8 Tips to Improve Sleep and Fight Insomnia | Chris Kresser
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8 Tips for Beating Insomnia and Improving Your Sleep

by Chris Kresser

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sleeping woman

Do you have trouble sleeping? Make sleep a priority by following these eight tips that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

You’re probably aware by now how important sleep is for good health. Inadequate sleep is a major stressor on the body and has been implicated in obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, impaired cognitive function, and numerous other health complaints. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

It doesn’t matter how dialed in your nutrition and exercise are; if you don’t get enough sleep, your health will suffer. (7)

The trouble is, making sleep a priority—although an important step—doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll get a restful 8 hours per night. Many people can’t fall asleep at a reasonable hour, wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, or consistently wake up too early. According to a review published in 2013, an estimated one-third of the adult population reports having at least one symptom of insomnia. (8)

Luckily, there are several things you can do to improve your sleep. In this article, I’ll give you eight tips to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

1. Restrict Artificial Light at Night

This first tip is one you’ve probably heard me talk about before: restrict artificial light at night. This means devices like computers, smart phones, and TVs, but also ambient indoor lighting. Light from all of these sources—particularly blue light—has been shown to disrupt the production of melatonin, which is the primary hormone involved in sleep regulation. (9, 10, 11)

One easy way to mitigate this effect is to install f.lux on your devices, which will automatically change the display of your computer or smart phone at night to reduce the amount of blue light it emits. However, a better option is to buy amber-tinted glasses to wear after dark, which will reduce your exposure to blue light from ambient room lighting as well. Studies have shown that these glasses are extremely effective at preventing melatonin suppression and improving sleep quality and mood. (12) Uvex and Solar Shield are two popular, inexpensive brands.

Can’t sleep? Check out these 8 tips for getting your 8 hours.

2. Try Eating More Carbs at Dinner

Melatonin is synthesized in the brain by the pineal gland, along with serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is also involved in sleep regulation. An important raw material for this synthesis is the amino acid tryptophan, and carbohydrates increase the amount of tryptophan available to the pineal gland. Studies have shown that eating a carb-rich meal a few hours before bed can shorten sleep onset, and higher-glycemic carbs in particular seem to have the greatest effect. (13, 14, 15) If you have insomnia, and particularly if you’re on a low-carb diet, adding some carbs at dinner could be an easy and effective way to improve your sleep.

On the other hand, high-protein meals can decrease the availability of tryptophan because other amino acids compete for transport across the blood-brain barrier and into the pineal gland. (16) However, the glycine-rich proteins found in skin and gelatinous cuts of meat don’t have this effect, and studies have shown that gelatin consumption before bedtime (say, a mug of bone broth) can improve sleep quality. (17)

3. Keep Your Bedroom Cool and Dark

You may have already discovered that sleeping in a cool, dark environment makes it much easier to get a good night’s sleep. One of the physiologic hallmarks of sleep onset is a decrease in core body temperature, which the body achieves by increasing blood flow to the skin and allowing heat to disperse into the environment. (18) If the sleeping environment is too warm, it can hinder this decrease in core body temperature and adversely affect sleep quality. (19)

It’s also important to keep your bedroom as dark as possible. We’ve already discussed how exposure to artificial light before bed can impair sleep, and exposure to even small amounts of light during the night can disrupt the circadian rhythm. (20, 21) Installing black-out shades and covering any other lights in your bedroom is one option, but an eye mask is a good alternative.

4. Manage Your Stress during the Day

One common reason people cite for not being able to fall asleep at night is that they can’t “turn off their brain.” Is this really a surprise, considering how busy and scattered most of us stay during the day? If the sympathetic nervous system, better known as “fight or flight” mode, is consistently activated during the day, it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be able to switch to parasympathetic—or “rest and digest” mode—the instant your head hits the pillow.

Shifting the balance in favor of parasympathetic activation during the day by managing stress makes it much easier to fall asleep at night, and common stress-management practices such as yoga and meditation have been shown to help eliminate insomnia and improve sleep. (22, 23, 24) I also recommend a program called Rest Assured, which has breathing and movement exercises designed to promote daytime relaxation and a good night’s sleep.

5. Exercise and Get Plenty of Light during the Day

Supporting your circadian rhythm by avoiding artificial light at night is important, but don’t forget to enforce it during the day, too! The most important environmental factor regulating the circadian rhythm is light entering the eye, so it’s important to let your body know that it’s daytime by exposing yourself to plenty of bright light. (25) Try to spend some time outside every day, in the morning or around lunchtime if possible. Compared to outdoor light, which usually ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 lux on a clear day, ordinary indoor light is a pitiful 10 to 300 lux, not nearly bright enough to have the strong circadian-entrenching effect we want. (26)

Exercise during the day has also been shown to improve sleep quality at night. Several studies have found exercise to be effective at reducing symptoms of insomnia, and some evidence indicates that exercise may be as effective as sleeping pills. (27, 28, 29, 30)

6. Go Camping

Because the circadian rhythm is regulated primarily by exposure to light, the best way to reset your sleep schedule and get in line with ancestral health is by exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible, with plenty of bright light during the day and no light at night. And one of the best ways to accomplish that is by going camping.

One study found that being exposed to only natural light for a few days realigns the circadian rhythm with sunset and sunrise, resulting in an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep. (31) And if you’re wondering about exposure to moonlight at night, it doesn’t appear to hinder these effects. Despite the fact that the moon can seem quite bright, moonlight is only around 0.1 to 0.4 lux. (32, 33) For comparison, a candle one meter away is 1 lux.

7. Address Sleep-Related Issues like Sleep Apnea and Restless Legs Syndrome

It’s also possible that you can’t sleep due to a health condition such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome (RLS). I recently wrote an article sharing several potential causes, as well as ways to address it.

