9 Steps to Perfect Health - #8: Get More Sleep | Chris Kresser

9 Steps to Perfect Health – #8: Get More Sleep

by Chris Kresser

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Insomnia has reached epidemic proportions. It’s estimated to be the #1 health-related problem in America. More than 1/3 of Americans have trouble sleeping every night, and 51% of adults say they have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week. 43% of respondents report that daytime sleepiness interferes with their normal daytime activities.

These problems are getting worse, not better. The number of adults aged 20 to 44 using sleeping pills doubled from 2000 to 2004, and the number of kids ages 1-19 who take prescription sleep remedies jumped 85% during the same period. Prescriptions for sleeping pills topped 56 million in 2008 – up 54% from 2004 – with over $5 billion in sales in 2010.

This isn’t surprising in a culture that values productivity and activity above all else, and is almost scornful of rest and relaxation. “Resting” for many people means watching TV, browsing the internet or engaging with some other kind of electronic device that is anything but restful for the brain and the body. We have not only forgotten the value of rest, we have forgotten how to do it.

You cannot be healthy without adequate sleep. Period.

Unfortunately for us, the body hasn’t forgotten the importance of sleep. It’s absolutely essential for basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal and digestive systems.

The hormone melatonin naturally increases after sundown and during the night in a normal circadian rhythm, which increases immune cytokine function and helps protect us against infection. (This is why you’re so likely to get a cold or flu after not sleeping well for a few nights.)

In fact, sleep is so important to our overall health that total sleep deprivation has been proven to be fatal: lab rats denied the chance to rest die within two to three weeks.

Among other things, a full night’s sleep:

  • enhances memory and mental clarity
  • improves athletic performance
  • boosts mood and overall energy
  • improves immune function
  • increases stress tolerance

When things fall apart: how sleep deprivation destroys your health

Fewer than 6 hours of sleep per day is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation and worsening insulin resistance, as well as increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

This is highly significant in light of a recent cross sectional study demonstrating that nearly one-third of US adults get less than 6 hours of sleep per 24 hour period.

Inadequate rest impairs our ability to think, to handle stress, to maintain a healthy immune system and to moderate our emotions. It’s associated with heart disease, hypertension, weight gain, diabetes and a wide range of psychiatric disorders including depression and anxiety.

The following is an abbreviated list of some of the more damaging effects of sleep deprivation:

  • Impaired immune system: a study from the University of California found that even modest sleep loss weakens the immune systems response to disease and injury.
  • Overweight and obesity: Recent studies have shown that even one night of poor sleep can result in dramatic changes in appetite and food intake. Others have shown that restricting sleep to 5 hours a night for just one week impairs carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Researchers now believe that sleep deprivation is the single best predictor of overweight and obesity in children – which has become an alarming problem. Finally, a brand-new study shows that not getting enough sleep causes fatty liver disease.
  • Cognitive decline: sleep deprivation negatively impacts short-term and working memory, long-term memory and the generation of nerve cells – all of which effects our ability to think clearly and function well.
  • Mood and mental health: anyone who has had a few nights of poor sleep can tell you that insomnia is associated with depression. Insufficient sleep shuts down the pre-frontal cortex and can cause or exacerbate a number of psychological conditions, ranging from anxiety to PTSD to depression.
  • Systemic inflammation: as I already mentioned above, sleep deprivation causes chronic, low-grade inflammation. And we now know that inflammation is the root of all modern disease.
  • Increased risk of death. Last, but certainly not least, not getting enough sleep reduces your lifespan.

Of course we could go on. There’s really no disease or medical condition that sleep deprivation doesn’t either contribute to directly or make worse.

I firmly believe that lack of sleep and stress are the two biggest health challenges we face today. If you’ve been reading this series (and this blog over time), you know how much value I place on proper nutrition. But it’s much easier for most people to make changes in their diet than it is for them to improve their sleep and manage their stress.

And here’s the thing: you can eat a perfect diet and take all the right supplements, but if you’re not sleeping well and managing your stress, all bets are off. I see this every day in my private practice.

How to get a good night’s sleep

Before we get into natural tips on improving sleep, I want to say a few words about sleep medications. In spite of their popularity, they are not without risk – including dependence, rebound insomnia, drowsiness, memory loss, bizarre sleep walking behavior, changes in brain chemistry, constipation and much more.

On the other hand, there is a point at which the harmful effects of sleep deprivation start to outweigh the potential adverse effects caused by sleeping pills. This is when I believe sleep meds should be used as a last resort, presuming all non-drug approaches have failed. Once you get into extreme sleep debt, it can be difficult to make it out without some biochemical assistance.

That said, there are many ways to prevent this from happening in the first place and to naturally improve the quality of your sleep if it’s poor.

