Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Total sleep, circadian rhythms, and melatonin

Anyone that has followed my blog or writings knows the demons of insomnia that have plagued me.  I sometimes have long periods where I have trouble getting to sleep, and/or staying asleep.

Of course, every Joe Blow that has ever had a few bouts of insomnia then offers up their suggestions without understanding, I've tried them all with mild to zero success.

Or so I thought.

A few weeks ago someone sent me an article on a breathing method that I put into effect, and low and behold, I went to sleep within minutes after using it.  In case you never saw it, or haven't heard of the 4-7-8 breathing method, here it is.....


After I liked it on the LRB Facebook page, most people reported back that it worked.  Some said it did not.  Because I am not there in a labcoat and glasses to monitor their 4-7-8 technique, I can't say for certain if it didn't work for them because they did it incorrectly, or because it just didn't work.  I believe these type of breathing patterns have been shown to have a profound effect on relaxing for sleep, but maybe some people just don't want to fucking relax.

But aside from this breathing technique, I've actually spent more time lately studying on poor sleep behavior and I actually found a lot of interesting things that I have began implementing to help me sleep better.

And because I am a nice guy (unless you read about what a douche bag I am on the net somewhere), I thought I'd share my findings with you....

Circadian rhythms/clocks -

I don't plan on boring you with a bunch of shit about circadian rhythms and clocks, but let's just say fucking your circadian clock up is a bad thing in regards to getting sleep.  So I will keep this simple.

The circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour “clock” that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up.  When it gets dark, your body releases more melatonin and signals to your body that it's time to go to sleep.  When the sun comes up, melatonin production drops and it signals to your body that it's time to wake the hell up.

This is proven through science; thus we know scientifically those people that think they are vampires are really full of shit, and suffering from nothing more than reading too many Ann Rice novels or too much bulk watching of True Blood.  

Restful sleep generally comes back to something as simple as making sure that your circadian rhythms are functioning normally.  Sounds simple enough, right?  

Well, wrong.  Especially in the modern world.  

The internet and cell phones are essentially fucking up a lot of people's circadian rhythms.  You see, that screens you keep looking into a major cause in screwing up your circadian rhythms.  

LED screens and televisions emit what is called "blue light", and blue light is the most disruptive light in regards to regulating melatonin output.  In fact, light in general can disrupt melatonin output.  Your body needs the darkness for the pineal gland to function normally.  Remember, I kept this simple.  Your circadian rhythm is established via dark and light.  So when it's dark, your body releases more melatonin.  When it's light, it reduces melatonin output.  

Check this............

Melatonin concentrations after exposure to the blue-light goggle experimental condition were significantly reduced compared to the dark control and to the computer monitor only conditions. Although not statistically significant, the mean melatonin concentration after exposure to the computer monitor only was reduced slightly relative to the dark control condition.

It reads that the melatonin concentration wasn't "significantly different" however for the person suffering from insomnia night after night, it could very well mean the difference in falling asleep, and being up all night thinking about how they need to get their tires rotated that week, and what color they plan on painting the living room walls.

So this comes back to something as simple as manipulating light and darkness in your life, right?  And by light and darkness in your life I'm not talking about what side of The Force from Star Wars you lean towards, or your chocolate preference.  

Literally, how much light you expose yourself to in the evenings is playing a role in your body's secretion of melatonin.  Oh yeah, and how little light you have coming in, in the morning, will play a role in waking up.  

So in order to make this simple, it's all about light manipulation.  Well, that's the first part.  The other part is literally learning how to turn your brain off in the evening, and simply relax.  

The good news is, both can be done by you, but you have to be willing to make sleep a priority over the net, texting, emails, and that episode of The Bachelor you recorded last night that you've been waiting to watch.

Resetting your circadian rhythms and melatonin - 

So to get this out of the way, let's establish first that you shouldn't be living your life taking melatonin on a regular basis.  By regular basis, I mean every night.  

The purpose of taking it should be to get your circadian rhythms in order.  Such as jetlag or because your sleep has been fucked up lately.  If that's the case, simply taking melatonin won't do it.  As I noted in the study before, staring at LED and blue light screens before bed is actually going to diminish both melatonin released by the body, or melatonin taken orally.  So if you take melatonin to get to sleep, but find that it does not work, it very well could be because you're short circuiting the effectiveness of it by being online or texting.