But while RLS is usually easy to identify, people can suffer from sleep apnea without even realizing it. If you have excessive daytime sleepiness that you can’t figure out or you wake up frequently at night, it’s worth having a sleep study done to rule out sleep apnea as a cause. This is especially true if you are obese, have high blood pressure or diabetes, or have a history of snoring, all of which are risk factors for sleep apnea. (34) Remember, you don’t need to be overweight to develop sleep apnea, so see a sleep specialist to get tested for this common condition. (Side note: I will be discussing alternative treatments for sleep apnea in the near future.)

8. Try Some Natural Remedies

Finally, there are several supplements that can be helpful for relieving insomnia and improving sleep. These are the supplements I’ve found helpful in my practice and are safe for most people to try, listed in descending order of what to try first. (Always check with your personal physician before starting any supplement protocol.)

Magnesium. Magnesium has calming effects on the nervous system, and several studies have found magnesium to be effective in treating insomnia and improving sleep. (35, 36, 37, 38) Many people have success with 1 to 2 teaspoons of Natural Calm before bed, while others do better with chelated forms like magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate (400 to 600 mg). It’s important to note that magnesium may have a laxative effect, and the chelated forms are usually better tolerated by those with sensitive guts.

L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that has been shown to have calming effects on the brain. (39) The recommended dose for improving sleep is 200 to 400 mg, taken an hour before bed if you have trouble falling asleep, or just before bed if you have trouble staying asleep. 

Taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that reduces cortisol levels and increases the production of GABA, which is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter—our bodies’ natural “off” switch. Try taking 500 mg before bed. Using magnesium taurate allows you to get both magnesium and taurine with a single pill.

5-HTP. 5-HTP is the precursor to melatonin, and the recommended dose is 50 to 100 mg an hour before bed. (Note: do not take 5-HTP if you are taking SSRIs or other antidepressants.)

Melatonin. If 5-HTP doesn’t work, you might consider taking melatonin itself. It’s more likely to be effective if your melatonin levels are low. At lower doses of 0.5 to 1 mg I believe it is safe and unlikely to cause dependence (which may be a concern with higher doses). Also, it’s worth pointing out that many people find lower doses more sedating than higher doses. 

Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, what tips have worked for you? Do you plan to try the advice in this article? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Join the conversation

  1. You missed the most influential sleep remedy (I recently discovered in the past 20 years of my self reaserch): No eating past 7pm! Try to stop eating 4 hours before bed time for a few weeks and you will feel the difference it makes in sleep quality and helping you fall asleep.

    Digestion is also a part of circadian rhythm. Late night eating = singaling to the body that it’s still day time.

    Even if it feels tough to go hungry asome nights, it always pays off for me.

    • carbohydrates especially sugar before bed release insulin and gaba and serotonin. this is why the old cookies and milk was used long ago before bed.

      You probably have some unhealthy bacteria in your guy. several harmful bacteria will eat the sugar and release chemicals that raise stress and hunger. these are far more common than people realize in this decade with the incredible rise of IBS, sibo ect. some people feel its natural for digestion to decline with age, but its more likely diseases are going untreated and thriveing. iv read incredible studies of people recolonizing their digestive tracts and riding themselves of a host of issues.

  2. Hi

    The link to the recommended program “rest assured” doesnt work at all.
    Can you provide the details. Haven’t found it on the net

  3. I’m looking for the subsequent article on alternative solutions for sleep apnea – can you please direct me to it? thanks!

    • Alcohol disrupts sleep, while it has depressant effects it’s not a good idea to use it to induce sleep. It depletes magnesium, b vitamins and also causes blood sugar crashes.

  4. hey chriss tanx !

    yeah Restriction from artificial light is more important ,
    but everbody ignores this sides of technology.

    the blue light which emerges from it , are very harmful.

  5. It’s amazing how our bodies respond to routines, habits and rituals. Making an effort to go to bed at the same time every night (whether or not you go to sleep straight away) and waking up at the same time every morning means your training your body to follow these cues and sleep more efficiently.

  6. Previous sleep eluded me for years. Had an adrenal crash but there was more going on …..copper toxicity/disregulation. Ladies if you have taken birth control pills, had a IUD, have had copper pipes, were a vegetarian, or have estrogen dominance look into your copper levels by working with a qualified nutritional balancing coach. Saved my life. Magnesuim cannot be emphasized enough.

  7. So eat more glycemic carbs and meat ?. This is not really good advice as I am not looking to sleep permanently any tim soon hopefully. One of the biggest issues for sleep particularly for men as they go past 40 is repeated bathroom visits. High fiber meals are not only good for your general health but also have been shown to aid sleep. I found that when I have a chickpea curry my night bathroom visits reduce to zero! on every occasion that I have recently consumed one (about 12 times). Give it a try, maybe other food variations with high fiber can also do the job. A good book on this subject is Lights Out by T S Wiley

  8. Nice tips for a better sleep. Today’s one of the reason of restless body is not having a good night sleep. The tips and the points are very much are effective ways to get a better sleep. Thanks for sharing this unique and important post with us.

  9. Extraordinary article Chris! I would add to this, getting outside promptly after ascending (alongside for the duration of the day) on the off chance that you genuinely are having rest issues. This will kick off your morning cortisol, promptly lessen melatonin yield and wake you up all the more adequately. Being more ready and arranged toward the start of the day underpins that diurnal mood of cortisol so well that rest gets to be more profound (= more therapeutic) around evening time. 5-10 minutes is everything you need!

  10. Excellent tips indeed…the one that is new to me is the use of magnesium…I’ll try it out to see what improvement I could observe. My insomnia started while I was raising up my youngest kid who is now 3 years old, but I am still struggling to get my sleep back a recent gadget I have started to explore is this little thing: http://www.whitenoisejudge.com/sleep-easy-sound-conditioner-white-noise-machine/ I hope its okay if I refer to it. It helps me sleep via blocking out my partner’s snoring noises and surroundings (I live in an area where lots of construction is going on)

    Thanks for sharing your insightful tips..
    keep it up!

  11. Good ideas. ESPECIALLY keeping things cooler. Layer your blankets and you can always toss some off, but your body is expecting a cool-down at night. The body temp naturally lowers as you near sleep but it’s also an external phenomenon, probably because for most of the year and in a majority of locales, things do get cooler at night.

