Thinking heats the brain up — cooling it aids sleep

Saw a fascinating new finding in Time that cooling the brain helps insomniacs sleep.

That run-away monkey mind — doing frontal lobe activity such as planning — can keep people awake at night.

A psychiatrist was curious if this brain activity generated heat, and if so, if that was making sleep more difficult.

The body’s circadian clock, which regulates sleep and wakefulness, keeps the body at its warmest during the day and starts to lower body temperature in the evening to help us doze off. For those with insomnia, however, researchers found that the extra brain activity was keeping the brain too hot to sleep.

When Buysse’s group gave 12 insomniacs a cap to wear that contained circulating water at cool temperatures, they were able to get them to fall asleep almost as easily as people without sleep disorders: using the caps, the insomniacs took about 13 minutes to fall asleep, compared with 16 minutes for the healthy controls, and they slept for 89% of the time they were in bed, which was similar to the amount of time the controls spent asleep.

The article did not mention the possibility of training insomniacs to manage their minds. I mean, a person can pay attention to their inner dialogue (i.e., think), or they can ¬†focus their attention on their breathing. It’s hard to do both at the same time. When attention wanders (usually to become literally “lost in thought,” as soon as you become aware that you’re thinking, bring your attention back to the breath. (Okay, so this is Meditation 101.)

The article didn’t mention that yawning cools the brain. This article suggests you can cool the forehead to stop yawning (and I presume, cool the brain and fall asleep). You know, get a gel-filled ice pack out of the freezer, wrap it in a towel, and put it across your forehead.

Inhaling through a rounded or “O” mouth and exhaling through the nose could be helpful as well. (Thanks to Susan Gobin for suggesting that on Facebook!)

Still, it might be nice to have one of those cooling caps to put on!

1 thought on “Thinking heats the brain up — cooling it aids sleep

  1. Pingback: Being a Five, reading, writing, and what works | The Well: bodymindheartspirit

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