Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sleep disorders

A while ago I had a friend contact me regarding what she thought was adult onset attention deficit disorder. She asked a bunch of people about drugs, and I promptly responded with alternatives. Of course.

Attention deficit disorder mirrors the effects of a number of other problems, most of them related to sleep. Several studies have made a connection between ADD and the inability of the brain to turn off the dreaming function when a person is awake.

Most of us go through periods of inattention or distractability. This coincides, in many cases, with an inability to sleep or a lighter sleep cycle, where we don't get all the REM sleep our brains need to stay in top shape. Our brains respond by trying to drop into REM sleep while we're awake. If we get enough sleep, everything works better.

While there are other possibilities, I tend to work with what I can affect. The simplest solution is getting enough sleep, but who has time for that? :) Meditation and exercise increase endorphins and wake up the brain. Many people who exercise enter a state similar to meditation without even thinking about it, a sort of resting state while fully awake.

I learned many years ago that if I could force my brain into a resting state I could make myself fall asleep.

When you're right on the edge of sleep your brain starts to run at random through images, sometimes sounds or snippets of conversation. Almost like a sorting process. One second you're looking at a field of sunflowers, the next you're listening to a snatch of Mozart. Then a child's face pops up, or a conversation overheard. In essence, your brain goes into an ADHD state where anything could be noted and called up. Everything becomes significant.

I found that if I could duplicate this form of random thought, never keeping my mind on anything for more than a second or two, I would drop into sleep without a problem. It does take practice (rather like my technique for getting rid of headaches) but if you're not sleeping well it's worth a try.

If you have random periods of inattention, or find yourself wondering who this person is you've been talking to for the last hour (You know you were introduced, but the name, the name!) it very easily could be a sleep problem.

Sometimes this happens during the day. The trick there is to force the brain to focus on one thing--it usually brings my attention back, and generally it is a clue that I didn't get enough sleep the night before. A fifteen minute power-nap may be helpful.

A tea made of equal parts of catnip, valerian and lemon balm usually helps me to calm down as well, but don't use the valerian if you're taking any kind of chemical anti-depressant or for more than a week at a time. If I need to relax but don't need to sleep, I skip the valerian or go for a smaller dose.

LR Note: YES, catnip is a human tranquilizer. Maybe it affects us differently because cats are alien...or maybe we are.

Additions to your calming pharmucopeia:
Most mints
turkey (triptophan)


  1. Thanks, Lauren. This is really interesting. I'll try making my mind skip about rather than concentrating on stuff. I think I'm my own worst enemy because I don't do anything to stop myself thinking about writing while I'm trying to sleep! I assume it will be like counting sheep - but it isn't! :-)

    1. No, it really isn't. Counting sheep will help your mind calm down and focus on one thing, but it's NOT going to help you sleep!