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Worry, brainwaves and sleep

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Feeling worried can preventing you from falling asleep or cause you to wake in the middle of the night. This is because worrying about a real or perceived threat such as finance, family, health etc will cause the brain to be alert and engaged in problem solving mode. When this happens the brain will generating Beta brain waves.

Beta is a fast brain wave activity that is present when we are awake and engaged in decision making and cognitive tasks. Worry, fear and anxiety cause persistent Beta brainwaves in its attempt to evade a threatening situation.

Stress hormones peak in the afternoon and early evening, just when you should be relaxing and preparing for sleep. Let me explain why brainwaves are important in understanding the link between anxiety and not sleeping well.

When you sleep your body moves through several states of brainwave activity. Each type of brainwave brings its benefits to your body, restoring both physical and mental states, learning, processing the day’s information and adding it to long term memory. The best part is, of course, recharging your body’s battery for the next day.

Sleep Cycle

During the day your brain waves are predominantly Beta. Then it gets dark, you lie down in bed and this is what should happen:

Stage 1 The brain produces Alpha & Theta brain waves. Alpha evokes a relaxed mental state like a daydream and Theta induces a deeper state of relaxation and light sleep. This means you are still somewhat alert and can be woken easily. This is the state you are in when you have a catnap.

Stage 2 The brain wave frequency increases and brain waves slow down (during a cat nap you would wake up now).

Stages 3 & 4 The brain produces slower Delta waves which are less responsive to outside stimuli. This moves you into a deeper restorative sleep which is harder to wake from. The body repairs tissue, muscles and boosts immune function. Like a car battery being recharged, it builds up energy for the next day.

REM stage About 90 mins after falling asleep, each REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage lasts up to an hour. Most people have 5 or 6 REM cycles every night, during the final phase of sleep the brain becomes more active. Most dreaming occurs in this stage. REM is important for learning and memory function. The brain processes and consolidates information from the previous day and stores it as long-term memory.

How is sleep affected?

When you are anxious the Beta brain waves dominate, keeping you thinking and alert. To relax and enter the sleep cycle you need Alpha brainwaves, but how can you relax and unwind if the adrenalin and cortisol are moving around your body, keeping you alert and mentally functioning with Beta brainwaves?

If you reduce the body's need for the Beta waves then the Alpha will come, as they usually would at bedtime. Alpha activity has been linked to a reduction in stress, anxiety, discomfort and pain. Alpha brain waves are great and we want/need to have them. Normally, Alpha would progress to Theta and Delta and REM sleep and so waking up feeling refreshed and able to deal with life. The brain chemicals connected with deep sleep tell your body to stop the production of stress hormones.

If however your body is aware of the need to stay alert to the stressful situation, then even if it does manage to enter into a phase of sleep it can be alerted right back, as brainwaves change back to Beta to help escape the stress. This is why you wake during the night and feel wide awake and alert.

Your subconscious is in charge

Your subconscious is in charge of the sleep cycle and the stress response. Just as it orchestrates your breathing, blinking and swallowing. It is designed to keep you safe and alive and it does this based on how it feels about its environment. It will respond to a threat of any kind, whether real or perceived. It will respond in the same way to a scary animal attack or a situation with work/health/family or a great fear of the unknown – uncertainty. Under such a threat it will initiate the stress response, flood the system with adrenaline and cortisol and increase the Beta brainwaves. This will happen until the body perceives there to be no threat.

This is how we break the cycle

The cycle is broken by changing your subconscious mind’s perception of the stress. If this happens the body doesn’t need to create the adrenaline and cortisol which means the Beta waves reduce when you go to bed allowing the Alpha waves to come. These relaxing Alpha waves lead to Theta, Delta and REM, resulting in a full night’s sleep. There are 2 ways of achieving this: either the stressful situation goes away, or you can change the way your mind perceives the situation/threat.

Using methods listed in my blog you can assist your mind to feel calmer and less anxious.

  1. Focused Forgetfulness

  2. Brain Dump

  3. Fool the brain with hydration

For assistance with with long term insomnia contact me, its highly likely that your subconscious believes it needs to be alert when the reason is an event from years ago. Sometimes the subconscious doesn't realise we have moved forward in life and it still worries or feels alert for no reason. The threat is perceived, rather than real. Using a unique combination of PSYCH-K, NLP and Cognitive Hypnotherapy we can update the subconscious.



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