Well Balanced

How to fall asleep

July 11, 2022 Balance Season 1 Episode 36
Well Balanced
How to fall asleep
Show Notes Transcript

About 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to the CDC. But Ofosu and Leah (and a few kids!) have a solution you might remember from childhood: the bedtime story. 

Learn the science of how bedtime stories can work to help anyone fall asleep, and hear about the making of Sleep Journeys, Balance's new take on bedtime stories. 

More about Sleep Journeys:
Sleep Journeys, available in the Balance app, are relaxing, richly imagined tales that combine gentle visualization with nature sounds. Each one features a sleepy adventure that changes a little every night, giving troubled sleepers new sights and sounds to enjoy.

[Theme up and fade under]

OFOSU: Hey, what's up. I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey, and -

LEAH: I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We're the meditation coaches on the Balance app.

OFOSU: And this is our weekly show, Well Balanced. Okay. So Leah. As you know, we've been working on this new set of Sleep Journeys in the Balance app and they just came out - super excited. They are these personalized stories and one takes place on a river boat and one is on a train and it's got me thinking about sleep and bedtime stories and why stories and sleep are so connected.

So I thought that we might dive into that today. What do you think? 

LEAH: Awesome. I love talking about bedtime stories.

OFOSU: So just to set the stage, uh, on the state of sleep these days, according to the CDC about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. 

LEAH: That’s a pretty alarming number. 

OFOSU: Yeah. So a huge chunk of us are not getting good enough sleep. I mean, what would society look like if all of us were getting better sleep, you could just insert anything. Any, any issue that we're having right now could just, you would be happier, gas prices would be lower [laughing].  All of those things, if we just got a little bit more sleep.

Yeah. So clearly this is a huge problem and sleep issues can come from a lot of different places. What I'm interested in talking about today is when you have trouble falling asleep when you're already in bed, it's called anticipatory sleep anxiety. It's that vicious cycle when you can't fall asleep and then you get anxious about not being able to fall asleep.

And this can happen to you when you first lie down or when you wake up in the middle of the night, like me. And I'm curious if that's ever happened to you, Leah, have you ever experienced anticipatory sleep anxiety?

LEAH: Yes, it hasn't happened to me often, but I was having some sleep problems when I was pregnant.

Maybe these were hormones, maybe it was just my body being uncomfortable. And then, you know, there's just times when I would lie there and look at the clock and I realize, oh man, I'm gonna have to wake up in three hours or in two hours, and I'm not gonna be good the next day. And then you start thinking about your to-do list and then anxiety builds and then you don't fall asleep cause you're anxious.

Ugh. Not a good cycle. 

OFOSU: Yeah, it happens to me when I'll wake up in the middle of the night and then it's really difficult sometimes for me to fall back asleep because just once my mind turns on, it just starts going and then I'll look at the clock and be like, oh my gosh, it's 4:00 AM. I have to be up in two hours.

Is there even a point in going back to sleep? But if I don't, then my day's gonna be kind of ruined. I mean, I have little tricks to help me go back to sleep these days, but there's one thing that we know that definitely helps kids get over their stress when they're going to bed. And it's something that I think that we can learn from as adults.

And that is - bedtime stories. [LEAH:You read to your kids?] I do. Yes. My wife and I sometimes read bedtime stories to our kids. They're getting a little bit older, so now they're starting to like reading to us, but there's usually some kind of bedtime reading ritual that happens with our two youngest kids.

And, um, I actually wanted to ask them what they thought about this routine and to see if there's anything that we could learn about our sleep habits from them. And, um, I got a few of the other balanced team members to ask their kids as well and check this out. This is what they had to say.

[SFX + Start memo recording]

OFOSU: Do you guys like when mommy and daddy read bedtime stories to you?

CHILD: sometimes

MATT: Do bedtime stories help you fall asleep?

CHILD: Yes. Yes.

MATT: Why?

CHILD: Uh, because I like listening to them.

ANNA: Do you think it helps you fall asleep?

