Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Nov

7 Ways You Might Be Inadvertently Sabotaging a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is the cousin of death, wise men have said. Strange thought it may seem, though, avoiding this sometimes annoyingly-insistent-that-you-hang-out cousin will actually bring you closer to an early death. It’s not a pleasant thing to consider, but it’s the truth; bad sleep is associated strongly with early mortality, being overweight, having metabolic syndrome, and getting cancer. I’ve said it, your doctor says it, and anyone who’s ever had a bad night’s sleep and felt like death the next day will say it: sleep is absolutely essential to happiness, health, and longevity. On the positive side, there’s nothing quite so pleasurable as a good night’s sleep, from the initial application of one’s head to the pillow, to the insanely vivid dream-visions that descend upon you in the midst of it, to the peerless happiness and boundless energy you feel upon waking. Sleep’s the best, so you want to get it, and get it good.

You know it, of course. I harp on it enough. And chances are, you’re doing your part to get good sleep. But what if you can’t? What if sleep is bad, or inadequate, or unfulfilling? What might be causing it? Let’s find out.

You’re not getting any light during the day.

If you’ve read what I’ve written about blue light and sleep, you’re likely a champ with regards to blue light avoidance after dark. You’ve got the orange goggles. You’ve installed F.lux on all your computers (and you even jailbroke your iPhone to make it work there, too). You’ve set up black-out shades in your bedroom, and you’ve ditched the alarm clock with its blinking disruptive lights in favor of a personal rooster. And yet you still can’t get to sleep… what gives? Well, just as avoiding blue light after dark is important for normalizing your circadian rhythms and getting to sleep, exposing yourself to light during the day is also essential. Light’s entrainment capabilities go both ways. The whole problem with light at night is that it’s tricking your body into thinking it’s daytime. When it’s actually daytime, however, you need light. The whole daylong circadian cycle is important for sleep – not just the small snapshot taken right before bed. Try to get some sunlight on your eyes throughout the day, beginning (ideally) with the early morning. Right after you wake, go outside and take in the sun. Drink your coffee outside, or at least at a window facing the sun. At work, go outdoors for your breaks. Don’t say shut-in if you can help it.

You’re eating too late.

Remember the “early bird gets the worm”? The bird doesn’t have an actual alarm clock (trees don’t have power sources, duh!). By eating early in the morning, it has entrained its circadian rhythm to trigger early waking so as to obtain said food. This doesn’t just happen in birds, either. Rodent and primate studies show that feeding time is a powerful entrainer of the circadian rhythm, probably across species lines. In humans, the presence of C-peptide, which shows up after food intake and helps insulin do its job, strongly correlates with lower levels of melatonin. This suggests that eating depresses melatonin, the sleep hormone necessary for getting us ready to sleep. Couple that potential mechanism with the epidemiology of nocturnal eating being associated with negative effects on sleep quality, and you get a sneaking suspicion that eating late at night might be affecting some people’s ability to get a good night’s sleep.

You’re hewing to the popular advice to “stop eating carbs after 6 PM!”

Anytime I find myself thumbing through a Men’s Health or Shape or any other bad mainstream health and fitness magazine, I seem to stumble across this rule: no carbs after 6 PM. They’re usually imploring you to take this step in order to facilitate fat loss (which is false in and of itself), rather than to improve sleep quality. I’m all for the reduction in unnecessary carbohydrate from our diets, but if you’re going to eat carbs, sleep research indicates there’s absolutely no need to avoid them after dark or even right before bed. Heck, they can even be fast-digesting carbs, as one recent study showed that carbs with a higher glycemic index shortened sleep onset at night (people who ate the fastest-digesting carbs fell asleep faster than the people who ate the slow digesting carbs). So, if you’ve been avoiding all carbs after dark and eating them in the morning (to “provide energy”), you have probably been doing your sleep a disservice. If you’re gonna eat carbs, eat them at night. You should probably stop reading bad mainstream fitness magazines, too.

You’re exercising right before bed and failing to give yourself time to recover.

At night, your body reduces its temperature, and this drop in body temperature has been referred to as a physiological initiation of sleep onset and facilitator of entrance into the deeper phases. Since exercise raises body temperature, one wonders whether it could affect your sleep. In one study, researchers examined the effects of exercise on sleep with and without body cooling. Subjects ran for 40 minutes at 75% of their V02max on two occasions. The first time, the ambient temperature was raised, prompting a 2.3 degree C increase in subjects’ rectal temperatures. The second time, the ambient temperature was reduced, prompting just a 1 degree C increase in rectal temperatures. At rectal temperature +2.3, slow wave sleep (the deepest, most restorative portion of sleep) was increased. At rectal temperature +1, slow wave sleep was unaffected. This might sound like a big win for exercise-induced elevated body temperatures, but too much of a necessary thing isn’t always desirable. You want to maintain proper ratios between the various sleep cycles, and, as Dr. Emily Deans writes, spending too much time in slow wave sleep is typical of people with bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, who often complain of lethargy, hunger, and weight gain. If you’re going to work out right before bed, give yourself time to cool off, perhaps with a cool shower, or move your workout to an earlier time.

You’re taking vitamin D too late in the day.

When you think about light and food and activity as entrainers of our circadian rhythms, that the timing of our supplementation with vitamin D might affect our sleep makes intuitive sense. Because what is vitamin D but an indication of daylight, of bright morning or afternoon sun emanating UV rays? If getting sunlight “tells” our body that it’s daytime, perhaps taking vitamin D sends a similar message. Although there’s no clinical trial showing this effect, Seth Roberts has been receiving accounts from readers who modified the quality and duration of their sleep by changing when they took vitamin D. Tara Grant, one of our biggest success stories and the first person to notify Seth, chronicled her experiences on her blog:

I looked aghast at the 10,000 units of Vitamin D I was taking. It was 7 o’clock at night! I was essentially giving my body 15 minutes worth of bright sunlight energy. No wonder I was waking up in the middle of the night! I was telling my body that it wasn’t really time for bed, it was still the middle of the day.

