How To Get Better Sleep

I would like to point out a few things. Not all practices in this section are necessary for all people. People will have different weak links; someone may have poor sleep solely due to stress. Another person may have poor sleep because of a lack of adequate exposure to sunlight. 

A third person may not have enough of a particular chemical or hormone. There may be a combination of factors involved. The chain of good sleep is as strong as the weakest link. Therefore, adding practices that are not addressing your weaknesses will not be the quickest route to success.

The second point is to think systemically. If you plan to make a change, you need to consider the effect the change will have on your overall life. The ideal situation is that you take a single pill and your problem is resolved. 

Real-life is rarely so smooth. For example, if you initiate a gym exercise program, consider the effect the gym time will have on your relationships (less time), your food intake (more food), and your budget. How will taking a supplement affect your existing medication? These are second-order effects. Third, you can examine your sleep problem with the 5 Whys technique (repeatedly asking why to get to the root of a problem).

  • If you are too stressed to sleep; why are you stressed? Is it because of a marital problem or financial situation? Why?
  • If you are working too late on the computer, why are you doing that?
  • If you are sleepy mid-day, is it always after you had lunch? What was in your lunch? Why?

Addressing the root cause of a problem will help more to address issues than taking more supplements, or exercising more. That’s not to make light of complex problems or say they are easy to solve, but rather to point you to the right problem to solve. 

Band-aids will be less effective than real solutions, and an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

Finally, remember that good sleep is a part of good health. Again, we will take a systemic approach – sleep is a part of your body’s system. Good sleep supports good health, and this is a virtuous cycle. The practices that support good health will support good sleep. The practices that are detrimental to health will be detrimental to your sleep quality.

Among the topics in this section we will cover are:

  • Light
  • Environment
  • Behaviours
  • Food
  • Supplements (Vitamins, Herbs, Enzymes, etc….)

Let’s get into the topics.

Light

Beginning with cavemen, light has represented safety. Fire not only illuminated the dark night, it also kept predators at bay. Before the invention of the electric light bulb, mankind’s sleep patterns were largely based on the rising and setting sun. 

But over the last century and a half-light has become our constant companion. While it may have played a huge part in our advancement as a civilization, it has also made getting enough restful sleep problematic.

The effect of artificial light on plants and animals is well documented. For example, constant exposure to artificial light keeps some trees from adjusting to seasonal variations, which negatively impacts animals that use the trees for their natural habitat. 

Research on a broad spectrum of animals and insects has shown that too much light can change behaviors including breeding cycles. Logic follows that humans are not immune. Research data suggests exposure to indoor artificial nighttime light may be related to a variety of health problems including breast cancer.

In a paper, Professor George Brainard from Jefferson Medical College notes, “That association does not prove that artificial light causes the problem. On the other hand, controlled laboratory studies do show that exposure to light during the night can disrupt circadian and neuro-endocrine physiology, thereby accelerating tumor growth.”

In another paper, Paolo Sassone-Corsi, chairman of the Pharmacology Department at the University of California, Irvine, adds: “Studies show that the circadian cycle controls from ten to fifteen percent of our genes. So the disruption of the circadian cycle can cause a lot of health problems.”

If artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm, it means brain wave patterns, hormone production, cell regulation, and other biologic activities could be impacted. An article in the September 2007 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, noted it may not be a coincidence that significant increases in breast and prostate cancers, obesity, and early-onset diabetes have mirrored the amount and pattern of artificial light generated during the night and day in today’s world.

So it’s not a big leap to connect artificial light and sleep disorders and it’s widely believed problems adjusting the circadian clock can lead to a number of sleep disorders. That sensitivity to light is why it is important to minimize the effect of light in our daily lives and our sleep environment.

First, make an effort to keep the lights in your house low a few hours after the sun goes down at night. This will help your body recover a natural circadian rhythm. So instead of bright overhead lights at night, use small table lamps with low-watt, soft light bulbs. 

Avoid bright 100-watt light the last couple hours before bed. It’s especially important to avoid the cool light bulbs, which are designed to simulate daylight. Stick with soft light that is more reminiscent of firelight.

In what may be the hardest adjustment for many of us, it is strongly recommended to minimize your electronic use before bed. Research suggests TVs, computers, and handheld devices contribute to sleep problems when used in the hour or two leading up to bedtime. If you are using the computer, you can adjust the light spectrum being displayed on your monitor automatically by using Flux software. 

This software, available at https://stereopsis.com/flux/, enables your computer to simulate the natural light cycles where you live. Once you configure it, it will automatically adjust your screen lighting automatically.