Reduce your exposure to artificial light

Artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm and throws off our sleep. Just a single ‘pulse’ of artificial light at night disrupts the circadian mode of cell division, which can not only impact our sleep, but also increase our risk of cancer. Another study showed that the blue light emitted from alarm clocks and other digital devices suppresses melatonin production in a dose-dependent manner.

Follow these tips to avoid light exposure:

  • Don’t use a computer for 2 hours before going to bed. No staying up late on Facebook and Twitter!
  • Use blackout shades to make your bedroom pitch black.
  • Cover your digital alarm clock or get an analog clock.
  • Turn off all digital devices that glow or give off any type of light.
  • If you can’t do these things for some reason, use a sleep mask.

Don’t be too full – or too hungry

Some people sleep better after eating a light dinner. This is especially true for those with digestive issues. Others – like those with a tendency toward hypoglycemia – do better with a snack before bed (and possibly even during the night).

Go to bed earlier

You’ve all heard the saying “an hour before midnight is worth two hours after”. It turns out there is some truth to that. When you fall asleep, you go through a 90-minute cycle of non-REM sleep followed by REM sleep. But the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep within those 30 minute cycles changes across the night. In the early part of the night (11pm – 3am), the majority of those cycles are composed of deep non-REM sleep (stages 3 and 4) and very little REM sleep. In the second half of the night (i.e. 3am – 7am) this balance changes, such that the 90-minute cycles are comprised of more REM sleep (the stage associated with dreaming) as well as a lighter form of non-REM sleep (stage 2).

What’s important about this is that deep stage 3 and 4 sleep is where our body regenerates and repairs tissue and engages in other restorative processes. If we don’t get enough deep sleep, we can’t rejuvenate and heal.

So you say you’re a night owl?

Patients often tell me they’re “naturally” night owls, and they’ve always preferred to stay up late and sleep in. But in truth there’s nothing natural about this. For millions of years of human evolution sleep patterns remained in synch with the daily variation in light exposure. We rose with the sun, and went to bed soon after sundown. This is what our bodies are adapted for.

In almost all cases, having a lot of energy late into the night is a sign of a disrupted circadian rhythm. Normally, cortisol should be high in the morning and taper off throughout the day and into the evening. This gives us the energy we need to wake up in the morning, and allows us to start winding down after dark so we’re ready to sleep. In people who’ve been exposed to significant chronic stress, this rhythm goes haywire. They have low cortisol in the morning (which makes it very hard for them to get going) and high cortisol at night, which gives them that late second wind. While drinking several cups of coffee in the morning mitigates the morning fatigue to some degree, it also perpetuates the pattern by revving them up in the afternoon and evening.

When I treat these so-called “night owls” for cortisol and melatonin rhythm dysregulation, one of the first things they report is feeling tired at night. And that’s a good thing! It takes them a while to adjust their lifestyle, but ultimately they’re better off for it.

For more good recommendations on improving sleep, read Mark Sisson’s Definitive Guide to Sleep.

When good sleep hygiene isn’t enough

I’m reluctant to make any recommendations about supplements and nutrients for sleep problems, because the decision about what to take depends on what the underlying cause of the problem is in the first place.

In general, though, magnesium is a good choice. Most people are deficient in it and it is not toxic at daily doses up to 800 mg. It’s also cheap and easy to find. I prefer the chelated forms of magnesium like glycinate and malate, but others like a product called Natural Calm which is mixed in warm water before bed. Be careful – it can have a laxative effect.

Melatonin is another commonly used sleep aid. But I don’t recommend it for anything more than emergency, short-term use. Why? Because melatonin is a hormone.

Taking any supplemental hormone disrupts our natural regulatory mechanisms of that hormone and throws our internal production of it out of whack.

This can create dependence over time and disrupt our circadian rhythm, which is crucial not only to sleep, but to overall health.

What I recommend instead to all of my patients with sleep issues – and what I use myself – is a program called Rest Assured. The premise behind the program, which I agree with completely, is that the most important factor in getting a good night’s sleep is managing stress during the day.

Most of us run around like chickens with their heads cut off all day, and then wonder why we can’t fall right asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow. If our nervous system has been in overdrive for 16 hours, it’s unrealistic to assume that it can switch into low gear in a matter of minutes simply because we want it to. Of course this is why sleeping pills are growing in popularity each year.

The Rest Assured program has simple, easy-to-follow breathing and movement exercises designed to promote daytime relaxation and a good night’s sleep. It helped me and my patients tremendously. You can try a sample exercise (audio and pictures) here.

Do you have trouble sleeping? What has worked for you? Leave a comment under the “Sleep More Deeply” post on my Facebook page.


Join the conversation

  1. Hi, Chris,
    Could you address hormonal insomnia women deal with during perimenopause and menopause? I’m reluctant to use HRT or any sleep medications. Is this something I’ll just have to deal with?