I’m not surprised, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this worked for the diligent, dutiful Primal eater who’s been doing everything right but who gets bad sleep. And hey, say you try it and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on your sleep? No harm done. It’s worth a shot.

You don’t have a nighttime ritual.

I’ve spoken before about the importance of ritual in our lives and our development as a species. What about the importance of ritual in sleep? Any parents out there know how crucial it is to establish a nighttime routine with children so that both child and parent get better and more regular sleep, and I’d argue that all humans – especially modern ones – could use some sort of nighttime ritual to wind the night down and get ready for sleep. It might feel a bit odd at first, because you’re consciously directing your focus toward something that normally comes natural. But today’s world is different. It’s got different stressors – and more of them. It’s got more stimulation – from lights, from sounds, from advertising, from the Internet. We need to force ourselves to unwind. So, about an hour to two hours before your desired bedtime, start winding down. “Winding down” will look different for everyone, since what winds me down won’t necessarily wind you down. What’s important is that you feel rested, relaxed, and calm. I like chatting with my wife about our days in bed with a good book at my side amidst dim, soft light; that seems to wind me down and get me ready to sleep. You might find a fifteen minute session of stretching does the trick for you, or cleaning the kitchen, or taking a warm shower, or praying to your deity of choice. Whatever it is, find it, and do it on a regular basis so that your body begins to associate it with the onset of sleep.

You’re still staying up too late.

I don’t care how orange your goggles are at night. I don’t care if you’re staying up late to read about health and fitness and evolutionary nutrition. You’re still staying up way too late. If you’re fighting yawns and relaying to your Skype chat buddies just how exhausted you are, why the heck aren’t you sleeping? Your body can try to get you to go to sleep all it wants, it can secrete enough melatonin to fill a shot glass, but if you consciously make the decision to stay up and do whatever it is that’s somehow so important, you’re not going to sleep and you will suffer for your lack of it. Your conscious self is the ultimate arbiter of your day to day decisions. Hormones and neurotransmitters and the like have their say and can nudge you in various directions, but you have to decide to close the laptop, turn off the light, shut down the television, and lay your head down to sleep.

That’s it for today, folks. I hope these tips hit home! Sleep is a tricky one to tackle, mostly because it seems like the realities of modern life run counter to our need and desire for it, but it doesn’t have to be (and, if we care about our health, we have to figure it out!). Feel free to leave anything you’ve learned along the way in the comment section!

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m the type of person who feels they need a full stomach in order to fall asleep, so I eat less than an hour before bed. Is this is a case of different things working for different people, or just something I’ve gotten used to that I should stop?

    Alexander wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I used to be like that too. I would eat a meal and then want to take a nap like 30 minutes later because of the sugar crash. I’m glad I don’t need to do that anymore.

      Wayne wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • I think you misread Alexander’s comment. He said that he needs «a full stomach in order to fall asleep», not that he feels asleep when he eats.

        Ulysses wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • I’m surprised that someone can sleep with a full stomach. If I went to bed on a one, I would lay there dealing with heartburn for hours!

          Richard wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • I didn’t misread his comment, I was just commenting on my situation. I never needed to eat to fall asleep, it was just easier to fall asleep when I had just eaten a meal.

          Wayne wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • If I eat fruit alone, I’ll feel tired, but I meant I need a full stomach to sleep, otherwise I’ll wake up hungry.

        Alexander wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Ok, I guess I was misleaded by the sentence ”I used to be like that too”.

        Have a good day.

        Ulysses wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • If eating right before bedtime doesn’t keep you awake, then don’t worry about it. Maybe you have a slow metabolism, or whatever. For some of us, however, going to bed right after eating means the GI system has to go to work just about the time the rest of the bod is trying to go to sleep. The end result is insomnia.

      Shary wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Exactly. If one is eating right before bed but is sleeping like a baby and does not have major weight issues then there is no reason to change.

        We are all different. We all have a different environment and thus different experiences.

        Primal Toad wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • Well, I do have love handles I’m trying to lose, but I’m lean otherwise, does that change the situation?

          Alexander wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I like to sleep on a full stomach too. It is in tune with our body’s natural matabolism. Think about it, after a lion makes a kill and eats it doesnt go for a jog…he will sleep. Most animals follow that pattern, it makes sense for people. I eat my largest meal of the day before I go to bed.

      Team Oberg wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • No reason to stop it. Eating before bed is not detrimental, and if you are experiencing no unwanted symptoms, no reason to change. If your mind won’t shut up unless the stomach is satisfied, put it at ease.

      Ben wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • if I don’t do this – I’ll be quite hungry in the morning. I may even wake up in the middle of the night hungry.

      I don’t eat within an hour of going to bed but I’m finding myself eating a large meal within about 2 hours of going to bed.

      Do you have a high metabolism? Do you have any idea how many calories you are burning during the day? Since I landed in Austin, Texas I have been burning an average of 3200 calories according to my fitbit ultra. It’s crazy since I’m used to probably burning 2000-2500 calories.

      Primal Toad wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • I realize I replied to another of your comments, sorry. I work in a stockroom and I’m on my feet the whole time I’m at work. I can usually go 5 hours without eating, but if I’m hungry, I won’t be able to sleep at all. I’m lean except for love handles and a some fat around my glutes. Would it matter less if I were lean?

        Alexander wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • For me, it is habit. I have gotten used to eating at night and now think I cannot fall sleep unless I eat. Before becoming paleo it, was goldfish or pretzels. Now if I have to eat I try almonds or some kind of protein. I would like to break the habit totally. I do sleep better on an emptier stomach.