When you go to bed, try to have as dark of an environment as you can. Shutters or blackout curtains will prevent light from street lamps or other sources from coming through your bedroom windows. I personally use a sleep mask that I purchased from Amazon, and it stays on most of the night. If you don’t want to buy a sleep mask you can just put a scarf covering your eyes although it probably won’t stay on as long as the sleep mask. 

Other points to consider are: Removing electronic clocks, LEDs, computer lights. Avoiding bright light when using the bathroom at night

In the morning, expose yourself to as much light as you can as soon as you can after waking up. Exposure to morning light will improve your sleep that night. I recommend a minimum of 1⁄2 hour of real sunlight exposure daily. 

You can do this while taking a walk or other physical activity; that will be beneficial from an exercise point-of-view as well. You want the light to enter your eyes (no sunglasses or tints), and shine on some skin on your body.

To increase light exposure, you can also use natural spectrum lamps. Keep in mind that typical indoor lighting is not strong enough for light exposure during the day.

Here’s a list from Wikipedia; note the huge difference in light intensity between the sun and other sources.

Illuminance: Surfaces illuminated by

  • 0.0001 lux: Moonless, overcast night sky (starlight)
  • 0.002 lux: Moonless clear night sky with airglow
  • 0.27–1.0 lux: Full moon on a clear night
  • 3.4 lux: Dark limit of civil twilight under a clear sky
  • 50 lux: Family living room lights
  • 80 lux: Office building hallway/toilet lighting
  • 100 lux: Very dark overcast day
  • 320–500 lux: Office lighting
  • 400 lux: Sunrise or sunset on a clear day.
  • 1000 lux: Overcast day;[2] typical TV studio lighting
  • 10000–25000 lux: Full daylight (not direct sun)
  • 32000–130000 lux: Direct sunlight

Summary

  • Get bright light exposure during the day, particularly in the morning. Standard indoor lighting is not bright enough, go outside or get special lighting.
  • Avoid bright light exposure a few hours before you sleep.
  • Keep your environment very dark at night.

Environment

Sound

Short of buying an isolation chamber, shutting out the noise of modern-day is close to impossible. But there are ways to minimize the onslaught to help you sleep better. Having a quiet environment enables you to get to sleep earlier as your brain will relax more quickly.

That doesn’t mean it is not possible to sleep in noisy places, but quietly makes things easier. Even electronic alarm clocks or other electronic devices can introduce a subtle humming in the room.

There are two characterizations of sound that I will describe that are used to get to sleep: natural sounds and white noise. A natural sound is the sound of the ocean, a waterfall, the breeze, birds, or whatever else can get you to relax and sleep. 

White noise is a superset of natural sound; white noise is a non-disturbing background noise that is used to mask other (non-soothing sounds). White noise is intended to mask the sounds of neighbours, sirens, conversations, garbage trucks, and other noises you don’t want to hear. After a few minutes of hearing white noise, your brain tends to not hear it and filters it out.

Another approach to noise reduction is to reduce your ability to hear by the use of some type of earplug.

Below I have listed some specific examples of using white noise and noise reduction.

White Noise Generation

  • Marpac Sound Conditioner – Marpac has various sound conditioner models that produce white noise. The Dohm model is the official sound conditioner of the National Sleep Foundation (U.S.A). Dohm is mechanical device and the official web page has sample sounds. Marsona, another Marpac model, is a digital device. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Yifusr_xR4 
  • Simply Noise – This is a free web-based and app for white noise. You can play the white noise from your browser. You can choose a few different types of noise to generate. https://simplynoise.com  

Noise Reduction

  • Foam Earplugs – A simple low tech solution to reduce unwanted noise.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones – These add sound in the headphones to cancel out ambient noise Noise cancelling headphones are good for continuous noise but not as good for abrupt noise (like snoring).
  • In-Ear White Noise Machine – Combination of earplug and white noise machine. These may cost hundreds of dollars, and may also be used for tinnitus, Ménière’s disease, or hyperacusis.
  • Filtered Earplugs – Reduces the volume of outside noise without altering its characteristics.
  • Double-Paned Windows – Blocks outside noises, if closed. You should read https://supersoundproofing.com/forum/index.php/board,3.0.html before spending a lot of money. This can be considered an improvement for a house or condominium.

Keep in mind that earplugs can block out desired noises as well such as alarms or requests for help. If you have children, elders, or others who are dependent upon you, don’t use earplugs that block out all noises.

