An exploration of sleep and insomnia, with a single destination in mind:
a good night's sleep.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Can Melatonin Safely Lull You to Sleep?

By Bill Adler

The headlines scream warnings about the dangers of supplements. NPR reported on October 15, 2015: “Dietary Supplements Send Thousands To ERs Yearly.” In 1989, the US Food and Drug Administration banned a popular supplement, l-tryptophan, which had been widely used to promote sleep, because it caused tens of thousands of people to become sick. Some died.

But what about melatonin, a popular supplement used to help people sleep? Is that also unsafe?

The short answer is that melatonin is safe. The longer answer is that melatonin can help some people fall asleep.

Melatonin is a hormone that's naturally produced by our bodies. As day turns into night and it gets darker our pineal glands make more melatonin, which helps make us sleepy.

But as we age we produce less melatonin, and that can make falling asleep more difficult. Light, especially the kind of blueish light produced by phone, tablet and computers screens can also put a temporary halt to the production of melatonin. When a twenty year old, whose body naturally produces lots of melatonin, lays in bed messaging or playing games on her phone, she is turning herself into a sixty year old person, as far as falling asleep is concerned.

Small doses of melatonin can compensate for both the natural diminution of melatonin caused by aging, and the artificial cessation of melatonin production caused by gaming. Melatonin can help us fall asleep, but it doesn't necessarily sustain sleep. Melatonin can also help when our circadian rhythms are disrupted by jet lag.

What's the best dose? Melatonin is available in a range of doses, up to 10 mg. Sleep physicians recommend a small dose, 1/2 to 1 mg. While you can't overdose on commercially available melatonin, it's possible that by taking larger doses your body might become inured to melatonin. Melatonin is available in single dose and sustained release tablets. The sustained release tablets may help you if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, but that's far from clear.

The University of Maryland Medical Center reports:
A few clinical studies suggest that, when taken for short periods of time (days to weeks), melatonin is more effective than a placebo in reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, increasing the number of sleeping hours, and boosting daytime alertness.
As with any supplement, buy it from a reputable manufacturer -- a name you've heard before. That's not a guarantee of quality, because supplements aren't regulated in the United States, but a larger manufacturer has more to lose by making mistakes.

Melatonin works quickly, so take it within one hour of when you want to go to sleep. Then turn off your electronics, close your eyes, and look for jumping sheep.

Monday, October 26, 2015

What's the Best Marijuana to Help You Sleep?

By Ken Mallows

Pot smokers have known for a long time that cannibas can help you get to sleep. Now, scientists are trying to learn what kind of pot works best.

The answer in a moment.

A new study checked various types of medical marijuana for its sleep inducing powers among pot users who employ the drug specifically for insomnia as well as nightmares. Of 163 adults questioned, researchers found that those trying to rid themselves of nightmares preferred sativa strains to indica strains. Among those using pot for insomnia, they found no preferences.

However, the researchers also examined the content of specific cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. THC is pot's primary psychoactive compound and CBD, aka annabidiol, is another compound found toe
The scientists also examined the types of pot that participants used for their content of specific cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. THC is marijuana's primary psychoactive compound (it gets you high) and CBD (cannabidiol) is another compound (it doesn't get you high), known to help children suffering from epilepsy.
Here's the bottom line: Those smokers who said they had insomnia were more likely to use pot with higher concentrations of CBD. The researchers point out that they only looked at people's preferences and not whether or not these specific types of pot
It is important to note that the study merely examined the people's preferences, but it did not compare the medical objective effectiveness of the different types of marijuana for sleep-related problems. In other words, scientists didn't test to see if people were taking the most effective type of marijuana – using clinical trials - although it's common for patients to use what works. This generally is true for pot or any other medicine.
As for clinical work, David Goldstein, the CEO of Potbotics, a medical marijuana company said that the cannabinoid that has shown the most promising attributes for sleep is CBN - cannabinol. Other research seems to back that claim.
According to Steep Hill laboratories: "CBN is either non-psychoactive or very mildly psychoactive. It reduces intraocular pressure in the eye (similar to D9THC), so it can be used in the treatment of Glaucoma without the psychoactive effects of THC. CBN is synergistic with THC for treatment purposes. CBN also fights free radicals in the bloodstream, and it performs similarly to THC in pain reduction treatments."

