The Definitive Guide to Sleep

Sleep Awareness Week (as sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation) technically ended March 13th, but somehow I’m guessing there are just as many sleep deprived folks milling about this week as there were a few days ago – just like our good reader Monday. Maybe a few of us feel better adjusted to the time change these days, but probably just as many stayed up late to watch the NCAA games this weekend. Or maybe it was a late St. Paddy’s Day party. Somehow it’s always somethin’, isn’t it?

Even if we’re good and diligent and never sacrifice sleep for entertainment purposes, life too often pokes holes in our most worthy intentions. Babies wake up in the middle of the night. Flights leave early. Deadlines, projects and bills keep us up later than we’d planned. Maybe we even burn the midnight oil to get a jump on the next morning’s tasks! Nighttime too often becomes a default slush fund for the day’s chores. Still others of us might deliberately stay up to bask (however groggily) in what seems like the only time we have to ourselves. The house is quiet, the kids/partner are asleep. The world is hushed, and the deep solitude is too much to resist.

But there’s always a price…. The next morning has us clutching our pillows in fervent denial. Cruel, callous and relentless as it is, the alarm tolls for thee and you’re suddenly reeling in regret. However much you enjoyed or appreciated the previous night’s extension, you now see the error of your ways. Your bed is suddenly the most wonderful, restful place in the world, and you couldn’t possibly tear yourself away. Snooze button it is.

When the necessities of life (or an incredible bracket-busting game) strike, it’s good to keep ye olde 80/20 Primal Principle in mind. Nonetheless, let’s give shut eye its due. I’ve done Definitive Guides on all manner of Primal priorities. It was high time, I thought, we offer the same deference to our non-waking Primal efforts.


The “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” overachiever mindset assumes our bodies aren’t doing anything useful when we’re buried beneath the covers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sleep is an incredibly active time for our bodies and brains when we undergo all manner of growth and repair processes through a dynamic biochemical orchestration. When we know the facts on sleep, we’re more likely to give it our full respect – and wholehearted Primal commitment. Let’s begin….

What’s Sleep Done For Me Lately?


A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.  ~Irish Proverb

Sleep is key, essential, absolutely downright necessary for our basic physiological operations – with special support for neurological performance, endocrine balance, immune system functioning, and musculoskeletal growth and repair. For one, you wouldn’t be half the man or woman you are without the physiological feats sleep achieves. I mean that both literally and figuratively, since sleep spurs the release of human growth hormone (HGH), an essential player in cellular regeneration.

Before you stay up for your favorite late night host, consider the fact that a solid night of shut eye bears all kinds of gifts. A full night of sleep will enhance your memory performance and creative problem solving skills the next day, not to mention make you a better person to be around by helping you see the positive in your interactions. Oh, but there’s more of course. A good night’s sleep will further boost your athletic performance, including speed, accuracy, mood and overall energy.

Then there’s your immune system. Hate getting sick? How about cutting your risk for the common cold and other basic illnesses? Your immune system is, in fact, most active during sleep. (So, that’s why the flu leaves you in a coma-like state…) To boot, adequate sleep makes you more resilient to daily stress, which supports your immune functioning that much more.

Finally, there’s the big picture. Solid, consistent sleep over the long-term has been linked to self-reported “successful” aging.

The Ugly World of Sleep Deprivation


Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.  ~JoJo Jensen, Dirt Farmer Wisdom

Now consider the flip side. Believe it or not, you’ll die of sleep deprivation before you will starvation. Of course few people ever venture that far into the insomniatic tunnel, but the fact underscores the damage done when we skimp on sleep. When you pull that all-nighter or drag yourself through multiple months of newborn-induced sleep deprivation, you feel like crap because, well, your body is legitimately struggling. Every system suffers in some regard. Make no mistake: even a single hour of missed sleep takes its toll, as the research on daylight savings time shows. If you continue down the path of scarcity, you build up what experts call a sleep debt – one that the body tries desperately to repay.

In the short term, you find a full spectrum of unsavory impacts. On the cognitive side, you sacrifice all manner of memory abilities, including short-term and working memory. Over time, even long-term memory and the generation of nerve cells are impaired. Of little surprise is the impact on emotional mood and well-being. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the risk for conditions like depression and exacerbate pre-existing psychological illnesses. However, even a single night of sleeplessness can throw our emotional regulatory abilities out the window. Sleeplessness causes our emotional selves to revert to their more primitive roots, effectively shutting down the reasonable prefrontal cortex and putting the primally defensive amygdala in the driver’s seat. One study even linked sleep deprivation with a corresponding increase in people’s dissatisfaction with their primary relationships. (An important bit of perspective to cranky new parents…) Finally, the physical self pays a price of course. A single night of sleep loss increases systemic inflammation, and (as I shared Monday) impairs the body’s ability to handle the kind of moderate oxidative stress we deal with every day.

When you graduate to the extended – however “minor” – levels of sleep deprivation, you’ll enjoy the above experiences (magnified of course), all the while putting significant strain on many of your body’s systems, including your neurological and cardiovascular systems. One study found that skipped sleep led to a shrinking brain. Bye, bye gray matter! The heart and kidneys also take a beating as does your blood pressure. You, in fact, put yourself at continually increased risk for a whole host of lifestyle diseases, including obesity and diabetes. The logical extension of this pattern? Numerous studies link partial sleep deprivation/disruption and increased mortality risk!

