Two great polarities exist in every life: activity and rest.
In humans, because we live and move in an upright position (rather than on four feet), a particular postural reflex mediates or shifts us between those two great polarities. It's called, "The Landau Reaction."
The Landau Reaction
This is the "get ready" reaction, coming to heightened alertness. Another term for Landau Reaction is "The Green Light Reflex" -- as in the green light of a traffic signal.
The Landau Reaction starts at about three months of age, when, as an infant, we first start creeping and crawling. It involves muscular actions as we arise from our back or belly into a sitting position, then to standing, then to walking and running. It tightens the muscles of the back of the body -- spinal muscles, back aspect of our shoulders, buttocks, and backs of our legs -- to hoist up our front, supported by our spinal column and to erect our spine upright. It brings our head up, placing our sensory organs -- eyes, ears, and nose -- in the optimal position for getting long-range information about our environment.
So, Landau Reaction involves both muscular tension and an alerted or aroused state of mind.
Perhaps you can already see, just from that description, the role Landau Reaction has in sleep: it works against sleep.
Let's flesh that out.
In the healthy state, Landau Reaction comes and goes according to circumstances. The more circumstances call for heightened alertness, the more intensely Landau Reaction gets activated -- and the tighter we get. Our back arches, our shoulders pull back, our chest lifts, and our buttocks and hamstrings get tight -- we get a "swayback", where the "sway" is forward (giving rise to the expression, "on our toes"). When circumstances pass, and the need for heightened alertness passes, we return to a rest condition -- more or less -- and the muscular side of Landau Reaction eases. We relax.
The thing is, an unhealthy state of Landau Reaction exists -- habituation. The more time we spend in Landau Reaction -- in traffic, at work, in competitive activities -- the better we get at going into Landau Reaction. Our brain, which provides and regulates the Landau Reaction, learns to be more and more ready to go into Landau Reaction. Eventually (and commonly) we stay in Landau Reaction in a perpetual state of readiness for action.
Is it obvious, yet, the effect Landau Reaction has on sleep?
The two states -- readiness for action and rest -- oppose each other. Where sleep is concerned, Landau Reaction wins. Insomnia, chronic thinking, muscular tightness, and even soreness and stiffness (ready for that new, expensive "Sleep Number" or "Tempurpedic" bed?) become our nighttime experience.
Now, it's also true that our circumstances in life may provoke anxiety in us -- and anxiety shows up as another reflex of stress -- the opposite to the Landau Reaction, called Startle Reflex (or "The Red Light Reflex").
The Startle Reflex
In Startle Reflex, we tighten in the front of the body. It's a protective, primitive response from the life-threatening, "eat or be eaten" times of eons ago, when to curl up was to protect our soft, vulnerable parts. It's the position of "playing dead" -- and a good strategy for going immobile and escaping the notice of a predator. This primitive response continues, today, even though the threats these days are more psychological and social than physical.
All creatures with a spinal cord have Startle Reflex behavior -- even shrimp and insects. With humans, it takes a specific form.
Startle Reflex, by tightening our frontal muscles, prevents deep, diaphragmatic breathing, reduces our overall mobility, and by pulling us into a curled-forward shape, causes us to shrink down and to withdraw our sense organs -- eyes, ears, and nose -- from our environment. It's the shape of "hiding".
In the healthy state, Startle Reflex comes and goes according to circumstances without lasting effect.
However, an unhealthy state of Startle Reflex exists: habituation. It forms the same way as habituation in Landau Reaction -- by repetition and intensity.
However, in our current age, we can't get by being curled and withdrawn from experience; we have to function, to be ready, to be active.
And so, Landau Reaction comes into play anyway.
However, being opposite to and opposed by Startle Reflex, Landau Reaction activates at an even higher level than if Startle Reflex weren't in play.
The result: "stress" -- a combination of readiness for action and anxiety -- and a feeling of being trapped in life -- The Big Squeeze. Sound familiar?
And so, insomnia, chronic thinking, muscular tightness, and even soreness and stiffness (got your Ambien, Lunesta, nighttime cocktail, or whatever?) become our nighttime experience.
What's a human being to do? How do we deactivate Landau Reaction and Startle Reflex so we can sleep? How do we decondition ourselves from our lives, so we can rest?
Ah! The Essential Question!
Getting Out of The Big Squeeze so We Can Sleep
Let's summarize, so our answer can be concise.
Both Landau Reaction and Startle Reflex are mind-brain-body states. Both states get habituated. Habituation is a learned state of being and acting a certain way, on automatic. The term, "learned state", is key. We learn our way into those states ("taught" by life); we must learn our way out of those states with the same kind of learning -- experiential learning.
By now, you may be feeling mystified. What kind of experiential learning can teach us to disarm habituated mind-brain-body states?
Hitherto, we have gone into and stayed in those states automatically. We have to shift from "automatic" to "voluntary". "Voluntary" refers to anything you do because you decide to -- and also to anything you don't do because you haven't decided to.
How do we get from "automatic" to "voluntary"? By cultivating "voluntary".
This is an entirely new way of thinking about and approaching a situation -- given our culture of "fighting" -- "Fight Cancer", "Fight Drug Abuse", "Fight Terrorism", "Fight Domestic Violence" . . . etc., etc. Instead, we cultivate voluntary control of what we would otherwise fight; we get into it (like a hand in a glove) and control it from within it.
This approach works for sleep (and for many other mind-brain-body conditions and stress-related disorders, such as headaches and certain breathing disorders). We cultivate voluntary control over Landau Reaction and Startle Reflex so that, when we rest, we rest.
The way into such cultivation is to re-create the muscular actions and feelings of those states deliberately. When we do, a very interesting thing happens: our voluntary control supercedes (or overcomes and replaces) automatic habits. We replace automatic, involuntary states with easy, voluntary control of those states.
The result: the excessive habituation in these states quiets and they recede to coming and going only as present circumstances call for, instead of dominating our lives. With reduction of excess, we have more "cushion" , more tolerance for conditions. Even in stressful circumstances, our stress level is less. Sleep returns -- to reduce our stress level further.
Since few people are familiar with these reflexes of stress, it's helpful to have guidance for assuming control of them.
For sleep disorders, I have created this program to guide you, step by step, through coming out of excessive, habituated Landau Reaction and Startle Reflex. It's to be used consistently for a week or two, upon retiring for sleep, and then (once you know the steps), as needed -- such as on occasions when you awaken in the middle of the night or when you are experiencing the effects of heightened stress.
Sleep-inducing drugs have side effects for some people -- daytime drowsiness, hallucinations, mood changes, suicidal thoughts; the drug companies say so in their advertising. Special mattresses do nothing to address stressful emotions. This program also has side-effects -- sometimes (at the very beginning), temporary soreness, and then increased flexibility and heightened physical energy. Which side effects do you prefer?
The 'proof' of the 'pudding' is in the 'eating'. Test the program for yourself. Get free of The Big Squeeze and get to sleep.
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copyright 2015 Lawrence Gold