CHILD: Yeah, because, um, I'm thinking, because I like hearing stories before I go to bed, because then I'll dream about them. Yeah, me too.

OFOSU: Why do you like them?

CHILD: Because sometimes the guys make it silly and stuff.

Because they help me fall asleep and they really like 'em.

OFOSU: Do you have a favorite bedtime story?

CHILD: Um, ninja turtle. Mine is just graphic. Excellent. Mine is Spiderman

Flying Flamingo sisters!

Like ones that kinda made you wanna fall asleep. But I also like ones that have dance parties.

OFOSU: Yeah. Okay. All right. Okay. Thanks guys.


[End memo recording + SFX]

LEAH: That's really cute. Uh, I love that. I mean, I'm thinking children are the best they really are. 

Even the action stories like Spiderman and the ninja turtles, like these aren't necessarily stories that have to be like you're falling asleep, some sort of hypnotic thing.

It can be any kind of story that is uplifting and positive. And that you know, I do believe that what we bring into our minds right before we go to sleep, does carry with us into the unconscious mind, into the subconscious, into the dream state.

Last night I was working on updating my website and there was something, a button not working on it.  And I went to bed and I dreamed about it all night, my website not working. [OFOSU: Oh no!] So it's like, uh, yeah, you know, you had to, I loved how the kids were like, yeah, I can dream about it. We spend so much of our time in our life sleeping and dreaming, like don't we wanna have positive dreams?

OFOSU: Yeah and go into our sleep in a less stressful way. Yeah. I mean, I think, I think there's also so much of our history as humans that's passed down to us orally. So much of our traditions and our way of understanding the world comes through stories. We have books like the ID and the Odyssey, or even spiritual treatises, like the Tripitaka and Buddhism.

So these were transmitted orally for hundreds of years. That was just the way people shared information. There's probably some sort of neurologically pacifying effect to when it's story time, when your elder is, is telling you a story and you just get wrapped up in your mind, gets to paint the pictures and, you know, you get to be in another it's like you're dreaming while awake when you're listening to a story.

LEAH: I think it really expands our creativity as well to hear stories. And to drop into visualizing them. I know for me personally, that helps me visualize things like listening to a story. I can paint a scene in my mind. So I, I love the sense of these children sharing about, you know, adventure and fantasy.

And yeah, because I think that's a part of us that we tend to lose as adults. When we go to work all day, we have adult conversations, we have tasks we have to get done and we get so into our left brain. And so kind of drop into that right side creative brain and just be here in the present right here and now visualizing something immersing in it and letting ourselves.

Just dropping into something imaginary brings us back that kind of childlike joy. 

OFOSU: Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, even the exciting, even like the, the Spider-Man or ninja turtle story that my son likes, I mean, he's just a 6 year old ball of energy, so I think being able to read those kind of epic fantasy tales, even as he gets to go to sleep, allows him to get out that last bit of energy.

And yeah, he might have just read a harrowing tale, but he still gets to sleep pretty quickly. So yeah, the reason why this was on my mind is again, because we're making sleep journeys for the Balance app, and these are stories that are designed to help adults fall asleep. So, you know, I put my Leah cap on and was doing research for this episode, cause I know, you know, how much you love to connect with the science behind things.

So, um, hopefully I'm doing this justice. I was doing some research for the sleep journeys and I came across a researcher whose name is Dr. Christine Juan, and she's the medical director of the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine. And she says that bedtime stories work for helping anyone fall asleep, not just kids.

In her words, here's a quote, “a bedtime story works by detracting the mind from self-sabotaging thoughts and worries, which allows the body's adrenaline to come down so the brain can transition into the sleep state of a story more so than music or background noises, it's more likely to force the stubborn mind's attention away from whatever is causing emotional distress.”

LEAH: I mean, that makes sense, you know? Yeah. Because when we're listening to a story, since we've been doing it, as long as we can remember, there's not really some part of us that's going, oh, am I doing this right? Am I listening to this story correctly? Like we know we all know how to hear a story.