Not All Sleep Is Created Equal


“An hour before midnight is worth 2 after.” ~Sleep Proverb

Although it might feel like it some days, it’s not an instantaneous plunge into cataleptic nothingness. Sleep fills a progressive spectrum of sorts. The process and pattern of sleep reveals the complex, dynamic experience it is. We likely all recall the REM and non-REM designations gestured to in our middle school health classes. The picture is a little more complicated than that, but those categories represent the bones of it. Essentially, the body moves through three stages of non-REM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep that are called N1, N2 and N3, proceeding eventually to REM sleep (typically with a N1, N2, N3, N2, REM pattern) and then back again through numerous cycles throughout the night.

Phase N1 represents the initial switch in brain wave frequency. It’s the stage in which you feel like you’re mostly under but can still see the light above the water. It characterizes most surreptitious office naps that people think no one will notice – until your head slips off the hand that was holding it up. (Hmmm…forgot about that N1 relaxation of muscle tone, I guess.) Most notably, it’s the stage in which you scare the crap out of yourself and your spouse with those annoying sudden jerks. From there, N2 takes you down enough that any residual awareness of your environment is gone. Finally, N3 takes you into deep, slow wave sleep. Those of you who walk or talk in your sleep tend to begin performing now.

If you recall from your textbooks, REM sleep hosts most of our dreaming, particularly those memorable bits in the early morning that confound us for hours throughout the day. Although muscle tone was progressively relaxed in non-REM sleep, it’s generally non-existent in the REM stage.

REM sleep constitutes about a quarter of the typical adult’s sleep. The N2 stage of non-REM sleep makes up an additional half. The remaining quarter is split between the initial N1 stage and the deep sleep of N3. We experience most of our deep sleep early on in the night – hence the instructive proverb about going to bed early.

What moves us to sleep in the first place, however, is our circadian rhythm, the physiological clock responsible for putting in motion temperature changes and hormonal releases associated with sleep and waking. As we approach sleep, our body reaches its highest concentration of adenosine, a sleep promoting neurotransmitter. Simultaneously, the body begins to kick out melatonin and begins reducing our core temperature, which will hit its lowest point in the second half of our normal sleep schedule – around the time when melatonin will incidentally be at its highest. Our best sleep, not surprisingly, results from staying on consistent course with our natural circadian rhythm and – if we nap – not napping too late in the day. Speaking of which…

Closed for Siesta


There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.  ~Edward Lucas

I’m a big believer in naps, and I consider them one of the most useful (and pleasurable) of the PB sensible vices. Research supports the benefit of inducing the relaxation response each day, and one study showed that even the anticipation of a nap can lower your blood pressure. Following a truly bad night, naps can help us recharge our cognitive and physical stores. Longer naptimes following sleepless nights tend to include more REM sleep for better restoration. Although some “authorities” might balk at the healthiness of daily napping, I think long-time tradition (as well as the natural circadian rhythm) shoots that one down sufficiently. Problems can arise when naps signify symptoms for an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle or when they become a consistent, necessary stand-in for good sleep quality and adequate hours each night. Nonetheless, for those with young babies or swing/night shift jobs, sometimes the best Primal choice we can make is doing the best we can with the reality in front of us. Naps can be part of that effort.


Our Need for Sleep


People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.  ~Leo J. Burke

Of course the need for sleep varies by individual. Though most of us fall into the pot of the seven-eight hour average, others of us genuinely can’t get by without nine or ten. A few lucky ones among us hit our optimum with only six or so hours of shut eye. (These folks are honest to goodness mutants, as science has confirmed.)

However, the majority of our sleep differentiation is determined by age. Babies, no surprises here, need the most (however patchy it is), while adults require the least. The notion that older adults need less sleep is actually hogwash. Although sleep patterns become more fragmented as we age, we still need the same good old average. Sleep still fosters critical hormonal secretion (like growth hormone) necessary for healthy aging. One study in particular linked solid sleep with higher levels of testosterone in older men.

Children, however, are especially susceptible to the ravages of sleep deprivation. Sleep is essential for babies to learn and retain new information. Sleep deficits have been long been linked to an increased risk of ADHD, depression and behavioral problems in children.

Getting Some Good Primal Sleep


There is no hope for a civilization which starts each day to the sound of an alarm clock. ~Author Unknown

In Grok’s world, of course, there were no alarms, no clocks, no trains to catch or appointments to make. Likewise, there were no lamps or computers, T.V.s, smart phones and all the other technological gadgetry that tests our circadian rhythm and tempts us to stay up instead of hit the sheets. Although Grok and his tribe didn’t turn in the second the sun fell below the horizon, they undoubtedly slid into a hunkered down, lower key mode. On a typical night, the darkness – even with a central fire or bright moon – would’ve been enough to impose a quieter sense of consciousness. The stars, the flames would’ve been enough to inspire calm, maybe meditative stillness if not sleep. What would our experience of night be – how rested and composed might we feel – if we spent ten to twelve hours in relative darkness?

Although I suspect most of us have at least several hours to trudge through before we can call it a night, maybe some of you are already planning a clandestine nap this afternoon. (There’s always our Primally approved plan for selling your boss on the siesta idea….) Looking forward to sleep is the first step to taking back bedtime, I’d say. Not only is it an essential investment for your health, it’s one of life’s best luxuries. You wake up looking better and feeling like a million bucks. How much better can it get? Now take the money you’ll save on extra coffee and buy yourself a nice set of sheets or the pillow you’ve always wanted.