Let me also add that there are people who don't appear to produce melatonin as well as others, like elderly people.  So it could be that you may need to take it more often if you have trouble resetting your circadian rhythms.  However again, if you do the right things to get your shit in order, taking it should be few and far between.  

So how do you put all of this together to find yourself back on the path to natural and restful sleep?

1.  When to take melatonin and how much - After going through quite a few studies, I found that taking it an hour before bed is NOT best.  It's actually between 2-6 hours.  Yes, as many as six hours before you want to go to sleep.  I haven't experimented with taking it that far out, so let's call it between 2 and 4 hours since that seemed to be the norm.  So if you would like to fall asleep by 11, take it between 7 and 9 o'clock.  Remember, it's to prepare your body to get into sleep.  It's not like taking a sleeping pill where you pass out 15 minutes after it's metabolized.  How much?  Depending on circumstance, between 1 and 5 milligrams.  Let me add a caveat here.  It's generally going to be 1mg most of the time.  3-5mg might be taken to help overcome something like jetlag.  Otherwise, it's 1mg.  Not 3.  

2.  Make your house dark a few hours before it's time for bed - This means turning off as many lights as you can handle.  I don't know why people have all the lights on for most of the evening anyway.  I actually like to light a couple of candles and turn most of the lights off.  Unfortunately because most of my work is online, I'm short changing that process by looking into the fucking laptop at night.  Which brings me to #3.

3.  Turn off all blue light devices a few hours before bed - This means no TV, no internet, and no texting, etc.  The old adage of reading a good book before bed really does work.  If you like to draw, or write, or paint, do that.  Using just enough light to accomplish the task.  But no more.  

4.  Open your shades to let the sun in - That's right.  You're not supposed to black out your fucking room so you can sleep in all day.  The body needs light to establish a normal circadian rhythm by reducing melatonin.  And sunlight is best in that regard.  So open your blinds and let the sun in so that this happens.  If you don't think this is the case, then think of all the times when you slept in a blacked out for 12+ hours and were still tired all day.  You obviously got enough sleep to not feel tired, so why do you still feel sleepy?  Because you didn't have a normal and healthy reduction in melatonin to help establish that circadian rhythm.  

5.  Establish this as a pattern - No different than dieting or training, getting quality sleep requires a pattern of behavior that must be repeated.  It may take a few nights of going through these motions to get you back into a normal sleeping cycle.  But sleep is the most important recovery tool you have at your disposal.  So make it a priority to do these things in order to take full advantage of it.  

6.  Use the breathing technique to get the mind to relax - Even if all of these other things are in order it's possible you may have shit going on in your life that make it feel impossible to "turn it off" so you can actually fall asleep.  Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique to get your mind and body to relax.  I also recommend picking up some "Natural Calm" (it's a magnesium powder) and drinking it about half an hour before bed.  This will also help your mind and body relax.  Combine that with the breathing technique and you should be good to go.

Bonus point - 

If possible, bang it out - After sex, men especially, release a cocktail norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitric oxide, and the hormone prolactin.  Prolactin levels are naturally higher during sleep, and animals injected with the chemical become tired immediately. This suggests a strong link between prolactin and sleep, so it’s likely that the hormone’s release during orgasm causes men to feel sleepy.

Women release hate, anger, and rage after sex and wait for us to fall asleep so they can think of ways to kill us as we are helpless.  

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  1. For #3 - google "f.lux" - it's an app that changes your monitor display at sunset.

  2. I haven't tried it yet, but I've heard good things about f.lux: https://justgetflux.com/

    It's a program that dims your screen (computer and/or phone) based on the time of day. It's configurable from what I understand. People I know who use it swear by it.

  3. I use it and swear by it. I also generally try to just read before bed, as that is relaxing to me. As far as blacking out the room goes, I prefer it. Or even wearing a sleeping mask. I want it pitch black. There is no way I would be able to sleep for 12 hours. Either way, I wake up at 6am every day. Thats just me though. I know people who would never get up if they weren't forced. Its a matter of personal preference.

  4. I was just coming on here to recommend f'lux and lo and behold, the other three comments are all about it.

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