Sleep Better With Calming Words

by Lars Peterson on 18 September 2013 0 comments

Via Lifehacker and Men's Health comes word of a surprising discovery reported in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology that people sleep better, and perhaps fall asleep faster, simply by exposure to "sleep-related" words and phrases. (See also: How to Naturally Reset Your Sleep Cycle)

Notably (and suggested by the study's title, "The Effect of Subliminal Priming on Sleep Duration"), participants did not actually read the magic sleep words; they picked up the suggestion unconsciously from words in the environment around them. In the experiment, some subjects were exposed to words such as "cozy" or "relax" for five minutes. Others were exposed to "neutral" words. Sleepy word subjects slept 47% longer, and their heart rates were reduced, compared to the neutral word group.

Study lead author Mitsuru Shimizu suggested to Men's Health the finding could be a cheap substitute for sleeping medication:

Write down slumber-centric words like “calm,” “rest,” and ”drift away” on notecards or sticky notes. Place them in your bathroom, on your bedside table, or anywhere else you’ll see them in the hour before you go to bed, Shimizu suggests. Exposing yourself to this kind of language should improve your sleep, he says.

What's Going On?

In psychology "priming" is understood in terms of the creation of pathways to a memory, stimulus, or construct. Repeated exposure to the stimulus causes the pathways to deepen, and recognition of the thing or word to "rise" more readily to our conscious minds. This is why after hearing a new word once, we seem to notice it everywhere. It isn't that the word is suddenly everywhere; it's that our brains now have a pathway to its memory and we quickly recognize it. This is also why cramming for a test rarely works very well. We need to give ourselves enough repeated exposure to the material for the pathways to develop and the knowledge to stick. (See also: Improve Your Memory and Get Smarter)

However, intentionally priming the unconscious with words and other cues to achieve a particular goal such as sleeping sounder, or performing better on tests, or unlocking creative potential — "goal-priming" — is not without its critics. Controversy erupted earlier this year when several of the most important experiments in the field were found to be "irreproducible," which suggests that the original studies were somehow flawed, or perhaps even fraudulent.

Who's right? Who knows? This test is simple enough to try at home and reach your own conclusions. Create your own sleepy time cue cards, rate the sleep that follows, and please report back with your findings!

How do you fall asleep faster and stay sleeping sounder?

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