Almost everyone wants to know how to fall asleep faster. The information below, as well as this iphone sleep app, will help you do that.
Your nervous system is comprised of several components. The stuff that goes on without your conscious control is dictated by your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
These two systems control different and often opposing actions within the body. The sympathetic system is known as the “fight or flight” system and dictates the physiological processes we associate with stress. The parasympathetic, sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest” system, works to slow the heart rate and breathing and regulate the digestive process. It’s the dominant system when you sleep.
The two systems don’t just turn on or off, though. They are both active throughout the day. The variation between them is a matter of which is exerting more influence.
Interestingly, there is a constant back and forth between the two systems during respiration. When you inhale, the sympathetic system picks up slightly, causing an increase in heart rate. When you exhale the parasympathetic system momentarily up-regulates which, via the vagus nerve, slows things down.
This means that the length between heartbeats is shorter when you’re inhaling than when you’re exhaling. This is known as Heart Rate Variability, or HRV.
This variability is an excellent indicator of nervous system fatigue levels, as it illustrates whether the parasympathetic is functioning well to mitigate the sympathetic system and slow your heart rate. A diminished parasympathetic system is incapable of countering the “fight or flight” nervous system and the heart beats on steadily, without fluctuation.
This is part of why guys like Joel Jamieson pay such close attention to HRV and various measures of nervous system status. A healthy nervous system is much more effective at athletic movement and recovering from it.
This is also a useful concept for getting to sleep faster.
Your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are at work all day, in a sort of tug-of-war. If you’re a stressed, caffeinated kind of person, your sympathetic system is likely dominant throughout much of the day.
Sleep, however, is not going to happen until your sympathetic system can shut down and allow the parasympathetic to take over, slowing your heart and respiratory rate and in general putting you into recovery mode.
Often, this process takes much longer than we’d like, and we end up staring at the ceiling in the dark doing math to figure out how much sleep we’d get before morning if we just fell asleep right now.
Here’s the thing though, the fluctuating predominance between the two nervous systems is tied into your breathing and you have control over that. On inhalation, the sympathetic system runs the show. On exhalation, the parasympathetic takes over.
If you’re rooting for the parasympathetic, all you’ve got to do is give it more time on the field. Do this by controlling the duration of your inhalations and exhalations.
To minimize sympathetic input, make your inhalations quick and deep. Then, take a very slow, drawn-out exhalation. I’ve been using an exhalation of around eight seconds, with an inhalation of maybe two. As I get more relaxed I draw out the exhalations to ten to fifteen seconds.
It generally won’t take long before you’re yawning between breaths, noticeably more relaxed and trying to decide if you can stop putting so much thought into breathing because you’ve almost got to struggle to stay awake enough to do so.
I’ve developed an iphone app that walks you through this process and takes you from fairly normal, equally-spaced shallow breathing and gradually eases you into deeper, longer exhales and increased parasympathetic tone.
To use this protocol to fall asleep faster, try this iphone sleep app.