  12. I have a series of books which I have read many times before, so I know the stories backwards and can just pick them up at any point. They are set in the past over two hundred years ago and have no content that triggers any thoughts about my actual daily life or the modern world. The central characters are all likeable and there are no sad bits. Its rare that I can manage more than a few pages before I drop off. Although not properly tested, I’m sure this is a very safe and non-addictive method with little or no side-effects!

  13. I have read many people write about taking a GABA supplement and have concerns. I did a GABA challenge with my functional med doc in my intitial work-up. It was used to test the integrity of my blood brain barrier. Apparently GABA is a very large molecule and it should definitely not pass through an intact blood brain barrier (bbb). I took a dose of GABA and if I slept much better than usual, it showed my doc that I needed some repair of my (bbb) and also my gut barrier as well, which goes hand and hand with the (bbb). Have any of you heard of this, and do you have an opinion Chris?

    • When you arrive at your destination, spend some time to ground yourself to the earth, by going barefoot on dirt or grass. or you can buy grounding products to use while you sleep. Connecting your body with the earth resets your biological clock to your new time zone. Every living thing on earth is electrically connected to the earth all the time, and therefore grounded by that contact. Humans, not much anymore, since we now wear insulating shoes and rarely go barefoot.

  14. Great article. Regarding the observation that magnesium taurate is a way to get both magnesium and taurine (or magnesium glycinate to get magnesium and glycine), though it makes sense, I’ve never found confirmation that you get the benefits of taurine or glycine when it’s bound with magnesium.

    • Thanks for your comment! I was wondering about this very thing! I’m going to try taking MagTech (which contains magnesium in 3 forms: L-threonate & glycinate & taurate) & also take taurine & glycine separately.

  15. I’m not sleeping well due to ridiculous hot flashes. I can’t say just “night” sweats cause it’s really all the time but it keeps me awake at night. I’m pretty good about no electronics, exercise daily, etc. I used to drink sleepy time tea but figured out in the morning I had “allergy face”..puffy, congested. I’ve also tried tart cherry juice but those aren’t helping the hot flash. I don’t want to take conventional prescriptions (premarin, etc.)

    • Hi
      Smart — avoid Premarin like the plague! 1 friend (42) on it at MIN dose and had a stroke day 30. I get them 6 out of 7, 24 hrs ea. time. Do use
      1. LOOSE NATURAL EXPENSIVE MATERIAL — or just bottoms.
      2. Pure SILK (natural fibre) sheets
      3. Dr. Michael Sealey’s “let it go” audio via U Tube (sexy voice too…,..errrr I meant soothing!
      4. “This too will pass” attitude.
      Our hormones are so complex & intertwined — better to ACCEPT vs resent.
      I had twins while attending Univ., heart attack during emerg. c-section; 1 twin died at delivery & pediatric cardiologist made tough call—a total hysterectomy before I woke up.
      I never: smoked, drank, was very fit, never obese: always exercised, meditated, etc. but I took a med due to debilitating morning sickness — hence my “ACCEPT” attitude. It is 21 yrs after all that and I still sweat at night, daytime but guess what:
      Us females are strong: put your mind elsewhere when you start to sweat. I have 14 night items which barely get me through 6 nights–I even change in my sleep! Don’t suppress feelings but don’t take ANY risks with a miracle like our bodies. Good Luck!!’

    • Kathryn- this may not be hormonal. I get these too and while we are not positive, we think these are due to stress- both physical and mental. This is because, for me, I’m not eating enough, and not able to eat enough carbs yet. Something to consider.

    • My hot flashes, more like heat surges with adrenaline, decrease dramatically when I don’t eat too many grams of carbohydrates at one meal. So, I think they are caused a sugar imbalance. I believe in eating good carbs but my body handles them better when I spread out my carb consumption during the day. May or may not be your issue.

    • Agreed to stay off the pharmaceutical estrogen …. It’s proven to cause cancer. I use a bio identical hormone replacement therapy made by the Wiley protocol. 54 never had a hot flash…. No mood swings, very little weight gain over the last 10 years. It will change your life.
      Try getting one of those very large ice packs that you use for back pain you can buy them at the drug store there about 12 x 8″…. put it in a pillow case and use that it night it will really help ….use a couple of them if you need ! : )

  16. I too have embarked on many strategies to try and conquer the the sleep apnea boogieman within.

    What generally works now is in addition to the basics like regular exercise and restrict/eliminate fruit/carbs/sugar til evening etc, then about half an hour before bed munch down some resistant starch (boiled potato cooled in fridge for a few hours), boiled egg(s), (and/or bone broth soup), and magnesium supplement.

    • My husband had sleep apnea for years. Sounds simple, but having extra pillows has cleared it up. He still has restless legs though. In his case it is mainly when he is dreaming, so is unaware of it. Needless to say, it’s me that has the sleep problem!

  17. I have not slept good for since 2010. I have Hashimoto thyroiditis. I am sure this is the reason I do not sleep.
    However, I was turned on earthing. I bought a grounding sheet at (www.earthing.com). and have slept every night since I have had the sheet on my bed. I have, in the past worked in my veg garden barefoot but that did not seem to do the trick.
    This works for me.

    • One can only spend so much time outside barefoot, but grounding yourself can be done almost anytime with simple tools… i am grounded about 16 hours every day, all indoors.

  18. Golden milk, which is milk with turmeric and honey works wonders for a sound night’s sleep. I use full fat coconut milk mixed with filtered water. I sleep like a baby. Adding a dash of black pepper makes the good properties of turmeric absorb more. Also, Numi brand turmeric tea – Amber Sun works well at bedtime.

  19. I work with many customers who have sleep issues. One thing that pops up over and over with both men and women is that they have frequent nighttime urination issues. Do you plan to address this topic in an upcoming article?

    The supplement, lutein, does a nice job of absorbing blue light and supports not only healthy eyes, but also a healthy brain and skin too.

    GABA also works to deactivate stress hormones and to turn off repetitive thoughts. I also recommend the book, Lights Out. Thanks so much for all the interesting articles that you send out!

