electrical activity in the human mind that boosts emotional judgments and memory recall.
These influences on behavior are based on whether you inhale or exhale and whether you breathe through the mouth or the nose.
In the research, each person was able to identify a fearful face faster if they saw the face while breathing in compared to breathing out. Additionally, individuals were more likely to recall an object if they encountered it on the inhaled breath than on the exhaled one. Interestingly, the effect vanished if breathing was through the mouth.
“One of the major findings in this study is that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation compared with exhalation,” said lead author Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus, all across the limbic system.”
The study was published Dec. 6 in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The senior author is Jay Gottfried, professor of neurology at Feinberg.
Northwestern scientists first found these differences in brain activity while examining 7 patients with epilepsy who were scheduled for brain surgery. A week before the surgery, a surgeon implanted electrodes into the patients’ brains to identify the origin of their seizures. That gave scientists the opportunity to acquire electro-physiological data directly from their brains. The electrical signals proved that brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The activity takes place in brain areas where feelings, memory and smells are processed.
The discovery led scientists to ask if cognitive functions typically related to these brain areas — especially fear processing and memory — could also be influenced by breathing.
The amygdala is strongly connected to the emotional processing, especially fear-related emotions. So scientists asked about 60 individuals to make quick decisions on emotional expressions in the lab environment as their breathing was being recorded. While looking at pictures of faces expressing either fear or surprise, the individuals had to tell, as fast as they could, which feeling each face was expressing. (NeuroscienceNews.com picture is for illustrative purposes only.)
When faces were shown during inhalation, subjects recognized them as fearful faster than when faces were shown during exhalation. This was not the case for faces expressing surprise. These results decreased when individuals performed the same task while the breathing was through the mouth.
In another experiment — tied to the hippocampus — the same individuals were looking at pictures of objects on a computer screen and tried to remember them. Later, they were asked to describe those objects. Researchers discovered that recall was better if the pictures were shown during inhalation.
According to Zelano, the discoveries indicate that fast breathing may offer an advantage when somebody is in a dangerous situation.
“If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster,” Zelano said. “As a result you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state. Thus, our body’s innate response to fear with faster breathing could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”
Another potential result of the research is on the main mechanisms of meditation or focused breathing. “When you inhale, you are in a sense synchronizing brain oscillations across the limbic network,” Zelano noted.