  2. My problems sleeping began after I came off Prozac. I really feel it has ruined my sleep quality and time that I sleep. I never had a insomnia problem before medication.
    I lay down to sleep at night so exhausted I can barely speak but within 15 minutes I feel completely wired with adrenaline, like I have taken 10 expresso shots! The slightest noise outside then sends waves of neverous energy through my body. After maybe 3 hrs I drop of into a non restful chemical type sleep, where I wake often swimming in strange thoughts. I eventually wake early with more waves of cortisol that make my breathing jerk. I have been off Prozac almost a year and this is still happening, iv had to go part time at work, I used to run half marathons on a weekend but now walking exhausts me. How can medication mess my sleep up so much and what can I do about it? I’m desperate for rest.

  3. Hi Chris,

    I do not have any problem with falling asleep – but I am a very light sleeper.

    My partner and I have wildly different sleep schedules and I wake up when he gets home from work (around 11/12 at night), and when he comes to bed (2am). I also wake up any time the dog comes in the room (I tried closing the door but our dog gets very anxious when the door is closed and scratches at it). My partner also snores which also wakes me up.

    Point being, since we moved in together four months ago, I have not slept through the night without waking at least once. The past three weeks, its gotten far worse – I am unable to fall back asleep after waking until I move to the couch.

    I have very good sleep hygiene (cool dark room, consistent schedule, no screens after 9pm, exercise regularly, eat a healthy hormone-friendly diet).

    We are hoping to move to a spot with a second bedroom, but that won’t be for months. I am suffering. My work is suffering. My exercise is suffering. My weight loss goals are out the window. Our relationship is suffering because I am resentful of the noise he makes (he tries to be quiet, I know, but at 4AM I want to smother him with a pillow….). I was wondering if there is anything I can do to try and sleep deeper.


  4. Be careful of magnesium supplementation. I began spraying magnesium oil on my skin and drinking mineral water in an effort to increase my magnesium, thinking I was deficient. I developed sleep apnea. Literally my throat would close as soon as I drifted off to sleep and would do so continuously throughout the night. It took me months to realise what was causing it and it was really really scary. I gave up the magnesium oil and drinking the sparking water and my throat stopped closing! I’ve tried to reintroduce, in small doses, both, and both cause it to happen again so it’s almost like I’m now allergic to magnesium! (I was drinking a lot of sparkling water but can’t drink any now or the apnea comes right back that night, even a tiny glass).

  5. In a busy work day, it’s challenging to relax and wind down at night, as it is often the only time when one has time to browse social media, send some messages to friends and look up own interests.

  6. I can’t believe this article did not mention caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants? Avoid any sources of caffeine such as Coffee, White tea, green tea, black tea, Yerba Mate, Guarana, Cacao(Chocolate), ginseng or any other stimulating plants/herbs. Avoid alcohol at least 8 hours before bedtime to allow neurotransmitters to balance out. No shiny electronic gadgets 3 hours before bed. Practice meditation and quiet your mind down before sleeping. This should help.

  7. Excellent article! With regard to the recommendations for a good night’s sleep, I would also like to add some other natural ways that promote a healthy sleep: 1) Stop smoking completely because tobacco acts as a stimulant and therefore it inhibits a quick and relaxing sleep at night. Furthermore, non-smokers wake up in the morning feeling much more refreshed and rested than people who smoke. 2) Do not drink before bedtime because your body needs one hour to process and metabolize one glass of alcohol such as wine or beer. That means that alcohol before bed will definitely prevents you not only from falling asleep but it also wakes you up several times during the night. Also, when you drink alcohol before bed, you do not get up feeling relaxed and refreshed in the morning. 3) Exercise during the day especially with cardio training because working out during the day always gives you a quality sleep at night. 4) Make sure that you have your last big meal 3 hours before you go to bed and you only have a light, low-fat, low-calorie, high-protein snack before bedtime. Examples of the best bedtime snacks are: Milk, a bowl of complex, whole-grain cereals, low-fat yogurt, whole-grain crackers, cottage cheese and a banana. http://www.lifetoliveit.com


    In today’s busy society, it’s almost a badge of honour to claim that you get too little sleep. In fact, the average person sleeps 60 to 90 minutes less than they did 50 years ago. Thirty-five to 40 percent of the North American adult population has problems with falling asleep or with daytime sleepiness. “It’s a big problem,” says Lawrence Epstein, MD, regional director for the Harvard-affiliated Sleep Health Centers and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. “People don’t think sleep is important because we can get by with less, but we’re putting our health at risk.”

    – See more at: http://www.vivamagonline.com/sleepless-in-canada/#sthash.ams3JGQ0.dpuf

  9. Something else that hasn’t been mentioned here is the use of wifi and smartmeters. If you’re having any kind of sleep trouble, you should consider where your bed is in relation to your smartmeter and your wifi. You also should not have any electronics charging in your room. The best possible scenario is to put your wifi on a timer so it shuts off for the night.