  20. I dream of the day when the only person waking me up at night is myself. Oh bliss… ! I have my share of insomnia (thank you adrenal fatigue–eating a teaspoon or more of sea salt every day has helped the most with this) but the main reasons I can’t sleep are my three-year-old, my one-year-old, and my four-month-old. Sigh.

  21. I have no trouble falling asleep unless I had a caffeinated drink after 3:00 PM. I frequently go to bed without drinking water and wake up thirsty. If I drink water, then I fall back asleep again usually right away.

    • So you clearly don’t have insomnia Eileen, why comment? That’s not at all helpful to the ones of us that have real sleep issues.

  22. High copper destroys sleep. I’ve had so much therapy for my insomnia…CBT, ACT, mindfulness meditation clinics…none of it cut the insomnia until I learned about copper poisoning. I would guess toxicity is typically a problem for people with hard chronic insomnia.

    • My husband had sleep apnea for years. Sounds simple, but having extra pillows has cleared it up. He still has restless legs though. In his case it is mainly when he is dreaming, so is unaware of it. Needless to say, it’s me that has the sleep problem!

      • Yes it is very important for copper and zinc to be in balance. I think Chris talks about it on on of his blogs. Serum testing copper to zinc ratio should be about 1:1 to 1:1.3. I prefer have a little more zinc and men should be zinc dominant. I eat .5lbs beef liver every week as well as nuts and chocolate and other foods high in copper without supplementing zinc and while copper did not even get close to being too high, it was out of balance with zinc. I had more copper than zinc. Supplementing zinc corrected it and I feel much better. The main symptoms for me were unspecific agitation and poor sleep. To answer your question if it is out of balance yes usually best solution is more zinc. No need to reduce copper unless it’s way out of range in which case you have a more serious problem. If you take too much zinc you can cause low copper. Just don’t take high dosages. Most diets are out of balance favoring copper.

  23. I enjoyed this article. Thank you!
    Have you written on neuropathy which is not caused by diabetes, or chemotherapy? I would like to learn the cause of my neuropathy which came on at the same time as my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. It has not gotten better and maybe getting worse, although I am on thyroid medication. Any suggestions?

    • Like Maria,I also have neuropathy at the Time I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease .I have had it now for six years.I have been treated for the Graves by radioactive iodine and now take thyroid medication.I take lots of B12 and B1 but still it continues.I am wondering if the nerves in my feet will ever heal.

    • You might try having your B12 level checked, that is part of my treatment for nueropathy. I am having good luck with ALA, alpha lipoic acid, and other sups to balance blood sugar. Shots for b12 didn’t help as I have a gene mutation that is interfering with my body utilizing b12, and other vitamins. I don’t understand it all but, I know I’m doing better with sublingual b12. Magnesium too, of course. good luck.

    • My integrative MD tested me for the MTHFR gene defects which cause problems in methylation of B12 ( common cause of neuropathy) and folate. I am heterozygous for one of the defects which means I have a 70% likelihood of impaired methylation. Another MD here in Austin, Texas has developed a cream called “The Missing Link” that provides a form of methy B12 and methyl folate. I am trying this. It’s too soon to report on the neuropathy but I’m hopeful.

  24. My husband and i use a half drop of vetiver essential oil across the bottoms of our big toes applied by our thumb. If you look ar reflexology charts it makes sense. If we still have problems we diffuse vetiver and cedarwood or lavender. Out cold every time. I had to use a half to a quarter dose of OTC sleep med due to shoulder pain at night. Anything natural wasn’t working. The vetiver oil allowed me to get off the sleep med. So happy! Before my injury 5-Htp worked fairly well. But now I’ll stick with my oils.

  25. I downloaded the f.lux once and it turned out to be a virus by the same name. My pc had to go to the shop to get fixed. It sure sounded like a good idea!

  26. 9. Stop reading any articles about sleep.

    If it’s about how good sleep is, ignore it, it will just make you feel worse and more stressed. It it’s about how to fix it, unless the problem is a new one, chances are you know all the suggestions and it will just be a bummer to reread all the things that never worked for you.

    10. Retrain your body’s associations with the bedroom.

    If you’re awake, GET OUT OF BED. Go to another room and do something else. The more awake time your body spends in bed, the more it will think it’s ok to be awake in bed and instead of beds making you feel sleepy, they will turn your brain on. Don’t go to bed until you’re practically falling down standing up. Set your alarm early enough so that you’re waking up out of a deep sleep. Once you do this for a while and are basically fast asleep from hitting the pillow to the alarm, slowly bring bedtime earlier and wake up time later by a few minutes each day. If you start to feel awake in bed, cut the hours back again. Keep going until you consistently are fast asleep from pillow > alarm for an adequate number of hours. You will be absolutely miserable in the short term and horribly sleep deprived, but it will be worth it in the end.

  27. Yesterday I googled “Carb-loading at night” and foung a 3 year old article with some other interesting points. For instance, it suggested that high glycemic carbs were better than low glycemic carbs because it may spike your insulin, however this also means you aren’t sleeping with lots of sugar in the blood for many hours. I am unsure where the blogger got his information, but he said that insulin affects Growth Hormone. So the high glycemic quick release carbs wont interefere with your nocturnal hGH cycle.

    Magnesium and P5P (Vitamin B6) are my sleep remedies 🙂

  28. I have the type of insomnia where I wake up around 3 or 4 am and can’t get back to sleep. I had tried some supplement remedies — melatonin, magnesium etc with minimal help. Then I tried all the other usual recommendations — don’t lay in bed watching the clock — get up and read or listen to soft music or take a warm bath, etc. Nothing helped. Then one night after being awake for a couple hours, my stomach growled. I was surprised that I might be hungry. I grabbed something to eat that was quick and didn’t require cooking — 4 cookies and 1/2 glass of water. I fell asleep immediately when I laid back down. While certainly not Paleo, cookies or a warm cup of milk with honey are my go-to remedies that always fix my insomnia problem within minutes. I’ll take the good Paleo sleep over the strict Paleo diet any day. In fact, this “cure” has me rethinking the validity of the Paleo diet in general.

