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10 Sleep Tips to Help with Insomnia

As we get older, sleep becomes more elusive. We do not fall asleep as fast. We do not sleep as long. And we do not go as deep into sleep. And we wake up more easily.

Don't take sleep for granted. Sleep is the third most important component to health, besides exercise and diet. And some of the information below is based on the talk.

The sleep cycle involves Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, and REM phases. REM is "rapid eye movement" phase where we are dreaming and our large muscles are paralyzed so that we do not act out our dreams. It is also when memory consolidation and learning happens.

This full cycle ending in REM sleep takes about 90 minutes. The cycle repeats throughout the night. Most people will get 4 or 5 full cycles in one night. If you do that math, that is 6 to 8 hours of sleeping.

Stage 4 is out deepest sleep. As we age, we start losing stage stage 3 and stage 4 phases.

At middle age, we start to loose stage 4 sleep. At age 70 to 90, we may loose stage 3 sleep as well.

Dis-regulation of Circadian Rhythm

The following sleep tips are not just for people with insomnia. In fact are best practiced for people who have not yet developed insomnia. It is to provide good sleep hygiene in order to maintain strong circadian rhythm in order to prevent insomnia years later.

Certain insominia is due to "circadian rhythm sleep disorder" for which treatment includes ...

"Behavior therapy or advice about sleep hygiene where the patient is told to avoid naps, caffeine, and other stimulants. They are also told to not be in bed for anything besides sleep and sex." (as quoted from Wikipedia)

Other tips mentioned are bight light therapy and blue-light block glasses.

The circadian rhythm is our biological clock of which all animals (and some plants) have. Many of the tips is aimed as strengthen this circadian rhythm.

A person does not develop chronic insomina overnight. It comes about from decades of poor sleep hygiene that little-by-little weakens the circadian rhythm. If you get to the point of chronic insomnia, then tips like "no TV in bed" is not likely to cure your insomnia overnight. That is why many insominac say that "I've tried all these tips and nothing works".

Since it took years to weaken the circadian rhythm, it may take years of proper sleep hygiene to strength the circadian rhythm. And that is what these 10 tips are all about -- strengthening the circadian rhythm. In the meantime, it does not help to weaken the circadian rhythm further by watching TV in bed at night just because you tried it one night and find that it does not work. You have to keep at it essentially forever.

For those who wants faster progress in correcting circadian rhythm, the best way to strengthen it is to be outside with high activity in bright natural sunlight whenever the sun is out. As soon as the sun sets, turn off all artificial light and avoid physical activity. That forces you to do only activities as natural light permits. That means no electronic screens after sunset. Listening to light music is good. Helps relax too.

Of course, in our modern world this is next to impossible to do, but the more you attempt to live like the ways that cavemen lived, the more it can help with circadian rhythm. After all our biological circadian rhythm is sync via environmental cues.

Have you ever flew from Europe to North America and the next two nights you end up waking in the middle of the night and unable to fall back asleep. This is due to circadian rhythm out of sync. Your circadian rhythm is still in European time while your nightstand clock is in North America time. It takes a day or two from North American environmental cues to reset and sync.

The circadian rhythm control all our bodily functions from body temperature, digestion, alertness, appetite, hormones, and of course sleep timing. For example, cortisol is high during the morning and low at night. Melatonin is high at night and low in the morning.

One sign of disregulation of circadian rhythm is that you feel sleepy in the middle of the day but can not sleep at night. So it is not a problem of not being able to sleep. It is a problem of not being able to sleep in sync with the day-night rotation of the Earth.

Different People Different Causes

There are many reasons for insomnia. For different people, it may be different causes and hence different solutions. So try all the following solutions until you find one that work for you. Or simply do all the tips. Because it is likely there are multiple effects that add up.

I write a lot about the circadian rhythm in this article because I found that this was my major cause of insomnia, more so than caffeine. But for other people if may the caffeine.

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Some people have no trouble going to sleep, but wake up in the middle of the night. Sometimes this can be due to low blood sugar in the middle of the night. When that happens the body pumps out cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) in order to raise blood sugar. This cortisol rush may wake the person up. This may especially be true when you wake up in a sweat. Use a glucometer (buy at drugstore) and prick your finger to test your blood sugar when you wake up in the middle of the night. I've checked mine at the middle of the night and was is normal. And have your doctor run an hemaglobin A1C test to get a general sense of your blood sugar regulation.

Some people say they wake up in the middle of the night because of their need to use the restroom. If that was the case, they should be able to fall back to sleep right away. If not, then it may be the other way around. They woke up first, and then decided "Hmm, maybe I mind as well go use the restroom.".

There is even mention that gluten sensitivity can result in insomnia. See article linked here for reason.

Dr. Ellen Hughes Lecture on Sleep Tips

1. Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine acts on the central nervous system and has the effect of raising alertness and anxiety -- not something that you want when you are trying to get to sleep. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate are among the foods that have caffeine. Some over the counter medications can have caffeine.