Temperature and Humidity

Everyone has their own ideal temperature for sleeping, but for most people, it is between 65 and 70 degrees F (18-21 C). Remember that your mattress or bedding may trap heat. A humidifier can help you breathe easier, which in turn will help you sleep better. Some people will relax with a slight cool breeze on their faces.

Summary

Use noise reduction or white noise to prevent unwanted noise from allowing deep sleep. Ideal sleep temperature is between 65-70 F (18-21C)

The Best Sleep Supplements Reviewed

I have written many reviews about the best sleep supplements. If you want to know how these sleep supplements work and if they can help you sleep better, you may read the sleep supplements reviews below:

Pitch Black Supplement – Sleep Supplement 

Harmonium Sleep Support – Sleep Supplement 

Behaviors and Activity

Sleeping Early vs. Sleeping Late

If you have a choice between sleeping at 11pm and waking up at 5am, or sleeping at 1:00 a.m. and waking up at 7:00 a.m., which one should you choose?

Dr. Christian Guilleminault, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine, conducted an interesting experiment with eight men, who were given 8.5 hours to sleep across two nights.

Guilleminault explains: “The fundamental question we wanted to answer focused on the time of sleep. If people can sleep for only a short period of time, what time should they sleep?”

The researcher divided the participants into two groups. Group one slept from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. for seven nights. Group 2 slept from 2:15 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. also for seven nights.

“We had suspected that the more sleep-restricted the participants were, the sleepier they would be — regardless of when they went to bed. That’s not exactly what we found.”

Group 2’s score on the wakefulness test was significantly better than the 10:30 pm sleepers in Group 1, indicating that early morning sleepers overall were more tolerant of sleep restriction. In addition, the researchers found that participants in the early sleep group “had better rates of sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent sleeping in the four-hour window) and sleep latency (the amount of time spent falling asleep).”

Commentary on the study: This is a small-scale study of 8 people, and individuals will respond differently. Furthermore, the experiment is not about establishing a long-term pattern of sleeping after midnight. 

The specific scenario is a short-term effect of whether it is better to sleep earlier or later for a short 4 hour duration. I assume most of the people in the study were waking up between 6am and 9am anyways. Group 2, therefore woke up at close to their normal time. The broader, age-old question is the one of early birds (early risers) and late birds. The traditional view on the subject leans towards early birds.

Wake up at the same time every day

I like to look at how traditional society uses sleep and when they used to wake up. Prior to the invention or discovery of electricity societies used to use fire for lighting but generally, the beginning and end of the day were dictated by sunrise and sunset. 

The sunrise and sunset will vary a few minutes each day. You also want to try to sleep at the same time every day but some days you will be sleepy and some days you won’t be sleepy. Steve Catalina says that you can sleep when you’re sleepy but always wake up at the same time. If you wake up at the same time each day, you’ll find that you will start waking up naturally at the same time after a few weeks of consistency.

Avoiding stressful thoughts before going to sleep You should stop all work one hour before going to sleep. This means getting off the computer and doing some sort of relaxing activity or spiritual activity. 

You need some time for your mind to digest and maybe replace some of the events of the day and go through the thoughts in your mind. This is a period of decompression. In this period of decompression, you also want to avoid strenuous physical exercise.

Shower/Bathing at night

A shower at night can help you relax. I don’t know if there is a muscular effect or there is simply a mental effect of standing and feeling relaxed that will help you sleep. Epsom salt (magnesium salt) baths are another method of bathing that will also relax your muscles. 

You don’t need to fill a whole bathtub, even a foot soak in Epsom salts will help. Here’s a sample recipe for an adult in a bathtub with hot water– you can soak for 30 minutes, and then drink a lot of water. This bath will help you detox and relieve stress. Lavender will help you sleep well and rose will raise your spirits.

  • 2 cups Epsom Salt.
  • 3⁄4 cup Baking Soda
  • 3 drops lavender essential oil (optional)
  • 3 drops rose essential oil (optional)

Physical Activity

It is well-documented that exercise improves everything from emotional outlook to digestion. It can also play an integral role in sleeping better. Engaging in light exercises, such as a walk after dinner, three to four hours prior to bedtime will enhance the quality of your sleep. 

Moreover, more vigorous workouts—as little as 15 minutes a day, one or two days a week—also improves sleep quality and results in longer sleep and helps you fall asleep more quickly.

Scientists at Northwestern University conducted a study to examine the effect of aerobic exercise on insomnia in middle-aged and older adults. The 23 participants, mostly women aged 55 years and older, all reported having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep and also reported impaired daytime functioning.

