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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 06 2013

How to Manufacture the Best Night of Sleep in Your Life

By Mark Sisson
124 Comments

SleepAh, sleep: is there anything quite like it? So easily discarded and discounted when nighttime attractions present themselves and yet so dearly missed and pined after the next morning. You’ve heard me say it enough, so I’ll keep it short. A good night’s sleep is the foundation for a healthy, happy, productive existence. Good sleep keeps us lean and thinking clearly. And without good, regular sleep, we just go through life in a scattered daze, everything foggy, slightly confusing, and less enjoyable. We’re not really ourselves if we haven’t slept. We desperately need a good night’s sleep, every night.

So how do you get one? What would a day of optimal sleep promotion look like?

Let’s start from the beginning. Let’s start with the morning.

Early Morning

Use a dawn simulator alarm clock. These are alarms with lamps that slowly and gradually brighten as your wake time approaches. It’s not the same as having the majestic sunrise beam into your room and very soul, but these contraptions have been shown to improve sleep quality. Another advantage: waking up won’t be so jarring.

When you wake up, get up. Do not hit snooze, sleep for five minutes, hit it again, sleep for five more, and keep doing that until you can will yourself to rise and stumble off to begin your day. You may think you’re effectively chipping away at sleep debt with those little bits and pieces of “sleep,” but you’re really just fragmenting your sleep (PDF), which leads to “sleepiness-related daytime impairment,” compulsory afternoon caffeine infusions, and less productivity. If you hit snooze today, you’ll probably end up sleeping badly enough to have to hit it again tomorrow.

Upon getting up, you expose yourself to bright light. Ideally, this is the sun. If it’s still dark out, you can use the brightest artificial light you have. 10,000 lux lamps are best (and in fact are used to effectively treat Seasonal Affective Disorder), but anything is better than no light at all. Our bodies, brains, and biological clocks expect bright light during the day, and meeting those expectations has been shown to improve sleep (as well as alertness and productivity during the day), even if the light is artificial.

Before “the day” starts, you get some physical activity. Go for a short walk (great way to get some light, too!) with the dog, do a light stretching or movement routine for five minutes, have sex, dance to your morning playlist as you get ready for work, roughhouse with your kids, swing a light kettlebell for a few minutes, read your email on the treadmill, ride your bike around the block, whatever. You don’t even have to work up a sweat or anything if you don’t want to. Just move a little. There’s some evidence (albeit uneven) that morning activity can improve sleep later on that night.

Brew your coffee, tea, or legal stimulant-containing beverage now if you’re going to have any today. Caffeine has a half life of up to six hours, so having that Americano after lunch could disrupt your sleep tonight.

If you eat breakfast, eat a good portion of animal. Meat (and not just turkey) is a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, and high-tryptophan breakfasts have been shown to improve sleep quality. Steak, eggs, and whey protein, anyone?

If you don’t typically eat breakfast, you probably don’t need to start. Intermittent fasting can also improve sleep. If your sleep is suffering, you might want to try the meat breakfast, though.

Mid-Morning

Work hard, be proactive, and stay focused. Getting as much work done as you can before noon will take the mental load off the rest of your day, allowing you to relax a bit. Procrastination will only make you stressed out, and stress is the enemy of good sleep.

While you’re working, take a minute to install f.lux on your computer. F.lux is a free program that changes your computer’s color spectrum automatically according to the time of day. When it’s dark out, an f.lux-enabled computer gives off very little sleep-disrupting blue light.

Last call for caffeine. If you do go for coffee, grab a cup of good green tea to go with it; green tea contains L-theanine, which can partially counteract the sleep disturbances caused by caffeine. Primal Calm also contains L-theanine, as well as other stress-modulating ingredients, so that’s another option.

Midday

Sometime after lunch, meditate for twenty minutes. Several studies have shown that meditation practice can improve sleep, including cyclic meditation (a kind of yoga-meditation fusion) and mindfulness meditation. There’s even evidence that meditation can decrease the amount of sleep you need to function.

When and if you nap, do it closer to midday than to your bedtime. A nap taken too close to nighttime can interfere with your sleep.

Go for a barefoot stroll in the grass, dirt, sand, or the natural surface of your choice. Even a quick walk on the lawn outside the office works. Though earthing is controversial, its proponents may be overstating its benefits, and the studies connecting it to better sleep may not be the best-designed, who doesn’t feel better and more relaxed after letting the leaves of grass trace their way between your toes, feeling the cool damp earth underneath, or tromping an uneven unsteady path through soft white sand? It certainly doesn’t hurt.

Early Evening

If you plan on drinking, do so around this time. Alcohol too close to bed – even just a couple glasses of wine – can impact sleep. You’ll sleep, but it’ll be poor quality sleep fraught with frequent disturbances. This validates both happy hours and day drinking, in a way.

Eat most of your carbs at dinner. A recent study showed that eating carbs, even high-glycemic ones, at the last meal shortened the sleep onset. In other words, packing your carbs into dinner can help you fall asleep faster.

Eat animal fat and/or olive oil at dinner (and lunch, and breakfast). Both animal fat like lard or beef fat and olive oil (or macadamia nuts, for that matter) are excellent sources of oleic acid, a precursor to the sleep-inducing oleamide.

Dim the lights when darkness falls. If it’s dark outside, your body needs to start winding down, and excessive artificial lighting will get in the way of that.