In the meantime, be sure to check out our past tips for a great night’s rest!

How Light Affects Our Sleep

10 Ways to Get an Extra Hour of Sleep

The Primal Blueprint for Busy People – Part 1: Sleep and Stress

5 Tips to Get a Great Night’s Sleep Tonight

Getting Over an Afternoon Slump

When it Comes to Sleep, Average is Best

10 Sleep Tips to Get Your Zzzzss

Thanks for reading. Be sure to send along your thoughts. I’ll look forward to reading your comments!

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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112 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide to Sleep”

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  1. USA Today had an interesting article yesterday attempting to debunk the idea we’re all sleep deprived. She says it’s all a ploy by Big Pharma to sell more sleep aids.

    I personally think she’s full of it 🙂 I’ve only had a full eight hours of sleep once in as long as I can remember, and that happened to be Monday night. I’m usually at 7 or 7.5 hours if I’m lucky.

    1. I’m one of the lucky ones – I sleep very well but am surrounded by people that don’t. The joke is that I toss and turn for 10 to 20……seconds before I fall asleep.

      I’ve done a lot of research and found three things that work for other people when it comes to sleep. Just for the record I have no affiliation with any of these web sites. I hope this helps some of you.

      1. I found this guy- Jeff Strong years ago before he had any kind of web presence. Read the “about us” section and it should resonate with all people on marksdailyapple. The research is based on traditional sounds from Africa and around the world – very Primal. Anyway he developed a DVD to be played when going to sleep (played very quietly – just loud enough to detect it). All based on lots of research – I was very impressed that the guy (Jeff) actually returned my phone call but this was years ago so maybe he is to successful now to do this.

      2. Richard Bandler (of NLP fame) put me onto this device. Again – lots of research behind the technology. I bought it for jet lag but it addresses lots of sleep issues. There used to be some free downloads to iPods but again this was a few years ago. Bandler told m that using this machine would jump start any meditation program (I think his exact words something like – you can learn 10 years of meditating techniques – or you can turn this machine “on”…same outcome. As far as I know Bandler doesn’t have any affiliation with the company either)

      3. Those of you that know the Life Extension Foundation (a non-profit) know that everything comes with research – in this case the research is in the April edition of their magazine which won’t be available on the website until May. The product is available now (NB – it is based on casein which is dairy product so may not work for some people)

    2. I think the best indicator is not how much sleep you’ve had but how functional you are during the day.

      Before we break down and analyze everyone’s sleep data, how awake are they during the day? (With the exception of depressed people who sleep 14 hours a day).

      For me, I wake up easily with 6 or less hours of sleep, but I get sick VERY easily, I’m a total zombie by midday, and I start feeling ill. It’s obvious I need a lot more.

      I think like a lot of things, you gotta go with your intuition to see how you feel rather than overanalyze. But the science is always a great reference point —

  2. Great post! Years ago I used to live on 5-6 hours of sleep per night. I was overweight, cranky, and ended up suffering from anxiety. The best thing I ever did was move my bed time up to 9:30, which I did about a year ago. Now I get 7+ hours of sleep per night and my whole life has changed for the better. Hubby thought it was way too early at first, but now he’s ready for bed by then, too. Getting enough sleep makes a world of difference.

  3. I really appreciate this post and will use it to inspire me to truly focus on getting more sleep but the issues still remain that keep me up late at night now: 4 kids in the house and I LOVE time alone/with my husband; I already spend too much on the computer during the day when I should be playing with the kids, so when do I get my personal computer time to read, get inspired, plan meals, plan homeschooling activities, plan upcoming vacations, work on finances, etc?
    I guess one solution is ‘early to bed, early to rise’ and I do that at times in my life, but right now my kids wake up when I do so getting up early doesn’t help anyone… Any tips for me, anyone?

  4. Great post per the norm. I’m a troubled sleeper but hopeful that one day soon I’ll get the required rest! It’s certainly not easy for everyone to obtain those good Zzzz’s.

  5. Great post these comprehensive one’s are needed every once in a while. I tend to wake up too early, can’t remember the last time I slept past 8 or 9 AM….

  6. Oh man, this is all so true… so achingly, heartbreakingly true. I feel like a teenage virgin reading about the benefits of regular sex.

    My wife and I are doing our level and informed best with our five-month-old, but between housework, work-work, and baby gas, sleep remains elusive. The deprivation really does bring out our chimpanzee nature. Fortunately, there has not yet been any flinging of poo.

    I’m determined to look on the bright side. If following the other nine points of the PB has made me healthier than ever before in my life, what happens when I finally get some rest? Sandman old buddy, we’ll have good times again!

  7. I would always put things off until the end of the night, so I’m guilty of having many 3-4 hour sleep nights. I find if I exercise earlier, I’ll go to sleep much faster though.

    It’s tough when you like going out with friends, and nobody’s ready until 8-9.

  8. Lately my mid-day nap has been a nude sunbathe. Not possible on days when I’m at work, obviously, but possible on other days, and pleasurable. If somebody asks what I’m doing, I say, “Synthesizing my daily requirement of Vitamin D3.”

