Sleep: Summary of What I’ve Learned

I want to summarize what I’ve learned about how to sleep well. I’ve found about a dozen changes that helped. Taken together they suggest the importance of four dimensions:

1. Healthy brain. My sleep greatly improved when I ate a lot of pork fat. (As far as I can tell, butter produced the same effect.) I wasn’t getting enough animal fat. My sleep also improved when I started eating honey at bedtime. I assume honey raised blood sugar to better levels during sleep, improving brain performance. The great importance of this, I believe, is why we evolved preferences that push us to eat strongly sweet foods, such as fruit, separately and later, i.e., dessert. Bedtime honey also caused my muscles to grow more in response to exercise — a sign of better sleep, since muscles grow during sleep. I have never measured the effect of flaxseed/flaxseed oil on my sleep but the brain benefit was so clear in other ways I’d be surprised if it didn’t improve sleep. Continue reading “Sleep: Summary of What I’ve Learned”

Assorted Links

Thanks to Anne Weiss.

Sleep, Mood, Restless Legs and ADHD Improved By Internet Research

At the SLD forums, Anima describes using several  safe cheap treatments to improve his mood and sleep. First, he tried wearing blue blocker (amber) glasses in the evening. They made him fall asleep more easily and reduced or eliminated hypomania. However, he was still depressed. Second, he tried getting twenty minutes of sunlight early in the morning. His mood improved. But he still had trouble synchronizing his sleep/wake cycle with the sun — that is, being awake during the day and asleep at night. He would stay up an hour later every night and wake up an hour later every day, meaning that half the time he was asleep during the day and awake at night. Finally, he tried adjusting when he ate:

I recently found the missing key to this: meal timing.  I saw a talk that Seth gave where he talked about curing his problem with waking too early by skipping breakfast.  My problem was difficulty waking.  I read an article that suggested that our circadian rhythms are not just tied to light, but to food times as well.  I used to eat late at night and never eat breakfast.  I started eating breakfast immediately upon waking (ick) and stopping all food at least 12 hours before I wanted to wake.  Basically, I did what Seth did only opposite.  It worked. . . . I was even able to adjust my cat’s circadian rhythm — he used to wake me up too early for his breakfast — by gradually moving his supper time.

In another post he describes using B vitamins to treat his restless legs syndrome and ADHD:

I have been taking a supplement with all the B vitamins in amounts much higher than typically recommended. I have also been taking Epsom salt baths for magnesium. I have not experienced restless legs AT ALL since starting. This is quite remarkable to me, because it was such a problem. My ADHD is also much improved.

The idea of treating restless legs syndrome with niacin (a B vitamin) came from Dennis Mangan. Anima had noticed that ADHD and restless legs syndrome often occur together.

He makes some reasonable comments about psychiatrists:

Why are psychiatrists still acting like neurological problems exist in isolation, when clearly they are all related? [In the sense that you can use what is known about how to cure Problem X to help you cure Problem Y, if X and Y often occur together.] I used to take Lamictal, Depakote, Adderall and Ambien every day. That doesn’t include all the meds I tried that didn’t work. I’m currently wearing amber glasses at night and taking a B complex, flax oil (SLD-style) and bathing in epsom salts three times a week. My mood is more stable than it was on medication, and my ADHD is controlled about the same. My sleep is much better. My psychiatrist told me that I would be on medication for the rest of my life. When I told him that I was using dark therapy and light therapy and had stopped taking my medication, he told me that I was “playing with fire,” and that I would end up in a mental institution or commit suicide if I didn’t resume my medication, despite the fact that I had stopped taking it for longer than it would be effective. I asked him if he had read the research on dark therapy. He hadn’t, but he assured me that it is pseudoscience. I guess the definition of “pseudoscience” is any treatment that doesn’t make him money. I puckishly asked him if I seemed manic or depressed, and he was forced to admit that I did not.

The ability of this psychiatrist to ignore contradictory evidence in front of him resembles what happened to Reid Kimball. He told a UCSF gastroenterologist that he was successfully managing his Crohn’s with diet. In my experience, Crohn’s can’t be managed with diet, the doctor said at the end of the appointment.