  10. Hey,

    btw, I usually sleep at 1:00 at night or around midnight.
    I wake up around 9 or 10 o’clock.

    And I have to admit, I’m on my phone during that time, or my pc or watching tv…

    I don ‘t have a tv or ar a phone or a pc in my little small tent 🙂

  11. Hey,

    I’m going to camp in a tent for 2 weeks.
    Maybe, if I don’t use ‘fake’ lights and stuff at night, my sleep cycle we reset to the sunrise 🙂
    I don’t use my phone, just in a restaurant when there’s WiFi to check my email at vacation.

    I will tell you after these 2 weeks if it works 🙂

  12. Here’s my (n=1) experience. Like the last post I haven’t slept well for several years following a very stressful work period. I’ve tried supplements (little help), in desperation I tried drugs (made things worse), through books by Herbert Benson (Harvard MD) who wrote “Relaxation Revolution” and Peter Smith from the UK I learned about the relaxation response and using Peter Smith’s mp3 (available through his book Sleep Better Through Natural Therapies) for the recommended 100 days it has resulted in an amazing improvement in my sleep – but it really does take that long and it really is worth it. But my sleep still wasn’t as good as I wanted.

    So I decided to try nutritional ketosis and after about 7 months that has been totally worth it – being in ketosis (after a couple of sometimes hard months) resulted in a huge increase in energy so I was able (and wanted) to exercise vigorously again and that really helped my sleep. I have worked really hard to eat a nutrient dense ketogenic diet Terry Wahls book “The Wahls book “The Wahls Protocol” is a good guide here as well as the books by Phinney and Volek. I also purchased a device called Ketonix for testing when I was in ketosis and that really helped. But I still didn’t sleep as well as I wanted.

    So earlier this summer we took a 3 week trip to Ireland. I slept like a baby on the trip – usually sleep 7 or 8 hours with no wakings. I am of Irish ancestry so maybe it was just going home? But really I think it was my diet. Not having access to a kitchen most of the time but wanting to remain in ketosis (I had my Ketonix with me) I had to eat what was available in the B&B and it turns out for me what was available usually was bacon and smoked fish (usually salmon). I often had the same for lunch. I finally figured out what special about these food (beyond being good fat sources) – SALT. When I returned home my sleep reverted to the usual so I’ve been experimenting with salt. It works for me and getting enough salt (and water – I live either in the desert or mountains at 7000 feet). I’m still trying to dial in the proper amount of salt (I use unprocessed sea salt) and that of course is a function of how hot it is, altitude, how much exercise…. But for me it seems to be somewhere upwards of two somewhat heaping teaspoons of Celtic sea salt daily (about 80% NaCl). FYI – my blood pressure is staying a little below normal, so no hypertension effect.

    Good luck.

    • I recently was issued a BiPAP machine for apnea. The dryness of the air was inflaming my sinuses making it hard to breath. Diminishing it’s effect if not making it worse than the condition.

      Salt helps retain water, since taking salt:
      I have not been waking to urinate.
      BMs(TMI…sorry) have been firmer.
      My sinuses have not gotten as inflamed if at all.
      It even seems to be helping my vocal chords when I try to sing.
      I read that there are correlations with salt and lithium(I’ve only recently come across this so feel free to disregard), my anxiety and parasthesia(tingling sensations) have also subsided.
      Ultimately, I’m sleeping better and feeling a lot better.

      I hope this helps others but I’m not an expert. Please be cautious and observant. Too much salt is still a bad thing. I intend to cut back slowly to find my level.

      I have been making a ‘tea’ of a 1/2 to 2/3 teaspoon salt, honey, lemon, gelatin, and coconut oil. It’s not very tasty. You could just mix the salt into some honey and wash it down quickly before you taste all that salt. I haven’t figured out what to do with the oil, I take it for the satiety. I woke feeling hungry the one time I left it out.

      • Ward and Scott, very interesting about the salt! I’ve been intrigued by a new book titled The Salt Fix but haven’t ordered it yet. I’ve heard the author interviewed a couple of times.

        The tricky thing about salt is that it also causes your body to retain cortisol. For some with low adrenal function, this can be a good thing. Salt is super-important for everyone but maybe especially them. It’s an integral part of the adrenal cocktail (google that). But if you have tendencies toward too-high cortisol (as I do…keeping me “energized” at the end of the day rather than winding down), having too much salt in the evening can REALLY mess up my sleep. After indulging in potato chips in the evening, I tend to wake up way too early, sweating…a cortisol super-surge.

        That’s just an FYI…as some of us may need to get more good salt during the day but cut back in the evening. If high cortisol is your problem, also try phosphatidyl serine with your last meal of the day. I was taking that (along with high-DHA fish oil) for a mercury detox program I’m on, and didn’t realize how effective it was at lowering cortisol till I got off and noticed, once again, waking too early (hot) and also having more than usual trouble settling down at night. When I read that PS lowers cortisol I said “aha!”