      • I am under the impression that I wake in the middle of the night due to blood sugar instability, as the article suggests. I get hypoglycemic, and the subsequent cortisol spike wakes me.

        I probably run better on more carbs, but, I need the right PFC mix to avoid the spikes and dips.

        • I have been trying to figure out the right PFC mix as well but then Dr. Glidden suggested raising the fat intake and I tried bone broth which got me back to sleep. Then I see that Chris is offering the same suggestion, so maybe fat is key. I tried cream cheese but did not have the same results. I would like to be able to avoid the getting up to heat up and drink bone broth or eat if I could come up with a high fat alternative before going to sleep …….bedtime bacon?

    • You might check with a doctor trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine because there are specific organs connected to every hour of the day. Also NDs know about this…And possibly Chris does too.

    • That’s good you found your way to manage insomnia. No need to “rethink paleo”, though. Don’t forget, that “one man’s food is other person’s poison. People have different metabolic types and I think it is wise to realize it would be naive to think that a one size fits all approach is applicable. You just listen to your body, if you’re tuned in, you’ll get the message – and you did. Reading the variety of comments about what worked for different people, just confirms this…

    • Arie,
      I agree with your questioning the Paleo diet. I have never had sleep issues in my life and now that I’ve been strict Paleo for 3 years, I have had insomnia (waking 6 times a night) for the past year. It has really made me wonder if Paleo isn’t necessarily the way to go. I just feel like my whole body has been out of whack for the past 2 years. They say diet is responsible for the majority of health problems….then maybe Paleo isn’t the holy grail of diets. I don’t know, that’s just where my conclusions have been taking me lately.

  29. Can someone describe the symptoms of RLS in detail. I’m trying to figure out if that’s what’s going on with my legs. Their discomfort keeps me from getting comfortable and going to sleep.

    • I don’t get it very often — mostly when I lose weight — but it’s an uncontrollable compulsion to move your legs. It’s like trying to hold your breath past when your body needs to breathe, you can’t stop yourself from breathing.

      • Do your legs feel irritated/agitated like the nerve endings are hypersensitive or like there’s something crawling in them beneath the skin and sometimes deeper, and sometimes it’s a dull ache, not always in the same place? Moving my legs is the only thing that makes the discomfort disappear. Sleeping on my side, which has always been most comfortable, has now become difficult because it’s worse when my legs are on top of each other. Has anyone in this situation tried a body or leg pillow, and does that help? Is there a brand, shape or type that is best? Sleep quality is really suffering!

        • My recommendations from an MD have been;
          testing for b12, ferritin, and folate, as well as trying a low dose of off label use of drugs for Parkinson’s disease. So far I’m not agreeing to drugs, or cpap mask for my sleep issues. I’m trying nutrition, exercise, vitamin sups, amino acids, mouth guard for TMJ and CBD oil. Melatonin sup has helped me also.
          I became sleep disordered from a low carb diet.
          I lost 60 lbs. but couldn’t shut down my brain
          at all, for months, I was crazy. I had to add carbs and try anything and everything. Sleep is HUGE.

        • A full body pillow, tube-shape, helps me alot. Also, once I quit using hormone replacement, things calmed down. I also found out that if I take a supplement that does not suit me, my RLS returns. I cannot take 5_htp, melatonin, taurine or phosphatidyl serine… I get the royal buzz from those supplements, the reverse of what they intend to create.

            • No, not alone. And now I have that RLS or whatever it is… again.. keeps returning. Never had this before menopause. Have tried every trick in the book to calm it down and get sleep, but to no avail. I have used every item on Chris’ list and gave them a good go! They worked the opposite for me, and I almost climbed out of my skin with worse insomnia and buzzing. I even tried progesterone, and that worked for a time, and then reversed as well. Had to stop it.

    • Be sure to look into look into Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). There is some correlation to RLS, but distinctly different. One is more a dopamine dysfunction and the former more related to adrenaline in the CNS. RLS seems to thrown about a lot when they really mean is PLMD. This article included. Ultimately, PLMD means you have a low metabolism

      • Thanks for alerting about PLMD. I looked it up though, and that’s definitely not me, even though apparently 80% of people with RLS have it. I did used to get calf cramps, but that was resolved with magnesium, once I figured out it was due to mineral deficiency. Now it’s just RLS as far as I can tell from the symptom descriptions and that’s also consistent with my markers for inflammation and having SIBO/IBS.

  30. I usually fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, but I recently started taking a copper supplement and didn’t sleep for a week. My usual sleep pattern resumed as soon as I stopped the copper, so keeping copper and zinc in balance could be a factor for some people.

  31. Caffeine? I’m surprised nothing was mention in the article about caffeine and insomnia. Even a little caffeine in the early in the day affects my sleep at night. I know it’s individual. So a lot of people can drink caffeinated beverages and still sleep well, but I think it should be mentioned as something to consider if you have insomnia. Some people have a strong and lingering reaction to caffeine, affecting sleep and anxiety.

    • I didn’t notice it wasn’t there……..lol. You know something else that might be mentioned is avoiding Sleepy time tea if you are a person who gets hay fever. I was drinking a lot of it because everyone suggested it to me. I had no idea the chamomile was making my RLS worse. I had never heard this before and now that I know, I am hearing it a lot.

  32. I use a combo of natural remedies, switching them up as needed. Hyland homeopathic remedies: “Insomnia” and “Calms,” various herbal oil mixtures from Elizabeth Van Buren (online) such as “Sleep,” “Break the Cycle” and “Stress Relief,” also Yogi Calming tea. These in varying combinations along with most of Chris’ points work most of the time, but it’s taken years to get there.

  33. The 5_HTP, L-Taurine and Melatonin have the reverse effect on me: I get an unstoppable buzz. And any magnesium gives me diarrhea, even the tiny bits in Smartwater, Fiji Water or Pedialyte.

    Any suggestions of other things that might work?

