Tossing and turning in bed unable to sleep? If your mind starts to jump from one thought to the other the moment you head hits the pillow, a new trick known as the 'Cognitive Shuffle' might help you catch some zz's. The goal of this trick is to silence worrisome thoughts by forcefully overloading the brain with benign nonsense.
Luc Beaudoin, PhD, a cognitive scientist and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, discovered the cognitive shuffle. Beaudoin figured that if he found a way to make his brain recognise that he was ready for sleep while directing his attention away from stressful thoughts that were keeping him awake, he might be fooled into falling asleep.
"The brain’s sleep-onset control system need not know what you’re thinking or imagining," he says. "It just needs to notice that there is mind wandering and that there is vivid visual imagery, as if you were hallucinating. Unless the brain is on drugs, these clues generally signal that the cortex is ready for sleep."
Once his theory worked on him, he tested it on college students, putting the cognitive shuffle against 'constructive worry' - an early evening journaling technique, that demonstrated reduction of thoughts that induced insomnia. The shuffle was just as effective on the students, and more convenient as it can be done during bedtime or in the middle of the night without a pen, paper, or sheet.
Follow these steps to trick your brain into falling asleep:
1. Pick a random letter.
2. Visualize a word that begins with that letter. It must be something that can be pictured and emotionally neutral (avoid airplanes, clowns, or snakes).
3. Continue to think of new words that begins with that letter. "Instead of speeding through a list of words, pause and imagine each one," says Beaudoin. For instance, choosing lollipop can lead to picturing, a lemon, a landmark, a lion.
4. When that letter bores you, move on to the next. Do not try being creative and make up stories about the words.
5. Keep going until you doze off. Some people fall asleep within the first few minutes while others take as long as 15 to 20 minutes.