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Like most things relating to a complex creature, sleep and relaxation are not isolated things, but spreads on a spectrum. Quality of information on the matter is also on a spectrum – the following is my take on what’s good at the moment. No warranty expressed or implied.
The spectrum in terms of brain rhythms ranges from 0Hz (dead) through delta (sleep/coma/baby) to 4Hz, on through theta (dreamy, hypnogogic, inspired half-sleep) to 8Hz, alpha (relaxed aware) to 12Hz, SMR/beta (motion and mundane thought) to about 18Hz, and into creative consciousness, currently recognised to about 100Hz.
In a naturally ordered life, with activity, rest, feeding and sleep correctly aligned to the solar day, the needs of our animal are properly met. Sleep/depression problems increase with distance from the equator – the latitude at which our animal was optimised.
Since then we’ve not only moved to latitudes where the solar cycles are sub-optimal for our animal’s genetics, we’ve further confused our natural rhythms, and prevented proper acclimatisation to a changing environment, by operating 24/7 with artificial lighting, climate control and on-demand feeding. The body is deprived of triggers for the neurochemical processes that cause the body to go into relax and sleep modes.
One innate requirement for sleep or relaxation is a sense of security. This is where stress and anxiety come into the picture. If things aren’t right in your world, then your desire for sleep is conflicting with fight-or-flight chemistry – guess which wins!
So, what to do about it?
First, make sure everything else is right. Nutrition, exercise, life schedule and substance use all affect sleep. Unattended problems will persist. Obviously there’s some choices.
If you are not exposed to natural light for a reasonable part of most days, bright light is an excellent way to re-sync that part of the clock. A wake-up session with Audiostrobe at high brightness is a great way to start the day – open eye white or blue being best. A wake-up session accompanied by a natural dawn chorus and the rays of a rising sun is the ultimate.
Sleep corresponds with serotonin/melatonin conversion, which, in the wild, was a response to the reddening light of evening and the security of a fire after an exhausting day of outside work. Closed-eye red is correct for sleep session Audiostrobe. Settling of SMR (sensorimotor region) also happens best as night falls – the SMR region is responsible for keeping the body still during sleep (loosely referred to as “sleep paralysis”). 14Hz SMR an hour or two before the desired sleep time can help simulate dusk (Insomnia Help protocols).
Once down, you want to encourage delta activity as quickly as possible. Stepping down from alpha to delta in 3-4 minute steps works superbly. Ramps sound nicer, but steps tend to be followed. Sine shaped isochronic beats are suitable across the range. Binaurals can be good from low theta down, but their action is quite different to the direct stimulus of isochronic – my impression is that binaural is better suited to theta/delta meditation than sleep induction, the asymmetric structure stimulating higher consciousness is not desirable for sleep (a good robust delta meditation will always be accompanied by gamma activity). Monaural beats (a particular build of isochronic) are a good compromise between the bluntness of standard isochronic beats and the subtlety of binaurals. Some great effects can be created by building monaurals from tracks with different pitch waveforms (MWS).
What to do after first arriving at somewhere in the 1-2Hz range (low end introduces pain relief and healing/growth features – the high end is more psychologically recuperative) depends on whether you typically get there on the first pass. Repeated ramps down to delta from ever lower starting frequencies can be very helpful. Knowing that there’s a plan for any initial restlessness helps alleviate insomnia anxiety – maybe start with 10Hz alpha to delta in 2Hz steps of 2 minutes each, followed by 3 minute 1Hz steps from theta to delta, finally 4 minute 0.5Hz steps from high delta to the sleep target. Adapt the frequencies and timing to match your wake/sleep behaviours. Don’t forget to use the automatic step calculation in MWS! Stepping or ramping slowly up and down 0.25Hz each side of the sleep target frequency allows for individual variation. Random periods of 1-3 minutes at random beats in the target +-0.25Hz range also work well. If you don’t like the sound of steps, short ramps between steps are fine. Sleep induction sessions can be played while settling for sleep – if you’re a pre-sleep book reader or TV watcher you can have the session in the background to help you along. TV or computer use too close to bed time is not recommended if you have sleep problems – very stimulating and lots of blue light – yellow tinted glasses in the evening can reduce negative effects of artificial lighting on serotonin/melatonin conversion. A computer monitor illuminating the bedroom with NP3 or MWS Screen Flashing, screen out of direct sight, is a great way to enjoy the benefits of sleep-time Audiostrobe without glasses-tangle.
Relaxation begins when you close your eyes. At that moment there is a burst of 10Hz alpha, a release of serotonin, and the present frame of visual perception is flushed creating something of a “wait state”. Any beat in the theta/alpha range will be conventionally relaxing – the lower the frequency, the greater the likelihood of slipping into sleep and the greater the psychological benefit if awake. 10Hz is a natural for quick breaks and the perfect place to start from for relaxation/sleep sessions, as the process begins with that moment of closing eyes. The 7.8Hz Schumann Resonance, has an excellent reputation for deep relaxation. Alpha is the range of choice for alleviating stress and anxiety, so alpha relaxation is invaluable for stress induced insomnia.
If plain sleep or relaxation is the objective, the simplest session that sounds relaxing to you will be the most effective. Isochronic noise (noise with modulation or entrainment) is excellent and can be woven into natural noise sounds – modulated synthetic noise is more compelling than a modulated wind, water or rain track, but a well balanced blend can be almost as effective. Pure sleep/relaxation sessions are the hardest to improve. You’re not supposed to be engaged with sessions such as these – your consciousness is meant to be elsewhere. If you’re engaged in aesthetic critique, or being challenged by complex structures, you are using faculties that require beta – and that’s the end of sleep, and your relaxation has become a contemplation. The best way to improve a simple session is to fine tune the frequencies to your brain’s responses. GSR biofeedback uses skin conductivity as the indicator of stress/relaxation. EEG can provide specific numbers for personal optimisation, or provide automatic optimisations with MWS Bio-Optimization. Your own experience will tell you if you relaxed or slept better – however clever the session may be, if it doesn’t work, then something different needs to be tried. In deciding what’s working, be persistent but not stubborn – if a therapeutic-type session isn’t delivering after half a dozen fair attempts, it’s probably not going to without changes. Bio-Optimization with NP3 or MWS is an excellent tool for mapping your personal responses. The preset sessions included with NP3/MWS can be considered “reference designs” – with very few frills or aesthetic compromises, these sessions appropriately apply the most verified research. They’re a great basis for new sessions – delete every track other than the essential beats and then add your own extras – that way you will always have the scientific basis in place. The bare-beat versions are very convincing on an EEG.
Once “in the zone” other things can be introduced to the session to encourage other aspects of a state. For example, the addition of theta and gamma to a sleep session increases the likelihood of dreaming. Triggers, ranging from direct stimulus to verbal and psychological prompts can be used to encourage more specific modes of sleep, dreaming or contemplation/meditation.
Clearly there are many factors influencing an individual’s ability to relax or sleep. AVS/entrainment helps in three specific ways; it directly supports natural processes, it provides a habit that means “stop”, and it alleviates some of the hopelessness that comes with powerlessness over well-being.