        I’m currently using l-trypophan at bedtime, also sometimes an herbal formula (hops/valerian/chamomile is my favorite), usually some vitamin C stirred into water, and often a calcium tablet or a piece of cheese. The adrenal cocktail that some use at bedtime contains potassium, so I throw that in too. I was taking lithium orotate at bedtime for a while (it’s super-important for B-12 uptake and most of us are badly deficient), and I was told to take it with potassium so I have some left. I used to take my magnesium at night but was recently told that it’s anabolic (rather than catabolic) so it’s better to take it during the day. Seems to be working okay doing it this way…I don’t miss the magnesium although I took it at bedtime for years.

        I don’t know if I have apnea, but I’ve always snored and been a mouth breather, and after hearing Dr. Darren Schmidt on YouTube talk about curing apnea with an RNA supplement, I decided to try that. I’ve been mouth taping for a few years and I definitely wake up feeling better due to that. I think the RNA (and maybe the tryptophan) have added an extra boost for better sleep, as I seem to be sleeping very deeply now!

        Now…if I could just make myself get there sooner. I must!!! I’ve always been a “night owl,” feeling most alert and productive in the evening, but I admit I’ve mostly done this to myself by pushing past early fatigue (thinking 9:00 is just too early and I have so much to do), and when you get your “second wind” it’s really just a blast of cortisol and you’re asking for trouble doing this again and again. Then of course I wake up sluggish, which makes me hate mornings, and the cycle goes on and on.

        Well, again…just sharing in case any of these tips help someone else. Poor sleep can really ruin your life.

  13. I’ve had chronic sleep deprivation for probably three and a half years now. I have had a sleep study and it determined I move a lot which wakes me up (RLS) and I grind my teeth. No sleep apnea or anything of that nature. They tested my ferritin levels and they were around 11 and supposedly need to be above 50 for good sleep. Sleep doc thought maybe my iron was diminished from taking an acid reflux medicine for 7 years (protonix) for severe gerd. I took iron supplements and it went up to 43 but still sleeping poorly. Prescribed Mirapex and I tried it for a few days but I was sleeping worse so I quit taking it and havent been back to the doctor since. My problem is I don’t get good deep sleep, I am always tired from waking up a lot, in a constant brain fog state, my vision seems off and blurred from not getting the proper rest. Have chronic back and neck pain and all my muscles are always sore to the the touch. Not sure if sleep has contributed. My memory is pretty terrible too and I never want to do anything but sleep. I can’t stay up past 9 or 10 most nights. I tried trazodone one night as well and that didn’t do anything different, same with melatonin. I am at a loss and tired of feeling so fatigued and foggy everyday all day. My lack of sleep is having a detrimental effect on my well being and I don’t know the answer anymore. Any advice for me? I am desperate and totally miserable.

    • I read a suggestion for RLS, you apply Vicks down your spine and across your waist, but only in the back. I felt it helped me.

    • It sounds like you have fibromyalgia and/or hypothyroidism. You can have thyroid problems and your blood work to come back “normal”. Have your vitamin D levels checked as well. Your adrenals are probably worn out as well.

  14. Functional medicine (or any other) has GOT to find out why people cannot sleep. This whole “black out the windows, go to bed when you don’t want to, fix your circadian rhythm problem”, etc. etc. does not work for many of us. I have always been a night owl and can stay up all night no problem but was always able to pull it off before I retired, barely, by taking over the counter sleep aids and getting about 5 hours sleep a night on top of waking up every hour with hot flashes but was able to go back to sleep. I suggest someone look into this…January I went low carb/high fat, giving up dairy, grains, sugar, packaged food, etc. Suffered brain fog, muscle aches, and only able to sleep 3 hours for 5+ months (which was a lot worse than before I went low carb). I have tried all these “remedies” and nothing worked. I went from 131 lbs to 116 lbs and still losing (and don’t want to lose any more). Finally, with all the blogs about how lack of sleep really ruins your health, I decided I had to add more carbs (sugar). I do not eat that much and couldn’t wait to buy any high carb vegetables or fruit so two days ago I went into my cupboard and made this box of Pumpkin Bars I had in the cupboard all this time. First ingredient was SUGAR. I ate two bars. That night I slept 12 hours straight through and didn’t even wake up for the hot flashes. Last night I ate another two bars and slept 6 hours straight through. I think lack of sugar has something to do with this and I wish someone would figure it out. Tomorrow I am buying a glucose meter to make sure I am not heading towards diabetes, because my A1C was 5.6 a month ago. If not, flat out glucose is going to be my savior until I can find some reason for this lack of sleep problem! I would love to continue to eat real healthy but I have also read that the brain and cells need glucose and maybe I was not getting enough. I welcome any thoughts on this matter.