Turn off the screens an hour or two before bed. Smartphones, laptops, computers, TVs, tablets – they all emit melatonin-disrupting blue light directly into our staring, transfixed eyeballs. If you miss the entertainment factor, play board games. Heck, start a board game night and invite people over.

Use blue blocking goggles after dark. These, coupled with the f.lux you installed earlier, should block out the harmful blue light when you need (or “need”) to use electronics. I like this pair, while this pair fits over glasses.

Bedtime

Drink some bone broth, eat some gelatin, or take glycine. All of those things either contain or are glycine, an amino acid with sleep promoting effects.

Clear your mind. Meditation can work here, again, or you could make a to-do list for the following day so that you don’t lie awake obsessing over everything.

Rub your body down with magnesium oil or lotion. I go for the softest areas, like under my arms or along my rib cage. If it stings, you know it’s working. Bonus: it gives you (or me, at least) really cool, really vivid dreams. Some people are paradoxical responders who actually sleep worse on this stuff, just so you’re aware.

Read some dense fiction in bed, in actual physical book form (nothing against ebooks at any other time, but they represent a light source that can disrupt sleep). Don’t read easily digestible stuff like an old John le Carre spy novel. Instead, go for something like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian that has you parsing paragraph-long sentences. Great book, but you’ll be asleep in no time.

Eliminate, remove, or cover up any sources of light in your bedroom, even the tiny blinking ones. Black-out blinds over your windows, duct tape over your blinking lights, and towels under doors may be warranted to achieve true darkness.

Use white/brown noise or nature sounds before bed. Falling rain is a good sound to fall asleep to, as are the somewhat haunting but eerily beautiful whale songs.

Guided meditation can help you get to sleep. Search iTunes for “guided meditation” and a bunch of podcasts will pop up. Just don your blue blocking goggles before using your phone to play one.

Take a tablespoon of honey, preferably raw, right before bed. Seth Roberts has shown through rigorous self-experimentation how it might very well improve sleep, perhaps by keeping liver glycogen full.

Middle of the Night

Improve your aim and reduce your reliance on lights. If you get up in the night to urinate, don’t flip on every light as you pass them. Most people can adjust to the darkness if they let themselves.

Don’t check your email just because you woke up. It’s not that important (if it were, they’d call), and whatever you read is only going to keep you up. Also, blue light!

General Advice

Make sure to eat enough salt throughout the day, since a depletion of bodily sodium stores can trigger overtraining-like symptoms, raise blood pressure, and impair the quality of your sleep. I won’t give an absolute amount, because that will differ based on size, activity level, stress, and many other factors. Just salt your food until it tastes good. So much for total salt avoidance, eh?

Exercise regularly. Regular exercisers report getting better sleep than people who don’t exercise at all, even on the same number of hours. In people with sleep disorders like insomnia, exercise can make things worse in the short term or have no effect at all. Working out once probably won’t help once. It’s over the long term (4 months) that exercise can improve sleep quality in insomnia patients. Exercise also increases sleep quality in sleep apnea patients.

Exercising at night is generally fine. Get it in whenever you can fit it. However, really intense pulse-pounding glycolytic work an hour before bed (like Crossfit or HIIT) might impact your sleep onset, simply because your cortisol is momentarily elevated. Proper cool downs should help get you back to baseline, as should food and a cold shower.

Align your life schedule with your chronotype. This isn’t possible for everyone to do perfectly – we all have to pay the bills, and that often means working on someone else’s schedule – but even small strides in the general direction of our genetic chronotype can help.

Obviously, not everyone needs to do or try every suggestion on here. I just combed through the research and put everything out on the table so you could pick and choose and experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. We’re all different.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know what works for you and what does not work. I can always use better sleep, so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for new tips.

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124 thoughts on “How to Manufacture the Best Night of Sleep in Your Life”

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  1. Good article.
    Just one note: I think you are referring to brownian noise, not white noise (which is quite disturbing).

    1. I think Mark actually means white noise, which masks background sounds. There are lots of “white noise” machines on the market, and although I’ve never tried one, they seem to work.

      1. Technically, the white noise is the harsh noise heard when the television is receiving random signals and is showing “snow”. I challange anybody to relax with it.

        I know that in general speech white noise is the waterfall, the wind, etc. but from a physical point of view they are called brown (or more correctly brownian) noises. The physical equation of the sound itself is different. And yes, *that* is relaxing, I used to generate my own brown noise tapes 20 years ago.

        1. Actually, I sleep every night to the sound of static on the radio. It’s not my first choice, though, but it works fine. I’d prefer a waterfall.

        2. Close, but not quite. White noise is defined by having a flat frequency spectrum, meaning it contains the entire range of audible sound frequencies – akin to how white light contains the entire range of visible light frequencies. Something like a waterfall or the wind would not be white noise, though they may sometimes be close. You are correct that a waterfall would be a natural source of brownian noise (defined as noise produced by brownian motion).

    2. He definitely means white noise. I use it before bed and find it very very sleep inducing!

      1. Definitely. I’ve used a TV’s white noise (way back in the days of Cathode Ray Tubes) to fall asleep in the past. It was my stand in for falling rain.

        It’s not relaxing so much as it’s random, meaningless and doesn’t leave you in that vacuum of sound where every little noise variations catch your awareness. Granted, the light itself is annoying, so a recording or an alternative will always be better.

  2. Oh this article comes at a great time! I recently discovered that I have Epstein-Barr and one of the side effects is insomnia. So it’s pretty imperative I get good quality sleep if I am to get better.