  9. Fortunately I am a champion sleeper. I love nothing more than to pull off a good 12-14 hour stretch on a weekend. My one friend renamed me “Caro-lion” because lions sleep for like 22 hours a day. 🙂

    Love naps too. Allthough I can’t consider a 20 minute snooze a nap. In my opinion, for it to be a proper nap you have to take your pants off.

  10. I hear you SJ. I’m in a similar boat. Add to that being a locomotive engineer and never knowing when you are working, so you never know when to sleep. I vote to switch to the 30 hour day. I should have enough time to get stuff done then.

  11. Fantastic guide, Mark – informative and enjoyable to read.

    But hey, you left out one important fact:

    The best sleep you have is when you share your bed with a loved one!

    1. One of my colleagues in the Psych department at UCLA studies sleep and close relationships. He says that research supports just the opposite of your final statement; sleeping in bed alone provides better quality sleep than sleeping in bed with your partner. Of course, maybe the most beneficial sleep would come from engaging in an activity with your partner in bed followed by slipping off for some high-quality solitude sleep in separate beds!

  12. I know all too well that sleep is very important. Do you have any suggestions for clearing the mind so that we can ensure a good night’s sleep?

  13. Great post indeed.
    I have trouble sleeping occasionally, but I found that if I go for a late walk, short leisurly walk one hour before going to bed, it helps quite a bit.

  14. Good read Mark, ironically I looked at the list of articles for a ‘definitive guide to sleep’ this morning before you published this. Enjoyed the read. Thanks.

  15. Is there such a thing as too much sleep? I have a friend who sleeps from 6 AM to 6 PM everyday. He works night shift, but even with 12 hours of sleep he looks tired 90% of the time. That could just be the night shift thing though :/

    1. Excellent, again! We’ve installed f lux from your earlier post on sleep and now have lighting low from around 8 pm and head for bed by 10 pm latest with only candle-light and it has definitely made a difference.

      Tonight though I have to ‘sacrifice’ two and a half hours but it will be worth it to tune into your Q and A Mark!

      Timothy, there were a few more posts re sleeping with babies the other day, one very informative one about bedtime for babies being around 7 pm and the whole, quiet, night-time routine, feed/change etc but limit talk, play etc, etc, that is really what I was trying to say, badly, as well, get a regular bedtime going for the little one and make a good distinction between day and night, and a little crying without being picked up and hugged isn’t deprevation just a helping hand for them to learn the Primal importance of solid, night-long sleep. It might take a week or so of being tough with yourself but it will be worth it.

      A follow up thought on Magaret Thatcher too from the other post – yes she reportedly slept only 4-5 hours a night but she is in very poor mental health now and has been for a number of years, so maybe all those years of a lack of sleep have taken their toll.

      Tuning into the the Q and A in around 5 hours, best I go get a nap first as it’s already gone 7 pm here!

      1. Thanks, Kelda, I did read your response and the others from my post on the other thread (I just didn’t want to hijack the topic with another reply). I definitely agree with putting the baby down for the night around 7-8pm; the only problem is I often can’t get the important chores finished by then, especially when I have to work late. As luck would have it, my wife can’t breastfeed either, so I’m juggling bottles at every feeding while my wife takes care of the actual nursing and putting back to sleep (and yes we feel hugely guilty about giving him formula).

        But I’m definitely in line with the suggestions of lights out/sounds off ASAP after the sun is down. And as for letting him cry, well, at 5:00am this morning we were both too comatose to do anything else. So nature is taking its course… its rough, rocky, sleep-depriving, eardrum-rattling course.

        Thank you for checking in on me 🙂

        As for Margaret Thatcher, it is quite clear that time has not been kind to the Iron Lady.

        1. Just to clarify here … no one’s suggesting YOU need to settle down at 7 pm at baby’s bedtime! Can you not do some chores after he has ‘gone down’ and then have an hour or two as grown up time before retiring yourselves? You may also find that with the co-sleeping you are now all disturbing each other. Like another poster says babies can learn good and bad habits!

          The affects of lack of sleep is very close to my heart and you have my sympathies at the very ‘special’ kind of sleeplessness induced by offspring!

        2. Unless your wife can’t breastfeed because of a drug she is taking, she should contact La Leche League Internation. There are La Leche League groups all over the country and the world with “leaders” available to help mothers with breastfeeding.

      2. I just have to say something about letting a baby cry him or herself to sleep. Totally “Conventional Wisdom” there! Primal instinct totally lacking! It doesn’t teach the baby anything positive. The baby’s needs are not being met, that’s what it teaches.

        I’ll bet you anything that cavewomen did not let their babies cry themselves to sleep. My kids never cried themselves to sleep and I was not sleep deprived. Learn to relax and go with the flow so to speak. Put the baby to the breast, curl up and go to sleep. When the baby is asleep he or she can be tucked in their bed if so desired. No trauma involved.

        It’s a relatively short period of time in their lives when they need this closeness. They learn to go to sleep just fine without being taught to do it with crying. They also learn that you’re there when they need you and it makes them more independent, resilient, self-confident little kids as they grow up.

        I haven’t disagreed with anything Primal up to this point. But I really disagree on this one! I breastfed both of my kids “primally” and was a Le Leche League Leader for many years, helping other mom’s successfully breastfeed and teaching hospitals staff, doctors and nurses about it back when it wasn’t the “in” thing to do.