Of all the cannabinoids, CBN appears to be the most sedative. Not only is it sedative, it takes very little to do the job. The consumption of 2.5mg to 5mg of CBN has the same level of sedation as a mild pharmaceutical sedative, with a relaxed body sensation similar to 5mg to 10mg of diazepam. CBN is synergistic with both CBD and D9THC for inducement of sleeping, and when mixed in the correct ratios, CBN becomes an effective sleep aid of 5-6 hours duration." 

In other words, CBN puts you to sleep but you don't get high along the way. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep in a Noisy Hotel

By Bill Adler

Hotels can be wonderfully relaxing and restful places. A good night’s sleep at a hotel can rejuvenate not just your body, but your spirit, too. Soporific mattresses, sleep inducing pillows, and soft starlight through the windows can turn a hotel room into a sleep wonderland.

But hotels can be a sleep lover’s hell. Noise from hall talkers, slamming doors, elevator chimes, chatty housekeeping staff, the room next door, the room above, construction from outside, a rattling or overpowered air conditioner — these can all turn your hotel room into a nighttime torture chamber.

Noise is a big problem for hotel guests. A Tripadvisor survey found that noise bothers 31 percent of hotel guests.

There’s a huge range when it comes to noisy versus quiet hotels. Here are some questions to ask before you book your hotel.

1. Read the reviews on Tripadvisor and Yelp. I didn’t do that once, much to my regret. I stayed at a lovely, old hotel in Prague, but the hotel was on the main path from Prague’s best bars to a major street. It was an all night carnival. I won’t make that mistake again.

2. Call the hotel and ask if there are any parties, special events or construction happening in or near the hotel. It’s especially important to ask about parties if you’re staying over a weekend, when it’s more likely that there will be some people who are enjoying themselves too much after that reunion or wedding. Tell them that you’re a light sleeper. You’ll get an honest and valuable answer back because as much as the hotel wants your business, they don’t want an unhappy, complaining guest.

Pro sleeper tip: Airport hotels are generally quiet hotels because they have to be. Airport hotels deploy a lot of soundproofing and sound absorbing material.

3. Long hotel hallways are guaranteed to be noisier than shorter ones with turns. Guests are going to talk as they walk to their room, but if the hallway has twists and turns, those guests’ voices won’t carry as far. Ask the hotel what kind of hallways they have.

4. Request a room far away from the elevator. Make that request when you book your room and repeat it when you check in. Marriott and other hotels charge more for these “corner rooms,” but the more distance between your room and the elevator, the happier you will be.

Pro sleeper tip: If you book through a website that’s not run by the hotel, you’ll have less sway with the hotel than if you book directly.

5. Search for a room on Quiet Hotel Room’s website, which lists rooms that meet certified quiet standards. Some hotels are known for having quieter spaces than other, and some hotels actually have quiet zones.

And if your room is too noisy, immediately complain. You won’t be the first person at that hotel to complain about noise and the hotel already has a battle plan in place to deal with that noise.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sleep's Enemy: LED Lights

Bright LED on a Jambox Bluetooth speaker
By Bill Adler

LED lights are the enemy of a good night's sleep. LEDs (light emitting diodes) are on, well, almost everything that plugs into the wall.  And LEDs are often deceptively bright: While they may look pale in the daylight, when it's dark, an LED light can shine as bright as a flashlight. Indeed, powerful flashlights are made using superbright LED lights.

Red and green LEDs can be annoying, but the white and blue ones are the brightest. (Blue is an especially popular color when it comes to electronics.) Just one can be enough to disturb sleep, telling your eyes and brain over and over again that dawn is here. LEDs can, and often will, disrupt your sleep.

Just one LED can be a problem, but if you have more than one (or even worse, a blinking LED), that can turn your circadian rhythm topsy-turvy.