  3. Good Aricle, but i cant see the sense behind making everything completely dark by closing the blindd of the window, since Grok must have been exposed to moonlight at night too, didnt he?
    (Yeah, of course you have to check if any street light falls into your room, but ive bern sleeping with moonlight shining into my room recently, and ive noticed i get up more easily in the morning this way( although falling asleep is harder this way, but may be just due to lacking habituation if sleeping with moonlight…
    Your opinion, Mark?

    1. Perhaps Grok slept in a cave or some form of teepee that blocked the light from the moon.
      Prior to getting my black out shades, I was often woken by moonlight.
      I’ve taped over any light source I cannot shut off at night (the little green lights on my smoke detectors, etc).
      I am so pleased with my dark room now and do sleep better – well, I wake less often in the night – I’ve never had much of a problem falling to sleep).
      I had to pay extra to get my black out shades to operate via remote and at the time I questioned if it was worth it. I do not regret my decision at all. I love sleeping until my body wakes naturally and then being able to open the shades before I get out of bed.

    2. I had the same thought — while I know TV isn’t exactly the be-all and end-all of Grok knowledge, the few shows I’ve seen about modern-day hunter-gatherer and herder-gatherer tribes all indicate that they sleep in shelters. Campers and backpackers sleep in tents or under lean-tos and whatnot, so I actually imagine Grok didn’t get that much exposure to moonlight when sleeping. I’m curious about anyone else’s thoughts, too.

      1. Tents let in a lot of light…

        But surely it’s not natural to sleep in pitch darkness? If one of the tips here is to buy a lamp that simulates sunrise, why not sleep with the blinds open in the first place? Unless there is a streetlamp shining in your face, of course.

        I find sleeping in pitch darkness very disorientating. I can’t tell what time it is when I wake up, and I tend to sleep too long, which leads to feeling groggy the next day. Also in a blacked-out room, those little bits of light are more obvious.

  4. Men can sit, you know. And some do so they don’t have to turn on the light.

  5. don’t agree 100% but i do agree on some tips
    the tips that will naturally lower stress

      1. Pretty sure it is there almost at the beginning of the article… in the Before “the day” starts, you get some physical activity section.

        Anyways, I would assume that this is a given… sex is good for sleep and for other things… does it really need to be said out loud?

  6. Thanks for all the tips. Magnesium in the evenings has really helped my quality of sleep.

    Unfortunately for me is that I have 3 kids under 4 who still haven’t bought in to the idea that staying asleep all night is a good thing…

    1. I was about to say something about Magnesium Supplemntation also. I read about the benefits at Evolutionary Psychology and ordered some, which should arrive tomorrow. Thanks Amazon! I tend to fall asleep without problems but I will usually wake up, wide awake, after 3-4 hrs. Then spend an hour trying to relax my mind to fall back asleep for another 2-3 hrs. Then to wake at my “normal time” feeling like crap. My hope is that I have a deficiency in Mg and that supplementation will take care of it.

      1. This is my problem, too! I go to sleep without much trouble, waken around 2 and lie awake until 4 or 5, then fall asleep for an hour and wake up exhausted. So it could be something as simple as Magnesium deficiency?

        I’ll have to look into a supplement without added vitamin D — just getting over a really bad reaction to D supplements, where I even had to avoid sunshine for days.

    2. Magnesium supplements have helped me hugely too. I take a couple throughout the day, and then two about twenty minutes before I go to bed, and I have the most amazing, deep sleep. I also have wonderful dreams when I take them, which last until I wake up. I am a life-long insomniac and also have two small children, so the magnesium was a huge breakthrough for me.

  7. Even though we live in the country, there is a yard light out by the barn. So it shines all around the house and yard. I have to use black out curtain to get darkness in my bed room. Once I started using them I sleep much better. I get up when it is light out side, so in the winter it is latter in the day.
    Seems to work most of the time.

  8. Will combining magnesium oil with a chapter of Blood Meridian promote vivid nightmares?? Blood Meridian alonewas pretty effective at that.

  9. I stopped reading after “have sex,” figured I would just start with that one first. Don’t wanna take on too much at once!

    On a serious note, great list. I’ve been using F.lux sense you first mentioned it and now it even cues me to wind down when at night I can see it shift color tones. Beyond the light blocker it’s a subtle reminder. Il tell all my busy clients to use it!

  10. I recently had some difficulties staying asleep (waking up after three or four hours in the middle of the night) the past few weeks. Incorporating “night-time” yoga sequences – light, slow movements and stretches – close to bedtime has helped a lot in keeping me asleep for longer periods of time.

  11. Thanks for the article, I’ve been trying to improve my sleep for months but my body is not having it. On only 1 cup of coffee per morning (I’m a writer and I simply refuse to give it up) I’m waking up consistently after 7 hours of sleep (if I’m lucky. 5 or 6 if I’m not). I think the sleeplessness is also part of the reason I’ve had trouble breaking through the belly fat. I’ve implemented many of these suggestions but see some new ones to try–maybe bone broth before bed. Thanks!

    1. Wow. Seven uninterrupted hours of sleep? Even six–that would be an awesome night. I have been working on trying to figure out what the problem/solution is, and I found that eating dinner too close to bedtime keeps me restless all night. I’m definately trying the mag lotion.

  12. How about sex? Seems like that would be a natural and zesty way to relax and wind down from a frazzled day. More fun than CrossFit too.

    1. If you think sex is more fun than crossfit then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough in your crossfit work outs. Go hard or go home dude!