The participants were randomly placed in one of two groups: the first group exercised for two 20-minute sessions four times a week and the other did a 30-40 minute workout four times a week. Both groups stayed on this schedule for 16 weeks. 

A control group didn’t engage in physical activity and instead took part in recreational or educational activities, such as attending a cooking class or listening to a museum lecture. This group met for about 45 minutes three to five times a week, also for 16 weeks. 

The results found that the participants who exercised reported that their sleep quality improved, raising their diagnosis from poor to good sleepers. They also reported fewer depression symptoms, more vitality, and less daytime sleepiness.

Lead author Kathryn Reid of the University’s Department of Neurobiology and Physiology says, “Better sleep gave them pep, that magical ingredient that makes you want to get up and get out into the world to do things.”

Dr. Phyllis Zee, the senior author and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Medicine, adds: “It is essential that we identify behavioural ways to improve sleep. Now we have promising results showing aerobic exercise is a simple strategy to help people sleep better and feel more vigorous. By improving a person’s sleep, you can improve their physical and mental health. Sleep is a barometer of health, like someone’s temperature. If a person says he or she isn’t sleeping well, we know they are more likely to be in poor health, with problems managing their hypertension or diabetes.”

A recent study assessing the health benefits of napping found that those who napped for around a half hour at least three times a week had a 37 percent lower coronary mortality than those who did not nap.

The exercise and sedentary groups were told that good sleep hygiene can be improved by sleeping in a cool, dark, and quiet room; going to bed at the same time every night, and not staying in bed too long if you can’t fall asleep.

My personal recommendations for exercise are as follows (apply judiciously to your own situation):

Stop exercising at least 1 hr before sleeping, preferably 2-3 hrs. The general idea about exercise is that it raises body temperature. The higher the peak of temperature you have while exercising, the lower the trough you will have for sleeping. Remember that during sleep you have a lowered body temperature.

The higher “high temperature” helps you get a lower “low temperature”. However, you don’t want to raise your body temperature near bedtime as it will take some time to get your temperature lower.

Perform heavy exercises for a short duration 1-2 times a week. Examples would include a combination of kettlebell swings, pullups, pushups, squats, Turkish get-ups, deadlifts and cleans. These should be very strenuous (11-17 minutes should be all you can handle. This would be high-intensity training)

Walk a few times a week. This clears your mind, gets you fresh air, improves your digestion, and provides countless benefits.

Perform mobility exercises a few times a week. These are exercises to maintain your range of motion and prevent injuries.

Play some sort of sport or with children or pets a few times a week. Relaxing gardening would also work. This should be a no-stress activity where you are relaxed and moving around. Don’t stress if you feel this is not intense enough.

Keep injury prevention in mind – eliminate repeated joint stress (long-distance style running particularly on pavement).

Nutrition

We are what we eat might be a cliché but it also happens to be true. There are many views of how eating affects sleep. They don’t always align.

Here’s a key point. We agree that we want the right amount of sleep for a good level of health. In other words, we want to sleep in the quality and duration that helps us maintain our health.

View of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology

A study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine published in Appetite found a link between what we eat and how we sleep.

Researcher Michael A. Grandner from the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, explains, “In general, we know that those who report between [seven to eight] hours of sleep each night are most likely to experience better overall health and well being, so we simply asked the question, ‘Are there differences in the diet of those who report shorter sleep, longer sleep, or standard sleep patterns?’”

Researchers examined the daily calories and foods consumed and information on the amount of time the study participants slept, divided into four categories:

“very short” sleepers who slept fewer than five hours a night; “short” sleepers, who slept five to six hours a night; “standard” sleepers, who slept seven to eight hours a night; and “long” sleepers, who slept nine or more hours a night.

After analyzing the data the researchers found a correlation between the number of calories consumed and how long the study participants slept. Those who consumed the most were more likely to be short sleepers; the long sleepers consumers the least. Overall, researchers noted that the very short, short, and long sleepers had a less varied diet than normal sleepers. 

The study also suggests a link between specific nutrients and sleep duration. Conversely, in another related study conducted by Grandner, he found that not getting enough sleep made it more difficult for people to resist unhealthy foods.

The upshot of these studies is simple: if you want to sleep better you may need to adjust your diet. The normal sleepers had the widest variety of nutrients, which indicates they’re eating the overall most healthful diets, says Grandner. Very short sleepers had the narrowest nutrient range, which might indicate their sleep-deprived brains are making poor food choices.

