Based on all you’ve heard about sleep, how you should have the temperature in your room set at a very specific number, how you should avoid certain spices and have more of others, how the amount of blue wavelength needs to be regulated at night, it may seem as though sleep is complicated. Factor in your own experiences where some things seem to have worked and others not, and that thought seems to have been confirmed.
If you’ve felt this way, you’re in good company. For pretty much everyone with trouble sleeping, sleep seems complicated. And that, thinking of sleep as complicated and complex can make you feel things are hopeless and become a real speed bump on your path towards sleeping better.
So here’s something important to know – sleep isn’t complicated.
When you start learning what makes your body sleep or stay awake, you’ll see that things aren’t at all as confusing as they may have seemed. And that will truly help you to get those zzzs you’ve been missing out on. So let’s get started!
The gas and the brake
There are only two factors that determine how well you sleep: your gas pedal and your brake pedal. That’s it, the gas and the brake. Depending on which of them is pushed down you either sleep or stay awake.
The gas pedal is another way of describing sleepiness. The sleepier you are, the more gas you have. And the only thing that can make you sleepy is…
…wakefulness! In a yin-yang type of way, wakefulness is the one and only thing that can make you sleep, and without sleep there can be no wakefulness.
Most who have trouble sleeping have enough gas. Insomnia rarely is a gas problem. But it can be.
If you for example sleep in after nights of little sleep, take naps or tend to fall asleep on the couch in the evening. You have a gas problem. You don’t have enough for sleep to happen at night. But for most with trouble sleeping, it is the braking that is the issue. This said, you have a brake pedal for a very important reason.
There are times when you are not supposed to sleep even if you’re sleepy. And these are the times your brake pedal saves you. In fact, it could literally save your life.
Imagine if the smoke detector went off at night and you had no brake pedal. Or imagine if you were about to go to sleep only to realize that you forgot you were supposed to pick up your friend at the airport.
The gas pedal is there to make sure we don’t sleep when it is not an appropriate time to be unconscious. It’s a super important part of our sleep system. The only problem – sometimes we hit the brake because of a misunderstanding.
Sometimes our brain has gotten the idea that being sleepless is a threat and ironically, it hits the brake pedal to save us from sleeplessness and produces a whole bunch more of it in the process!
Education is key in getting past insomnia.
So how do you teach your brain that it doesn’t need to push the brake pedal at night? The answer is just as simple as the sleep system itself – education.
When you understand for example this gas and brake model, you spend less time trying to figure out if cumin or glutamine is what’s keeping you awake. And the less mystery, the more you understand sleep, the less worried you become – the more you’ll ease up on the brake pedal.
When you’ve understood completely why you had trouble sleeping and you’re not the least anxious, well then you’ve done it. Then you’ll never again press that brake pedal because of a misunderstanding. Rather, it will be all gas, no brake and amazing sleep for the rest of your life!