      Sue wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I notice I sleep best if my meal is about 3 hours before bed, and has some starchy carbs (root veg or squash) Too much food esepcially too late keeps me awake – my heart rate goes up and I get too hot.

      Alcohol affects sleep a lot too for me – even a small amount. Best if I drink early and only a little.

      Some vitamin pills and fish oil too afect sleep – I always take the multi, vit D and omega 3 early in the day.

      Magnesium is wonderful for increasing my sleep quality – magnesium chelate is my current favourite – I take that last thing at night.

      Coffee affects some people – even a cup early in the day is enough to keep sensitive peeps awake.

      julianne wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • I find that I need to have starchy carbs right around sunset/with dinner. If I don’t, I get anxiety. I’m not sure what the reason is. But, if I have a high protein/low-carb dinner I inevitably end up with night-time anxiety. I try to have sweet potato (or sometimes rice noodles or pupusa made w/rice flour which I know isn’t primal) at dinner.

        Hilary wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Me too! I will lay awake cause I’m hungry. If I get up and eat something (a hard boiled egg and a few veggies will do) then I can fall asleep.

      But, I am also a night owl. The best I ever felt working was third shift, 11:00 pm to 6:00 am, slept until 3:00pm, but if I had to get up at noon no big deal. I had a smile on my face when I walked into work and left with one.

      I have read that about 1/3 of us are really night owls and I wonder how much of this advice is geared to night owls that are trying to function in the world of early risers.

      Judy wrote on November 14th, 2012
  2. I know people who have no trouble falling asleep but then wake up way too early after they have not had enough sleep, and I’ve wondered what’s up with that.

    Alice wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • There are numerous things can be at the root of that problem. One that is very common among the very-low-carb crowd, especially those who are new to it, is the liver running out of glycogen midway through the night (usually around 3 or 4am). When the brain lacks for glucose the body initiates an adrenal response which will almost always cause the person to wake up. The more chronic stress and sleep deprivation the worse it gets, this is one of the reasons that getting what carbs you do eat about an hour before bed can be a good idea. You top off your liver glycogen and take advantage of the carb coma to get you to sleep…

      Adam wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • This is great info! I have been waking up at 3 a.m. since as long as I can remember. I’ve read so much about not eating before you go to bed because your body is regenerating. Then other sources say to eat protein. What type of carbs would you suggest?

        Karin from LA wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • Well, it depends… If you eat low or very low carb the majority of the time and are pretty lean I would try some safe starches, e.g., white rice, white potato, because they are almost all glucose. If that freaks you out you could try a table spoon or two of raw, organic, honey about an hour before you lay down. The down side to honey is of course the fructose content but I would argue that the benefits of a good nights sleep far outweigh the perils of a few extra grams of fructose. I work for the fire department and ride the fine line between low carb and adrenal fatigue. The best way I have found to manage it all is to eat low carb (<30g) all day, strength train around 5pm, follow that up with a moderate protein high carb (~150g) feeding that ends about an hour before I lay down. I use white rice and white potatoes for the most part again because of the glucose content and I also feel that the resulting crash helps me fall asleep.

          Adam wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Interesting. There are times that I wake up in the middle of the night, have something sugary and then pass back out. This usually happens between 1am and 3am, but not every night.

        Hilary wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • DI crave sugars the most at night… Any primal foods that satisfy this craving for you?

          Alexander wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Fantastic information! I’ll see if some carbs before bed help me sleep through. I normally wake between 2 and 4 am and frequently can’t get back to sleep. This is not a problem I had when I was a carb junkie.

        Susan wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Oh my god thank you so much for saying this! I have been waking up two hours before my alarm every day since going low carb, and I put it down to being stressed. It’s been driving me nuts!

        Thank you so much for this. This is good to know.

        Anna wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Actually, you reminded me of the Carb’s Addict Diet (might have changed it since the original)and if you ate real low carb two meals, the third could be anything at all, as long as you ate it within an hr. at the same time every day. Apparently it fools your body. Adrenal deficiency is supposedly another reason for insomnia, as well as the lack of real salt (Himalayan)which the adrenal needs. I just tried your carb suggestion and zonked out (yeah!), only to be awakened by restless legs… something that has recently popped up.

        Karin from LA wrote on November 15th, 2012
  3. Or maybe you have kids! Seriously, my children are the reason I never get a full night’s sleep, and short of locking them in their rooms and pretending not to hear their screams, which doesn’t seem like a very primal way to parent, I don’t know what to do about it. They sleep worse when they are sick or growing, and so I sleep worse, too. It really makes me jealous when people talk about “only” getting 7 hours of unbroken sleep …

    Beth wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Kids never want to go to sleep and they are the biggest jerks when they are tired. There are children clocks that turn on a light in the AM, signaling that the kid can do whatever you are trying to instill, like leave the room or make noise. My friends have one and naturally they have to bribe, I mean reward their toddler when they obey the light.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Paleo Ron Burgundy (nice name by the way), I guess I’m very fortunate. I have a five year old daughter who was always a good sleeper ever since birth. In fact I’ve inadvertently mapped my sleep schedule to hers and it’s significantly improved my sleep quality! I’ll read several books to her for about 30-45 minutes before bed, which makes us both tired, and she’ll immediately. Sometimes I might even fall asleep right there too. In the morning we usually wake to the sunrise 30 minutes to an hour before the alarm goes off.

        Mike S. wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Oh yeah, try getting more than a couple/few hours sleep with a teething, eight month old baby in the house! I don’t remember that last time I had 4+ hours of unbroken sleep, much less 7 or 8 :)

      John Keith wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Yup, yup, yup. Same. My seven month daughter wouldn’t sleep more than an hour last night and was up each “wake up” for over an hour and a half. I mean, I like my teeth and all, but I sure am not a big fan of hers right now.