The researchers are now interested in figuring out if changing eating habits can actually affect sleep. Grandner adds: “This will be an important area to explore going forward as we

know that short sleep duration is associated with weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Likewise, we know that people who sleep too long also experience negative health consequences. If we can pinpoint the ideal mix of nutrients and calories to promote healthy sleep, the healthcare community has the potential to make a major dent in obesity and other cardiometabolic risk factors.”

Grandner’s analysis showed that very short sleepers consumed fewer total carbohydrates and got less lycopene. Short sleepers lacked vitamin C and selenium. Long sleepers were low in theobromine, a compound found in chocolate and tea, as well as lauric acid.

Rather than worry about specific nutrients, Granndner suggests simply striving for a varied diet heavy on colourful and green leafy vegetables, fruit, lean meats, and good carbs such as those found in whole grains. And even those who often get a bad rap, make sure to consume good fats.

Diet Recommendations

A healthy diet will promote healthy sleep. My recommendation on diet is moderation, middle-way, and eating less than you think you need. It is easier said than done. I like diets such as the Warrior diet, perfect-health diet, paleo-type diets, or the bulletproof exec diet. I favor traditional, natural foods. 

Raw food is important (for example raw honey vs standard honey, non-denatured whey protein rather than whey protein extract) and I think the microwave will damage food. I don’t personally avoid gluten but I recommend taking a food allergy test if you are concerned. I tried to avoid refined carbs and sugar. 

I favor traditional practices and traditional remedies. I think it is important to feel hungry, to avoid

meat sometimes, and to be grateful for the food you have. Here is some information about fats – these are neglected these days.

Healthy Fats

Butter from Pasture-Fed (Grass-Fed) and/or Ghee (cow, goat)

Despite what current (2013) popular culture would have you believe, high quality butter and ghee supports a strong body. Butter contains butyric acid, CLA, Vitamin A, Vitamin K2, and Carotene. Avoid margarine or other vegetable oil spreads.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a dietary staple in tropical cultures and is now getting accepted as a healthy fat. Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides. It supports immune function, brain health, weight loss, and thyroid function. You want extra-virgin coconut oil.

Other good fats include

  • Olive Oil
  • Chia Seed Oil
  • Avocado
  • Raw nuts (for example almonds, macadamia, walnuts, etc…)
  • Fish oils from low mercury fish

Below is some information on Flax Oil

Flax Oil

Flax is a blue flowering plant known for its oil-rich seed. People have been eating flaxseed since ancient times as it has a pleasant, nutty flavor. Flaxseed contains both soluble and insoluble fibre. Several studies have shown that flaxseed can help to lower cholesterol. 

A study showed that LDL (“bad cholesterol”) decreased 18 percent among a group of women who ate milled flaxseed cooked into bread every day for a period of four weeks.

Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of lignans and alpha-linolenic acid. Studies suggest that lignans may help to prevent certain cancers. Flaxseed is one of the few plants that provide a high ratio of alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) to linoleic (omega-6 fatty acids).

Dr. Sam Bhathena, a researcher at the Phytonutrients Laboratory of the United States Department of Agriculture, says, “…Several other studies have shown that in general, omega-3 fatty acids lower lipid deposition and help in reducing body weight.”

More than half the fat contained in flaxseed is an omega-3 fatty acid type, an essential fatty acid. There have been numerous studies reporting the health benefits of consuming omega-3 fats. Recent studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can help protect you from coronary artery disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.

The easiest way to incorporate flaxseed into your diet is to buy ground flaxseed meal or high-lignan flaxseed oil and add it to your food. Be aware though that flax oils contain phytoestrogens and phytic acid. Phytoestrogens mimic estrogen in the human body. You can expect flax to affect the hormone balance in your body. 

If you want to take flax, I suggest limiting intake to less than 1 tbsp per week of the oil. I would not suggest flaxseed oil if pregnant, particularly for those expectant mothers with an already high risk of preterm labor. Finally, keep up to date on the research.

Bad Fats

On the other end of the spectrum are the bad fats. These include refined canola (rapeseed) oil, refined soybean oil, and refined safflower oil or other refined vegetable fats. Trans fats are the most dangerous dietary fats on the planet. 

Trans fats are typically produced by applying an artificial process to vegetable oils. These fats are sometimes found in fried foods, margarine, and processed foods like potato chips and crackers.

Sleep with an Empty Stomach

Stop eating an hour or more before your bedtime. Your sleep will be deeper, and you will produce more growth hormone during your sleep which in turn will make your sleep more rejuvenating. 