        1. I had an interesting conversation with Mr Grok yesterday evening about how family units would have worked in Grok’s day and his take is this ‘how do we know they would have slept in couple units with the baby, chances are they would have been in bands without fixed partners and very likely pooled their talents such that one carer may have watched over the children overnight who were perhaps sleeping together allowing the adults to rest as during the day their expertise at hunting and gathering would have been paramount to survival’.

          I think some of the idea of being so baby centred is a modern construct and very often designed (whether intentional or otherwise) to load guilt onto new parents, you don’t see animals behaving like this, they are often born and jump straight up and defend themselves and have to fit in with what is going on around them.

          Human societies have survived it seems to me by being cooperative and by having some element of structure, if everyone adopted their own rhythms, for sleep or otherwise, it would have been pretty counterproductive.

  16. I am a champion sleeper, and I tend to go to bed pretty early and get up by 6:30am or so even on the weekends; during the week I’m usually up by 5am. I’m also far more productive and energetic in the morning. My husband, on the other hand, would gladly stay up all night watching tv or playing video games and then sleep all day. Even when he goes to bed early during the week when he’s gone to bed at a reasonable hour, he has a really hard time getting up in the morning.
    Is it possible to reset one’s personal circadian rhythms to become more of a “morning person,” or is it something that is hardwired in our systems?

    1. In my personal opinion… anyone can become a “morning person”. I was the same way as I picked up bad habits from my older brother. I used to stay up late, midnight or later, then sleep in till 11 am or later very often.

      Today, I gladly wake up around 7 am every single morning. I naturally begin to feel tired at 9 pm and I hit the bed at 10 pm. I read for about 15 minutes and then lay down to fall asleep.

      I am full of energy in the morning and throughout the entire today. Living around 90% primal these days helps overall, but I think my sleep contributes to that more than anything.

      So yes, your husband can become a morning person. Tell him to read my comment 🙂

      1. Until last year, I was always a late sleeper and could never get myself out of bed until I had only minutes to spare to get ready. (Yet somehow I was able to get up before dawn on the weekends, or stay up late into the weeknights, to play certain computer games. Funny how that worked…)

        When my baby was born, I found it impossible to go back to sleep when he woke me after the sun had risen, which he did with cruel regularity. Within a couple of weeks I was rising like clockwork shortly after dawn. At loose ends, I started stepping outside and discovered that the early morning world is a wonderful place to be! Nowadays my most quiet and personal time is spent in the early light, doing an urban workout or just carrying my baby around (he likes it too).

        Which is a long way of saying, like Todd said, that anybody can become a morning person, and will probably find they like it better that way.

  17. I have been “trying” to adjust my sleeping cycle for some time now. lets say at least six month. After reading and learning about successful people I discovered long before it is what they do. like Ted Turner says – early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise 🙂
    so I was on the mission to get up at 6am go to bed at 10pm. however very unsuccessfully.
    Even though I have trained myself to get up at 6 with help of the alarm, it is been very difficult for me to go to bed at 10pm. And even though I did. The problem was and is I can not fall asleep. For instance I just moved to los angeles from Chicago and I went to bed yesterday, day before and day before at 10 pm. I was in bed. But I couldnt fall asleep unti 12, 1 or even 2am. I dont drink coffee. I do drink green tea. But not before I go to sleep.
    The most interesting thing is that I do work out and I walked a lot too during the day (3-4 miles) and I did feel super exhausted, but when I lay down it all went away. thoughts were racing, etc.
    I wonder if Im trying to hard to change my cycle. Im usually best at going to bed at 12 getting up at around 8. This was my observation.

    1. I used to be the same way – even if I was in bed at 10 I would toss and turn for an hour or more. I think what helped me the most was a commitment to turn off all electronic devices at 9pm. After 9 I don’t watch any TV or look at the computer. I usually spend an hour doing some light cleaning, getting ready for bed and reading. Then the lights are out at 10 and I’m usually asleep 10 minutes later.

      Also, if you thinking about a bunch of things as you toss and turn it might help to get out a pad of paper and pen, and write down what’s on your mind. It can be a kind of “brain dump” to get things off your mind.

      Another suggestion, I read an article that said if you don’t fall asleep right away you should get up and do something (writing, reading, light cleaning/organizing) and then when you’re tired again go back to bed. This way you associate your bed with only sleep. 🙂

    2. I owned a bar for about 10 years. That meant going to bed between 3 & 5 AM. It took me YEARS to adjust to going to sleep by 10PM and waking up 6-7AM. At 10 PM the “bar life” really gets hopping. Well at 10PM I’d be ready to tackle some big project, like paint, wallpaper, clean house. I was wide awake. I was a basket case in the AM of course, exhausted, hitting the snooze alarm time after time.

      I also had my hormones checked; should have done it sooner rather than later. My adrenal glands were in bad shape from 10 years of crazy living. (Not drinking fortunately!) Natural supplements and hormone balancing helped tremendously. I also had to control my “auto pilot” impulses and just make myself go to bed. Reading helped.