  15. Hi. I feel like most things that sleeping problems runs in families. My father was on sleeping pills for about 40 years and lived to 93 …quiet a lot of problems with muscles and arthritis. He used Mogadon. My Mother was on sleeping pills for over 30 years and lived to 90 …she had a bit of forgetfulness .. My brother and myself end up with the same problems so there must be some connection . I myself have tried everything from Xanax to sleeping pills to seratonin and many more. I don’t drink don’t smoke have a great diet plenty of water and very fit for 69 ., and I don’t sleep 12 hours in the week. Have a lot of osteoarthritis and muscle problems like my father. Would love to find an answer.
    Thanks for listening..

  16. Hello Dr. Kessler,

    I’m actually the opposite in that when I’m eating unhealthy and over weight I sleep great. When I start to eat healthy, currently on PHD, my sleep suffers. It’s not PHD because the same happened with Paleo or any other plans I’ve been on.
    No stress, following all principles: magnesium, darkness, schedule: intermittent fasting (eating 12-8) in bed by 10, waking at sunrise.
    Within 2 days of getting back on the “healthy” programs like clockwork I wake up 2:00 am and have trouble getting back. When I’m fat, 9/10 solid hours easy??
    I would like to stay on my new healthy regimen, but I miss my sleep.

    • Joe, I know this is an old thread but thought i would respond because I had a very similar experience. So I experimented a bit. I had been eating my last, and generally light meal at around 6 or 7 pm, I would wake every night around 2 or 3. I didn’t have a burning hunger or anything. Just unwanted wakefulness. But when I shifted my last meal to 8:30 or so (a moderate, but filling meal), I slept soundly through the night! This small shift to a slighter later and slightly more substantial dinner, got my sleep back to it’s normal rock-solid state. I didn’t change overall calories or balance of foods, just shifted the time a bit, and it helped. I have no idea if it will help you or not – just thought I would offer my experience.

  17. I had been a reasonable sleeper before the birth of my three children. It seems ever since I have been sleep deprived. I understand while they’re babies, but my “baby” will be 18 this year. Lol. I have suffered with depression on and off over that time, still taking antidepressants and still very sleep deprived. I have had sleep tests which confirm no sleep apnea, thankfully. But still find it hard to sometimes get to sleep, or if I do get to sleep, find myself waking after a couple of hours. 🙁 Sleep deprivation is the worst thing. I find my attention span and concentration levels suffering, as well as patience levels. Normally very patient person. I’m at a loss as to my next course of action. My GP has suggested sleeping tabs. I filled my Rx for Valium, but haven’t taken any as yet. I prefer not to go down that track if possible. Wondering if you have any suggestions please. I’m getting to the desperate stage now. It’s really impacting on my life 🙁 thank you so much.

  18. Chris,

    I’ve been LCHF 15 weeks now with a complete turnaround of 12 years of chronic debilitating fatigue and laundry list of other symptoms. It appeared I was borderline MetS. I can exercise again and recover which was another big issue. Extra weight is dropping and BP. But I still have non restorative sleep and wake with joint pain and my whole body feels uncomfortable, but I can shake off most of these discomforts by walking around for a few minutes. I use to think these discomforts we due to poor sleep, but perhaps it’s the other way around and my sleep is being disturbed my the pains. It does almost feels like a poisoning. How does the liver or kidneys act while we sleep, detox pathways, is something getting backed up or stalled when we sleep. This is the final puzzle piece for me. Any ideas?


  19. Several years ago my life became very stressful with the result being severely disrupted sleep. I tried everything and some things did help (particularly practicing the relaxation response – which I would bet is also the result of the Rest Assured program). But sleep was still problematic. I finally figured out that I was chronically dehydrated – I upped my intake of water and sea salt (let a pinch of sea salt dissolve on the tongue) and then drink water. I drank a LOT of water – my sleep improved 1000% almost immediately and after about 3 months my need for water seemed to stabilize. Now when I do wake early I drink a glass of water then place a pinch of sea salt on the tongue and go back to bed. If I haven’t fallen asleep in 30 minutes (rare), I repeat. Seldom will I have more than 3 glasses of water before I’m sound asleep again.

  20. What if you are going through perimenopause and you can’t stay asleep? I’m about at my wits end with this lack of sleep. I could sleep on and off all day if possible. Just can’t sleep seven or eight straight hours without waking. It’s really starting to affect me!

    • Heather, I was also having trouble sleeping with perimenopause. I eliminated the soy lecithin in chocolate which seems to have stabilized my hormones. (That was the only soy I was eating. I now eat organic Theo chocolate.) Around the same time, I also increased my Vit D so that may have helped too. No more waking up, no more hotflashes.

