I had turned my lights out fifteen minutes ago but was still laying there, staring at the ceiling. I could hear my brain racing, thinking of everything I didn’t finish during the day and all of the things that I had planned for tomorrow. It felt like my brain couldn’t shut down, even though I was tired.
The longer I laid there, the more frustrated I became as I started thinking about the sleep I was missing out on. I worried about how tired I would be tomorrow and started calculating how many hours of sleep I could get if I could just fall asleep now.
This is common for entrepreneurs because we have wired ourselves to be perpetually productive and constantly engaged in multi-tasking and hustle. In an attempt to solve this, I read dozens of self-help books and articles on self-care. I tried reading before bed and following a nightly routine, but it didn’t work.
It wasn’t until I discovered biohacking a couple of years ago that I figured out WHY I was unable to shut down at the end of the day or feel relaxed after a weekend off work. I had been trying to solve my busy brain with action but it wasn’t about the books before bed and the bubble baths — it was about my brainwaves.
Your brainwaves oscillate at different speeds depending on the state of your brain. When you are engaged in your business and involved in executive function tasks, your brain is likely experiencing a frequency called beta. This is exactly where you want to be when you are writing or creating because it is perfect for slipping into a flow state and feeling in the zone.
The problem comes when you lose the ability to contrast beta waves with alpha waves, which are responsible for that calm, relaxed and peaceful feeling you crave (and expect) after a weekend off or a self care afternoon. Alpha brainwaves happen when your brain can relax and loosely focus on something (think of that cozy feeling right before you wake up in the morning on the weekend).
Here is what you might not have considered — it’s not the activity that creates those feelings, it’s the frequency of your brainwaves DURING those activities. Most of us would consider curling up with a good book as “self care time,” but if you’re fully engaged and highlighting a new personal development book that you’ve been dying to get into, your brain is likely in beta. If you can hear your brain thinking of how to apply new concepts or turn it into content for your clients, you likely aren’t in alpha. Contrast this with reading a light, summer romance novel and it’s easy to feel your brain slow down and even fall asleep while reading. This is the perfect example of why the activity you do is not as important as how you feel doing it.
Your brain is bombarded with stimuli during the day, from the light from your screens, to the music you’re playing and the decisions you’re making. The load on your cognitive processing center continues to increase during the day while you stay in beta. By the end of the day, your brain has processed so much information that it needs the contrast of alpha wave activity (and delta wave activity while we sleep) to allow your brain to recover. Without this recovery, you show up at your desk the next day foggy, unfocused and tired.
I’ve worked with dozens of clients that feel like they can’t wind down or turn their brains off at the end of the day. I observed their daily activities because I was curious as to why this was so common amongst entrepreneurs and the answer was clear — they were always plugged in, multitasking and working.
They were watching Netflix with their phone in their hand, scrolling Instagram. They were going on a walk with their kids while listening to a podcast. They were cooking a meal or playing with their kids with YouTube on in the background. They were reading or having a cup of tea while refreshing their email and responding to clients or social media notifications.
When I asked them why they felt they needed to do so many things at a time and what it might be like to just play with their kids? Or just read a book? Or just watch TV? Or just go for a walk? Their answers were all the same. They were worried about being bored and that it would be uncomfortable. In that moment, I clearly saw that becoming entrepreneurs has hijacked our ability to be present in our life.
We have stopped giving our brains the chance to recover from our day and we continue to wonder why we feel so tired and drained all of the time. The solution is to intentionally create contrast and this search for an answer led to my development of a process called a Cognitive Load Detox. The goal is to allow your brain time every single day to step out of beta activity and into alpha activity.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Try beginning with 15 minutes per day of being present during something that you already do. Some of my favorites are washing my makeup off at the end of the day and focusing on what I’m experiencing, reading a fluffy book before bed instead of a nutrition book, walking with my daughter and staying unplugged or catching up on an episode of Friends with my phone in another room.
In those moments where I feel fidgety, begin to get uncomfortable and feel the desire to grab my phone or pop on a podcast, I just notice it and direct my focus back to what I’m doing. Nothing has gone wrong. It’s a beautiful way to practice mindfulness and allow your brain the contrast it needs to show up sharp, clear and focused in your business.
If you struggle with this because it has been so long since your brain has relaxed, I recommend an app called Brain.fm. Think of it as having a remote control for your brain that allows you to tune into different brainwave states. The technology behind this AI-generated music is fascinating and uses something called neural phase locking to influence your brainwaves into the desired state. This can be a big help if your brain needs a little help remembering what it feels like to slow down and be present. (Hot tip: I use this app to help me sleep deeper and get into flow state faster too!)
So why make the effort to learn how to do this? Not only does a rested brain perform better, but intentionally carving out time before bed to get into an alpha state can help you release the pressure and the stress of the day and have higher quality, longer sleep with less interruptions. Sleep is fundamental to your ability to create an amazing company because of its impact on cognition, decision making, creativity and performance. Recovery makes you a better entrepreneur and allows you to enjoy the life you are working so hard to create with your business. Now how good does that feel?