  34. passionflower tincture really works well for me. Sometimes I get the occasional mind will not sleep. Also I try to turn off tv, cell etc before bed. I like to read a book before I fall asleep -which is also helpful.

  35. I highly recommend anyone with insomnia to get a referral for a sleep apnea study. Because I am slim and don’t snore, not a single physician I’ve seen ever suggested this so I suffered unnecessarily for a decade. When I did the sleep study, at the advice of a friend, it showed that my breathing almost stops 24 times an hour! I now use a CPAP machine and I have wonderful dreams (REM sleep) and wake rested. My sleep doctor said that I have a small jaw (TMJ and crowded teeth and lots of orthodonture) and that doctors are recently realizing that this profile can have sleep apnea. Also, I can’t breath through my nose very well due to MCS, food allergies and airborne/environmental allergies. So I also take a nasal spray which helps with the apnea along with wearing Breathe Right nasal strips. I used to have terrible anxiety too, but a GABA product has pretty much eliminated that. I look forward to your post about natural sleep apnea remedies.

  36. And when NONE of these things work?? I’ve been dealing with insomnia for over 12 years and follow all of these recommendations to the letter, with no improvement. There are two things not listed above that are critical to me sleeping at all

    1. avoid EMF as much as possible. Too much wifi and cell phone activity and I’m up ALL night.
    2. I have the COMT gene mutation. This means I do not break down catecholamines properly. So I am always wired. I find sulphurophane to be helpful with this to some extent.

    I think addressing the unavoidable EMF exposure is increasinly important. And of course, genetics.

      • RLS symptoms can appear if you become low in ferritin stored in your brain. A blood test can verify your iron levels. This can be a problem for post-partum women, those with endometriosis and/or adenomyoisis, people with colon polyps or other sources of gastrointestinal blood loss, and those deficient in certain other vitamins and minerals that can effect iron metabolism. Onset of RLS symptoms was the first warning my brother in law had that he had colon cancer.

      • Unplug it at night, or when no one is using it. You can also plug in to your router, rather than using WifI. That’s what I do.

    • I am COMT heterozygous. Thanx for the tip.

      I have suffered insomnia my entire life. I found relief after doing an elimination diet for 3 or 4 months. It was amazing. 7 or 8 hours (too much I know) of sleep each night. Then it all stopped and I can’t figure out what happened. The thing that confuses matters even more is that I was reading Kabbat Zinn’s book on meditation at the time. I’m not sure if that was it, the change in diet or the combination.

      • Hi Jackie- I’ve had similar issues. I have used SO MANY techniques and supplements. Many work really well for a few weeks or so, then stop working. It’s maddening. I get really frustrated when I see these articles ‘Sleep like a baby with these tips…!’ When I’ve done every last one and I don’t see improvement. I would suggest getting your genetic profile done and see if you can get more insight. And turn off phones and wifi!

    • About the genes…Is the COMT the same as MTHFR?
      I tried unplugging my WIFI and I slept horrible last night but I also didn’t have but a 1/2 cup rice with dinner….this IS MADDENING!!

      • MTHFR is not the same as COMT. I do not have MTHFR, but the COMT definitely effects my sleep as I have a hard time breaking down catecholamines. I would be adamant about keeping wifi and cell phone exposure to a minimum. For me it’s cumulative. The more exposure I get during the day, the worse my sleep.

    • Read some of the stuff that Dave Asprey (Bulletproof exec) has written on sleep…and he has written a TON on hacking sleep. I’m currently trying a couple of the phone apps that he suggest and am thinking about getting the GABA…

  37. Tart cherry juice, 1 ounce in the am and 1 ounce one hour before bed has been a lifesaver for me. Helps me go to sleep and stay asleep. Lots of carbs, so I work it in to my daily allotment.

  38. Nice summary, but I would make two similar comments, both about hormones and older people.

    Melatonin levels naturally fall with age and people over 50 can almost certainly benefit without harm from doses up to 5 or 10 mg. (Melatonin is used at 25-50 mg doses for prevention of cancer recurrence. Most folks I know sleep well with it.)

    Secondly, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy can make a UNIVERSE of difference for many men and women, say from their late 40’s onward. Properly prescribed and managed, they are safe to use for life.

    Thanks for your regular and insightful work!

    • Deborah,
      Do you think that supplementing with melatonin shuts off the body’s ability to make it? I’ve heard that from a few different naturopaths about hormone supplementation. What’s your opinion?

      • Hi Jackie,

        Yes, many people SAY that, but I have yet to see or be shown the research literature that proves it. There IS research literature that shows supplementation does NOT cause reduced production.

        That said I don’t recommend younger people (who should be able to make their own melatonin) take it for a long time: they need to look into why they’re not making enough or why it’s not working. Supplementation could conceivably impact production in a roundabout way, so I’m open to that possibility.

        For people over 50 (levels 1/5-1/3 that of younger people) or people who have had certain cancers, I think it’s fine and even wise to take 5+ mg nightly. A little different from most peoples’ advice, I think, but in my reading, well justified!


    • yep! if only my doctor had put me on HRT during pre menopause instead of Antidepressants I would not be where I am now, at 65 using HRT to fix sleep, anxiety, blood sugar,
      etc. Progesterone is good for calming the body. I take a little of estrogens and testosterone too. Antidepressants are given to women left and right, when depression is just a symptom of deeper issues of perimenopause. Perimenopause should not be just a mental health issue. I just wish mainstream medicine could be more wholistic. Aaargh!

      • 100% agree with you Zana, but I think even holistic docs often lag behind the newest information which would really recommend HRT for most if not all women: mood, brain, bones, breast, colon health… other than that, not much… hah!