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than other. Caffeine is also a diuretic for some people. This means that it increases the frequency of urination. Don't you just hate it when you have to get up to go to the bathroom just when you are about to fall asleep.

Avoid alcohol as well. It may help to get you to sleep. But it makes the sleep of lesser quality and may interrupt your sleep at night. Your sleep may become fragmented. So alcohol is not a good for chronic insomniacs.

The book UltraPrevention has a section about getting better sleep in which it says that alcohol causes you to wake up just a few hours later and ...

"interferes with normal sleep patterns and can decrease REM sleep, leading to a chaotic rhythm and all its attendant ills." [page 312]

And it says this about caffeine...

"spiral of disturbed biological rhythms that include difficulty falling asleep, reduce sleep deficiency, and significant metabolic and mood effects, including depression." [page 312]

Also check what other medications that you are taking and ask your doctor if they can be affecting your sleep. Any medication including over-the-counter cold medications that can cross the blood-brain barrier can potentially affect sleep.

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2. Sleep in Total Darkness

Having total darkness when sleeping is ideal. Sleep should be done in the dark. Light will suppress the body's melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone which regulates sleep. Light can come through closed eyelids.

Many people will find the experience that if they go camping and sleep without any street lights or city lights to bother them, they will sleep better. Find light-blocking shades if you have to. You may need to get thicker curtains if there is a street light outside your bedroom window. Use cardboard if you have to.

Don't use nightlights. If you can still see things in the room, it is not dark enough. Some people are more sensitive to light than others. For some, even the lighted digital display of a digital watch can affect sleep. Try dimming or turning away the lighted bedroom clock. Knowing what time it or how long you have been awake is often is not helpful. Sometimes it is better not to know.

Article in NaturalNews says ...

"Cortisol secretion is promoted by the presence of even the tiniest bit of light. This is why it is so important to sleep in a room that is completely dark with no alarm clock glowing in the dark."

Amber lensed googles

Another tip is to avoid electronic artificial light near bedtime. Chris Kresser mentions that ...

"nighttime light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin"

And that the blue-wavelength light often emitted by back-lit electronic devices such as computer monitors, ipads, iphones, etc. may hinder melatonin production.

Afterall, it is the blue-light of the sky that signals to the body that it is daytime and hence to drop melatonin production. As human animals, it is the blue-wavelength light (the same wavelength of the daytime blue sky) that helps signal our hormonal cycles. What hormones? The cortisol hormone rises in daytime and is low at night. The melatonin hormone which is low in daytime and high at night. And many other hormones have such daily cycles as well.

Of course, it is difficult for us to give up our electronics at night. So some remedies that may help is to use amber-lensed goggles that filters out the blue light. Or an amber filter over your computer screen from, which is what I use.

There is also a software called f.lux that changes your monitor color display based on time of day. They have a bunch of links to research on blue light and melatonin here. Here is a New York Times article about blue light.

You can learn more about sleep health on Harvard's website.

Alasdair Phillips talks about EMFs in this youtube video. He says do not use hair dryers or bright lights late at night. Hair dryers generate electromagnetic frequencies near your head that can decrease melatonin production. reports that ...

"Several epidemiological studies have demonstrated that women who consistently work night shifts have increased breast cancer risk."

Some believe that it is the decrease of melatonin that may be a contributing factor.

3. Keep it Quiet

Similarly, it is important not to have any distracting sounds. Do not sleep with the TV or radio on. The brain is always listening even when you are asleep. Otherwise, alarm clock would not work. So having a quiet environment that is not interrupted by distracting sounds is important. Use earplugs if you have to.

Dr. Mark Hyman Gives Sleep Tips

4. Sleep Regular Hours

Sleep regular hours at the same time each night (including weekends). This helps to keep your circadian cycle regular. Get your body adjusted to a regular rhythm that matches the normal day night cycle of the sun.

Dr. Mark Hyman, says ...

"Go to bed and wake up the same time every day, and try not to nap." [YouTube video on right]

That includes waking and sleeping at the same time for weekdays as well as weekend. Your biological body does not care if it is Monday or Saturday. The sun rise and fall at the same time on those days. So you should go to bed and wake up the same way on Monday as well as Saturday. For most people, that means doing less during the weekday so that you can sleeping longer. Sleep on the weekday as you would sleep on the weekend. And for some, that may mean getting to work later or working less hours.

In short, don't burn the midnight oil on both ends of the sleep period. If you practice proper sleep pattern when you are young while you are able to still sleep well, you will have less sleep problems as you get older. Nearly universally, sleep quality deteriorates with age as indicated by sonogram graphs in sleep labs.

Wake up with red light, so that you get the dawn/dusk effect. Get regular exposure to sunlight during the day (at least 20 minutes out in the sun every day). Sunlight enters our eyes and trigger the body to release certain chemicals. This get our body's hormonal system back into a regular cyclical rhythm.

Both Dr. Ellen Hughes and Dr. Mark Hyman and other feel that it may not be productive to nap during the day if you have chronic insomnia.