  21. I am a night person and am productive more at night. I also don’t get home till 8 ish and enjoy relaxing and eating slowly. My biggest problem is I am on Effexor and progesterone and they knock me out and I wake up in a stupor and during night! This effects my work any suggestions

  22. thanks Chris for this beginning discussion on an extremely important topic. Reading many of the comments, I get the distinct impression that sleep (because this-time -‘forced’-upon-us & is not-chosen, that it is simple). Her book called ‘Lights Out’ by T.S. Wiley paints a simplified version that only hints at how complex & busy sleep actually is.

    A rather simple illustration: the color indigo (very deep blue) is the predominant color of the sky at night. The healing qualities of this color precisely mimes that of the famous blueberry. By sleeping indoors, do we minimize the effects of this color? How about nighttime UV + natural magnetic radiation (the kind that birds migrate by) + the circular magnetic patterns emitted by all modern AC electric wires … and we wonder why our hormone/stress/cortisol levels are so high.

  23. I am disppointed there is no mention of sleep studies. Sleep apnoea is a major cause of sleep disruption and increases the risk of many health problems. For example it increases the risk of a CVA threefold and shortens lifespan. Treatment is either with CPAP or a mandibular advancement splint. Both great drug free treatments. A sleep study can rule sleep apnoea in or out, just like having a blood test. No amount of supplements, avoiding bright lights or caffeine for example will overcome the powerful force that is sleep apnoea.

    • Physics can help. Increasing the angle I sleep has helped me. A high backed office chair in particular has allowed me to sleep well. Unlike a bed it cradles you to maintain you position and posture.

  24. I have been a poor sleeper for 30 years. I have tried it all, twice. Refuse any drugs. Chris, if you come up with a surefire remedy, you would end up being the richest man in the world.

  25. Hi Chris, I tried Holy Basil/ginseng and magnesium which did help, but the most effective thing I did was start to go to bed earlier AND wearing a face mask to block out all light. It also stopped me from opening my eyes to the faint light. My eyes are kept closed and I certainly sleep better. I find too, that getting out into the sun during the day helped get my rhythym working.

  26. Hi Chris,

    I have scoured books and the internet for help with early morning awakening. I wake faithfully between 3-4 am, no matter what. I go to sleep easily, sleep well, but have for years woken early. I have tried going to bed later, but I end up even more sleep deprived as I still wake at the same time!! I have read that this is hormone related, but I as of yet have not been able to remedy the situation. No caffeine, good diet, minimal stress, regular bed time….but still no change. I use magnesium and sometimes GABA. I don’t like melatonin for the same reasons you state. I have tried a little fat and good carbs before bed. Can you or others recommend anything else? I sure would like to sleep in a little….even until 5!

    • This is for Amy:
      Maybe you have the same problem I have and are an “incremental” sleeper, a person who sleep in 4 hour intervals? I do, no matter when I go to bed…if at 10:00 pm – I’ll wake up at 2:00 am and then, after being “wide awake for a few hours” – I’ll sleep another 4 hours. I know I’m not alone in doing this and wish, Chris would address this!

  27. I think caffeine deserves more of a mention hear considering 90% of the population are addicted to it. In my experience when you take most people off caffeine 100% the insomnia disappears

  28. hi
    i wrote to u on supplements, and breifely mentioned that I have sleeping problem. For over 10 years a doctor told me to take atarx to help me sleep. i did not realize it and time past by.
    Over 6 months ago, i had gone through some kind panic due to temporary problem with PB, it is stable now, however this has created huge anxiety problems and panic that i went into almost depressed state, Due to this the Atrax could not help any more, i stopped, and after months later i did not realize this and I opened my eyes on the sleeping problem, to discover that it is the one causing me all tension, aches in knees , arm muscles, lack of energy.

    Due to this i have re structured my eating habit again into better way(before i used to follow also good practices) but when i lost lots of Kg i had to do better. Actually it worked my health is good, but i still experience the aches and lack of energy. I used few times sleeping bills but i stopped, i did not want to be hooked.
    Iam seeing Ayurveda doc for 5 weeks, couple of weeks was ok, but then I lacked sleep again. i told the doctor so, and she told me take the atrax and continue their medication. i actually did instead i took anti histamine histalog 10mg, it is giving me some sleeping hrs.
    I do not like it, i like to find solution if i can without medication that cause severe side effects.
    I prefer natural,
    can u advise by email, iam willing to accept some consultation fees, for guiding me

  29. I tend to wake up every time I need to move (about every 90 minutes or so). I can usually go right back to sleep, but my sleep is still disturbed. I have chronic pain for which I have taken ibuprofen, but I don’t want to be dependent on taking it every night just so I can sleep. I’m sure that the pain is part of what is keeping me from sleeping more deeply. I have not had any success in trying to treat the pain in and of itself. Any suggestions?