        Shay wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Same here. I rarely have three hours in a row. I have five children and have been pregnant and/or nursing for ten years now. It’s revolutionary for me the next day, if I have just one full sleep cycle in a night- not two or three; just one. And no amount of strictness in the rest of my health makes up for it. I’m figuring that I’ll get to sleep when my youngest doesn’t need nighttime mothering anymore. Maybe three years more.

        Imogen wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • It’s nice to find someone else like me. I’m on number 6 and have been at it for 13 years now. I did have a month or two without nursing between the last two, but that has been the only break. The youngest is 4 months now and will be moving to the crib soon, so i’ll be spending half the night in the rocking chair. I usually wake up with a neckache or a dry mouth depending on whether I slept with my head forward or back. It makes for some interesting dreams though (dry desert, dying of thirst is commmon). Not much we can do but wait it out until they are older. Good luck to you!!

          Wendy wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • God Bless you. Ugh. Reading things like that keep me in my “I never want kids” frame of mind.

        Nikki wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • Oh Nikki, it is hard. I had no idea what it would take to raise children until I started, and then each one is so different that there is really no precedent for them, just me. BUT, and it’s a BIG BUT (lol), I have chosen to do things this way. I co-sleep and nurse, feed only paleo foods and facilitate my childrens’ self-directed learning, soooo this is my chosen path and vocation. I wouldn’t be less devoted to another path if I chose that instead. I view my mothering in the same way a president and CEO of a multinational company would- it’s all in, full-on, all the time. It really matters to me, even enough that I sacrifice sleep to do it. But I couldn’t go less than full-on and feel fulfilled, whereas many others can and do, and they raise successful, happy children too. So, it certainly isn’t requisite that there be no sleep as a parent. Except in the beginning,and under unusual circumstances, and (well there are lots of reasons it happens unexpectedly). I would, and do give my life for my children. Sleep seems such a paltry offering in light of the much larger scope of that reality. :)

          Imogen wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • Imogen – I feel the same way, too. Mothering full time is what I do. I don’t do self directed learning because I don’t have the patience for that, but we do homeschool.

          A suggestion to nursing mothers (sounds like Imogen is already doing this), if you haven’t already tried this:

          Sidecar your crib to your bed. (Google it if you never seen this concept.) The kid sleeps in the crib and when they wake up to cry you schooch them over and nurse on your side. No effort, no moving – roll them back to the crib when they are back to sleep. You fall back to sleep fast because you’ve never been vertical through the process.

          I’ve got a 11 month old and we’ve done this since she was 2 months old. Now that she’s bigger and even semi-mobile all scares of rolling over her have gone. It worked to get full nights sleep with the 12 and 10 year olds too, back in the day.

          Amy wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • This is a reply for Amy:

          I’ve co-slept with both my younguns. They are of the “wanna nurse all night” variety. I still don’t get good sleep even using co-sleeping because my 2.5 year old will latch on and stay latched for 2-3 hours, then want to switch sides. Attempts in cutting down nursing time results in excessive clinginess and a rebound on how much nursing she wants.

          We’ve always wanted 3 kiddos but I am going to need a few year break after this one is out of my bed. I haven’t slept well since I was pregnant with my first, almost 6 years ago.

          Krista wrote on November 15th, 2012
    • Are your kids Primal too? Sometimes certain dietary factors can trigger behavioral issues in kids. If it’s not that (sometimes kids are just plain stubborn!), maybe use a bribe instead. If they go to bed on time all week, they get to stay up a few hours later on a Friday or Saturday night. My parents used to let us read as late as we wanted to on Friday nights, so if you’re kids are really into reading, that may work as well :]

      Jessica wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Yup! I was going to reply that the thing that most messes with my sleep is my 2 year old’s molars, which are still coming in! Seriously, up three times last night. It’s messing with my adrenals, and I’m really hoping that once all her teeth are in, we’ll all be having 6+ hours of uninterrupted sleep every night (right now, I get one or two nights a week like that, and it’s amazing how different i feel the next day!)

      Karen C. wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • We noticed that our three sons went to sleep better when the dishwasher was on so sometimes we would even tell them that we were turning it on to help them get to sleep. Worked like a charm; like Pavlov and his dogs. lol

      Gord235, Vancouver wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • LOL – I was waiting for one the reasons to be KIDS. HAAA, I have four and they are all great at going to sleep and staying asleep HOWEVER – #1 talks in her sleep and even though I am down the length of the house I can hear her, and another one (#2) gets up at 5:30 to pee – every freaking day without fail, and yet another one (#4)gets in bed with us a 5:50AM EVERY morning – so I wake up hearing the one peeing then lay there waiting on the little one so say “up mom”. LOL and #3 – he just sleeps, until he gets a throat infection and keeps me up all night for a week. Husband however…. he sleeps just fine. Errrrrgggg.

      mamab wrote on November 15th, 2012
  4. Ha ha, I am violating almost all of these things. I have been getting better sleep though lately. The thing that has helped me the most is consistently going to sleep around midnight instead of changing it up every night, sometimes 11 and sometimes 2 am. I think getting enough sleep (7 to 8 hours) every night gets you out of that tired and wired mode which makes falling asleep hard. And the last thing that has been helping me is almost completely removing all caffeine from my diet. No extra cortisol stressing me out.

    Wayne wrote on November 14th, 2012
  5. About this:

    Remember the “early bird gets the worm”?

    But the worm gets eaten by waking up early! :-(

    wildgrok wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Actually it isn’t because worms are just “waking up”, it is that the soil and weather conditions in the mornings allow them to come to the surface. Worms are active all night. BTW I had to google this :)

      Dr. Cory wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Unless worms are nocturnal. Then they’re getting eaten because they didn’t go to bed on time.

      Loretta wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese!

      della wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • and than the cat gets the bird and than the cat gets ran over by a truck picking up garbage, crossing the street…It all makes sense to me..

