I’m the kind of fast sleeper who’ll conk out before I’ve even finished giving my honey a goodnight kiss, but if I wake up in the middle of the night, it can take me an agonizing hour or two to get back to dreamland. The problem is that once I wake up, my mind is super-alert and then it starts churning over issues I’ve got to deal with, deadlines I’ve got to meet and other stressful stuff. And this is especially true during my premenstrual week when descending estrogen tends to lead to more overnight brain alertness and rumination.
If you’re like me and experience occasional insomnia or regularly get hit with sleeplessness on pre-period days and your racing mind just won’t let you drift off, then I’d like to suggest an app I just came across: mySleepButton.
This app works by listing a bunch of fairly neutral words and phrases you’re prompted to imagine (like a canoe and holding a paper cup) for eight seconds at a time, which creator Luc Beaudoin, Ph.D. dubs a “cognitive shuffle”. Its goal is to divert your attention away from unwanted thoughts that are keeping you awake and steer you toward relatively benign images that help you feel sleepy. This effectively helps you mimic the behavior of good sleepers who tend to think of nothing in particular at bedtime and just let their minds wander over non-stressful thoughts and images until they nod off.
A new study examining the effectiveness of this cognitive shuffling technique that’s due to be presented at SLEEP 2016–a joint meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society–shows that it works just as well at helping problem sleepers experience less pre-sleep alertness and get longer, better sleep as structured problem-solving, a cognitive behavioral technique where you look for solutions to worries so they don’t bother you at night.
The mySleepButton app is available for $2.99 (plus other in-app purchases) from the App Store and Google Play. I suspect it would be pretty easy to create your own neutral word list without buying this app (which I’m not getting compensated to write about, by the way). However, the app does come with a handy timer that allows you to set it and forget it. And a recent app update lets you filter out certain words you find stressful (like baby or clowns), making it more personalized.