I think that's what can bridge the gap for so many people with bedtime stories because it sort of bypasses all of the challenges and obstacles and helps us just drop right into that zone of, oh, I'm just sitting back. I'm just relaxed. I know what to do. This is easy and we can just be immersed

OFOSU: Yeah. I mean, it's very rare that I get to be on the receiving end of a guided meditation practice and the retreat that I was just attending at Plum Village, there were a lot of different guided practices and you're right. I mean, it's not the same as a bedtime story, but just giving yourself the opportunity to let someone else guide you.

And then you don't have to keep asking yourself, am I doing this right? Am I doing this right? It does give you access to a more relaxed state. So I think that this translates really well to the sleep journeys. There are two new sleep journeys that we recorded. One is called, ‘Along the River’, which is a journey aboard a beautiful river boat.

It was so vivid to record this and to listen to it. And then, ‘On the Tracks’, which is a journey on a majestic train. What was it like for you to record these? 

LEAH: It was a lot of fun because I love riding on trains. I love being on river boats and it was also a chance to sort of what you couldn't say, embody or transport myself there.

Speaking through it. When I record meditations, I really let myself go there fully. And bathe in it and be immersed in it. So it is in essence, I'm entering into that meditation by being there in the moment and letting myself feel through all my senses, what it's like - I can see the shiny riverboat deck.  I can see the steam coming out. I can see the sparkle in the water in the sun setting or, you know, being on the train feeling the tracks, rumble and listening to the sound and walking around and looking at the seats, you know? It was fun and also relaxing and enjoyable. I think I put the sound engineer to sleep actually, at one point he was kind of bobbing in and out.

OFOSU: I'm pretty sure something similar happened to me. Did you get sleepy yourself doing it?

LEAH: Yeah, you can. I kind of got into a zone. Yeah. And I have to snap out of it afterwards and listen and go. Was I a little too sleepy myself?

OFOSU:  Yeah. I had to break and get coffee to finish. Because I really was putting myself to sleep. When I think I was putting everybody to sleep and, um, it was like, oh, this is amazing - that means it works. And I was getting very comfortably sleepy, but then like, no, dude, you have to finish this so I had to break to get coffee.

And just like you're saying it is so immersive, like I was seeing and feeling and hearing. Smelling like all of the sights and sounds, and it was really sweet. Just beautiful stories. Yeah. 

LEAH: Sort of magical. Yeah. Well, hey for you listening, you know, we recorded a lot of versions of this too.

Yes. So every time you listen, it's different. Yeah. So that if we're not fully asleep already and we're listening, this part of our brain is going, oh, this is still new to me. There's some new twists and turns in this story. And so we don't get too invested in it being the same every time or, or try to expect something from it.

OFOSU: That little tidbit you shared is like one of the little Balance secrets that yeah a 30 minute experience or meditation on the Balance app is usually like a three hours worth of recording to keep delivering many versions of that 30 minute experience, but it's all in the name of being helpful.

LEAH: Yeah. Well, we dare you to, to listen to all the versions. So if you wanna, if you wanna try that dare out, you can check it out. It's called, ‘Along the River’. And the other one is ‘On the Tracks’. And they're in the sleep tab on the Balance app.

OFOSU: Bedtime stories. Not just for kids!

LEAH: Good for adults too.

[Theme up and under]

LEAH: So thanks for taking us inside. It’s really interesting to hear the research about that and also fun to think back on making these bedtime stories.

OFOSU: Of course. Yeah. And again, if you want to check out the new sleep journeys, you can find them in the sleep tab on the Balance app.

LEAH: And also, Hey, if you wanna stay up to date with our show, subscribe or follow us on your favorite podcast app, and please leave us a review and rate us in the app, cause it helps us grow and spread the word.

OFOSU: And we'll be back next Monday with another conversation. Until then, sleep well and take care.

Be kind to yourself. Peace.

[Theme up and out]