If racing thoughts stand in the way of you and a satisfying night of deep, restorative sleep, I can relate. It used to happen to me every single night.
I’d lie awake as to-do lists, worries, and events that had happened during the day looped through my mind. It was incredibly frustrating not to be able to “turn off” my brain and get the sleep I desperately needed.
So I decided to do something about it.
Today I’m going to teach you the valuable “brain hack” I developed that can lull you to sleep in the time it takes to get into your PJ’s and brush your teeth.
It all starts with your brainwaves. And, more specifically, how their speed affects your ability to sleep.
Essentially, the quicker your brainwaves, the more awake you feel.
The chart below illustrates the connection between your brainwave speed and your various states of consciousness:
So when your mind is racing like a Formula One racecar, it’s a sign that your brainwaves are in a beta state. They’re cycling way too fast, making you too alert for sleep.
As I’m sure you already know, factors like stress, caffeine, nicotine, or blue light from your electronic devices also impede sleep.
That’s because they contribute to the rise in brainwave speed.
But I'm here to tell you that you’re not at the mercy of your brainwaves!
In fact, you can adjust their speed in as little as five minutes.
All you need is a little know-how. In just a moment, I’ll teach you exactly how to slow those fast beta waves keeping you up at night.
But first, let’s look at some fascinating science that explains why this technique is so effective...
It all has to do with a phenomenon called the frequency following response, which is your brain’s tendency to follow repeating patterns.
Think about how you sometimes tap your foot or clap your hands along to the beat of a catchy song. That’s the frequency following response. But it affects more than just your feet and hands.
Once your brain focuses on a beat or pattern (also known as entrainment), its tempo (or speed) can dictate the speed of your brainwaves.
This is why slow music relaxes you, and fast music makes you feel energized.
What you’re going to learn today is how to get your brain to entrain with a simple, rhythmic pattern—and then use that pattern as a tool to help slow down your brainwaves. This will help you reach the perfect state of mind for a good night’s sleep.
This exercise is based on activating the frequency following response by tapping to a specific rhythm. I call it “Brain Tapping” and I use it every single night to help prepare my brain for sleep.
This technique stops mental “chatter” by giving your brain something else to focus on…a rhythm that your brainwaves then sync up with.
You’ll then be able to slow down this rhythm, and, in turn, slow down your brainwaves to prepare your brain—and body—for sleep.
First, find a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. You may do this exercise sitting or lying down.
1. Close your eyes and begin taking slow, deep breaths. Continue this slow breathing for the duration of the exercise.
2. Begin by very gently tapping your hands on top of your thighs or on your chest, whichever is most comfortable for you.
Alternate the tapping :
RIGHT – LEFT – RIGHT – LEFT
You should aim to do this at a rate of about four taps per second.
Think of the ticking stopwatch at the beginning of the TV show "60 Minutes"...that's about the pace you want.
During this process, attempt to let go of your thoughts and focus solely on the gentle tapping. If a thought comes into your mind, it's okay. Acknowledge it, and then bring your focus back to all the sensations your feeling connected to your tapping.
3. Continue this rhythm for a few minutes (3 to 5), allowing yourself to focus on the tapping and it's rhythm. You can keep going if that's making you feel a little drowsy.
4. Gradually slow down your tapping speed to one tap per second. Take your time with this part, as it’s crucial in helping to calm your mind. Like a train slowing down.
When you’re ready, stop tapping.
Take a moment to notice how you feel. You should feel calm, clear-headed, relaxed, content—and ready to sleep.
If you don’t reap these benefits the first time, don’t give up! Some people need to let their body get used to the new sensations. So you may need to try it several times before it “clicks.”
I’d love to hear about how this exercise worked for you.
And feel free to share this article with a friend or loved one. Most of us could use a safer, effective solution for sleep.
If you’re interested in more pill-free, all-natural techniques to promote quality sleep, you might consider a trial to my newly revised Sleep Now Audio Sedation.
Kučikienė, D. and Praninskienė, R. (2018). The impact of music on the bioelectrical oscillations of the brain. Acta medica Lituanica. 25(2): pp. 101 – 106. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/
Nunez, P. and Srinivasan, R. (2007). Electroencelphalogram. Scholarpedia. 2(2): p. 1348. Retrieved from: scholarpedia.org/article/
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About the author:
Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a multi-platinum musician, educator and TEDx speaker.
His mission is to share the restorative power of music through education and performance.
Donovan is an Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University.
His viral TEDx Talk "How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep" has been viewed over 6 million times to date.
He currently performs with his band The Sun King Warriors who can best described as as a blend of rhythm heavy roots rock, with a strong dose of big barreling drums.
Jim Donovan got his start as a founding member of the multi-platinum selling band Rusted Root.
There he co-wrote the song “Send Me on My Way” featured in the movies "Ice Age", "Matilda" and the Netflix series "New Girl".
During his time with the band 1990-2005, he recorded and released seven full length albums. Including "When I Woke" (3x platinum).
He also had the honor of sharing the stage with many of his musical influences and heroes including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (1995 US/UK tour), Carlos Santana (1997/2002 US tour), The Allman Brothers Band (1995/96 US tour), The Grateful Dead (1995 Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA) and many others.
Send Me On My Way also became the first song on Mars where it “woke up” NASA’s Mars Rover.