        Cliff Gant wrote on August 31st, 2014
  6. I have an exercise I do before bed that helps me get to sleep if I’m having trouble. I have no idea why it works (maybe clears out my lymph) but it works like a charm.

    I consider a good amount of sleep to be more essential for health than anything else. If you’re not getting enough sleep, start there. I don’t think anything else you do is much good if you don’t do that, IMO.

    Shape? Yikes. :-) It is interesting (if disheartening) to read what generally passes for healthy living advice these days.

    Alison Golden wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Please share your exercise… sounds divine!

      Ivana Siska wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Stressful day? Some moderate exercise probably relaxes you, and will help you sleep.

      Ben wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Yes,could you please share your exercise for falling asleep? Thank you!

      Susan wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • Here’s something I discovered in Reader’s Digest. An easy meditationn technique developed for returning soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Just get comfortable; close your eyes and observe your breathing.Deep or shallow, fast or slow; just observe it. Nose or mouth; doesn’t matter. Breathing will take care of itself. Thoughts will come and when they do, just let them slip away and go back to observing your breathing; in and out fast or slow. This method can be used for helping with sleep or just meditating when stressed.

        Gord235, Vancouver wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • This is what I do when I’m having trouble sleeping. It works great.

          ElleYang wrote on November 15th, 2012
  7. Does having to get up to shoot raccoons and possums in the chicken house count? I’ve been up at 3 AM three times in the past week… Certainly messes up a good nights sleep, but the satisfaction of killing a varmit and protecting my chickens is worth it :)

    Marie wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Invest in electrified poultry mesh with a solar charger. Premier Fence, Kencove charger. Sleep well after it is installed. You’re welcome! 😉

      Catherine wrote on November 15th, 2012
      • I like my Timms trap. Kills cats that think my hens are an easy tea and I get to sleep. Last one was 9kg. A panther!

        kem wrote on November 15th, 2012
  8. My girlfriend and I go on a cruise every year, and it is by far the best sleep I get all year.

    To start, we are walking TONS everyday onboard. Plus we always take the stairs instead of riding the elevators. So even without going to the gym on the ship, we’re probably getting more exercise than normal.

    We are also not using technology for the most part. No computer screens, tablets, or cell phones. Blue light is a non-factor.

    Finally, our room is pitch black at night. We’ve always saved money by getting the inside rooms. Once the lights are out, it’s just you, a completely dark room, and the gentle swaying of the ship.

    The time it takes me to fall asleep could probably be measured in milliseconds.

    Robert wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • That sounds absolutely incredible, and has rekindled my dream to live on a houseboat. Slightly smaller, I know. But still with the “gentle swaying” part. Mmm…getting more relaxed just thinking about it.

      Nelly wrote on November 14th, 2012
  9. Improved sleep has been a huge improvement for me sense being primal. It used to take me two hours to go to sleep at night no matter what time. Now I actually fall asleep shortly after I go to bed. And Im getting into bed at 930! On days I don’t have to get up at 5 its tempting to stay up really late.

    I usually can catch a second wind and be productive from 11-2… but I know the next day Im paying for it.

    luke depron wrote on November 14th, 2012
  10. I have been sleeping like a rock since it has been getting dark out sooner. 9-10 hours every night. It is my favorite part about winter

    Team Oberg wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • What is your secret? Never slept more than 7 hours my entire life

      Ray wrote on November 15th, 2012
  11. I am a single Mom with rotating shifts. At the moment I work nights, and sleep from 830 AM-330PM. On my days off, I’m exhausted and I change my hours and sleep at night. During the days I work I go to Crossfit right after my shift ends. I get home from crossfit starving. That’s when I have to choose, daily, cook something to eat or go to sleep??? Which should I choose? Eat or sleep…

    Aretha F Espinoza wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Eat then sleep… Be careful with the Crossfit+Shift Work+no food/low carb combo. You might be burning your candle at both ends with a torch held to the middle.

      Adam wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • I second what Adam says – you should very seriously consider not working out **at all** if you stay on rotating shift work. Rotating shift is brutal to your body in ways that ordinary sleep loss can’t begin to compare to.

        The only exercise that would be beneficial to a rotating shift worker would be very light, gentle exercise, like walking or yoga, that helps maintain circulation and body awareness.

        Angel wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • There is no optimum anything where rotating shifts are concerned. One of the most common problems reported by rotating shift workers is digestive problems. I worked rotating shift for over seven years in the military and it took a very serious toll on my health, especially my metabolism and digestive system. I don’t know what your work situation is like, but if you have the option of going to a straight shift, take it, even if it’s less pay. Any additional pay you get from working rotating shift is far outweighed by the short- and long-term health problems that I ***guarantee*** you are accumulating.

      Rotating shift work is an extraordinarily inhumane work schedule.

      Angel wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Dummie definitely have their place. Kept me sane many a nhigts!!! John sure loves his monsties!! Thanks I love this photo too one very happy baby.

      Petr wrote on December 20th, 2012
  12. I feel like an old lady going to be between 8:30 – 9:30 depending on the day. But when I have to roll out of bed at 5:30 the next morning, I really don’t care. How much should we be getting, anyways?

    croí wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I hear you! I have to wake up at 3:30am to get ready for work, so I’m usually in bed by 8pm at the latest and sometimes as early as 7pm.

      I’m also a single mom with two boys who are 3 and 5. Luckily the 5 year old will amuse himself for an hour or so until he’s ready for bed. I just make sure that his teeth are brushed and he’s gone to the bathroom before I go to bed.

      My three year old has a genetic disorder and is developmentally delayed. Ever since he figured out how to get out of his crib at 2.5 years, he’s slept in my bed, so he goes to bed when I do and he is always asleep within minutes – I don’t care to fight the battle of his own bed with him at this time! I could also be asleep within minutes too except I’ve developed a bad habit of reading this site (and others) until I fall asleep while reading!