      Now I hate being up past 10PM and always want at least 8 hours of sleep. I try to get to bed earlier so there’s time to read and still have lights out before 10PM. I no longer even use an alarm clock. I like to wake up in the morning in time to work out. If I don’t, I don’t worry about it. I just do it later in the day. I haven’t read Mark’s article yet about light and sleep, but I like at least some natural light to come into the room because it’s “nature’s alarm clock.” I find that it wakes me up gently and in time for work.

    3. Hey Ed,

      I too used to be a night owl (my husband and I worked in the casino industry for about 10 years, permanent night shift for several of those).

      When we got out of the industry we had to try really hard to change back to a day time cycle. It can be done but it takes consistence and persistence (and some initial sleep deprivation).

      Something we have recently found is CD’s that “push” your brain into meditation mode by using different tones in each ear to force your brain to slow down it’s wave pattern (“force” sounds really bad but it’s very pleasant). We find that if we are having trouble getting to sleep these often help. They are called Holosync and do seem to help us relax. You must have headphones though otherwise you don’t get the effect. The website is or you can use

      Might help you a bit?

  18. The single best thing I did was eliminate any alarms many years ago. Waking up when I’m ready is the best, even if it’s only 10 minutes after expected.

  19. Mark, doesn’t gut health and brain health (which is necessary for restful sleep) go hand in hand? A lot of neurotransmitters are made in the gut. So, my ‘gut feeling’ is that a great gut health has a direct relationship with great sleep.

  20. No TV in the bedrooms has been the best thing for our family. We still have alarm clocks, but generally wake well before they go off. Sticking to a consistent bed time is also a great tool.

  21. I wish I could choose when to sleep or “move” bed time. Nope, the sleep comes when it wants and I can’t help it. Tried melatonin + light therapy to push it earlier but no help. In times when I don’t have to care about waking early my sleep cycle literally goes in cycles.

  22. Thanks for this great article Mark! Today marks week 1 of my 30 day primal challenge and I’m loving it!! Getting enough sleep is something I also struggle with. I work a full time job 37.5 hours a week which also takes up 2 hours of my day commuting. I train clients as a personal trainer in the evenings, make time for my own workouts, plus take care of the kids an keep house. Needless to say – things get hectic! Like you mentioned in the article I’m one of those people that uses the quiet time as “me” time to browse the net or do something fun. I’m going to start giving back to my body though and giving myself REST. I have burned myself out far too many times trying to do too much at once and neglecting to give my body the relaxation and recovery it deserves.

    To quote my Nutrition and Wellness instructor “Give me an hour of your time today and I will give you 9 years on your life.” Perhaps we should look at this the same way with sleep. Spend an extra hour staying up too late and robbing from your rest time, subtract time for your life. Just a thought.

    Grok on everyone!!

  23. I never had a problem sleeping until menopause. Along with not being able to catch some ZZZZs, I also had the night sweats and hot flashes (but that’s a whole other post).

    As far as going to sleep, and staying asleep, the first thing I tried was valerian root. If you can get it past your nose, because it smells like manure, then you’ve conquered the first battle. Besides its offensive odor, it severely dehydrates you. I then tried organic melatonin (starting with the smallest dose first) in pill form, then advanced to time-released liquid form. I would fall asleep, but not remain asleep. I had disturbing dreams, on the edge of nightmares. Next I tried 5HTP. This really did nothing but make me have nightmares. I did a bit more research and finally found the solution in L-Theanine. I take 100 mgs immediately before my head hits the pillow. I sleep soundly through the night, with pleasant dreams and zero nightmares. My husband woke me up last week because he said I was singing in my sleep. La, la, la, la, la. Now, that’s a good night’s sleep. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz :0

  24. Count me among the champion sleepers of the tribe. I perform my level best when I’ve had close to 9-10 hours of sleep. On weekends, I usually get 12. Week nights, I do my best to get 8. It boggles my husband’s mind because he’s an 8 or less kind of guy.

  25. I have always believed in a good night’s sleep, but the effects of *not* getting one became ever so clear after I had kids. They teach us so much! 😉 Take a child who usually gets a great, restful night’s sleep and “let them” stay up even an hour late one night. The inability to listen and follow simple rules the next day is so obvious!

    Take a cue from the kids and go to bed already! 🙂

  26. Just wondering if anyone has tips on sleeping when dealing with hot flashes. I sleep for about an hour or two then I am awakened with them, takes me time to go back to sleep so I basically get 2 naps rather than a good nights sleep

    1. Progesterone helps. If you can find a really good doctor or nurse practitioner who is familiar with hormones and can help you balance yours, that’s best. You want bio-identical hormones, not the artificial ones. You can get them at a very reasonable price from Women’s International Pharmacy… with a Rx of course.

      You’ll find good information on these topics at Click on “Library.” The Women to Women practice was started by Dr. Christiana Northrup. It’s in Yarmouth, Maine. I’m lucky enough to be able to go there!

  27. Quite an interesting article Mark. Sleep is the necessity of life. For me 7 hours work on week days and 8-9 on weekends.

  28. I’ve always been bad at getting to sleep, but right now the benefits of staying up late are very appealing to me.

    I’m a music student and my best time for creativity (writing, practising) is late at night. I often skip classes just so I can stay up late and compose stuff! My mornings are horrible anyways, probably because of my bad sleep rhythm, and naps.. I don’t think I can pull them off anyways, especially not when I’m at the conservatory – that’s an hour and a half away from home! Any tips?

    PS I’m glad that my classes start pretty late usually – I guess these people know what musicians are like!