  13. For the record, ereaders emit NO LIGHT at all. E-ink works a lot like one of those old etch-a-sketch doodlers. So, use your ereader all you want! It’s really just like using a paper book.

    Tablets and phones, on the other hand, are backlit and should be avoided.

    1. The (very popular) Kindle Paperwhite is backlit, unfortunately. When it came out I was very sad that so many MORE people would be reading in bed with a lit screen….

      1. It is but it is also optional – you can turn it off and it becomes like a normal kindle.

        1. Actually, the Kindle Paperwhite is front-lit, not backlit. The light is not pointing at your face, but at the “page.” That is an important difference from tablets, laptops, etc. However, if you’re still concerned, it’s important to know that the Kobo and Nook equivalents (also front-lit) let you turn the light all the way off, but the Kindle does not. Turn the Kindle to its lowest setting in a dark room, and it is still being lit.

        2. Anyone have any experience with the bluelight screen protectors for tablets? I received a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas; nice gift but my sleep is suffering, even on the lowest setting.

  14. Valarian Root has been very helpful for staying asleep. I have been trying it for a week or so, and have slept through to morning each night. The pills (500mg) smell just awful, but I have not noticed any negative effects so far.

    1. Valerian root gave me intense vivid dreams, sometimes too nightmarish. I don’t take it anymore.

  15. A teaspoon of raw honey and a tablespoon of coconut oil right before bed and I sleep like log.

  16. Ive been using Epsom salts as a morning shower exfoliating rub (when I dont have time for a soak in the tub with it), which helps not only my “colon-action” but also my general sleep. You didnt mention melatonin in your list, but I take a little each night during my wind down, and find that very helpful as well.

    Vero

    1. Whoa! Brilliant idea. I have been putting off my epsom baths, takes too long. How do you apply it? Just grab a handful and rub?

    1. Haha, sure thing, if you’re getting a good night’s sleep! We may be a fortunate minority who get good sleep easily.

  17. I find that tryptophan before bed works wonders. Fall asleep easily and stay asleep all night if I do that.

  18. I find that high-energy workouts keep me awake until 3 am. Is there something I’m not doing right here? Workouts at night would be more ideal based on my schedule although I prefer the mornings, but I’ve avoided it because it keeps me awake for hours after.

    Think: a 7 pm class and I’m still going at 3:30 am.

    1. Awesome tip, thank you so much! Just installed it on the phone and will be installing it on the tablet tonight.

  19. I don’t remember where I read this, but apparently we aren’t “wired” to sleep for 8 hours straight, but rather two stretches of about 4 hours. There seems to be evidence that in the middle ages, people would wake up in the middle of the night and tell each other about their dreams, or meditate/pray, read, have sex etc. and then go back to sleep. The two halves were called first and second sleep and were apparently of a different quality (dream-wise, for example).
    A lot of people wake up somewhere halfway through the night and then worry so much about having woken up that they can’t get back to sleep. Maybe realising that waking up once or twice is completely normal and healthy could help to de-stress the whole situation and fall back asleep more easily.

    1. Mark mentioned this in an article a few months back or so. I’ll see if I can find a link.

    2. I think it’s called bi-phasic sleep and Mark wrote about it previously.

  20. Is magnesium oil any different/better than magnesium pills? I’ve been taking magnesium glycinate before bed, and haven’t noticed any difference in my sleep quality.

    1. They both have magnesium. Biggest difference is that taking magnesium internally may wreck havoc on your gut, leading to multiple trips to the bathroom.

      The oil/lotion or epsom salt/magnesium chloride bath is absorbed through the skin. I use a home made version of the oil (recipe found on Wellness Mama’s website) and spray it on my neck and back.

      One note if you have long hair – getting the oil on the hair causes lots of tangles. Put the mane up and let the oil dry/absorb first, or put a shirt on to protect it.

  21. I raise show chickens. There are always at least a dozen roosters within 20 feet of my bedroom window. I can easily fall asleep anywhere and stay asleep all night because, I think, I have become immune to distractions. Instead of stressing over providing the perfect conditions, I just get in bed and sleep. I have traveled with people who obsess over every little noise and bothersome thing, like the princess and the pea, and seem proud of being tired all the time. Sometimes you just need to tweak your mind. Life doesn’t need to be sterile and perfect just so you can do something basic, like sleep. There’s one organic sleep inducer I didn’t see on this list – a cat. A purring cat on my pillow puts me right to sleep.

    1. Unfortunately some of us can’t sleep through noise disturbances no matter how hard we try. I’m awakened by the slightest sounds at times and it’s very frustrating. I have a huge bottle of very uncomfortable ear plugs that I have on hand no matter where I’m sleeping, just in case.

      1. This is just my very humble opinion, but I think that younger women are really in tune to just about any noise at night or when sleeping because we either have kids (ie: babies) or will probably have kids soon some day.

        When I was younger, I would wake up at the very slightest sound – even if it was just the cat clawing on an area rug 3 rooms away.

        Today, at age 69, I don’t hear squat anymore when sleeping, and my hearing is still very good, thank you. I don’t hear the phone, I don’t hear the rain beating on the roof, I don’t hear the thunder from a storm unless the storm is right on top of the house. So i really tend to think that our basic biology is definitely in play here.

        Case in point: a few years ago when I was babysitting my infant grand daughter over night, I heard every sigh, roll-over and grunt (indicating a possible dirty diaper) as I had her crib in my bedroom. This grandma was awake at the slightest sound. After i quit babysitting her overnight, I was back to my old self and sleeping like a rock.

