November 7, 2019 100

How To Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep | Jim Donovan | TEDxYoungstown

How To Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep | Jim Donovan | TEDxYoungstown


Translator: Tanya Cushman
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs It’s October 2010. I’m freaking out. Sirens are blaring above me. I’m laying on a stretcher
in the back of an ambulance. My doctor just told me
I’m having a heart attack. I’m trembling, my arms are tingling, and this pain in my chest
is crushing me from the inside. Tracey and the kids
have no idea where I am. I might never get to hold them again. This can’t be happening. My life cannot be over! And yet here I am, probably dying. But it doesn’t happen. Instead, I get extracted
from my good life and thrust into a reality
out of my control. I’ve got tubes jammed in my veins, sensors covering my chest, and a cold, silver bedpan
waiting patiently beside me. I also get to wear
this unflattering hospital gown while they administer every possible test they can charge my insurance company for. (Laughter) On the third day of this drama,
my doctor walks in and announces, “Well, good news, Jim. You’re healthy as a horse. No heart attack,
just some really bad anxiety.” And then he asks me, “Now, what’s a healthy man like you
having so much anxiety for? What’s your life like?” Well, then I got to confess about the morning routine I’ve developed
being a drummer in a band on the road. When I wake up in the morning,
I crack open a can of Red Bull so that I can wake up enough
to drink a pot of coffee. (Laughter) Then I drink several more cans
through the day. I also fess up about
eating too much sugar – like four bowls of Lucky Charms
before bed too much – and that for some reason, I have trouble sleeping. Even though I am chronically exhausted, I usually get about four hours
of sleep per night. The doctor’s face turned somber. He looks at me and he says, “Jim, this is a get-out-of-jail-free card. I want you to know, there was a man
who came in the day before you, a year younger than you, with a similar condition, and who died this morning. Today you have a chance to make changes
that will let you see your kids grow up. Four hours of sleep per night
is sleep deprivation, and there is no quicker way to die early
than to skimp on sleep, especially with all the crap
you’ve been consuming. You need at least seven hours
to stay healthy.” Seven hours. I haven’t gotten
that much rest in a long time, and now my body’s breaking down. I know I’ve got to do something,
or my next trip here might not end well. Soon I would discover something
that changed my life from that moment on: the key to falling asleep is rhythm. This discovery came from my need
to solve a lifelong problem. Ever since I was a kid, at bedtime, I can never
get my mind to stop thinking. Sometimes it will be a worry, other times a song
would get stuck in my head and just loop around and around. When I got home from the hospital,
I decided to do some research, and so I researched sleep
and the effects of sleep deprivation, which I learned include heart attack,
stroke, weight gain, and just as my doctor had told me, premature death. I also read a Harvard Business study that shows the impairment that happens
at four hours of sleep per night is similar to the impairment that happens when a guy my size
drinks five regular beers. Then I came across
some startling statistics. In the US alone, 35% of adults – that’s 86 million of us – are sleep deprived. What’s worse, 87% of teenagers. That’s 36 million kids
whose brains are still developing are chronically sleep deprived. Worldwide, scientists are calling sleep deprivation
an emerging global epidemic, with low-income people and women
being affected the most. I know I’ve got to do something, and so I let go of the energy drinks, I cut way back on coffee, and I even give up
my nightly Lucky Charm feast. And it helps. A little bit. But at bedtime, I still cannot
get my mind to stop thinking. On my way home from work that week, an idea hit me. I don’t know why
I haven’t thought of it before. Since 1999, I’ve been leading
drumming workshops. At the beginning of these programs, I lead an exercise where the group and I drum together
a steady unison pattern like this: boomp, boomp, boomp, boomp, boomp. We do this for a few minutes. At the end, without fail, people tell me that the exercise
helps them to feel more relaxed. It had never occurred to me that I could do the exercise
without my drum. And so that night, I did an experiment. At bedtime, I sat at the edge of my bed,
and I brought my hands to my lap, and I began doing my drumming exercise
on my legs, very lightly. Upon seeing my strange behavior, my wife, Tracey, looked over at me, rolled her eyes
and just turned out the light. But I kept at it. I wanted to find out
if I could get the exercise to work. And at first, nothing happened. But then, after about four
minutes of persistence, I noticed my eyelids
starting to get heavy. I was yawning, and I decided just to lay down
and shut my eyes for a minute. When I opened them again, it was morning. I slept a solid seven-and-a-half hours
with no struggle falling asleep. And most nights, since 2010, I’ve been getting
the best sleep of my life. I do it using an exercise
I’m going to show you today that I call “brain tapping.” Now, this exercise uses a phenomenon
that happens in the brain: it’s called the
“frequency-following response.” This is a very fancy way of saying that your brain loves to follow
repeating, rhythmic patterns. Essentially, your brain, first,
notices that there’s a pattern, it connects with it, and it begins to follow it. Whenever you listen
to your favorite music and do this, that’s the frequency-following
response happening. What we’re going to do is we’re going to help that
frequency-following response to occur; we’re going to activate it, and then we’re going to help to slow
the speed of your brain activity down by slowing down the rhythm. Now, there might be
a few of you out there right now that are thinking to yourself, “Does this hippie
really want me to believe that I can use rhythm
to help me fall asleep? Really?” And what I’d say back to you
is “What if I could? What if I could show you
how to fall asleep tonight in less time than it takes you
to eat a bowl of cereal?” Would you try it? Now, here’s the great news. You do not need to be good
at rhythm for this to work, only willing to try. Here’s what happens. The exercise, it’s 30 seconds. What we’re going to do
is bring our hands to our lap like this. We’re going to be tapping
at the speed of a ticking stopwatch – so right left, right left, right left – very lightly. As we do this, we’re going
to breathe slowly. At the end, we’re going
to slow the rhythm down. So, if you’re willing, I’m going to invite you just to settle in. Take a big breath in. Begin very lightly tapping on your legs
at the speed of a ticking stopwatch – right left, right left, right left. If you’re comfortable, I want to invite you
just to close your eyes so you can get the full experience. Next, we’re going to do
a very slow breathing technique. Your job is just to do your best
and take breaks if you need them. So eyes are closed, we’re tapping lightly, and let’s start the breathing. Breathing in slowly, two, three – it’s very slow – four, and slowly out, two, three, four. Breathing in – doing great – two, three, four, and slowly out, two, three, four. Breathing in – almost there – two, three, four. And slowly out, two – very good – three, four. And now, slow the tapping down, and slow it down again. Four, three, two, one. And relax. Take a moment to notice
how your mind feels. Let’s take a big breath in, and let it go. You can open your eyes. And I saw a couple of you yawning. I take that as a compliment, so thank you. (Laughter) If you got the exercise
to work the first time, congratulations. You’ve got a new friend
you can call on tonight to help you get to sleep. If the exercise didn’t work
as you hoped it would, don’t worry, you’re not broken. Sometimes it takes a few tries
to get used to the exercise. Please don’t give up. Now, imagine getting
great sleep from now on. Imagine how much better you’ll feel, and then imagine people all over the world doing this exercise
and getting better quality sleep. Imagine how that might
affect peacefulness everywhere. I’ve got a challenge for you: for the next five nights, I want to invite you just to run
the exercise for at least three minutes. Remember, tap like a ticking stopwatch, breathe slowly, and at the end, slow the rhythm down. Once you’re comfortable with it, I want you to feel free to teach it
to anyone who needs it, especially kids. Good luck and sweet dreams. Thank you. (Applause)

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