However, if you are too hungry you may have trouble falling asleep. There is a middle road. I find that a small piece of high fat (and perhaps high protein) such as cheese will help me sleep better.

Almonds, almond butter, or some other nut would be good too. Raw honey is also beneficial. A sample drink could be 1 tbps of raw apple cider vinegar (with the mother), 1 tbsp raw honey, a pinch of sea salt in a glass of water.

Avoid Urination at Night

Keep hydrated, but you want to avoid the need for urination at night. Ideally, try to stop drinking an hour or two before bed, but if this is not possible, then add a dash of sea salt to the water you drink. This will lessen the need for urination.

Nighttime urination may be a sign of bladder issues or prostate issues, particularly for older men. For example, men will find that they will finish urinating, walk around for a few minutes, and then feel the need to urinate again.

This may be caused by not being able to fully empty the bladder or prostatitis. You want to go see a doctor about this. There are many herbs that can be used to treat prostate issues some of the following can help:

  • pomegranate or drinking pomegranate juice
  • Maca
  • bee pollen
  • stinging nettle root
  • Zinc
  • buchu leaves
  • Siberian or Korean ginseng. Siberian ginseng, also called Eulotheria, will also help you manage stress and is an adaptogen.
  • Healthforce Earth is a nice combination of herbs that could help with prostate issues. 

An enlarged prostate can be the result of excess estrogen. Men should avoid soy (note that soy is a very common ingredient in some high-protein packaged foods). This may also be caused by prostatitis.

Caffeine

A common question is whether caffeine can adversely affect your sleep schedule. The answer is: it depends. People’s response to caffeine varies. Personally, I am not very sensitive to caffeine but another individual might be up all night tossing and turning. 

If you notice you are not sleeping as well after caffeine late in the day then limit yourself to a couple of morning cups. Ideally, you should be having fresh-ground coffee so that the oils in the coffee will be in as pure a state as possible. I suggest stopping caffeine 8 hours before bedtime,

and stopping earlier if you have a particular sensitivity to it.

Supplements

There are numerous dietary supplements that can help get your body back on a proper and restful sleep cycle. If possible, a blood test is recommended to see whether any nutrient levels are low.

Vitamin C

Used primarily to boost immunity, this vitamin also benefits sleep by disrupting free radical oxidation. Consider that ascorbic acid is synthetic vitamin C. Getting real, whole food vitamin C, is, in my opinion, a better option than synthetic vitamin C. 

This will also have micronutrients such as bioflavonoids. Natural vitamins are much harder to obtain in “megadoses”, though. You would need to eat hundreds of fruits to get the vitamin C in a megadose of Vitamin C. Even if you drink packaged orange juice, the natural enzymes will have been pasteurized which can damage some of the natural nutrients. 

My current answer is, try to eat some regular raw fruits and vegetables first. Second, you could try some powdered real fruit or vegetables, and 3rd go for pill form. That would be an order of preference. However, be reasonable and don’t stress.

Niacin

Also known as vitamin B3, niacin helps increase serotonin levels, which alleviates stress and anxiety to help you sleep better.

Vitamin B12

Also called Cobalamin, B12 aids in the metabolism of fats, carbs, and proteins and also works to ease stress and promote more restful sleep.

Vitamin B5

Also sold as pantothenic acid, B5 has a calming effect on the nervous system and helps increase melatonin levels. Research shows that your body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone that tells your brain it’s time to go to sleep. In other words, the primary function of this hormone is to let the body know when it is time to go to sleep so that it will relax and sleep easily. 

The pineal gland produces melatonin, but it is also produced in other places, including the ovaries, bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract. Due to its benefits, some natural supplements such as Resurge contain melatonin as their primary ingredient. 

Resurge supplements might allow your body to absorb enough melatonin to maximize your natural melatonin production. Apart from that, it is also marketed as a weight-loss supplement because epidemiological studies show that insufficient sleep is associated with a higher risk of obesity. 

However, since the supplement industry is barely regulated, you might want to read some reviews for the Resurge supplement before making any purchase.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin aids in the absorption of calcium, which can have a soothing effect on nerves and muscles. If possible, get this by staying outside for a bit. U.S. Scientists state that you can get your vitamin D exposure for 15-20 minutes around noon. 

Keep in mind that in the winter months, the sun’s angle may be too low for you (depending on where you live) to get the required UVB rays. Skin colour will affect the amount of time you need to spend outside to produce enough vitamin D; lighter-skinned people need to spend less time outdoors to produce vitamin D.