        Maybe it’s one of those “chick” things!

        1. Amusingly, my wife has programed herself to wake up to anything that might be related to sounds our boys make. The alarm takes forever to wake her. Every sound wakes me.

    2. Show chickens? There are chicken shows? I once attended a cat show and was pretty disturbed by the kinds of people involved in that world (just a very odd group, as you might imagine). What is involved in a chicken show? I may lose sleep until I learn more…

      1. Chicken shows are low key in comparison to dog and cat shows. Birds are judged by the standards published by the American Poultry Association or Bantam Association for each of more than 300 breeds. You can clean up your bird (I wash mine in the kitchen sink and dry it with a hair dryer), take it to the show in a cardboard box, put it in the show cage next to other birds of the same breed, then visit with the other exhibitors for the rest of the day while the birds are being judged. There’s seldom any money involved, entry fees cover the show expenses and pay for the judges. There are shows all over the U.S. that will have at least 1000 entries. A national show can have as many as 10,000. It’s a fun hobby for a limited budget.

  22. I’ve been struggling with insomnia on and off for the last 2 years, but lately it’s gotten worse. I’m really stressed right now, and it’s impacting my weight and psoriasis in a negative way. I’ve been using Melatonin and Valerian drops, but lately those don’t do a thing for me. I’ll definitely give the raw honey and magnesium oil a try… Thanks for the tips Mark!

  23. One clarification: if you use a Kindle reader for your ebooks (vs. a tablet) you don’t have to worry about the light source.

  24. I have tried green tea and Great Lake gelatin to improve my sleep, but both cause me to have very vivid unpleasant dreams that make sleeping impossible. Anyone with a suggestion of where to look for a possible reason please tell me.

  25. One more suggestion to help sleep. Make sure you have a B12 level above 650 on a lab test. (If you take, B12 lab test are unreliable) Leg cramps ruined my sleep most nights until I started taking B12 shots every two weeks.

  26. Tip!

    Highly recommend ‘Cobra pose’ as your first morning stretch.

    It does so much for your whole body. After doing a cobra pose, I have so much energy and alertness.

    I find with other yoga poses they either make me too relaxed or are too hard to get into cause they require the body to be vigorously warmed up.

    Search cobra pose in Google image search to see how the pose looks like.

  27. I have had chronic & debilitating insomnia for 30 years. I’ve tried everything. I get a lot of exercise, eat well, dont drink, have a regular sleep wake pattern, and yet most nights I get little to NO sleep at all.Im starting to think it may be a food intolerance issue, but dont know what. For last three weeks have eliminated wheat & most gluten products. No help. Recently seen a correlation of histamine & insomnia. Means cutting out tomatoes, spinach, vinegar. So after cutting out wheat based products & these I dont know what (or what not) to eat. And I still cant sleep. Freakin nightmare (no pun intended). Any suggestions, beyond the conventional, would be welcome.

    1. I haven’t heard any mention of GABA. I have had insomnia for many years also and now take ambien for sleep. I stumbled onto a product called RelaxAll with phenibut. Google it. It works!!

    2. There is research showing that many of us have “hyper-arousal” of the nervous system, which is not as fun as it sounds. Basically, we can’t switch off despite doing everything right. It is true to say that I am an anxious sort of person, lean with a quick metabolism (I think). My life is otherwise delightfully stress-free now, but temperamentally I’m anxious, as are my sisters and were my parents. I’ve had insomnia for 15 years now and tried everything. Recently tried playing pink noise at night. It ended up just being really annoying.
      You are not alone. You might find this article interesting: http://www.wired.com/2011/03/alpha-wave-sleep/

  28. Aww those dawn simulating alarm clocks are amazing! Mine wakes me up every morning at 6am with warm light and singing birds. I’m always shocked for a second, thinking I must have slept in, cause it feels like I just woke up naturally. Then I check the clock: it says 6am and it never fails to make me giggle. Great way to start the day!

    1. I love my sunlight clock! I use a Phillips Light Therapy wake-up light. My favorite part is that the alarm is chirping birds, but it has several different kinds of birds to choose from. When I got it for Christmas, I just set it to the first chirping birds option, which sound just like the birds outside. Then spring came, and the birds started arriving, and my clock sounded SO MUCH like the real outdoor birds that every time a bird chirped, I would wake up, even if it was 5:17am. I had to change it to the cuckoo so I knew which bird chirp was the alarm and which bird chirp was the clock!

      I prefer the ridiculously natural bird chirps. Makes me smile every time!

      1. I love the idea of this (though not the price, and several reviewers seem to have had problems with the light conking out), but this article has me thinking in exactly the same way as several others of Mark’s (though I love them). Many, or most, or the articles come off as being targeted at individuals. That’s why I love the posts that mention or incorporate spouses/significant others/relatives/kids/etc. I wake up sometimes more than an hour before the other members of my family. Are there suggestions for those of us who don’t wake up the same time as others in the room?

  29. The lymphatic system is a circulatory system that runs through the body carrying lymph and waste for filtering and elimination. However, it does not have a main “pump” like the blood’s circulatory system has the heart. Muscular action is what pumps lymph. If a person does not get enough exercise (or just plain movement) during the day not enough pumping action occurs.