While the question, "why do manufacturers have to put LEDs on every electronic device?" may bug you, the more important question is, "What can you do about bright LEDs in your bedroom?" Unfortunately you can't turn most of them off. Most devices that sport LEDs have no LED off-switch.

Some devices have lots of LEDs: Routers and modems are among the worst offenders. Cable and satellite TV boxes aren't far behind. One consumer reported, "I got 5 blinking lights on my router, my mouse has a bright green glow coming from the sides and middle mouse button, my cell has the blinking blue light, my modem has 6 constantly blinking green lights, my monitor has a standby light, my PC has 2 lights that blink. This is without my TV/set top box/360. I do not need to turn lights on at night at all." And if these things are in your bedroom, you can count on your sleep rhythm being disrupted.

Because it can take 20 or 30 minutes for our eyes to adapt to the dark, LEDs may not appear bright to us, until we're on the edge of sleep, or until they summon us from a deep sleep. At that point, we're often too tired to get up and toss the offending electronic device out the window.

The solution to the LED problem is to hunt down and cover up every LED in your bedroom before you go to bed. Do this before you're too tired to. Do it once and get it over with. And be sure to cover every LED: You may not be aware that a particular LED's light is causing sleep problems. Electrical tape has long been considered the tool for covering blinking lights and LEDs, but you're not limited to that. There's even a company, LEDdim, that sells specially designed LED stickers that won't get sticky adhesive on your electronics. If you don't ever want to see that LED, try using a permanent black. I cover the LED on my Jambox speaker (the one in the picture) with a sock; that does the trick.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

For a Better Sleep, Think Nature

If you want to sleep better, live near the great outdoors.

Whether it’s a park, golf course, beach or forest, men and persons over 65 years old, who have access to nature, reportedly sleep better, according to a recent study from the University of Illinois study and published in the September issue of  Preventive Medicine.

 “Studies show that inadequate sleep is associated with declines in mental and physical health, reduced cognitive function, and increased obesity. This new study shows that exposure to a natural environment may help people get the sleep they need,” said Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, a U of I professor of kinesiology and community health and a faculty member in the U of I’s Division of Nutritional Sciences in a university statement.

The study looked at over 255,00 adults to see if there was a relationship between self-reported days of insufficient sleep and access to great space. They also assessed the amount of sunlight for respondents' areas as well because this factors into a persons circadian rhythm and body temperature.

 “Across the entire sample, individuals reporting 21 to 29 days of insufficient sleep consistently had lower odds of access to green space and natural amenities compared to those reporting less than one week,” Grigsby-Toussaint said.

The relationship was stronger for men, and males and females 65 and over found nature to be a potent sleep aid.

Why? Grigsby-Toussaint suggested that living near green landscapes is associated with higher levels of physical activity and that exercise in turn predicts beneficial sleep patterns.

And why did men benefit more than woman? She suggested that men appear to take greater advantage of their outdoor resource than women but that the research wasn't definitive on this point.

“If there is a way for persons over 65 to spend time in nature, it would improve the quality of their sleep - and their quality of life - if they did so,” Grigsby-Toussaint said.

Sleep Insufficiency and the Natural Environment: Results from the U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey appears in the September 2015 issue of Preventive Medicine and is available online.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

One Fact about Coffee You Won't Like, But Need to Know

By Bill Adler

Every sleep must end.

When the alarm ring burrows into your ears, the morning light stings your eyes, or the cat announces that she’s hungry by walking across your chest, sleep must end. No matter how little or how much sleep you’ve been granted, you will get out of bed.

If, like the billions of sleep deprived humans around the world, your first thought in the morning is “coffee,” your first weak muscled movement is toward the coffee machine, and the first thing that you feel is the burn of uncooled coffee on your lips, you may want to reorder your universe after you read this. First thing in the morning is not the best time to drink coffee. In fact, it’s a bad time to drink coffee.

You are welcome to stop reading this article now. You are welcome to treat this article just as you would any television or movie spoiler. In fact, if I were you, I would stop reading now because what follows may forever change the way you interact with mornings.

But if you’re brave, if the truth trumps everything, and if you want to be more alert, then here’s what you need to know.