Sleepy Head

In the Daily Mail this week, there is a focus on getting a good night's sleep. While I've read the first instalment, I must admit I view sleep deprivation from a different angle. One that comes from the Human Givens school of thought.

Joe Griffin, the Founder and Educator of Human Givens College, has unearthed a new way of looking at the brain and its relation to your sleep patterns. In Joe's book, Dreaming Reality: How Dreaming Keeps Us Sane, Or Can Drive Us Mad, Joe says that lack of sleep is only one part of the cycle of depression. He explains it as a circular pattern and one that must be broken in order to regain control of your life again.

As a psychotherapist trained in the Human Givens counselling methods during the past decade, I can vouch for its efficacy. Even though our brains have grown with us from baby to balding old man, it is a strange beast and scientists are still attempting to fathom its depths. One of the revelations Joe has unearthed is the role your brain has in the cycle that disturbs your sleep and I have given a simple explanation of it in my book Depression - how to help yourself through it.

Before I go too deep into an explanation, it basically involves four things. Two are linked to your nervous system, while the other two are linked to your sleep cycle:

  • PNS - Parasympathetic nervous system

  • SNS - Sympathetic nervous system

  • REMs - Rapid eye movement sleep

  • SWS - Slow wave sleep

During the day time hours, you are constantly facing threats. Some threats you are not aware of, because you have simply become accustomed to them as part of your life. Threats can take the form of irritations, aggravations, nervous reactions - or an emotional upset you feel inside your gut. These threats can be likened to the fear of danger our ancestors faced on a daily basis while hunting and gathering.

Each of these threats, or fears, causes an 'electrical buzz' in your body and brain - you've probably felt it in your gut, that swirling sensation of anxiety. That's the 'imprint' your body is making so that you don't forget it.

If you deal with the threat, face it head on, find a way around it or manage to resolve that pain, embarrassment, or fear at some point, then the threat has a tendency to go away. Your brain 'files the memory', ready for you to remember how you dealt with it successfully, ready for a time if you find yourself facing it again.

However, the sad, mad and bad thing is that, if you don't, won't or are unable to deal with it, then that 'electrical buzz' will send a signal to your brain so that it can deal with it later.

Your Nervous System

In your body, you have two main nervous systems. The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). Each of these systems has a different role to play in your emotions.

The SNS acts as a gun firing a shot for an athlete on the starting block and gets you ready to do something. Each time you have an 'electrical buzz', the SNS sends a signal to the brain, ready to get you moving. It's that old familiar




It is a system that is designed to protect you from 'danger'.

When your body, brain and emotions understand that the 'danger' has gone, the PNS kicks into gear and calms you down. The PNS gets you ready to slow down - like a parachute that glides you safely down to earth.

Your Sleep Cycle

Everyone has heard of the Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REMS) - where your eyes move rapidly while you dream in your sleep. But less well known is the Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) cycle. They work in conjunction with each other.

  • The SWS creates sugars (glucose) for your body to create energy

  • The REMS relieves your emotions

Watch your pet sleep

Have you ever watched your cat, or dog, sleep? You may have seen them act out their dreams through tiny jittery movements. They look cute to us watching them. Those tiny movement are their REMS acting out the dream sleep. We do that too. But, unless you walk in your sleep, your REMS is mainly in the eye movements.

Now, let's put the emotional aspect in there and see what really happens.

During the day, that cat may have been chasing a mouse. If the mouse slipped away and scampered beneath the skirting board where the cat couldn't get at it, the cat will stay there and stare at the space where the mouse disappeared, waiting, seemingly forever, for it to reappear.

If the mouse doesn't re-appear, while the cat sleeps, its REMS will act out that 'catch' - therefore resolving the situation and releasing the emotional anxiety experienced.

This is what REMs do for us!

When we experience an emotional 'fear' or irritation or anger, or high emotional 'charge' during the day, this causes an 'electrical buzz'. Much like your cat or dog, your brain will set-up a dream sequence so that it can resolve your failure to get to the bottom of the emotionally disturbing situation.

In essence, dreams help us act out a scenario where we 'catch the mouse'.

Emotions and Energy

Joe Griffin says that SWS is needed for energy build-up while REMs is needed to calm your emotions.

So, if you have a lot of emotional 'charges' during the day your brain will need to get to work and create a dream for every single one of those 'electrical buzzes' or emotional, anxious upsets you had.

The more REMS you have, the less SWS you have.

I'll repeat:

  • the REMs clears or calms your emotions

  • the SWS builds your energy levels

So, if you wake-up tired the following morning, one of the reasons for this is that you may have had a lot of REMs during the night and not enough SWS.

Hence, you wake-up lacking the energy you need to cope with the day ahead. You will feel unable and maybe unwilling to face the new ahead and get a sense of depression setting in.


One way of the ways you can take back control and release those 'electrical buzzes' or emotional/anxious upsets is to practice the 7-11 Technique.

The 7-11 Technique is a simple and quick method that you can use to break this cycle of being deprived of much needed energy increasing SWS.

Acknowledge the role of the nervous system

The PNS and the SNS

When you act on controlling your own breathing through the 7-11 Technique, you can help to stop the emotions taking control of you.

Take control of your breath, by breathing in to the count of seven and breathing out to the count of eleven. Basically, make your out-breath longer and more drawn out than your in-breath.

Quick breath in, slow controlled breath out.

Your in-breath controls the SNS - getting you ready for action on the athlete's starting block, while your out-breath controls the PNS, its that parachute slowly gliding down to earth.

Do this as often as you realise or recognise you are facing a 'fear' you feel unable to control, and you may find yourself waking-up a little more refreshed each morning, instead of drained and tired and unwilling to face the day.

Kaye Bewley MA

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