      My kids are primal as well, and they get lots of sleep and on my days off I can usually sleep in until 8, so I’m getting anywhere from 10-12 hours of sleep three nights a week and 5-7 hours four nights a week. It seems to average out well enough and I don’t seem to suffer any ill effects from it, so maybe a weekly average is another way of looking at it.

      As for vitamin D – I’ve been taking before I go to bed ever since it became to cold for me to lie out in the sun and now that I think about it, I’ve been waking up a lot during the night lately whereas before that was practically unheard of for me. I’m going to take it in the morning and see what happens.

      Thanks for all the great information, Mark, and thank you to all the comments for such insightful and interesting thoughts! This is truly a wonderful community.

      Egglet wrote on November 15th, 2012
      • Jana, this is a wonderful idea and I m sngied up to follow along. I LOVE the creativity and whimsey of your project.Thanks Lindsay. I think I love whimsy best of all. ~Jana

        Leonardo wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  13. The point about taking vitamin D too late in the day is very interesting. Lately I’ve been taking my supplements in the afternoon and have noticed difficulty in getting to sleep at my normal time.

    ALAN HOPTON wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Sorry that you are having trouble sleeping. I’m just the opposite. Since going primal, I have been taking my supplements in the morning with a meal and have noticed that I fall asleep better and stay asleep all night, both of which is unusual for me. I also don’t have the upset stomach at night that I used to have.

      Linda Savage wrote on November 14th, 2012
  14. I find that exercising at night (around 9pm) keeps me up later, but helps me sleep more soundly. I’ve always been a “night” person so this time in the evening is when I seem to be most alert and energetic. Good sleep does correlate to better health in just about every area though. Unfortunately it’s overlooked by many.

    Dr. Mark wrote on November 14th, 2012
  15. I’m with Luke…since going primal, I have had zero problem going to sleep, and can sleep uninterrupted for hours…that was never the case before. I think one thing that helps is that my energy levels are more constant now, so not only no “downs”, but no real “ups” as well. And I swear that eating some butter at night helps relax me…not sure why though!

    Smileyprimal wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I agree. The more primal compliant I am, the better my sleep. No question.

      There’s something in Tim Ferriss’ book (4 Hour Body) about eating fat for a good night’s sleep.

      Susan Alexander wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • My go-to snack at night is a piece of chocolate with a big spoon of coconut oil. I find it calms any last minute hunger pangs yet doesn’t upset stomach or spike my insulin.

        BJML wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • Have you tried coconut butter? It’s pretty amazing…

          DarcieG wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I often have a snack of a piece of raw milk cheese and maybe some nuts shortly before bedtime. The benefits I believe have something to do with melatonin content of natural fats although I’m not up to speed on the exact process.

      patrick wrote on November 14th, 2012
  16. I fall asleep every night when I’m laying down with my young children at 8pm. If I stay asleep then I don’t sleep through the night and I’ll be up from 11-2. I’ve trained myself to wake back up again after about 30 min of sleep but then it takes a while to feel ‘up’ again and I’m not tired for bed until midnight, sometimes later. We get up around 7am. I don’t like the pattern and wish I wouldn’t fall asleep at 8 for that little nap, but nestled in a dark room with two warm little bodies…I just can’t help it.

    Shannon wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I do the very same thing Shannon! But this last week, i have got ready for bed with the kids (PJ’s, teeth brushed etc), had that lovely fall asleep with them and when I do wake sometime in the night I just hop into my own bed, straight back to sleep. Maybe this would work for you too?

      Nina wrote on November 14th, 2012
  17. You forgot “You have two small children”.

    Sarah wrote on November 14th, 2012
  18. Jack Kruse has some definitely different and well supported ideas about sleep. Especially eating carbs late. See Not easy reading. Well worth it though.

    Mitch wrote on November 14th, 2012
  19. Hormones! Those power surges 2/3 times a night are a sure fire way to interrupt sleep. On a plus when you read about those non primal ladies who are menopausal I realise how fortunate I am to only wake couple of times.

    Deborah Saunders wrote on November 14th, 2012
  20. Hmmm …

    The best way I know of to sabotage sleep is to drink wine. Even a glass does exactly what I don’t wan it to dot: It makes me sleepy and induces a few hours of very deep sleep – after which I wake up, usually hungry, and then it’s hard, if not impossible, to fall back to sleep.

    Am I the only one out there who this happens to???

    It’s the a main reason I stopped drinking wine. Sleep is too important to sacrifice for whatever pleasure I might get from wine.

    I’ve figured out how to get pleasure from things that don’t hurt me. There’s a lot of it out there to be had, in many forms. (I think it’s worth contemplating how much pleasure we get from things we eat or drink – and whether we’re better off getting some of it elsewhere.) What do others think?

    I also believe that pleasure is different from enjoyment. I haven’t seen the distinction made on this blog – it seems to lump pleasure and enjoyment together, which doesn’t seem right to me. (I’ve posted about pleasure vs enjoyment, if anyone’s interested.) Does anyone else see a difference?

    Note: Wine is the only form of alcohol I’ve ever liked. I’ve lost my taste for it, and I’m not interested in trying out beer or something else to see if the same thing happens. I’m happy in my alcohol-free, paleo life. :-)

    Susan Alexander wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I only like to drink booze at lunch or in the early afternoon so that I can enjoy a long, lazy afternoon nap. It doesn’t happen very often, though, because even when I have the schedule to allow it, I’ll rarely have the alcohol on hand.

      Charles wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I, too, gave up all alcohol about 10 years ago because I’d rather sleep than drink. :)

      Emily wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • I’d be interested in reading that post if you would kindly leave a link.

      Kind of interesting that none of the things being discussed here have any effect on my sleep or falling asleep.