Potassium citrate

Potassium citrate works with magnesium. There are varied opinions on whether potassium will help sleep. I have not heard about this hurting, but I have read about it helping or having no apparent effect.

Magnesium

Several older studies show that magnesium can improve sleep quality and reduce nocturnal awakenings. In addition, this element also helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, boosts the immune system, and plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels. You can ingest magnesium or put it on your skin.

Magnesium Ingestion

You can get magnesium from food, particularly seaweed, chard, spinach, and other green vegetables. Flaxseed and pumpkin seed are other sources. In tablet form, you can try magnesium glycinate, magnesium threonate. 

If either of these is not available, try magnesium citrate. Note that magnesium in tablet form may have a laxative effect. ZMA is a trademark name for a supplement produced by SNAC which consists of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. For some people, this supplement will help them sleep better, and may result in more vivid dreams. 

Some people will not benefit from ZMA, or it may keep them awake. This is available from several brands. Take ZMA on an empty stomach.

Topical use of Magnesium

Spraying magnesium oil on your body at night can help you sleep better and will increase DHEA levels.

You can buy magnesium oil (magnesium chloride) ready-made or you can also make your own. Homemade magnesium oil is much more economical, though if this is your first time using it, I suggest ready-made. 

To make your own magnesium oil, you need to buy magnesium chloride flakes and mix them with water using a 50-50 ratio. There are some detailed instructions on the web but they boil down to (pun intended)

  • 1 cup of distilled water boiled
  • 1 cup of magnesium chloride flakes

Mix the two, let them cool and put them in a spray bottle.

Every day or at night you can spray 10-20 sprays of magnesium on your body. I have noticed that magnesium reduces a restless leg (RLS) feeling if you spray it on your legs such as on your calf muscles or on some trigger points on the sides of the leg near the hip (gluteus maximus and minimus). 

Magnesium oil can cause a burning feeling on your skin so either you want to make a more dilute solution or after you spray it just put a little water on your hand and then rub the magnesium oil so it doesn’t burn as much. Don’t put the magnesium oil on sensitive parts of your body where the skin is thinner. Here is where I put the magnesium oil:

  • Back and back of the neck
  • Shoulders
  • back of legs, side of legs and hip
  • arms
  • lightly on the feet

L-Tryptophan

Your body converts the amino acid L-tryptophan into serotonin, which may help improve your sleep, according to the University of Michigan Health System.

There is an August 2013 study on mice conducted by Tsuji Nakata in the International Journal of Tryptophan Research that finds excess tryptophan affects fetal and placental growth. In short, don’t go overboard in taking supplemental tryptophan and talk to your doctor. Tryptophan is known in popular culture as being present in turkey as an explanation of why you feel sleepy after large Thanksgiving dinner.

5-HTP

A compound derived from the amino acid L-tryptophan, 5-HTP acts as a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter essential for a good night’s sleep. Many experts consider it better than L-tryptophan because 5-HTP can cross the blood-brain barrier and thus increase serotonin in the brain. However, others mention that 5-HTP increases cortisol levels and do not advise it. Do not take 5- HTP if you are taking an SSRI.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile Tea works for some so it is worth trying. Also, the act of sipping tea itself is a bit of a stress reducer. You are generally sitting and relaxing.

Kava Kava

This herbal supplement Kava Kava can help to promote relaxation and improve sleep. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests taking 100 mg to 250 mg of kava kava standardized extract on an as-needed basis, up to three times daily, to induce relaxation.

Valerian Root

Experts recommended this herb to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Valerian seems to be especially effective when combined with hops (pure hops or hops tablets). However, hops is a phytoestrogen and can cause weight gain.

Magnolia Bark

This is a traditional Chinese, Korean, and Japanese herb that is used to manage stress and help sleep. This is a highly beneficial herb that helps to lower cholesterol and is used for a variety of medical conditions. One of the active ingredients is honokiol.

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

This is an adaptogenic Ayurvedic herb that is used to reduce inflammation, increase longevity, and is being researched as a cancer treatment. If you feel stressed regularly, once a sign of increased belly fat, holy basil may help.

Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) is also an adaptogenic herb and is used for stress reduction.

Mustard oil

This home remedy is used to treat any type of muscle pain, and it will help you sleep. You can put 1 to 2 tablespoons of slightly warmed mustard oil in your hair and just massage your hair and temples with the oil. Keep in mind that mustard oil may not smell pleasant.

