Do you struggle with turning off your brain at night?
We hear from so many people who have have trouble falling asleep! This typically leads to a conversation about the “sleep switch,” which allows us to transition from wakefulness to sleep.
In your body, this switch works when there is a change of temperature at the right time. What is the right time? It depends on your body clock, but aim for about eight hours before you want to wake up. For me, that is around 9pm. I am a morning person. In the window between 9pm-10pm, my body “wants” to go to sleep.
When you use temperature to flip your sleep switch it can help with sleep latency, which means how long it takes YOU to fall asleep.
Today we’ll discuss how to switch your brain off to sleep, how to get more REM sleep, and really, how to get better sleep in general.
The Science Behind the Sleep Switch
The key to wrapping your head around the concept of a "sleep switch" is viewing your brain as an impressive electrical system.
Yes, your brain has its own signal for when to be awake or asleep.
The idea of the switch is based on neurons firing on and off, which dictates your ideal sleep pattern.
A landmark sleep study from Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston discovered that the neurons in question are located in the ventrolateral pre-optic nucleus (VLPO), and are critical for getting a good night’s sleep.
The study was conducted in the following manner:
“Working with genetically engineered mice, Saper's team artificially activated the VLPO neurons using several different tools. In one set of experiments, the scientists activated the neuron cells using a laser light beam to make them fire, a process called optogentics. In another test, the team used a chemical to selectively activate the VLPO neurons. In both cases, activating these cells profoundly drove sleep.”
Ultimately, the VLPO starts secreting neurotransmitters called GABA and galanin, which work to calm the brain. Conversely, orexin is a neurotransmitter that manages wakefulness.
That means the switch works both ways, as an electrical feedback loop with these neurotransmitters moving in conflicting directions. There’s never a transitional state; you’re either on (awake!) or off (asleep!).
The Connection Between Body Temperature & Sleep Switch
Let’s return to that same sleep study again, which had a significant finding:
“Additionally, activating the VLPO cells caused a fall in body temperature. Scientists already knew that warm temperatures activate VLPO cells, and that body temperature dips slightly during sleep, when the VLPO neurons are firing.”
Based on what we know about sleep—and the products we offer—this makes total sense. In many ways, body temperature is the perfect way to frame sleep.
Let’s assume you sleep from 10pm to 7am. If this is your chronotype, your body will be at its warmest in the early evening, around 7 pm. As you approach bedtime, your “sleep drive” kicks in, which is triggered by a drop in temperature—which means the VLPO is ready to release that GABA and galanin.
This get you ready for deep sleep, the period when you’ll drop to your lowest temperature of the night.
Ultimately, as you slowly warm up, you’re entering REM sleep, until finally, that feedback loop runs in the opposite direction with orexin, causing you to wake.
So dropping that temperature is directly tied to triggering that sleep switch, in turn allowing you to enjoy longer stretches of deep sleep. As you know, we’re big fans of deep sleep, because of its restorative power around health, immunity, memory, and overall cognitive performance.
How to Switch off Your Brain to Sleep
If you think of all of this from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense: our ancestors would be at their warmest right as the sun went down, and as evening turned into night, the outside temperature would drop, and these hunter-gatherers’ body temperatures would follow suit, causing their "sleep drive" to kick in.
A UCLA sleep study confirms this assumption:
“In most modern environments, people are sleeping in a fixed temperature, even if it is reduced from daytime levels. It may well be that falling environmental temperature is integral to sleep control in humans.”
Thanks to modern conveniences like the thermostat, our environments often remain at a constant temperature. This isn't good for helping you sleep better!
What your body needs is a chance to cool down and flip that sleep switch. Products like our Cube and OOLER® bed cooling sleep systems, or cooling weighted blanket, the chiliBLANKET, can help you drop your temperature to enjoy deep sleep.
How to Stop Your Mind From Racing
What do you do if you’re in bed but still struggling to sleep? There are various methods to help you unwind including:
- Read a book
- Listen to a podcast or soothing sounds and focus on your breathing
- Meditate (try a free 10-minute meditation); or try some yoga nidra.
Each sleeper is unique, so different methods will be more successful for some than for others. The most important thing is that your room is ready for sleep. This includes getting your room to a comfortable temperature, dark and quiet.
At the end of the day, remember that your brain is craving cooler temperatures.
Wake Up Refreshed, Every Day
Are you ready to improve your sleep? I encourage you to give ChiliSleep's bed cooling systems a try -- the hydro-powered mattress toppers cool as low as 55°F and will help you fall asleep faster and wake up rested. We offer free shipping and a 30-night sleep trial, giving you plenty of time to find your ideal temperature.
From the moment you find your perfect sleeping temperature, you will sleep soundly and wake up energized for each new day. Plus, couples love the ability to set their specific temperature for their side of the bed, so they both can have the deep sleep of their dreams!