  29. Wow, that’s some disturbin reading.. I usually catch about 4-6 hours of sleep per night, sometimes even less. (I just can’t stay asleep for more than a couple of hours before I wake up, and falling asleep again can take hours..) I only get my recomended 8 hours when I’m wasted the night before.. and I’ve been going like this for the last 17 years! (since I was 12) no wonder I’m depressed at times.. makes one wonder how long it’s gonna take before the rest of the symptoms to show. to make matters worse, I resently started working nightshifts as well.. any suggestions anyone?? besides from this I live a fairly heathy lifestyle with lots of exercise, good primal food (mostly fish and egg based) and no coffe or smoking, so I don’t think that’s the problem.


  30. I wonder what’s your perspective on Polyphasic sleep then?

    I know that long term effects were not studied yet, but is it really that we need minimum of 8 hours or is this variable highly dependent on the other sides of our lives and the way HOW we actually sleep?

    I personally tend to sleep a lot. Even 8hrs a day is hardly enough for me. I usually sleep 7.5-8.5 a day and 12 on Saturday, 10 on Sunday which means I still don’t get enough during the week.

    But some of my acquaintances do just fine sleeping about 5-6 hours and say that they are just a little deprived: 6.5-7 would be just peeerfect. At the same time they can smoke, drink alcohol, don’t have any sport activity and so one and so forth?

    Is it just a genetics and delayed consequences?

    Or is there something else on the subject we are all missing?

  31. I would like to mention that it is not normal to snore. I have Chronic Obstructive Sleep Apnea and it is a huge health problem. I was used to getting up 6-7 times a night and walking around in an exhausted haze during the day. I battled constant fatigue for years. I snored when I was a fit teen, just to let you know that COSA exists in all body types. Fast Forward to 3 years ago when my Doctor prescribed a Sleep Study. My life has been different since those results revealed what a stress a bad night’s sleep is on your body. I now sleep with a CPAP machine on and feel great. It literally have added years to my life. It has been a new world and I am grateful.

    1. Typo….should read ” It literally HAS added years to my life.”

  32. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Benjamin Franklin. (although I still hear this quote in my head in Spanky’s voice from the Little Rascals. I learned so much from that show, which was filmed right in Culver City where I now live.)

  33. I try to get enough sleep, I do well for a while, and then I fail. And yep, it’s usually because I use those last hours as “me” time. Now it’s time to make my me time into sleep time.

  34. In response to Kelda:

    In Grok’s day they may well not have slept in couple units with baby. However, while the baby was breastfeeding, which would have been for an extended time, baby was mostly likely with mother or a wet nurse.

    When was the last time anyone saw a human baby “jump straight up and defend themselves and have to fit in with what is going on around them?” I don’t think you can compare human babies to animal babies like that. But even animal babies sleep together and with their mother. And if you put a puppy alone in a room by himself, he cries because he has a need for closeness.

    I don’t think it’s guilt, I think it’s instinct.

    1. Absolutely! Babies are not meant to be alone at night. They need the bonding and closeness of Mama. That is truly Primal!

  35. I can’t think how many times I’ve heard people say they only need 5 or 6 hours (or less!), and truth be told I used to think that myself. Reality? If you miss sleep, you always will pay for it. You might not notice what you’re missing though, until you catch-up. That’s the way it worked for me, at least. I actually thought I was getting depression until I started sleeping enough and suddenly felt fantastic again.
    Oh – and you HAVE to try this, it’s awesome. Last week I downloaded a free tool called f.lux and it sets your computer backlight to change as the sun goes down. It’s made a huge difference in the whole bright-lights-too-much-stimulation-thing at night.

  36. I have no trouble getting plenty of sleep but find it very difficult to wake up in the early morning. Here are some observations/ideas:

    1) If I am motivated to do something the following morning it is likely I will get up.

    2) Alarm clocks make me miserable. When I wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle I am groggy, when I wake up naturally I feel better.

    3) The more primal I eat the better my sleep is and the more likely I am to go to bed earlier.

    4) The less electricity (lights, computers, phones, etc) I use the sooner I go to bed.

    I have reached the point where I think I need to be electricity free after a certain hour if I want to be realistic with having a regular sleeping pattern that has me waking up with the sun.

    1. P.S.

      THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: Caffeine must be nearly eradicated from my life! Caffeine is like crack for me – it completely disrupts my life.

  37. I personally find it can be pretty tough to get to sleep at a reasonable time; the night is just when I find my mind churning with thoughts and it can be hard to fall asleep even while lying in bed.

    On the other hand, I do feel like crap whenever I go to bed late and wake up late the next day even if I got enough sleep, so I think while it’s important to get enough sleep it’s even more important to wake up at a consistent time, and, preferably, more in sync with the cycle of the sun.

    I’ve found that when I’m really tired after work, a short 15-30 minute nap in the library helps re-energize me for class! So, I’m also growing to appreciate the benefits of naps as well…

  38. There is a really cool body metrics tool called Zeo that I have been using to help me understand my sleep patterns. The Zeo analyzes your sleep through a headband that you wear when you go to bed. It enables you to track your sleep patterns and offers customized coaching based on the data. It’s like a personal trainer for your sleep! I have been using the Zeo for a few months now and I find that I have learned a lot about how I sleep and improved my overall quality of sleep. If you want to check it out their website is

  39. So What do you do if you work nights in the ER,and have a 7 month old that still gets up 2 times in the night and doesn’t take naps during the day? So I maybe average just a few hours a day and they are never consistent. I still get about a 2 hour workout in most days. But feel I still need help.