You can also put mustard oil on your body and one of the traditional uses is to massage babies. You may feel some heat on the skin while putting on the mustard oil. I add some magnesium oil to my mustard oil to make it more potent. 

Magnesium with mustard oil already contains some magnesium but I just had more so that I kill two birds with one stone. You can put this super-charged magnesium mustard oil on your temples (near your ears) and it will help you relax.

Other oils will also work well for sleep such as almond oil. Again, just massage into your hair, go to sleep, and you can wash out the oil the next morning. Most of the oil will get absorbed through the skin.

Theanine

This amino acid derivative is found in green tea and is known to trigger the release of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which activates the major calming neurotransmitters. The body has difficulty absorbing supplements containing synthesized GABA so you can use theanine instead. 

L-theanine has a calming effect and also promotes mental focus. Do not take doses of more than 600 mg without the doctor’s permission.

Glutathione (and glutathione S-transferase (GST))

This is a master antioxidant and detoxifier. It consists of cysteine, glycine and glutamine and is produced naturally in the human body. Stress, lack of proper sleep, and toxins can impair or decrease the body’s production of glutathione.

Increasing the presence of glutathione should have a very positive effect on health. Direct glutathione supplementation is possible and there are supplements available, but standard glutathione supplements will most likely be damaged when being digested. 

There may be more advanced formulations that minimize or workaround this damage and allow glutathione to be taken in pill form.

The alternative approach is to promote your body’s production of glutathione. You can do this with cruciferous vegetables, garlic, onions, bone broth, and non-denatured whey protein. 

Regarding whey protein, I recommend getting organic, raw, not heated, whole whey protein (not an isolate) from grass/pasture-fed cows. It is not going to have the highest amount of protein per serving, but it will be a very high-quality real food (consequently, it will also be expensive). One available brand (commonly re-branded) is Proserum Whey Protein. 

  • lipoic acid – this is available in small quantities in food and is also sold as supplements. The more advanced form of this at the time of writing is NaRLA, this is a more stable version of ALA.
  • folate (5 methyltetrahydrofolates),
  • B6 (P5P)
  • B12 (methylcobalamin).
  • Selenium
  • Mixed tocopherols (including vitamin E)
  • Vitamin C
  • Milk Thistle for liver support
  • NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) for liver support.
  • Rosemary as GST enzyme support
  • Exercise can also boost glutathione production.

GABA

GABA is an inhibitory transmitter for the nervous system. There is an open question as to whether GABA taken orally will cross the blood-brain barrier, but there is, what I consider, strong anecdotal evidence that it calms people even better than prescription anti-anxiety medications. 

You may want to try taking it with and without food. Oolong tea, theanine, kefir, magnolia bark (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22771461 ) are some foods/herbs that can support GABA if you want to improve GABA levels indirectly.

Ornithine

Ornithine is mentioned in a 2008 study titled L-ornithine supplementation attenuates physical fatigue in healthy volunteers by modulating lipid and amino acid metabolism.by Sugino T, Shirai T, Kajimoto Y,Kajimoto O..

It helps clear ammonia from the body and can reduce physical fatigue. It may help some people sleep. It is commonly sold with L-arginine. L-arginine improves circulation.

Prescription

Your doctor is the best source of information about prescription sleep drugs. You may want to research Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid,(GHB) and ask your doctor about it. Note there is conflicting information on the internet about this drug.

GHB is a prescription drug that causes relaxation in low doses and deep sleep (with increased Stage 3 and Stage 4). The drug used to be sold as a supplement but became regulated. It is also known as a “date rape” drug. If you are taking prescription drugs for sleep, GHB is something to consider.

A Note about Supplement Effectiveness

When a supplement works for some portion of the population, we need to consider the possibilities

  1. Either it does not work at all
  2. It works all the time
  3. It works for some of the people all of the time
  4. It works for some of the people some of the time
  5. A combination of 3 and 4.

Some factors for supplements are:

  • Placebo effect
  • It does not reach the place of action in some of the people (not absorbed properly, some other issue prevents it from reaching the place of action, didn’t take the supplement properly, too low dose, lack of proper bacteria in your gut)
  • A higher quality of supplement in some people causes it to work better
  • People are not deficient in the supplement. The increase in the supplement does not help as the supplement is unneeded excess.

If you are trying out a supplement, I recommend paying attention to quality and reviews. Once you have established that “the best” version of a supplement either works or doesn’t, you can then try to economize. Otherwise, you may end up avoiding something that did not work due to poor quality. Price is not always an indicator of quality, but researching reviews and brands (their owners and vision statements) will help you determine quality.

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