I haven’t seen a study that empirically shows that it’s helpful. There is certainly a false myth that we need eight hours of continuous sleep: I think it’s possible to have your sleep be a little bit broken up and be perfectly healthy—but getting that eight hours is crucially important. The thing is that the placebo effect in some of these polyphasic sleep methods runs really high.
Activated charcoal: Toxins from kryptonite foods like refined flours and factory-farmed meat cause inflammation in your brain, messing with your sleep. Cleaning up your diet is the first step to flushing out toxins (find out more with this Bulletproof Diet Roadmap). An activated charcoal supplement speeds up the process, removing toxins from the gut before they reach your brain. Learn more about the benefits of activated charcoal and dosage guidelines here.
There’s this new finding where playing sounds at a certain frequency when your brain is in deep sleep actually increases the percentage of time spent in deep sleep. We’re publishing this paper in Society for Neuroscience Conference in a couple of weeks, and it’s basically what my TED talk is about. Playing these pulses at the same frequency as your deep-sleep brainwaves primes more deep sleep. Scientifically speaking, it’s a similar process as transcranial direct-current stimulation, except it doesn’t use electricity—just sound. Sound gets transmitted into electricity because you’re picking up on the auditory cortex while you’re sleeping.
Valerian is one of the most common sleep remedies for insomnia. Numerous studies have found that valerian improves deep sleep, speed of falling asleep, and overall quality of sleep. However, it's most effective when used over a longer period of time. One caveat? About 10% of the people who use it actually feel energized, which may keep them awake. If that happens to you, take valerian during the day. Otherwise, take 200 to 800 milligrams before bed.
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She happens to be a licensed wellness practitioner who studies meditation, stress, and breathing techniques, and she told me it would change my life. You simply breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. She explained that the studied combination of numbers has a chemical-like effect on our brains and would slow my heart rate and soothe me right to sleep that night. “It works,” she told me. “It’s crazy.”
Second, we capped melatonin supplements’ per-pill dosage of melatonin at 1.5 mg. While any average melatonin supplement likely contains up to 10 mg of melatonin, Dr. Michael Breus (a clinical psychologist who runs the website thesleepdoctor.com) says that’s far too much for the average person. “The data suggests that the average adult needs between 0.5 and 1.5 mg,” he says.
Melatonin has been used successfully for sleep enhancement in healthy individuals, as well as to reduce feelings of jet lag during global travels. This natural hormone is also being tested as a sleep aid with the elderly and other populations. In addition, studies are focusing on whether or not melatonin can help improve sleep patterns in individuals with depression.
How melatonin works: It often surprises people to hear it, but melatonin does not work as a sedative. Melatonin production is triggered by exposure to darkness, and is a powerful bio time regulator. It improves sleep by helping to strengthen the body’s sleep-wake cycles. Stronger sleep-wake cycles translate into a more consistent sleep routine. When your bio clock is in sync, it can help improve your mood, daytime performance, energy levels and your overall health, including immune function, and regulation of metabolism, digestion, and appetite.
You toss and turn, trying to fall asleep, watching the minutes tick toward morning on your bedside clock. Does this scenario sound familiar? Do yourself a favor: Hide the clock. Constantly checking the time only increases your stress, making it harder to turn down the dial on your nervous system and fall asleep. “If you stare at the clock, it increases your stress and worry about not falling asleep,” says Meltzer.
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Because tryptophan is present in milk and warm milk helps some people feel drowsy, tryptophan became a much sought-after item for the treatment of insomnia at natural food stores. Yet some people who took tryptophan as a natural supplement developed a syndrome eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). Some people died. Scientists later believed the deaths were the result of taking the amino acid tryptophan. Not everyone who took tryptophan, however, experienced these side effects. In addition, not everyone who took tryptophan received help for insomnia.
If your circadian rhythm is off, it negatively impacts your sleep quality. So having that consistent rhythm of going to bed and getting up at the same time will actually make your sleep more regenerative at night. Going for a walk outside and getting that sunlight in the morning is the best thing to do to wake up. Your circadian rhythm isn’t a fixed thing: It’s actually shiftable based on your environmental cues.
Probably the most commonly known characteristic that can help through food is tryptophan — yes, that sleepiness from the Thanksgiving turkey is no joke. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can help the brain get into a relaxed state, similar to serotonin and melatonin. You can obtain tryptophan and serotonin from carbohydrates, particularly 100 percent whole grain oats, brown rice, corn or quinoa.
This technique acts like a natural tranquilizer by slowing down your heart rate. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, “Unlike sleep medications, which often lose effectiveness over time, four-seven-eight breathing is subtle at first but gains power with practice.” In other words, the more you do it, the better it works. So, what are you waiting for?
Even a hint of dim light—8 to 10 lux—has been shown to delay the release of nighttime melatonin in humans. The feeblest of bedside lamps pumps out twice as much: anywhere from 20 to 80 lux. A subtly lit living room, where most people reside in the hours before bed, will hum at around 200 lux. Despite being just 1 to 2 percent of the strength of daylight, this ambient level of incandescent home lighting can have 50 percent of the melatonin-suppressing influence within the brain.
It’s actually pretty normal to wake up during the night, anyway. In The Canterbury Tales, one of the oldest manuscripts in English culture, they describe “second sleep.” There’s some evidence that we used to go to bed when the sun went down, then wake up for a little bit at night—putter around, make sure we’re not getting eaten by a lion—and then go back to sleep. So it’s pretty normal to like wake up in the middle of the night and use the bathroom or whatever.
Set a regular bedtime. Going to bed at the same time each night signals to your body that it's time to sleep. Waking up at the same time every day also can help establish sleep patterns. So try to stick as closely as you can to your sleep schedule, even on weekends. Try not to go to sleep more than an hour later or wake up more than 2 to 3 hours later than you do during the week.
For something that we spend a third of our lives doing (if we’re lucky), sleep is something that we know relatively little about. “Sleep is actually a relatively recent discovery,” says Daniel Gartenberg, a sleep scientist who is currently an assistant adjunct professor in biobehavioral health at Penn State. “Scientists only started looking at sleep 70 years ago.”
So soak up as much natural light as you can, even those last few minutes of blue light after the sun has gone down. And then avoid wandering around in bright artificial light as much as possible. And if you happen to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, whatever you do, don’t turn on those bright LED lights, because that will make it much harder to fall back asleep.
Set a Routine. If you get up early one morning and then sleep in the next, it can be hard to fall into a rhythm. For the 17 percent of Americans who do shift work, an erratic schedule may be part of the job. But if that doesn't apply to you, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same times every day can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.