When you drive across the country you stop for gas, wiper fluid, and maybe check the tires. You do not stop to change the oil or do major repairs that you think can wait. Our behavior in the face of modern stress is like driving to get somewhere else all of the time. We will stop to eat (get fuel), wash (wiper fluid), and park once in a while along the way but we don’t take the time to do deep repair to our systems. We’d rather keep going and believe there will come a time later when we can truly take care of ourselves.
This plays out in the way we sleep. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is a lighter sleep stage where we dream and play out scenarios that help us manage our social and emotional lives. There are usually protagonists, antagonists, and themes that arise from our subconscious minds that help us simulate real fears, desires, obstacles and opportunities. This kind of dreaming helps us process our emotional lives to keep things running day to day, but does not touch the deep repairs that happen in slow wave sleep.
In slow wave sleep (SWS) we enter much slower brain wave dominance where the activity of the mind slows in favor of allowing the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic system to turn on it’s magic. Here the systems feel safe and slow enough to focus on things like cleaning the blood, pulling damaged proteins out of the brain, allocating minerals, vitamins, and nutrients to tissues in need, rebalancing our intesintal flora, and flushing the nervous system with signals of calm connection. We awaken from nights when we get good deep slow wave sleep with a sense of rested readiness. Our data proves it if we wear biometric devices that show improvements in heart rate variability, resting heart rate, resting respiration rate and readiness to take on stress.
Many people I work with who are getting 7-8 hours of sleep are still not entering deep slow wave states of sleep in adequate amounts. This is because our brains prioritize REM sleep for social and emotional stability over doing deep repairs to the system. Just like driving across the country knowing you need an oil change that gets pushed aside in favor of cranking tunes and speeding through the landscape to get somewhere else at the expense of the health of the vehicle. You know you’re putting wear and tear on the car, but you’ll deal with it when you get ‘there’.
When we neglect deep repair to our own bodies, we end up in a state of ‘sleep debt’. The brain will prioritize and pay back any REM debt before it looks at the replenishing the slow wave sleep savings account. This is why people with chronic stress tend to get less deep, slow wave sleep even if they get in a good 8 hour stretch of sleep.
To repay that REM debt you can practice Neuro Nidra™ . This form of dynamic sleep-like consciousness allows the body to drop into deep repair states while you are semi-conscious. Swami Satyananda in his book Yoga Nidra says that one Nidra practice can repay between 2 and 4 hours of sleep debt. This means that if you get in a good Nidra practice during the day, that night you will have less REM debt to pay off and you will more likely drop into deep slow wave states of repair. With practice your Nidra session can actually drop you into slow wave states to do that repair work while you simply kick back and allow.
This is like having a magical garage you could park your car in for 30 minutes where the car could rest and do it’s own self-repair. Imagine if when you got in your car to leave that garage that the car had changed it’s own oil, power steering fluid was topped off, brakes were checked, tires rotated and aligned, and worn-out belts were exchanged. All without a mechanic. Your body IS the vehicle and comes with an inner mechanic! But this inner mechanic can’t get to work when you are speeding down the highway of life ignoring the warning lights. It only brings out the tools when you stop and set up the conditions for deep healing to take place.
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