Do you often doze off while watching TV, and then get into bed and can’t seem to fall asleep again? As a sleep coach, I commonly hear people tell me they have this experience.
Watching television can put your mind into a trance-like state, allowing you to begin to switch off. The distraction of a show’s storyline, combined with the speed of the changing pictures, can gradually coax you into a hypnotic alpha brainwave state. For those of us with a busy ‘monkey mind’, this can work better than meditation, because of that distraction element.
TV can serve as a useful tool for this purpose. However, the problem is that once you remove yourself from its attention-grabbing influence, the ‘motor’ of your busy mind can start back up again very easily. That’s because TV doesn’t solve the problem, it’s more of a Band-Aid solution: It simply pushes your thoughts aside temporarily, only for them to resurface again once there is no distraction in the picture.
If you do not become skilled at slowing your mind, you can suddenly feel wired awake again without this highly effective distraction factor. After all, when you go to bed, you are left to be alone with your inner self.
Thoughts returning to your mind once there is nothing taking up your immediate attention can be a sign of an unresolved struggle or simply an ‘untamed mind’. At first glance, it may appear easier to simply let something else draw your focus away from these thoughts. But unless you work with your mind on a deeper level, chances are your thoughts will raise their heads again at the first opportunity, and you’ll be back to square one.
One issue I see is that many people don’t even notice when their busy minds have switched back on and that this is what’s preventing them from falling asleep. When something is “normal” for us, we tend not to notice it. So if we routinely experience racing thoughts, this is nothing out of the ordinary, so we are unlikely to even be aware it’s happening.
A busy mind typically results in the production of stress hormones that can keep us awake. Even mentally writing a to-do list in bed is enough to produce stress hormones, as these thoughts are about doing rather than being. Your body naturally produces stress hormones when you think about doing something, in order to mobilize you into action immediately if required.
If this is what’s happening in your case, there may be some deeper exploration needed to figure out why you are holding onto such thoughts. Changing your thought patterns during the day can be the most effective way of calming your busy mind at night; once you learn to tame your mind during the day, it will automatically be more still in the evening.
In order to do this, you first need to understand how your mind operates. From there, it is a matter of rewriting your “mental software”-and transforming it into a more peaceful operating system. You may wish to ask yourself: “What is the TV distracting me from? How can I begin to change this so I can free myself from seeking to be distracted, both at night and during the day?”
Ideally, while dozing off, you should be free from external distractions. If you have a well-balanced nervous system, you should be able to drift peacefully to sleep better without having to do anything at all. But if you’re reading this right now, drifting off blissfully may not be an option for you. Although the TV can be a functional stop-gap measure, ideally it is better to reach this hypnotic-type state through relaxation, deep breathing or meditation instead.
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If you don’t train your nervous system how to relax, gradually and through practice, that means you are probably in a hypervigilant state too much of the time. Yes, it’s true that falling asleep with the TV is better than not falling asleep at all. I know plenty of people who find watching TV helpful as an interim measure, during the process of retraining their nervous system and learning how to quieten that monkey mind.
While watching TV before bed isn’t an automatic no-no, the blue light it emits does suppress the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Also, you ought to consider the nature or type of TV show that you’re planning to watch.
Here are a couple of golden rules if you do like watching your TV prior to bed: