More Sleep, More Sex, More Refreshed
Sleep is part of a 24-hour cycle: this essay concentrates on the period from dinner to help you get a full night’s sleep. At dinner, eat foods that are easy to digest! Lying in bed with your intestines wrestling with a high cuisine sausage, or forty-two ounces of top round, won’t help your sleep. If you insist on eating heavy foods, take digestive enzymes and some probiotics to accelerate digestion. It’s better to start with carbohydrates, which are the fastest digesting foods. Eating good spaghetti, with sauce and fresh olive oil and spices will aid in sleeping sooner. Adding a small amount of meat as a condiment, such as shrimp or fish, won’t affect the overall meal. Consume generous amounts of water and small amounts of wine if that is your custom.
Eat then Move
Most important — get up after dinner! Per the Mayo Clinic, two-thirds of “reflux” is delayed gastric emptying from dense food, tight clothing, and recumbent posture. Loosening your belt and taking a walk aids digestion. Famous Americans, from Ben Franklin to Harry Truman swore by their “evening constitutional.”
Dim the Lights
The drill to fall asleep efficiently starts one hour before your target time. Change into your comfortable bedclothes, turn off all electrical devices including phones, laptops, and televisions. This relief from stimulation will support your circadian rhythm as your body calms down.
The most popular supplement for sleep is melatonin. Because of its safety and the power of the supplement lobby, the FDA never classified it as a drug. In the rest of the world, it is prescription only. Most American melatonin preparations are the wrong dose.
Professor Richard Wurtman, director of MIT’s Clinical Research Center, and the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor submitted the FDA application for 0.3 milligrams for a night of sleep. Taken in that quantity, it helps people fall asleep but does not cause decreased performance the next day.
Commercially available melatonin pills contain 3 to 30 milligrams. They stop working after a few days,” says Wurtman. When the melatonin receptors in the brain are exposed to too much of the hormone, they become unresponsive. Wurtman allows that doses as high as 1.5 mg may be necessary as we age, and up to 5 mg for jet lag. But that is it for sleep.
1mg of Melatonin is plenty
Where to find the proper dose of melatonin is problematic. There are only a few supplement makers that make low-dose melatonin for adults. However, supplement manufacturers also produce melatonin for children. While literature is limited on children, the real utility is it’s the right dose for adults! I especially like the 1 mg gummy. Just remember to eat it before you brush your teeth. Sticky, sugary candy is bad for your teeth.
Magnesium for Sleep
Another sleep agent is magnesium. If you take a warm bath before bed, you can add Epson salts to the water for its calming effect. One can take 100 or 200 mg of magnesium citrate by mouth. It calms nerves so successfully it is delivered by IV for cardiac arrhythmias. Admittedly, not the first-line drug.
Many other substances are used to promote sleep, including Gamma Alpha Butyric Acid (GABA), valerian root, chamomile tea, and hot chocolate. None have shown systematic and consistent effects. I look to the military to hone down the medical literature to what works and what doesn’t. The Air Force recommends only melatonin for jet lag and sleep induction. The doses are high, but they are limited to several days. The Air Force also likes extremely dark, extremely quiet sleeping quarters.
Exercise for Sleep
Exercise during the day facilitates sleep at night. One must take breaks from sitting in front of Zoom conferences or face the consequences of replaying them in your head all night long. One strategy: schedule a conference with no one. Simply get up and go for a walk, run, lift weights, or do yoga.
Another beneficial activity is meditation. For those without much experience, there are many phone apps with a wide variety of meditation techniques. My recommendation is “guided meditation.” Someone with a soothing voice and soothing background melodies talks you through relaxation and breathing exercises that blank the mind. While it is not their intent, finding and using the same guided meditation at the time you want to sleep, or if you get up in the middle of the night to get back to sleep, is like a hypnotic suggestion.
One of the strongest signals for sleep induction is cooling temperatures. If you consider our evolutionary past when the sun went down, it was dark, and the temperatures went down. It was time to go to sleep. You can accomplish the same effect by taking a hot shower or bath before going to bed. Better to sleep in a cool bedroom with a warm blanket as well. Even better when two curl up under that one warm blanket. And good sex and good sleep are highly correlated.
Good sex and good sleep are highly correlated.
Being a purist about insomnia solutions can be harmful. Sleep deprivation is cumulative. Physicians will frequently use a pharmaceutical like Ambien for “catch up” sleep. Two significant caveats: the use of sleep medicine daily for as little as a week can result in “rebound insomnia” when stopped. The obvious solution at 2 AM is to reach for the same medicine that caused the problem! Viewed through a cynical eye, it’s a great marketing program!
The other caveat is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Most people with OSA fall asleep quickly but have a restless night and wake up with terrible fatigue. They are predisposed to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and increased motor vehicle accidents. OSA is a great “masquerader.” While the archetype is middle-aged male, with a fat neck, fat waist, possibly smoking, or a truck driver. The reality is anyone — thin, female, children, non-smokers, marathon runners, etc. can have it. What it shares with insomnia is chronic fatigue, but insomnia rarely kills.
Waking up in the middle of the night is normal. During the Revolutionary war, Ben Franklin wrote extensively about “second sleep” creative time to think and write as well as take a “cold air shower,” which meant standing naked in front of his open windows. Other people would reflect on their dreams. It was a popular time for kneading bread and placing the dough in the bread box in the fireplace to wake to the smell of a bakery. People thought it an excellent time to conceive children. It was common for people to feel anxious about getting back to sleep. Fast-forward to the present, where instead of relaxing, we reach for a smartphone. And then wonder why it’s so hard to get back to sleep.
Get some rest. The world is changing.