  39. Recalcitrant insomnia is my WORST symptom. This is a timely article because last night was rough. With school starting, I have to be up at 6:10am and have breakfast for 3 done and 1 great lunch packed for a student athlete by 7:30am. All of us are gluten free /dairy free paleo. I need to sit on the couch for a while after all that activity this morning. I have tried all the above steps. I have to get out my orange glasses again for the evening, now that the days are shortening, and take my serotonin support supplement again. I just started LDN and that has thrown a wrench in my sleep. I hope someday sleep will be effortless for me again…

    • With any luck, you should be sleeping better on LDN. I did. It just takes the body about a week or so to adjust every time you dose up. I’m considering titrating off of it to see how I’m doing. I never took it for anything specific, just some allergies and severe adrenal fatigue. It helped with the fatigue tremendously, and with mood and energy.

  40. There are a lot of herbal allies for good sleep. I would consider them more natural than the supplements listed in this article.

    Chamomile tea, Motherwort tincture, Hops tea….and a bunch of others.

    I find that valerian flower tea or tincture (glycerite) is a gentle pleasant ease into sleep. It doesn’t help for waking up in the middle of the night but it’s good for going to sleep.

  41. My long-term issue has been sleep maintenance (waking up in the middle of the night and not getting back to sleep quickly). Trudy Scott’s work and book The Anti-Anxiety Solution has helped me identify some of the root causes, which I’m addressing. Low serotonin caused by gluten sensitivity, potential high blood histamine and copper overload…all of which add to anxiety and sleep issues.

    Agree, those of us with low blood sugar need to watch the carbs before bed. High-glycemic carbs would not work for me.

    • I am intersted in Trudy Scott’s book. I think I have all the issues you have just listed. I am going to google her. Low blood sugar issues here too. I do eat carbs at dinner, but was also concerned about blood sugar issues, which we thought could be a cause of my insomnia…but I am not so sure that is the sole root cause.

      • Heather, Trudy (along with Chris, of course!) does great work in this area. HIGHLY recommend her book and her approach. Also see YouTube interviews of her for more info.

        An avid health care research geek and believer in Food As Medicine!

  42. Great article Chris! I would add to this, getting outside immediately upon rising (along with throughout the day) if you truly are having sleep issues. This will jump start your morning cortisol, immediately reduce melatonin output and wake you up more effectively. Being more alert and oriented at the beginning of the day supports that diurnal rhythm of cortisol so well that sleep becomes deeper (= more restorative) at night. 5-10 minutes is all you need!

  43. I wake up four times a night peeing a lot and it has become worse since I started the 14 days paleo (, have been checked at doctor, nothing wrong.) any advice. It disturbs my sleep a lot(61 years old)

    • Try doing full squats every day. Anecdotes gathered from travels have taught me that women in developing and undeveloped countries have fewer issues with incontinence, and little night-time peeing because they squat – a lot – daily. It’s amazing how much squatting goes on in places where there simply isn’t furniture! They squat around cooking fires, squat to eat, squat to do chores, squat while socializing, and squat to care for children. We have gained so much in this country, yet lost a great deal more in many ways.

      When I had my first child at nineteen, my doula advised me to squat daily in preparation for the birth. I did squats, twenty at least four times per day, for the duration of my pregnancy. I gave birth just shy of two hours after arriving at the hospital, and had a completely drug-free and unassisted birth. I was comfortably up and around the following week.

      Dr. Christianne Northrup suggests using a “Squatty Potty” in the bathroom, and squatting in the shower to pee.

    • I watched something about that on a video that was done by a chyropractor once. I’m sorry I can’t recall who. There was some sort of test that one could do to determine if it was a trigger point that was receiving pressure in the prone position or some other unrelated cause.

    • Interesting, as I had this issue for years. I tittered off Paxil and my incontinence was cured! Antidepressants have all kinds of side effects. One side effect Zoloft has is an interference with REM sleep. They don’t tell you this unless you have a sleep study.

  44. Sleep has been my Achilles heel for several years. I wake up in the morning feeling worse than I did when I went to bed the night before. The overwhelming fatigue this causes is getting to be debilitating and is affecting my work. I’ve been to several doctors and they have no idea why I can’t sleep and have the resulting chronic fatigue. I have celiac disease but am very strict about never eating or being exposed to gluten. I take a calcium/magnesium supplement a few hours before bed. Nothing has helped, and I’m at my wits’ end.

    • Elizabeth,

      Niki Gratrix just did an excellent webinar series on chronic fatigue, titled the Abundant Energy Summit. Perhaps those speakers can help you hone in on root cause(s).

      I’m recently gluten free (non Celiacs) and plan to move ahead elimination testing those food items that are considered “cross reactive” to gluten (e.g., corn, oats, legumes, nuts, etc.). Dr Amy Meyers just wrote an excellent blog on the topic.

    • You might want to check if you are iodine deficient. Before you take iodine supplements, you want to have your thyroid tested, including thyroid antibodies, to make sure it’s safe. If your thyroid antibodies are normal, start at a low dose (150 mcg) and ramp up slowly to 1.1 mg. Make sure you take at least 100 mcg of selenium as well. I actually take way more than that, but that’s on an individual basis and I would never recommend that willy-nilly. You might want to do some research into iodine supplementation; many functional medicine doctors support it. My daughter and I (both severe celiacs) found an almost immediate decrease in “frazzled nerves” and a huge improvement in sleep. As well as many other benefits including not catching colds, not always being freezing, skin improvement, decreased inflammation, etc.

    • So do I! I use Brainwaves (32 binaural beats programs), it’s an app on my iPhone and iPod. I use it so frequently that I have a dedicated set of earbuds on my nightstand just for this purpose.

      • You have to actually do it, not just read about it, silly. : )

        I recommend you use a binaural-beat type of program. There’s several of them available, not expensive; some are even free on YouTube altho I can’t vouch for them.

  45. i recently started trying 5-HTP for motility, and found taking it at bed means i have absolutely crazy dreams which leave me feeling like I ran a marathon all night! I discovered that there are groups of people who take it to increase dreaming and remembering of dreams. Some people said it gave them nightmares. Now trying it in the morning… Just one to watch out for…

    • I am taking 25mg of 5-Htp at 6PM and having pleasant dreams. I starting taking it to increase motility though, and 25mg do very little in that front. How much do you take and what are your results with motility?