5. Don't Watch TV in Bed

Another way to habituate your body to associate bed with sleep is to not watch TV in bed. Don't talk on the phone in bed. Don't lie awake listening to the radio in bed. Don't read in bed. Do all those thing out of the bed and your body will associate bed with sleep.

And especially do not watch TV in bed at night. Ideally better to not watch TV at all during the night. This goes back to the idea of avoiding electronic back-lit light at night. And it gets into the ideal that watching TV and faces and socializing at night may disturb circadian rhythm which we will talk about next.

6. Don't Eat Right Before Bed

Don't eat right before bed. In fact, don't eat for a three of hours before bed. And certainly don't eat in the middle of the night. How can the body sleep when it is busy digesting food?

By confining your eating to during daylight hours, you enforce your circadian rhyme and get your body back in sync with the motion of the sun. Sleeplessness can be a symptom of disturbed circadian rhythms. Paul Jaminet suggest confining eating to within an 8-hour period during the daytime hour. That may involve intermittent fasting where you occasionally skip breakfast.

In the hunter gathered times of long ago, humans hunted and ate only during the day. They do not go wandering about at night; otherwise they become food for larger animals. This was how our body was evolved.

Hence ideally you should sleep or at least wind down at not more than two hours after sunset is you want your body to be in tune with nature. You can hear more on the Livin La Viva Low Carb podcast where guest T. S. Wiley talks about Good Sleep for Good Health -- episode 673.

That also means trying to eat dinner before sun sets. Human animals hunt and eat during the day. Only modern human people with refrigerators and restaurants eat after dark, further dis-regulating the circadian rhythm.

Paul of Perfect Health Diet writes...

"The circadian clock is strongly influenced by diet: indeed, food intake dominates light in setting the circadian clock. If you regularly eat at night and fast during the day, the body will start treating night as day and day as night. … This suggests that controlling the timing of food consumption can help to maintain circadian rhythms. … Daytime feeding: Eat during daylight hours, so that food rhythms and light rhythms are in synch."

Other things that support our circadian rhythm is to socialize, look at faces, exercise, get exposure to bright natural light, and do activities during the day. Rest and avoid doing those things at night.

Seth Roberts did some self experimentation to try to solve his long term early awakening sleep problem. You can watch his talk in the video on the right.

He found that skipping breakfast help. Watching Jay Leno during the day helped -- this was equivalent to socializing during the day. And what he found really helped was standing nine hours a day -- this was his equivalent of exercise during the day. But since standing that long takes a lot of time, he discovered a short-cut which had a similar effect but you did not have to do it for so long. That was to stand on one leg. And he also mentioned that eating animal fat helped.

These worked for him at least. A plausible explanation may be that these activities supported the circadian rhythm. Or it could be that watching Jay Leno and standing tired him out so much that his body needed more sleep during those times. In any case, it is something worth thinking about or at least trying.

7. Get Regular Exercise in the Sun During the Day

Regular exercise is a relaxant and may help provide better sleep as well as improved quality of life. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins which boosts mood and reduces pain. Regular exercise decreases risk of depression and reduces stress. [1]

Do the exercise during the day in the sun. Exposure to outdoor sunlight in the morning and during the day helps the body get back into its circadian rhythm of wakefulness during the day and sleepiness during the night. Dan Pardi talks more about this in a podcast linked here.

Blue light will affect your circadian rhythms more any other part of the light spectrum. So blue light in the morning (as in outside) is good. Avoid blue light at night.

The book, The Mood Cure, writes ...

"Even though bright light at night can diminish your melatonin production, if you are around bright light early in the day, your melatonin levels will rise higher at night." [page 239]

Other article (such as linked here) writes similarly...

"External cues entrain the circadian cycle and keep the body "on track". ... The most powerful cue is daylight. ... exposure to bright light during the day also makes sleep feel deeper and more satisfying the next night.Low light is thought to be a cause of sleep disorders in people who are institutionalized and spend all day inside. … Quick cure for insomnia: going out during the day. The contrast between a brightly lit part of the day and the dark night is important in telling the brain that it is time to sleep at night. Even brightly lit interiors such as office buildings and health clubs are dim compared to the outdoors. Brightly lit indoors might be 100 Lux, while outdoors on an overcast day is 10,000 Lux. "

People in Antarctica and astronauts have poor sleep "due to low lighting and to other artificial conditions"

It may not seem like outdoors is that much brighter than indoors. That is because our eyes adjust immediately.

For every hour that you spend indoors in the office, try to walk outside and spend 5 minutes in the sun. Having a window office helps but is still not as good as directly sunlight since the glass blocks some of the UV light.

Do not exercise after dinner or before bed. Otherwise, exercise increases blood flow to the brain and makes you more alert.

Light Therapy Box

If you are in the world where it is hard to get sun, or if you have to be in the office before sun comes out and leave the office when it is dark, then you can try light therapy box. Read the instructions for your specific box. You are not supposed to have it on all the time. Use for short time periods during the morning -- never at night.