    This results in you feeling “antsy” during the night and unable to sleep. (your body is trying to rid itself of toxic buildup, the biproducts of metabolism)

    Sometimes you can do a quick fix… get up and do stretches and anaerobic exercises. Don’t be shy about this. Do a thorough job, working from one end of your body to the other. Use your hands to massage yourself as well, gently squeezing and moving the blood in, and interstitial fluids around, your muscles.

    If you pay attention, you can actually FEEL blood, interstitial fluid and lymph flow when you squeeze muscles and lymph nodes. And actually, YAWNING is part of this process of squeezing the lymph nodes at your neck. People have always wondered why they yawn… it’s no secret!

    While you are up, pee and have a bit of water to help flush your system.

    -Christopher Grove

  30. Great list Mark! F.lux is definitely a must-have on your computer. I often feel pretty wired after getting blasted by bright computer screens so having the dimmed tones helps…

    Also, I wonder if insulin somehow promotes sleep. The study showing that nighttime high GI meals (hefty insulin dose) improve sleep might suggest this. If you think about it evolutionarily, then it makes sense: you just found a rich source of carbohydrates (energy) so it would be prudent of your body to slow down a bit so that you don’t waste all that energy you just found. Interesting to think about!

  31. something that’s helped me:
    if an hour or so after waking I still feel tired, I go back to “sleep” for another 30 min. to an hour. I visualize myself doing something I love to do. this visualization practice brings on little micro-moments of REM which are incredibly refreshing. you can tell when it “works”…

  32. I would also like to add using the app – “Sleep Cycle” . The concept of the alarm is very good. It does not wakes you up at a set time. It will ask you a half hour duration between which you want to wake up – say 6:30 – 7 am. Then you put the phone under your pillow and by the movement of your body during the night it tracks which phase of the sleep are you in. During the given half hour time it will wait till the time you are in your lightest sleep (usually when you are dreaming) – then the alarm will go off.
    It also has swanky graphs etc using which you can track over time how many hours on an average you have been sleeping, quality of sleep (REM phase etc). Very good app and highly recommended.

  33. Interesting. A few things. I need my afternoon coffee. Coffee doesn’t seem to affect my sleep.

    I read books on my ipad so it doesn’t disturb my husband. I put it on the night time setting with a black background and white letters. That way I can read with the lights off. Or I read on my Nook, which needs a light source because it doesn’t have one of its own, just like a book.

  34. One of the most missed sleep disrupters is that most people sleep too hot. You might go to bed feeling snug and warm but during the night the sheet covers and clothing you thought were adequate as you fell asleep are too warm and may wake you or cause disrupted sleep, leaving you feeling groggy in the morning.

  35. Some great tips there and must say I do feel like I’m affected by SAD and this post has just about put me over the edge and swayed me to get a sun lamp clock. Especially @Jess glowing endorsement.

    Just need to run the morning sex and steak for breakfast tips past my wife!!!

  36. As a bibliophile I take offense (just a little) in the fact that everyone seems to suggest reading as a way to induce sleep. If I grab a good book at 8 pm, I will still be reading at 6 am, or whenever I finish said book (whatever happens first).

    Reading is fun, and fun does not make you go to sleep. 😀

  37. I used to just forget to go to bed. I would start doing something and wouldn’t realize that it was 2 am. I have an alarm set on my fitbit flex that will buzz at me at 11pm so that i can start the process of going to bed. It also monitors my sleep so that i can tell if it was a good night or not so i can look back to what I could have done differently yesterday. Eventually i will set the alarm at 10:30 and then 10.

    I am lucky at work that i can set my own hours. I usually wake up before my alarm in the morning, but it isn’t a big deal if i sleep in a little and go into work a little bit later, I just stay later or balance the time sometime over the week.

  38. It seems like Grok would occasionally pull some “all-nighters” (that is what I tell myself when I do) – I have been experimenting with 24-36 hrs on and 12-14 off. Since I do not have a regular 9-5 job anymore I am trying to be as productive as possible and this article is really bumming me out. Has Mark posted anything about “all-nighters”?

  39. I’ve been using Kavinace Ultra PM by Neuroscience for several months. It’s aminos, tryptophan and melatonin, and it’s been mostly fantastic in combination with a lot of the suggestions from Mark. It’s not cheap though. But when I try to skip a night I don’t sleep as well, so I’ll keep buying it. Melatonin alone didn’t do it for me. I used to wake at night to pee, often more than once and then couldn’t get back to sleep, but now I mostly go right back to sleep.

  40. Good article. I figure if it’s dark at 5:30pm I don’t bother turn the lights down, and just extend my ‘day’ to a more normal/comfortable 12 hr day. I don’t let winter get in the way of me enjoying life. 🙂

  41. I used to have chronic insomnia. Here are the only things that worked for me:

    a) EATING ENOUGH CALORIES. If ever I went below 2,600 per day, I wouldn’t sleep. Even now, if I skip meals too many days in a row, insomnia returns.

    b) EATING ENOUGH CARBS. Gelatin is all well and good. I like it. But the best sleep promoting foods for me are Ben & Jerry’s, white bread toast with jam, pudding, cheese and wheat crackers, cookies, rice, and muffins. (Basically, lots of those foods I always craved whenever I restricted my food intake.)

    c) EATING ENOUGH SALT. Got to have enough of this throughout the day, as Mark says.

    If I follow these rules, I sleep like a baby. And I don’t have to lie in bed awake waiting for it to happen, either. No matter what I’m doing in the evening, my body will let me know when it’s bedtime. I’ve had horrible insomnia for years and years on all kinds of diets, so being able to get sleepy is really, really awesome.