  40. As a competitive strength athlete I notice I always need more sleep after a tough workout.

    Keeping a strict bed time and total darkness are the two best strategies for me.

  41. All of this talk about sleep scares me. I spend so much time on my computer and when I finish, I get 8 hours of sleep a night. I have a baby on the way. That is why I am so scared. Anybody out there that has a baby get 8 hours of sleep a night?

  42. it is so hard to relax at the end of a busy day but getting that good nights rest is very important to all of us

  43. I am finding on myself, that diet is incredibly important for quality sleep. If I limit my carbohydrates and sugar intake to a minimum I sleep the best. Less carbs in my diet also means less hours of sleep needed for me.

    If I eat crap, I sleep long and I wake up tyred. If my diet consists of quality protein, plenty of fat and only fruits and vegetables as my carbs I sleep less and feel Great in the morning.

    I strongly believe, that good quality sleep is in diet.


  44. Sleeping patterns follow a cycle of 5 stages that takes about 90 minutes to complete. When you wake in the middle of the pattern is when you feel groggy.

    You are better off getting 6hrs, 7.5 or 9, but not 8 as it is mid cycle. I’ve trained myself to sleep 6 hrs, with a 20 minute power nap during the day. I feel great & by waking up just one hour early you gain 45 8hr working days over the course of a year! Imagine what you could accomplish…

    Taking that one step further is Bi-Phasic sleep, where you sleep one cycle (90min) earlier in the day followed by 4.5hrs main sleep later.


  45. GAHH!!!! I feel like I have to read through 5 paragraphs of fluff to get 2 tidbits of solid information! You should offer a side column of cliff notes for busy people 🙂

  46. The most deep and restful sleep requires the body to be grounded (electrically). Mark has discussed this technology, known as “Earthing” in another blog post. Just use the search feature at the top of the page. I also wanted to mention that you don’t have to buy the expensive earthing devices, but can make your own using these instructions. . It’s really a fantastic discovery!

  47. Are the actual hours we sleep very important, or is it more of the duration and quality each night (or day)? Thinking primally, the hours Grok slept each night would have changed as the seasons did because obviously the sun sets and rises at different times throughout the year. Of course, this would mean that they slept less during the summer and more during the winter wouldn’t it? I wonder…

  48. Cannabis (Marijuana) is extremely helpful in relaxing the muscles and nervous system before bed. Most mainstream propaganda will paint this substance as having no benefit on sleep, but this is far from the case. Many cancer patients use it because it helps them eat and sleep, which are vital to health.

  49. Does anyone know what sleep position the caveman slept in? What did they used for a pillow?

  50. I think it’s important to point out that you don’t need to get all your sleep in one big block in order to feel adequately rested. I tried using Google to find the article where I read this but couldn’t find it. Regardless, apparently it was perfectly normal for our ancestors to wake up in the middle of night and do things for an hour or so before going back to sleep, and that can apply to modern life as well. What might they do in that time you ask? Have sex. Take a pee or poo. Take a turn standing guard or checking for nocturnal predators. If they had a fire burning for warmth they might gather up some fresh wood to add to it. The point is you don’t necessarily have to go right back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night, but it only works if you go to bed early enough that you have the leeway to do so.

  51. I was homeless for an extended period of time and this post brought back fond memories.

    When I was homeless I discovered that as the sun set I would become tired and fall asleep roughly as darkness fell. In the morning as soon as it became light I would wake up feeling completely rejuvenated without a hint of fatigue.

    Now that I have a much more “comfortable” life I struggle to wake to my alarm clock. An alarm is a huge shock to the system that leaves you feeling half awake and half asleep … not that we have any choice.

  52. Hey, Mark, I think you should add that people with insomnia should NOT nap. I have struggled with insomnia my entire life and naps have never helped me – they have always harmed my night sleep. My insomnia is genetic I believe, your advice helped me but I believe people like me should be banned from napping and never ever consider working shifts.

  53. What about sleep for adolescents? Is it actually optimal for them to go to bed at 11pm?

  54. Great article. But the Problem with me is I am a Late night Owl, work almost till 3.00 AM and Sleep late night so that wake-up Late morning. I have to get rid of This Schedule…Any Suggestions ?

  55. “Looking forward to sleep is the first step to taking back bedtime, I’d say. Not only is it an essential investment for your health, it’s one of life’s best luxuries.” I love this! One of the ways I look forward to bed, is allowing myself time to read before turning out the lights (I love reading). I wish more people were aware of how important sleep is.
    Thanks for this great article, Mark!

  56. What a brilliant article. I find that I sleep much better in a room by myself than with my partner. I wake up several times and find it hard to get to sleep with bed-sharing. My husband says I have insomnia and should get medication, but since I sleep fine in a room by myself, I don’t want to take anything. My husband doesn’t like me sleeping in another room, but I do value my sleep. What would you do?!

  57. I used to nap when the kids were home, but got out of the habit once they grew up and left home. Then I went back to work full time and couldn’t nap. I really missed them! Now I’m retired and I want to go back to napping !

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