      I have developed a routine though, and if I deviate too much I do feel shitty in the morning.

      Mike wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Beyond alcohol, drinking too much liquid in the evenings can be a problem. I find myself having to get up in the middle of the night to pee. Once up, I may or may not be able to fall back asleep because now I am not all that tired.

      Deborah wrote on November 15th, 2012
    • I must say that the same thing happens to me…several hours of deep sleep then wide-awake and no chance of drifting back off.

      skeedaddy wrote on November 15th, 2012
  21. Good article Mark, couple of comments:
    A slightly glaring omission is caffeine intake. In a group of lifestylers who don’t see the need to avoid coffee or green tea (and naughty ones may indulge in diet soft drinks from time to time… Guilty) caffeine can be a massive problem. I remember asking my Mum why I wasn’t sleeping well at university; she asked a few questions and quickly homed in on the 2L of Pepsi Max I was drinking most days!

    Second point: I have heard it said (can’t find it right now, but I think on Robb Wolf’s site?) that Vit D SHOULD be taken at night, because the sunshine will enable production of the various precursors but actually, your natural peak for Vit D concentration would be later in the evening as you process the day’s sunshine, not immediately at the point you’re catching rays. I don’t know enough to confirm or refute this, just food for thought.

    Tom wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Agree….I have never had insomnia from Vitamin D at night, but have had plenty from crashing my sugars. (diabetic) The resulting cortisol/adrenalin used to keep me up for about 2 hours at about 2 a.m. Now, on low carb Primal style and lovin’ life! Sleep a beautiful 8 hours without a hitch. Must work on bedtime ritual now….

      Suze wrote on November 14th, 2012
  22. Why has no one stated the most obvious sleep enhancer? I have found that making love at bedtime totally relaxes me and leads to a deep and satisfying sleep for both partners. It’s a great way to end your day and transition into sleep mode.

    Gary Liss wrote on November 14th, 2012
  23. The article comments on night-time vitamin D as being a culprit in sleeplessness, but actually all vitamins should be avoided before bedtime. B-complex vitamins in particular can give you a second wind that will keep you wide-eyed until the wee hours.

    I used to be a shiftworker. This resulted in such bad chronic insomnia that I had to take melatonin every night for several years in order to get enough sleep to be able to function. Even after leaving that unhealthy situation, it took over a year to get my sleep pattern normalized.

    What worked for me is an early dinner, around 5:30 or 6 pm. After that I don’t put anything in my stomach other than a sip or two of water. No snacks, no cal/mag, no nothing. I try to go to bed at the same time every night, and I don’t read or watch TV in bed. For me this ritual sameness night after night was really important in banishing the insomnia problem. It has since become so ingrained that sometimes I don’t even remember brushing my teeth or getting in bed and pulling up the covers. As for other bedroom activities, my spouse and I have always been morning people, so it all works out.

    Shary wrote on November 14th, 2012
  24. I just turned 50 and can remember having insomnia as a child. I would stare at the 1960’s illuminated clock radio dial. Ultimately I started listening to music. I had a medical problem that caused me to sleep too deeply and doctors told my parents to wake me in the middle of the night when I was 8. My circadian rhythm has never been normal since. No matter where I have lived in the world I have always been on California time – I live in Florida. Many doctors have tried and failed to understand why I never adjust to time changes or why I only sleep in 2-3 hour increments. I am a mother to 5 children for 30 years – so isn’t it obvious?

    Kari wrote on November 14th, 2012
  25. Two weeks ago I started doing cold thermogenesis daily instead of 3 times per week and as a result my sleep is fantastic.

    Peter wrote on November 14th, 2012
  26. Oh yes and I developed fibromyalgia when pregnant with my 5th child which is known to have the insomnia element. Never wake a sleeping child (unless they have a concussion. For me it set up a lifelong sleep disorder and now a chronic pain disorder.

    Kari wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Have you heard of Emotional Freedom Technique? (EFT) It rewires your brain. People have had amazing results with it. I think there is a site, otherwise just goggle it, it is practiced all over the world.

      Karin from LA wrote on November 15th, 2012
  27. We find that a long hot soak (in the ourside, wood fired, bath with 400 grams of magnesium chloride (about .02M/L). Very soporific.

    kem wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Wow! You are lucky to have an outside tub! I lay in bed at night with a hot pack on my neck (as directed by my massage therapist). It makes me feel warm and cozy and helps me get to sleep.

      Hilary wrote on November 14th, 2012
      • I spend far too much time on the business end of chainsaws for an old man. We have endless trees to heat the house and bath… and I deserve those soaks. Very nice on a starry night, clouds of Magellan, Southern Cross and a big glass of red wine.

        kem wrote on November 14th, 2012
        • Sweeet.

          Madama Butterfry wrote on November 15th, 2012
  28. What about us that have young children that still wake up through the night??? I’m a breastfeeding mom and my 17 month old child still wakes up twice per night on a good night, and 3-4 times on rough nights to nurse. We co-sleep most nights but I still get interrupted sleep.

    Julie wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • At some point, you just put your head down and get through it. I have a 3-year-old with a history of nighttime seizures. He wakes up multiple times a night and I respond. (Do a google search of SUDEP and you’ll see why I won’t risk ignoring him!) If he goes back to sleep easily, then I go back to my own bed. If he doesn’t, I stay with him in his bed. I’ve had a few nights of uninterrupted sleep here and there in the last three years, but no more than a month all together. A few things that helped me were no caffeine after 2 p.m., minimal alcohol, strict paleo, consistent exercise (CrossFit), and, when things got really bad, going to bed at the same time. It can be awful. My husband steps in when he can, but after a year and a half of nursing, little guy isn’t really interested in having daddy help with the night shift. If you haven’t read “The No Cry Sleep Solution,” I’d highly recommend it. She’s got a ton of suggestions for nudging kids gently toward better sleep. Several of her suggestions worked really well with my older son, now 7. He really struggled with staying asleep and she covered a lot of territory between putting up with it and letting him cry. Hang in there!! You’re in the worst of it now!