    1. P.S. I eat sugar like a maniac, but my bloodsugar is perfect. Just thought I’d point that out in case anyone speculates about the state of my sugars. I do not have diabetes or hypoglycemia or anything like that. 😛

      My insomnia was awful while low-carbing. So if any of you insomniacs on Paleo are low-carbing, perhaps you might look into the possibility that it’s exacerbating sleep issues.

      Maybe try some stewed fruit with honey in it, or creamed sweet potatoes with added sweetener. If you eat white potatoes, try salty oven fries. I know carbs are really limited for you folks, so it takes more effort. But I wholeheartedly offer the suggestion. Insomnia sucks!

      1. Key information concerning “perfect blood sugar levels while eating sugar like a maniac” can be found in Dr. David Perlmutter’s newly released book “Grain Brain”.
        Search term: fasting insulin level.
        Hope this proves helpful in your quest for long-term health!

  42. You didn’t mention the fresh air. I experimented with sleeping on the porch when I read about it here. Now I sleep there unless it’s very hot or under 10 degrees. The difference it made in my sleep and my attitude in the morning is AMAZING. Thanks!

    1. Hm! I don’t have a porch, but I think I’ll try leaving my window open even in the colder months. My mother used to be really big on leaving windows open, even when it was cold. Her folks came from Finland, where it’s freezing cold much of the year, but they left windows open to sleep. Mom grew up on a farm in Minnesota and she talked about getting up in a freezing house in the morning and all the kids rushing downstairs to the kitchen stove, the only source of heat in the house (besides the body heat they got by sharing beds with siblings).

  43. Great work pulling it all together Mark, this has always been a battle for me and it’s rare I find any new stuff.

    You gave me that + some stuff I ha forgotten about.

    Legend.

  44. In case no-one has mentioned this yet, there are studies suggesting that a two 4-hour “blocks” of sleep are beneficial to humans.

    When there was no artificial light (save from candles and oil-pits), people would often wake up after 4 hours of sleep, read a bit, or do some housework, and then go to bed again. I usually wake up around 3 or 4 in the morning, go to the bathroom and realize that I’m wide awake. Heck, it would be easier for me to get up at 4 in the morning than at 7! I do fall asleep half an hour or so after that, though.

    1. yeah, this is what I do. they found all these references in olden times diaries of people looking forward to their “2nd sleep” of the night. Better than lying there. I always have a “morning sleep” of short or long duration. I just need to get back to REM and I’m good to go…

  45. Great post. I’ve been using f.lux for a few months now. it is awesome. Shame I can’t use it on my iphone since upgrading to ios7 as its just a jailbreak app.

  46. I have restless leg syndrome and it can keep me awake for hours. Any tips people? Thanks in advance.

    xx

    1. Restless legs can be caused by deficiency in a number of electrolyte minerals. I get it occasionally, especially in the summer when I’m sweating a lot. My best solution? Blackstrap molasses is full of electrolyte minerals and for some reason, it works better than supplements. If my legs get restless, I take 2 tablespoons a day for a while. Normally, I take one a day.

  47. Dr. Stasha Gominak thinks you need to get your vitamin D level up to get that deep healing sleep (60-80 ng/ml?) (I know Paul Jaminet advises 40 ng/ml).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF24xmJQK1k

    Some other circadian rhythm triggers: lower temperature at night, not looking at faces or hearing voices, not eating in the middle of the night (I’m still trying to get used to it).

  48. I used to wake up 2-4 times/night and never slept deeply. Three things made the difference:
    1. blue blocking glasses (mentioned in article)
    2. glycine/gelatin (mentioned in article)
    3. ZINC SUPPLEMENTATION (not mentioned).

    Zinc helps your body to use the good stuff in gelatin. The gelatin worked well for a couple months for me and then I started waking up a lot again. Then I tested low in zinc and when I started taking it (and eating oysters), my great sleep returned. I now wake up once to relieve myself and go back to sleep immediately almost every night. Occasionally, I sleep completely through the night. And I sleep deeply.

  49. Great srticle. Thorough and entertaining as always. One other suggestion I would make is related to brainwave entrainment. I used to use white noise (as I live in a big city), but have found something that works better for me. The brain exhibits specific brainwave patterns during different activities. Beta waves dominate when we are concentrating, Alpha when we are relaxing, and so forth. Delta waves are associated with deep sleep. The brain will produce more delta waves when exposed to external stimuli that are operating on that frequency (typically light or sound). There are hundreds of recordings with all kinds of brainwaves embedded in the music or nature sounds. Isochronic tones (a fancy, cool-sounding word that just means the duration of the sound is equal to the duration of the space between the sounds) are the ones to use, as other kinds require headphones. Check out isochronic delta on Amazon or iTunes, and give it a shot. I am a believer. Caveat: we know with some certainty that listening to delta wave sounds increases delta activity in the brain. While there is a clear CORRELATION between sleep and delta activity in the brain, we don’t know that inducing delta wave activity CAUSES better sleep, or just causes something that happens to be a symptom of deep sleep.

  50. I’ve been living in New York for a year now, and have been ignoring the fact that I have not been sleeping in darkness: something that I had always insisted on. There is a building in front of my building with an office floor which never ever turns off its bright neon lights and has no blinds.
    It took its toll on me: mood, appetite and overall experience… I finally got blinds a couple of days ago (my brain has been so foggy it took me this long to realize what the problem was) and it’s much improved now, though light is still seeping from the sides!
    I hope someone learns from my experience especially if they live in a similar environment. I am dreaming of going somewhere where I can be barefoot in the sand and enjoy natural darkness, as was meant to be…

  51. You have no mention of temperature? Isn’t 64-68 degrees Fahrenheit the recommended sleeeping temp? Or is temp not really important and just go with a temp your normally comfortable with?

