I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know? —Ernest Hemingway
The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to. —F. Scott Fitzgerald
More than 70 million Americans have problems sleeping. This can lead to lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, vision and hearing strain, irritability, memory loss, and poor eating during the day. Sleep isn’t just important to help you recharge your battery; it plays a key role in anti-aging by allowing your body to reset the timing of your cells.
While it is common to experience occasional temporary disruptions in sleep, for many people, sleep difficulties become chronic and exert extreme negative impact upon wellbeing, daily functioning, and general health.
Many factors can contribute to sleep problems: illness or injury, anxiety and worry, drug or alcohol use (which cause withdrawal symptoms affecting sleep), surgery, medications, life traumas, snoring or apnea, change in schedule, environmental intrusions (such as noise or lights), irregular digestion, impinging nocturnal parental responsibilities during infancy and early childhood, and other influences.
In my practice of neuropsychology, sleep and anxiety are two of the most common complaints and symptoms for which patients seek treatment. Some patients have had sleep problems for decades; but most develop the onset of a sleep disorder seemingly spontaneously. Certain individuals can trace the start of their sleep difficulties to a specific event or combination of stressful circumstances. While there is no scientific proof of such correlations, I believe that particular life events become traumatic for individuals (in the context of their predisposition or vulnerability) and thus trigger an ongoing problem with sleep. I have treated hundreds of patients who, in disclosing their histories, report a significant event closely tied in time with the beginning of disrupted sleep: loss of a loved one, medical procedures, medications, extreme disappointment, and stress overload. I have tracked these connections too many times to dismiss them as unrelated coincidences.
People in the throes of terrible sleep can recall that they used to sleep better; but it is as if they somehow “forgot” or “lost” the way to get regular and satisfying sleep. Patients will sometimes tell me that they “haven’t slept at all for a week.” This is, of course, an exaggeration, since without sleep, each of us would deteriorate to the point of death. But for someone who is sleep deprived, it can seem like an eternity.
Yet, consider this: every human knows how to sleep and engages in and practices sleep quite routinely. Nature values sleep so much that we are designed to spend approximately one third of our lives in that unconscious and recuperative state. Therefore, relearning how to sleep means re-establishing a biological pattern each of us has already practiced and which comes quite naturally, once the “lost link” is found and reconnected. Your brain already knows how to fall asleep and wake up. If you are having trouble sleeping, making the transition between sleep and wakefulness, or not getting enough restful slumber, be assured that all the necessary information to regain what you are capable of already resides within your brain. The key is to access what your brain inherently knows.
When sleep problems arise and continue, there is inevitably an underlying issue with self-regulation. Self-regulation involves the ability of the brain and central nervous system to balance and regulate timing mechanisms that affect sleep-wake cycles, alertness and drowsiness, mood stability, metabolism, resistance to stressors, recovery from exertion, and cognitive functions (memory, concentration, problem-solving). Our native self-regulation can turn into disregulation through injury, illness, prolonged stress, poor life-style habits, and situational trauma. Similar to many manifestations, genetic factors also influence sleep tendencies and self-regulation patterns. As mentioned, other influences detract from sleep and functional self-regulation:
Once you are thrown into disregulation, how can you re-establish functional self-regulation?
A proven way to do this is through the intervention of EEG neurofeedback (also called EEG biofeedback). This is the technique of training your brain and nervous system by training your brainwaves (called the EEG or Electroencephalogram) using computers. This treatment has been used for at least fifty years, and has burgeoned in its clinical practice applications. It is a very effective, safe, natural treatment to solve a range of sleep problems.
Neurofeedback works by allowing the brain to observe its internal neural activity, thus promoting and optimizing self-regulation. The person engaging in neurofeedback watches some mode of entertainment on a screen (movies, video games, nature videos) while his brainwave activity is amplified, transformed, filtered, and shown integrated with the entertainment on screen. In this process, the brain automatically makes thousands of subtle adjustments and modifications during each session. It is not a cognitive activity, but rather an automatic and visceral one—much like the moment-by-moment automatic adjustments one makes while riding a bicycle. Brain “balance” is thus re-learned and optimized in an enduring and generalizable manner, helping the brain become more flexible and shift state—exactly what is needed to go to sleep, enter the necessary and restful sleep stages, and awaken refreshed and ready to function.
Sleep quality and habits are portals to central nervous system functioning, and they reveal disregulation that becomes manifest in a variety of symptoms. It can be argued that sleep is so fundamental to health and functioning that repairing and restoring sleep is the basis for eliminating many disparate but related symptoms that have affect: focus, energy, anxiety and worrying, mood and impulse control, judgment and decision-making, headaches, digestion, anger and behavioral outbursts, cravings and self-medication, and a host of other harmful effects and warning signs.
Neurofeedback is an “exercise” for the brain—basically, a training procedure that has enduring effects. Thus, it must be practiced for a while. The brain and nervous system gradually become re-acclimated to the natural rhythms of self-regulation. This facilitates more normalized sleep patterns. In my practice, virtually all patients report improved sleep. Interestingly, those patients who seek treatment for other symptoms often spontaneously report better sleep within a few sessions. Their other symptoms may take longer to improve. Among patients seeking treatment primarily for sleep, many report enhanced mood and reduced stress and anxiety, along with better focus before they report improved sleep. This may seem paradoxical, but there is a reasonable explanation. As the brain develops better self-regulation, it is reorganizing its neural activity. This reorganization brings noticeable efficiency and the subsiding of symptoms that previously were accommodated, despite their interference and discomfort. When those irritants diminish, people notice improvements that they didn’t expect as a result of neurofeedback. The person who seeks treatment for focus reports a lifting of depression (even without disclosing this condition upon entering treatment!). Someone with anxiety reports unexpected improvement in focus and creativity.
