Everyone knows Michael Jordan to be the greatest basketball player of all time. His time on the court did make him the man we know him to be, but anyone who can piece profiles of the man through the years can create an image of him only known to people close to him.

He’s a restless human being. And while it leads him to outperform anyone in the court and become a spectacularly successful businessman, it also has its downsides.

Towards the end in this extensive piece from ESPN, the author revealed the only way for Michael Jordan to shut his hyper-competitive, never-settled mind: watching old Westerns. To know this fact is to know what keeps Mike up at night. The death of his father. The growth of his personal brand. The desire to play basketball again. The thought of his underperforming team.

This is where Michael Jordan is like most people. He, like those whose minds are always racing, needs to distract himself so he can get some shut-eye. And this here is an important lesson to people who need a break from a brain that never lets them rest.

You’re Wired to Thrive in Restlessness

It feels funny saying that people are able to achieve things because their minds won’t let them stop, but it’s not as simple as saying that this is just how they’re made to be.

People thrive in restlessness because it has enabled them to function. In simpler terms, resting has become less important to many people. It’s not as important if you have a genetic predisposition to need less rest, but the majority of humans need sleep. But like Michael Jordan, it’s as beneficial as it is harmful.

One thing you have to remember is that restlessness is an effect, not a cause. Other than a default overdrive setting in your system, a person can develop mental turbulence through different ways. One common cause is poor sleep hygiene, which stems from unwise liquid intake to less ideal sleeping environments.

Other Causes of Restlessness

Sleep apnea can be the primary cause for people aged 55 to 60. One can argue that with people sleep apnea are just people who don’t get enough sleep. But in the end, they still suffer the consequence of a lack of sleep.

For men, you can also blame having a bigger prostate for your lack of sleep. It’s what keeps waking you up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

There’s also restless leg syndrome that makes people jumpy when they sleep. As such, it can jolt you all of a sudden, which can happen a couple of times per night. Coughing and heartburn are enemies of a good night’s sleep, as well.

Considering everything, whether your restlessness comes from a probable innate condition or literal lack of rest, the outcome is the same. A hyperactive mind leads to lack of rest that leads to a breakdown of a person’s mental and physical capabilities.

An American Thing

Before anybody starts to self-diagnose for restless mind syndrome, know that this could be a revolutionary trait that’s common to a lot of people, particularly Americans. It may not even be a diagnosable condition at all, but knowing its origins from could shed light on your mind that never stops.

Around 150 years ago, people had a different opinion about restlessness. Neurasthenia, a prominent theory during the period, is the effect when a person’s nervous energy is depleted. The mass migration into cities fueled this hypothesis, where people encountered new kinds of problems that they never used to face.

S. Weir Mitchell, the author of Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked, summed it up quite well by asking: “Have we lived too fast?”

Neurasthenia got the modern treatment from David Schuster of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. He says in his book, Neurasthenic Nation, that sufferers of neurasthenia had symptoms like headaches, muscle pain, irritability, weight loss, depression, and host of other physical consequences. By the looks of it, neurasthenia is starting to resemble restlessness. And the similarities go further than that.

Schuster also made the connection between qualities of neurasthenia sufferers and Americans in general. From the same book, he wrote that, “Neurasthenia did not simply denote the presence of sickness, Beard (one of the two neurologists who coined the term neurasthenia) argued it indicated the presence of an active mind, a competitive character, a lover of liberty—in short, the quintessential American.” The key part here is the active mind, though the other two characteristics cannot be discounted so easily.

So, is the modern American suffering the consequence of what made them a great nation in the first place? It’s an old theory that has too many parallels with what ails restless people today that makes it challenging to set aside.

Separating Restlessness from Insomnia

In many ways, restlessness can mask the original problem, which could be that you don’t sleep at all. It’s insomnia in that case, but the two is still distinguishable.

Restlessness, like in the case of Michael Jordan, is a problem curable through simple tricks. On the other hand, insomnia is a chronic condition that doesn’t allow you to sleep at all for an extended period.

In addition, insomnia is easily identifiable. If you’re not sleeping three times a week for a span of three months, it’s insomnia. If your problem is just that you can’t seem to stop thinking, it’s restlessness. Though both have similar consequences, distinguishing one from the other can mean that you’re not getting unnecessary treatment.

How to Counter Restlessness

Michael Jordan’s routine of watching old Westerns is an easy solution to counter restlessness. But it’s hard to achieve the same regularity as Mike, as this is something he’s been doing for a long time. It was a way for him to cope with his father’s death, and it still is today. It was something he and his father did together, and doing the same thing with a family friend helps him replicate the same feeling of comfort he felt with his father.

If you can’t dig as deep as Mike, you can still try the same routine. Watch something soothing to you. Frasier has been making a comeback of sorts as the show to lull you to sleep, which is something of a byproduct of the show as it aged.

Improving Your Sleep Hygiene

A routine isn’t something that you’ll achieve overnight, especially with something as one-off as sleep. You can do something about it by improving your sleep hygiene. It’s essentially a step-by-step guide to create the perfect sleeping situation. It involves more than just being in bed at a certain time. Since extraneous factors can affect your restlessness, shutting these elements out could lead to a more peaceful progress towards slumber.

A realistic goal is for you to get more regular sleep than you’re used to having. It could mean more hours at certain nights, but it’s progress. There are ways to keep distractions away, from using heavy curtains to employing noise-canceling headphones.

You can also adjust your liquid and food intake before you sleep. As you move towards your scheduled bedtime, decrease what you usually take or do. Whether it’s having a cutoff for your smoking, avoiding liquids, or eating sufficiently, the important thing is to avoid stimulants at night. Make sure you’re comfortable, and if you can, tire your body out. Exercising during the day should mean that your energy will only last at a certain time, and that your body will need rest soon.

Drugs are a last resort, and even then, you should still try a few more techniques to prevent relying on sleeping medication. There are a number of natural ways to distract your mind. Try these first before making that critical step of taking pills to help you rest.

You’re Saner When Your Sleep

No matter how far off you are in developing depression, anxiety, or bipolarism, you’re better curbing their symptoms altogether by getting some sleep. Not only will you be able to function properly when you sleep, you’re also saner when you sleep. In a joint study by Harvard Medical School and the University of California at Berkeley, sleep deprivation decreases cognitive performance like how being drunk affects your thinking.

So if you want to make more sense, work on your sleeping routine. It will take time before you’re comfortable with a routine, but you’re better off by a long way if you can put yourself under regularly.

Much like all destructive habits, you won’t see the full effect of restlessness until later in your life. By then, you’ll be regretting the simple things you didn’t try to calm your mind. So before you have to look back at the moment where you could’ve done something about your restlessness, act on it now so that you’ll have a less sleep-deprived future.