Home » How To Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep: Jim Donovan (Transcript)

How To Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep: Jim Donovan (Transcript)

Since 1999, I’ve been leading drumming workshops. At the beginning of these programs, I lead an exercise where the group and I drum together a steady unison pattern like this: boomp, boomp, boomp, boomp, boomp. We do this for a few minutes.

At the end, without fail, people tell me that the exercise helps them to feel more relaxed. It had never occurred to me that I could do the exercise without my drum.

And so that night, I did an experiment. At bedtime, I sat at the edge of my bed, and I brought my hands to my lap, and I began doing my drumming exercise on my legs, very lightly.

Upon seeing my strange behavior, my wife, Tracey, looked over at me, rolled her eyes and just turned out the light. But I kept at it. I wanted to find out if I could get the exercise to work.

And at first, nothing happened. But then, after about four minutes of persistence, I noticed my eyelids starting to get heavy. I was yawning, and I decided just to lay down and shut my eyes for a minute.

When I opened them again, it was morning. I slept a solid seven-and-a-half hours with no struggle falling asleep. And most nights, since 2010, I’ve been getting the best sleep of my life.

I do it using an exercise I’m going to show you today that I call brain tapping.

Now, this exercise uses a phenomenon that happens in the brain: it’s called the frequency-following response. This is a very fancy way of saying that your brain loves to follow repeating, rhythmic patterns.

Essentially, your brain, first, notices that there’s a pattern, it connects with it, and it begins to follow it. Whenever you listen to your favorite music and do this, that’s the frequency-following response happening.

What we’re going to do is we’re going to help that frequency-following response to occur; we’re going to activate it, and then we’re going to help to slow the speed of your brain activity down by slowing down the rhythm.

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Now, there might be a few of you out there right now that are thinking to yourself, “Does this hippie really want me to believe that I can use rhythm to help me fall asleep? Really?”

And what I’d say back to you is “What if I could? What if I could show you how to fall asleep tonight in less time than it takes you to eat a bowl of cereal?” Would you try it?

Now, here’s the great news. You do not need to be good at rhythm for this to work, only willing to try.

Here’s what happens. The exercise, it’s 30 seconds. What we’re going to do is bring our hands to our lap like this. We’re going to be tapping at the speed of a ticking stopwatch — so right left, right left, right left — very lightly.

As we do this, we’re going to breathe slowly. At the end, we’re going to slow the rhythm down.

So, if you’re willing, I’m going to invite you just to settle in. Take a big breath in. Begin very lightly tapping on your legs at the speed of a ticking stopwatch — right left, right left, right left.

If you’re comfortable, I want to invite you just to close your eyes so you can get the full experience.

Next, we’re going to do a very slow breathing technique. Your job is just to do your best and take breaks if you need them. So eyes are closed, we’re tapping lightly, and let’s start the breathing.

Breathing in slowly, two, three — it’s very slow — four, and slowly out, two, three, four.

Breathing in — doing great — two, three, four, and slowly out, two, three, four.

Breathing in — almost there — two, three, four. And slowly out, two — very good — three, four.

And now, slow the tapping down, and slow it down again. Four, three, two, one. And relax.

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Take a moment to notice how your mind feels. Let’s take a big breath in, and let it go. You can open your eyes.

And I saw a couple of you yawning. I take that as a compliment, so thank you.

If you got the exercise to work the first time, congratulations. You’ve got a new friend you can call on tonight to help you get to sleep.

If the exercise didn’t work as you hoped it would, don’t worry, you’re not broken. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get used to the exercise. Please don’t give up.

Now, imagine getting great sleep from now on. Imagine how much better you’ll feel, and then imagine people all over the world doing this exercise and getting better quality sleep. Imagine how that might affect peacefulness everywhere.

I’ve got a challenge for you: for the next five nights, I want to invite you just to run the exercise for at least three minutes. Remember, tap like a ticking stopwatch, breathe slowly, and at the end, slow the rhythm down.

Once you’re comfortable with it, I want you to feel free to teach it to anyone who needs it, especially kids.

Good luck and sweet dreams.

Thank you.


Download This Transcript as PDF here: How To Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep_ Jim Donovan (Transcript)


Resources for Further Reading:

How to Get Your Brain to Focus: Chris Bailey (Full Transcript)

Brain Activity Revealed Through Your Skin: Stress, Sleep, & Seizures: Rosalind Picard (Transcript)

Mehdi Ordikhani-Seyedlar: What Happens in Your Brain When You Pay Attention? (Transcript

Guiding Difficult Decisions from “Monkey Brain” to “Wise Mind”: Lance Pendleton (Transcript

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