  46. Hi Chris, great post, thank you !

    I have recently read about a study claiming that 600 mg DHA/d was helping kids sleep better. When I tried to find that article I found claims stating fish oil could induce insomnia.
    I would love to hear your comments on this.

    Cheers, David

  47. Thanks for this article, Chris. My sleep problem is not insomnia, but bruxism (mainly jaw clenching). Meditation, hypnosis, yoga, exercise, sunlight, good sleep hygiene, a dental splint, massage and other physical therapies, and magnesium citrate have all failed. I’ll try the other supplements you mention, but in the meantime, I’m trying Chinese acupuncture. I enjoyed your articles on this too. Any further ideas on bruxism are welcome! It’s a widespread, but poorly understood sleep problem.

    • Hi Jane,

      With regard to jaw clenching and teeth grinding, I know several people who have had success by cutting back or eliminating caffeine. My musician friends first clued me in to how caffeine can affect the muscles in your jaw for some people – important for controlling emboucher when performing, but also for avoiding jaw clenching at night.
      Something to consider!

    • How about neuromuscular dentist? I am seeing Dr. Susan Huxtable in Toronto and my sleep is improving as my deep sleep went from 1 – 1.30 hours a night to almost 3 hours a night. She re-aligned my teeth and retrained the muscles to move more correctly. Find one in your area. Hope this helps.

    • Try an NTI device. It keeps your jaw from touching & clinching. I’ve used one for 10 years.
      Also you can do a before bedtime practice (10 min) letting go of your jaw by putting your tongue between your teeth so the jaw learns to relax (feedback loop)

  48. I’ve had insomnia since the birth of my children and had to resort to low dose amitriptyline. This seemed to stop working recently and I tried melatonin – works absolutely brilliantly and I seem calmer during the day too. This can only be obtained on prescription in the UK for 3 months only, I found the 2mg prescription dose a bit strong (caused nausea) and was also worried about what would happen when my 3 months was up. However I found a source of 1mg tablets obtainable over the internet so very pleased and hopeful I will be able to reduce the tricyclic soon.

  49. @Chris Kresser

    Great Post.
    I am spending most of the time inside my house. Now i will spend some time outside every day.
    What is the ideal room temperature for sleep?

    Hope it will give results.


  50. Great article Chris. I have had intermittent periods of sleeping very badly throughout my life. After starting magnesium it did improve but it wasn’t until I discovered I have high mauve factor and started taking P5P and a higher dose of zinc that things really improved. Recently I haven’t slept well and suddenly realised last night that somehow I had run out of P5P and hadn’t been taking it for at least a few weeks. I’m sure that’s what’s been missing and will be very interested to see how quickly things improve now I have started taking it again.

    • I thought this might be me as well, and it turned out that my DNA analysis recommended supplementing with zinc and p5p so bingo! The problem is that I get horribly constipated on zinc. I take hydroxychobalamin which also constipates and it is really hard to get enough Vit C and magnesium to make a difference. Does anyone know if constipation is a warning to avoid something completely. I avoid Vit D supplements as well because along with constipation it gives me horrible sensitivity to light (eyes). I’ve read recently that some people have not recovered from this affect……..that’s scary.

  51. I have suffered from insomnia for many years caused by eating carbs in the afternoon and evening. I cannot even have a small amount of potato, including sweet potato, fruit, foods made with flour or anything at all that converts to sugar. I have been told by many doctors and nutritionists that this is a very unusual problem because as you said, carbs promote sleep for most people. I don’t understand the science of this if carbs convert to sugar which converts to energy. Any thoughts please? I seem to be a medical mystery!

    • Hi Janice. Just a thought – in your case it could be that you have reactive hypoglycaemia and your blood sugar level is dropping too low after eating those carbs especially if you’re having them without enough protein to keep your blood sugar stable. Low blood sugar will trigger a cortisol release, which in turn prevents melatonin from being released. I’ve suffered with reactive hypoglycaemia and have spent many hours in the past awake in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep but after having a snack will get back to sleep quickly. I’ve also found many clients’ sleep improved by having a pre-bed snack of protein plus carbs. You probably need more protein to keep your blood sugar stable for longer. We’re all individuals so need to work out what works best for us.

      • Thanks so much for your help. I had never heard of ‘reactive hypoglycemia’ before so looked it up. Apparently some produce too much insulin which makes sense. Kind of the extreme opposite to diabetes. I certainly fit the symptoms! I tried a pre-bed snack last night and I did sleep better. A possible diagnosis no-one else including some eminent doctors have come up with, well done.

    • That might be the ‘fat’ I’m looking for at bed time. I could also get my vitamin D, but I keep coming across articles that make me rethink the whole thing. What brand do you buy?
      Thank you

  52. The importance of calcium for calming the nervous system should be noted too, particularly for paleo/dairy intolerant people. I had so much unresolved sleep issues for a long time until I started calcium supplementation which seems to have rectified it almost 100%

    • When I used to eat cereal all through the night, calcium supplements would make me jittery and increase RLS. Now that I’m gluten free (3 yrs) and off all processed foods, I began calcium again and found getting to sleep easier with the addition of calcium (to magnesium) and no side affects at all………..still working on staying there………lol.
      I’m finding my body to be a chemistry lab.

  53. Hi Chris,
    For years i have struggled as a post menopausal woman with sleep. Sleep onset was my problem. I just never got tired! I tried everything for 10 to 15 years. Finally did 23 and me and found out dopamine deficiency might be a problem. Researching herbs, i found Jiaogulan that works on dopamine as well as my sod problem. This herb is amazing! I have slept every night since i started taking it. I also have anxiety and it is so effective for this also. Check this out its a miracle for me.

  54. Thanks for the great tips, Chris!

    A question regarding 5-htp:
    I read that in order for 5-htp to convert to serotonin, there are some cofactors, which are folate, b6, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin c.

    Is this true, and have you seen these to be needed in order to use 5-htp for sleep issues or for anxiety and depression?
    If so, which in your opinion is the most important, and does it matter if the b6 is in pyridoxine hcl or P5P form?


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