  30. Chris, you say sleep aids can be used as a last resort. I’ve tried everything and feel I as if I’m at that point. If not melatonin, which sleep aids would you suggest that wouldn’t cause too many gut problems? Which do you feel are the least damaging?

  31. Hello Dr. Kresser,

    I have been dealing with insomnia quite some time. My practictional put me on bioidentical hormones for about a year, but that didn’t solve the problem. Later found out I have Adrenal Fatigue, where my cortisol is low all day but up at night. Currently I am on adrenal supplements, but I am still waking up middle of night and can’t go back to sleep. I have no problem falling asleep at night, but I am constantly waking up middle of night to go bathroom, then can’t seem to fall back to sleep. My diet is pretty solid, eating paleo for more than a year, and I rarely crave sugar or eat sugar (including fruits). Would you recommend having a light snack before going to bed? If you do, what do you suggest? Nut better, fruit, eggs, leftover dinner??

  32. Dear Chris,

    I had a tumor removed from my bladder and it came back low grade low stage nonevasive carcinoma and have gotten over that yet simulaniouly was diagnosed with severe fatty liver disease and exteinsive fibrocious from NAFLD. We are in Bangkok Thailand and I have not sleep well in a month. I am told to lose wieght and it if falling off too fast and in fact they said slow down cause the liver scores are climbing. The Doc here gave me xanax and sitll not taking it.

    Sorry for bothering you yet wnated to know your ideas on this. I can call you as well.


  33. And you haven’t even mentioned the effects of grehlin and leptin on our appetites, from lack of sleep or enough sleep. This has a huge effect and it has been well proven in scientific tests.

    Then once you have diabesity and get sleep apnoea, then it’s a vicious cycle! Not enough sleep makes you gain weight, gaining weight means you keep your sleep apnoea.

    I personally think that poor sleep patterns that are given to our children by our lack of discipline can cause a trend towards obesity. I know there are many other factors, but this is definitely one of them imho. Babies need 18 hours a sleep when they are tiny, and small children still need over 12 hours sleep a day.

  34. How can too much sleep affect one’s health (i.e. 8-9 hours sleep @ night + 3-4 during the days on weekends)? I know someone who is pregnant and practices this sleep pattern.

    • when a women is pregnant, she needs a LOT of extra rest. this is not a problem and i hope no one ever suggests otherwise to women.

  35. An acrylic or wool winter hat is a great way to cover an alarm clock to hide the light emission.

    I happen to be travelling this week and even though the hotel has think drapes, there is a lot of light. After sleeping in complete darkness at home, I do notice the difference sleeping away from home with artificial light sneaking in.

  36. Sorry – I am really late to post on this one… I’m wondering if you have any suggestions on children (namely my 2 year old!) who prefer to sleep with a night light/the door open with the hall light on. We use a night light with him & he is now asking to keep his bedroom door open with the hall light on. I’m not sure if he’s really scared of the dark (he doesn’t seem to be but I don’t want to cause him to be) or if he is just trying to make his own decisions (you’ll learn all about this when your’s is two!). Anyway, I am concerned about the artificial light disrupting his sleep (for the most part he sleeps great, but it’s taking him longer & longer to fall asleep at night…he doesn’t cry at night but lays & talks in his crib for quite a while), but at the same time I don’t want him to be scared so we continue to use the lights. Any suggestions???

  37. Great articles on health Chris, I’ve really enjoyed reading so far, I was wondering what your thoughts are on using 5HTP as a natural sleep aid? I know its often used for depression, but I’ve found it combined with magnesium and zinc can work well for my clients?

    Thanks Ollie

  38. Chris,

    Do you have any suggestions for people who work grave shifts? My husband has been working grave for 4 years and unfortunately because of the economy he has not been able to find a different job (he’s been looking for almost 2 years). His health has definitely suffered and even though we’ve gone “Primal” he’s been unable to lose much weight or fell much better. We just know it’s because of the sleep!

  39. What about sleeping in. I’m thinking blackout curtains will improve this but I can’t seem to sleep past 6-7am. I know that’s probably when I should be getting up and that the real answer is to go to bed earlier. I’m working on some of the obligations that keep me away from the house after sundown – but you’re correct, these changes are much harder than eating and exercising right.

    • I am a sufferer of sleep apnoea and on CPAP therapy. It is neither a cure nor a complete solution, but better than the alternatives thus far. I’d love to find a better option, but the apnoea and hypopnoea are products of snoring, not insomnia.

  40. Chris,

    In your opinion, is the Rest Assured program more effective at treating difficulty falling asleep, or difficulty staying asleep? Or is it just as effective at both since it lowers stress levels in general? I’ve had sleep issues in the past half year or so that are becoming chronic and am strongly considering giving the program a try. Thanks for any input!

    • It is effective for both in my experience, because it mitigates the overall impact of stress on cortisol and the adrenals.

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