      Shannon wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • My husband and I had a deal when the kids were babies that he would do the 10pm to 2am shift, I would do the rest of the night. I was able to pump enough milk during the day so that he could give bottles once or twice a night. The rest of the time I breastfed. Both of us found that getting four uninterrupted hours of sleep made a huge difference in our ability to function. Also, we still trade sleep-in days each weekend even though the kids are nearly 5 and 8. Really catching up on sleep once a week is so restorative.

      Allison wrote on November 14th, 2012
  29. What happens with the breastfeeding mom? I heard on a podcast by Underground Wellness called Get Sleep that there are special hormones in a new mom that allow her to get broken sleep to be able to care for her child. I’d love to know more on this topic in regards to parents, children and breastfeeding and getting sleep. I have two boys who are good sleepers. They go to bed by 7:30pm and wake up for the day 11 to 12 hour later. It’s all the night wakings that kill me. The 5 month old who breastfeeds gets up multiple times in the night because he’s wet and consequently also needs to eat because the breastmilk is metabolized so fast. Getting back to sleep is really hard for me if I wake after 3am. Is there science behind this that can help?

    We don’t cosleep because the baby is a really loud sleeper (sighs, groans, etc) and generates too much heat to sleep next to.

    Jana wrote on November 14th, 2012
  30. Deborah, I’m right there with you! I hadn’t thought that with 2-3 power surges in the night I might be a fortunate one! :)

    greenruby wrote on November 14th, 2012
  31. Great article mark but i have a question to ask if i may? What is the primal position on napping during the day?

    Leo wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • Napping after lunch or during the heat of the day is common in equatorial mammals, humans included. It improves mood, lowers stress, and improves your decision making through the rest of the day. If you need a REM cycle in the middle of the day you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, but there is nothing wrong with a 15-30 minute power-nap during the day.

      Charles wrote on November 14th, 2012
  32. OR you have two young kids who wake you up on occasion throughout the night…

    Jenn wrote on November 14th, 2012
  33. I wonder about native peoples such as the Inuit that live near the north pole and experience either very long days or nights, depending on the season.

    Maxmilliana wrote on November 14th, 2012
  34. I haven’t slept through a whole night–7 to 8 hours–since I can’t remember. But it seems to be a family thing. My sister is the same way as is my older brother. I fall asleep easily and quickly, wake up 2 to 3 hours later, go back to sleep, wake up 2 hours later. Then I have a harder time going baack to sleep. After 3 or 4 hours sleep it takes me an hour or more to go back to sleep sometimes. I’m new to primal but it does seem if I eat carbs, especially the naughty kind, an hour or so before bedtime (between 8:30 and 9) that I sleep longer, like 4 to 5 hours before waking up.

    I don’t use blackout curtains–kind of hard to get that fresh night breeze in the room that way. Grok and family probably had firelight/glowing embers, starlight and moonlight to deal with. And from the slight amount of research I’ve done, I don’t think that paleo man (and woman) died betweent the ages of 30 and 40.

    I once did some research on the longevity of famous people from the 1600’s through the early 1800’s and found that quite a few of them lived well into their 70’s and 80’s. No antibiotics, no modern medicines, no central head and air, etc. But also, not modern processed foods and no modern lighting or TV, ergo, probably more sleep.

    Oh well, I’m 65. If my sleep patterns shorten my life, maybe I’ll only live to be 82 instead of 85.

    D. M. Mitchell wrote on November 14th, 2012
  35. Maybe the reasons aren’t physical at all: I went through several years of very, very poor sleep. In fact, it got so bad I had suicidal thoughts. Slowly it began to dawn on me that I couldn’t have one way of being all during the day then expect to have a good night’s sleep. I started to train myself to be during the day the kind of person who could have a good night’s sleep. I stopped the worrying, the hustle, the aggressiveness. I began to practice forgiveness, meditation and visualization and my sleep changed for the better. Then I left my job and moved to another area. And my sleep improved even more. As the years went by I worked on myself more and more and my old self was slowly left behind and now I always sleep like a baby.

    My message is: don’t be so quick to think EVERYTHING is a matter of food or physical environment. It’s not.

    Kayu wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • That’s a very prescient thought. I’m going to tuck that away to ruminate on if I have trouble sleeping, thanks!

      Scratch wrote on November 14th, 2012
    • “to be during the day the kind of person who could have a good night’s sleep.” Those are words to live by. Thank you.

      Juli wrote on November 15th, 2012
  36. I always take D3 right before bed and have no problems with sleeping what so ever. either my bodies different or you guys are making D3 into a villain againts sleep for no reason.

    Wally wrote on November 14th, 2012
  37. Our new hot tub is salt water, same as swimming pool. 15 minutes of a 105 degree soak is like taking a heavy-duty sleeping pill. Also, take magnesium with dinner.

    Judy wrote on November 14th, 2012
  38. I’m 57. For most of my adult life, I’ve slept poorly. Tried all of Mark’s suggestions and more. But for the past 2 months, I’ve been sleeping as well as I did when I was a kid.

    What made the difference?
    1) Becoming fat adapted, so I no longer wake up hungry in the middle of the night.
    2) 3000 mg glycine powder and 1 tablespoon gelatin, which I dissolve in warm bone broth and drink a half hour before bed.

    For the first time in my adult life, I’m able to keep a regular sleep schedule (10pm to 5:30am) and am not sleepy during the day. On occasion, evening activities keep me up a bit late, but I sleep so well that I easily get by on 6-6.5 hours of sleep.

    deannakate wrote on November 14th, 2012

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