  52. Please explain the physiology behind your thought on decreased amts of sodium lead to high blood pressure…it seems as though renal output increases when sodium intake increases because your body needs to lower MAP by lower ECF volume…so how do low sodium levels increase BP???

  53. What type of high GI carb meals should someone who has chronic insomnia eat for dinner?

  54. You don’t have to ruin clocks or other light displays by covering them with duct tape. Black felt, available at any craft or fabric store, covers light displays effectively for cheap, and you only need a small piece of tape to hold it in place, or none at all if you drape felt over the item.

  55. All good stuff!! Not sure there is science to it but chewing some liquorice root after dinner helps me – perhaps the non-caffeinated metabolism boosting effect it can have!

  56. What about during and after menopause? My mom had GREAT sleeps before she went into menopause and now she never gets a good night sleep.

    I want to add that drinking a tbsp of apple cider vinegar with a pinch of baking soda before bed has helped me huge with my sleeping. Something to do with regulating PH levels I read.

    And also finding out if you have any underlying medical problems or nutritional deficiencies. I have anemia and when I’m not careful with my diet and slack on my iron supps my sleep goes to 0. For myself, I need my ferritin levels to be at least over 50-yet my doctor thinks 30 is ‘normal’. Sends me home with chunks of hair falling out of my head and no sleep. So look into that stuff too.

  57. This is all awesome and all, but what about those of us who have babies/young children who are frequent nightwakers? We co sleep so it’s less disruptive that it could be, but babies have a 45 minute sleep phase for a loooong time (and even older children still need the comfort of parents in the night at varying intervals) and I’ve had four of them in the last seven years – more than an hour’s uninterrupted sleep is a distant dream right now. Is there anything I can do to mitigate the effects of unavoidable interrupted sleep?

  58. A bit point I didn’t see listed was getting to bed before 10pm (or 11pm during Daylight Savings Time). I’ve read evidence — and have found it to be true myself — that if you are still awake after 10pm you body goes into a “second wind” which lasts until about 2am. In general, the earlier to bed, the better the sleep. One study showed that every hour of sleep before 12am is worth 2 hours of sleep after 12am. Makes sense, if you consider we evolved prior to artificial light.

  59. When I was a little gril, my grandfather an i would drink hot JELL-O at night. It almost scares me though ,becuz of the dye.

  60. What do I do if I wear a blindfold? A dawn simulator wouldn’t exactly work very well, but I can’t concentrate on falling asleep unless I’m wearing the blindfold. Interesting tidbit about the magnesium oil – will have to try it since I’m usually out – then up – without any notable dreams.

  61. Yikes…so did *not* know that about caffeine’s half life. Gonna stop drinking my mid-afternoon espresso.

  62. Does it matter how late you got to bed like 1:00 AM BUT getting a good 7 to 9 hours of deep sleep ?

  63. Waking in the night could be due to low blood sugar and/ or high cortisol. I have had both problems. I make sure I’m not hungry before bed by eating eg chia pudding or coconut oil snack about an hour before bed, with valerian tea (and maybe a Mg pill) then high dose vitamin C before sleep. Vitamin C is supposed to help regulate cortisol. It also helps cleanse the upper gut of any bad bugs.

  64. GELATIN. The key is the gelatin! Praised be Jesus Christ: after almost two years of suffering from chronic insomnia, I’ve been consistently having bone broth and now supplementing with Great Lakes gelatin, and my sleep is improving every night. It’s astounding that I slept for seven hours straight last night. I’m 21 years old (female) and I have not been able to figure out what abruptly caused this misery in my light, but finally I’m experiencing relief.

    Take it consistently and give it time.

  65. Mark – that’s a great article but one thing worrying me a lot: in a recent report, using high tech technology it was discovered that glycine can cause rapidly proliferating cancer cells to grow even faster. The faster growing cancers that were found to consume large quantities of glycine included ovarian, colon and melanoma cancers. Until this report is substantiated would you recommend not taking collagen supplements to aid with sleep.

  66. I’m still wary of the suggestion that reading a print book is less detrimental to sleep than reading an ebook reader.

    The amount of lamp light needed to read a print book is far greater than that produced by the backlight in a Kindle Paperwhite. The sheer amount of light is almost assuredly enough to counteract any additional detriment caused by the Kindle’s bluer light.

    Studies are clear: Phones and tablets are bad news, but ebooks are likely fine

    Yes, I would prefer it if the light from the Kindle Paperwhite was less blue. Maybe even a bit warm, but I’m not going to let that keep me up at night (get it?).

  67. I prefer a cold and hot shower just before sleep 🙂 This idea came from Mark as I do remember during one Mark’s interview Mark mention about getting into the pool then switch to hot jacuzzi! Feel really good after the cold and hot shower though! Thanks Mark! You have an inspiring Primal Lifestyle!

  68. Researching sleep here on MDA and just ran across this thread. The suggestion from Seth Roberts and linked background discussion on glycogen resonated for me, so I tried it. It just works terrific! Sleeping much deeper and more soundly and waking up highly refreshed. Don’t overlook this one if finding good sleep is problem for you.