This phenomenon is practically universal among neurofeedback participants. To patients, it’s surprising; but to veteran practitioners, it’s a heartening and predictable corollary to improved brain function.
I remember with satisfaction one of my sleep problem patients whose discovery and announcement took me by surprise: this middle-aged professional man had an intractable sleep disorder. He had suffered for twenty-five years, trying every medication and technique he could find (until neurofeedback), all without success. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus, and had great trouble working. After neurofeedback, he was so happy about his sleep improvement that he wanted to do a testimonial with me on television. One of the first things he said on camera regarded his delight about how much his guitar playing had improved. Guitar? He hadn’t even mentioned to me that he played the guitar. He just wanted some sleep! Yet, this kind of collateral positive effect is common.
The success rate for sleep improvement with neurofeedback is very high. For patients whose primary symptom is a sleep disturbance, improvement tends to be gradual. Often, it takes a dozen or more sessions to mobilize brain reorganization and institute noticeable changes in sleep. This is why we assess a broad range of behaviors, habits, and symptoms during evaluation—in order to track how the brain is in the process of reorganization during treatment. For the person whose primary problem is lying awake for hours, tracking other behaviors and sensations may not seem important; but indeed, they are relevant. We must allow the brain its own reorganization and timing. Everybody’s brain knows what to do, if only given consistent and appropriate information. That’s what neurofeedback accomplishes: it reflects the neural networking of the brain, allowing for continuous and sanguine adjustments, made by the person’s own brain. Our methods efficiently facilitate this process. You are in charge of your own brain, but you must access its native neurological normalcy.
There are different types of sleep problems, manifested by particular symptoms that plague individuals. A person may have multiple symptoms, but typically there is a nemesis that disturbs one’s sleep on a regular or intermittent basis. Here are the most common sleep problems:
Most people have heard of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its deleterious effects upon sleep. PTSD is often associated with severe events and extreme circumstances, such as war impact, rape, criminal assault, and catastrophic accidents, to name a few. Such extreme experiences often result in the person “reliving” the event, having flashbacks, and often suffering the inability to sleep or severely disrupted sleep.
While this is known to occur among severely traumatized individuals, sleep disturbance is also very common among people who have suffered “minor” traumas that may not even be recognized as having the potential to derail sleep: loss, illness or medical procedures, medications, extreme disappointment, and stress overload.
As mentioned, I have treated legions of patients successfully for sleep disturbances that may have originated from traumas that weren’t even recognized as traumas.
In many of these typical cases, treating the trauma with Voice Technology (VT) results in removal of the blockage and psychological reversal induced by the traumatic event. Continued sleep disruption is underpinned by disregulation, which is effectively treated by training the brain with EEG neurofeedback (which also relieves traumas). However, I’ve found that success and sleep improvement is greatly accelerated and catalyzed by removing trauma by means of Voice Technology.
I have developed a Sleep App that is based on effective and proven techniques. This Sleep App combines the basic elements of Thought Field Therapy (TFT), binaural beats, and subliminal suggestion. Thought Field Therapy is the tapping technique that quickly and effectively eliminates negative emotions, and I’ve included a version that can be self-administered in my Sleep App.
Binaural beats are carefully programmed auditory frequencies that evoke auditory brain-stem responses originating in the superior olivary nucleus of each brain hemisphere. They result from two different auditory impulses or sounds, heard from opposite ears. Binaural beats entrain the brain to recruit brainwaves to an externally perceived frequency—much as you might find yourself tapping your foot or moving your body in response to some favorable music. When binaural beats are heard rhythmically at close range, they can induce changes in brain states, such as sleepiness. Listening to binaural beats can induce neural oscillations or rhythmic, repetitive electrochemical activity in the brain and central nervous system. When the binaural oscillations are perceived dichotically—that is, one through each ear—the brain tends to adjust to the frequency presented by the beats. In my Sleep App, these beats are programmed to a frequency that leads into a sleep state.
In addition, I’ve included verbal subliminal suggestion, designed to lull the listener into a relaxed state that easily transitions to sleep. The Sleep App has several modules (as well as video instructions and demos) that can be used interchangeably and flexibly to induce your restful sleep. You can listen to the App and perform the brief exercises while lying in bed.
Despite the critical importance of sleep to daily and long-term health and functioning, millions upon millions of people suffer from intermittent to chronic sleep problems. Sleep disorders pervade a wide array of ages and arise from multiple sources. Even people who are very attentive to their health can find themselves beset by disruptive sleep irregularities.
Basic advice about sleep schedules and sleep hygiene remains relevant, even if you are familiar with these principles:
If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting very restful sleep regularly, you are likely suffering irritability, fatigue, weight gain, and a host of other health problems and detractions from productive functioning and quality of life. Sleep is too important and necessary for your body and mind to remain in dysfunction and disregulation.
Millions of Americans are hooked on sleep medications. Desperate for relief and following the advice of their physicians, they slide into the addictive habit of powerful drugs that have deleterious side effects and that are extremely difficult to quit.
Fortunately, you can recover the ability and habit of sleeping well through the techniques described—particularly, EEG neurofeedback, Voice Technology, and Thought Field Therapy. These interventions will help you re-establish satisfying sleep patterns, as well as help you reduce or eliminate sleep medications and greatly ease you through withdrawal from medications.
You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to regain healthy sleep patterns. The right professional help will retrain your brain to sleep properly by accessing your own brain’s knowledge of this built-in biological capacity. You can get rid of trauma, fatigue, and frustrating, worrisome hours lying awake. Take advantage of the proven technological tools to help you sleep better.
Why not try the self-help Sleep App? Though it’s not a substitute for medical or professional intervention, you may very well find this tool to be quite helpful.