“Stuff of Seth”: Faces/Mood and Anticipatory Waking

After trying the Shangri-La Diet, Jazi yechezkel zilber found that other aspects of my research (“stuff of seth”) were relevant to his life:

Years ago, I was part of a community where people would be up early praying etc. For an hour and then eat together. I noticed that going there in the morning was good for me, but was puzzled by the effect. I hypothesized it was the social effect per se.

At some point, I stopped this (what the hell do I have with religion and prayer?) and noticed that I got depressed. I remember that the depression came with a delay. It was funny to see it, as I could not make sense of it. But this I remember well. The depressive effect was not the same day as not going to the prayers but tomorrow (or later?).

I was not having early awakening then. Afterwards, I started having periodically early awakening, I cannot remember the frequency, but it was there and annoying. Now when going to the community, I had two hours between awakening and eating. Whereas at home I would eat immediately after waking. Another thing that puzzled me was how I came to wake up naturally *before* my scheduled wake-up time. I used to wake up much later. With food anticipation it makes perfect sense. I woke up two hours before conditioned feeding.

The Amish have extremely low rates of depression — and eat communal breakfasts. The story about early awakening reminds me of a student who told me when you told us this in class I didn’t believe it but lately I started waking up too early and was puzzled until I realized I had changed my breakfast.

“Reading Seth Roberts Puts Me to Sleep”

… is the charming title of this post by Adam Stoffa. Actually, reading me keeps him asleep. Adam read my long self-experimentation paper and came across my discovery that skipping breakfast reduced early awakening. He had early awakening:

I would wake up sometime between 0400 and 0430. Six hours of sleep was not good.  This was a problem that needed my attention.

Like me, he was eating breakfast around 7 am and waking up three hours earlier. He ate a big breakfast. He decided to make breakfast later rather than skip it.

I started experimenting with a late breakfast in August.  I was traveling through multiple time zones at the time.  So I had no idea whether it was working. But by the time I got back to Korea, eating a late breakfast was becoming a habit.

After recovering from my jet lag, I noticed that the experiment was working. Now, I wake up and get out of bed between 0600 and 0615. Sometimes, I still wake up in the middle of the night, but after a quick bathroom break, I’m right back to sleep.  I get to work at 0800.  After working for an hour, I take a break and eat (e.g. 3 hard boiled eggs, +/- a cup of cashews or macadamia nuts, and a smoothie). This regiment has been working well for eight weeks and shows no signs of weakening.


Breakfast Not All Bad

I stopped eating breakfast when I discovered it made me wake up too early. My Tsinghua students are reading the paper in which I describe my breakfast research. One of them, a freshman, wrote:

When we [entered] Tsinghua University, the first task we should finish was the military training. [New students have a few weeks of military training.] We were asked to be gathered at 8 o’clock, and then we would do a lot of trainings. As the training was hard and tiring, we all had to eat breakfast in the morning. And I remembered in those days, we all slept well and were early-awakening. When the trainings were over, we began our classes. The time was also 8 o’clock, but many times we didn’t have breakfast in order to save time. Gradually, our awakening time become later and later. Even we set an alarm clock, we felt really reluctant to get up. For a long time, we wondered about that but no idea appeared. Now I got the answer, it has something to do with the breakfast. When I told my roommates, they were indeed surprise. Everyone was curious about why, and I was also interested in that. Maybe if the last day you had breakfast, the next morning your body will still have the motivation to call you up to eat breakfast.

Yes, if you eat at a certain time of day, you will tend to be awake that time of day. The effect has been heavily studied in animals, where it is called anticipatory activity.

What’s “Natural” Sleep? (more)

This morning I woke up feeling very refreshed and in a good mood. I’d slept about six hours. I’d fallen asleep within seconds of turning off my bedside light. This is what usually happens. I almost always sleep this well. Yet I don’t avoid caffeine during the day (I drink a lot of tea) nor artificial light at night (I do avoid fluorescent light at night). For a large chunk of my life my sleep was much worse. I never woke up feeling well-rested. I often woke up quite tired but unable to fall back asleep. A few hours later I’d fall back asleep and sleep a few more hours, much like the biphasic sleep called segmented sleep. Which is more natural — my current sleep or segmented sleep? As I blogged, several scientists have said that segmented sleep is more natural. Continue reading “What’s “Natural” Sleep? (more)”