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Try This: Step-By-Step Sleep Protocol

Quality sleep is essential for human health, yet 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. report getting less than the 7 hours of sleep per night that are necessary for optimal health and wellbeing [1][2]. I know when I don’t sleep well, my entire day is thrown off and I just don’t feel like I’m my best self.  

Our circadian rhythm, or “biological clock,” regulates our sleep-wake cycle by synchronizing with our surrounding environment. Today’s fast-paced world has disrupted the circadian rhythm of millions, resulting in poor immune health, increased risk for type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, obesity, depression, and so much more [3][4][5]. We just can’t afford to ignore how important sleep is. 

My Step-By-Step Sleep Protocol contains evidence-based suggestions that anybody can try to enhance their sleep health, and “Splurge” items that require a little extra time or money for those looking to level up their sleep even more. Try a few suggestions from the list below and allow four days to one week to see any noticeable improvement. Health is all about personalization, so play with your sleep routine to find what works best for you and your lifestyle.

The Protocol

I. Mindset. First things first, good sleep health starts way before you’re ready for bed. The tendency is to get wrapped up doom scrolling social media or binge-watching Netflix, but these trigger dopamine release, promoting extended wakefulness and insomnia [6][7]. Blue light exposure from screens also decreases melatonin production, sleep quality, and sleep duration [8]. It’s important to be intentional with your sleep routine to give yourself the time and space to prepare for rest. What does this look like?

Try This:

1. Set an intention for sleep before your day even begins.

  • Pick a time you want to be in bed by, knowing it takes some time to wind down before falling asleep. 

2. Share your intention for a better sleep routine with your partner.

  • Talk with your partner about how they can support you, or better yet join you, in your sleep routine.

2. Light. Light is the most powerful driver of our circadian rhythm [8][9][10][11][12]. Getting sunlight early in the morning and avoiding light at night has extraordinary benefits on regulating sleep hormones, sleep quality, and emotional wellbeing [10][13][14]. Below are some suggestions you can try to program your circadian rhythm around light:

Try This:

1. See the sunlight within an hour of waking up.

  • Before checking your phone first thing in the morning, go outside and expose yourself to natural sunlight, even 2-10 minutes is enough to make an impact.  
  • If you live somewhere that’s overcast most mornings, photon exposure even at its lowest capacity is enough to program your biological clock [10][14].

For shift workers:

  • If you work the night shift, exposing yourself to sunlight for 10 minutes on workday mornings is enough to program your circadian rhythm [10][13].
  • If you’re awake longer than an hour before sunrise, turn on indoor overhead lights to cue the body that it’s daytime [9][14].

2. Take an afternoon light break. 

  • Stepping away from your computer screen and getting some sunshine on your face can provide an afternoon energy boost without needing that afternoon cup of coffee!

3. See evening light within an hour of going to sleep.

  • Evening light signals the slow release of melatonin, so going outside for the sunset or around dusk can help prepare the body for sleep [15].
  • If you can’t get outside while the sun is setting, dimming the lights inside can have a similar effect.

III. Minimize disruptors. Modern life has caused us to be reliant on caffeine, convenience foods, and technology which can offset our circadian rhythms and negatively affect our sleep cycles. Below are some of the most common sleep disruptors and suggestions you can try to mitigate them.

Try This:

1. Set a caffeine curfew.

Over 80% of U.S. adults consume caffeine regularly [16]. Regardless of individual variation of caffeine metabolism, research shows that drinking caffeine later in the day can significantly disrupt sleep, even if you can fall asleep easily [17][18]. The average half-life of caffeine is about 5 hours in healthy individuals [16][17], and an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine. So, if you have 2 cups of coffee in the morning (let’s say 9:00 AM) and another cup of coffee in the afternoon (let’s say 2:00 PM), here’s a calculation of how much caffeine is still in your system by bedtime:

Two cups of coffee at 9:00 AM:

(100 mg of caffeine) X (2 cups of coffee) = 200 mg of caffeine

(200 mg of caffeine) X (1/2 life of 5 hours) = 100 mg at 2:00 PM

(100 mg of caffeine) X (1/2 life of 5 hours) = 50 mg at 7:00 PM

(50 mg of caffeine) X (1/2 life of 5 hours) = 25 mg at 12:00 AM

Third cup of coffee at 2:00 PM:

(100 mg of caffeine) X (1 cup of coffee) = 100 mg of caffeine

(100 mg of caffeine) X (1/2 life of 5 hours) = 50 mg in system at 7:00 PM

(50 mg of caffeine) X (1/2 life of 5 hours) = 25 mg at 12:00 AM

When added together, those 3 cups of coffee leave you with approximately 50 mg of caffeine in your system around midnight! Research shows a stimulatory effect of caffeine on the nervous system at levels as low as 32 mg [16],and decreased melatonin production into the following night after evening caffeine consumption [19].

  • Try This: Set a caffeine cutoff time around noon and avoid drinking more than two caffeinated drinks per day. I also like to do coffee detox a few times a year, to get rid of any dependence I might have on that morning pick-me-up.
  • Pro tip: If you have caffeine later in the day, research has shown that supplementing with 100 mg of l-theanine can counteract its stimulatory effects [20][21]. What’s more, green tea naturally contains caffeine and l-theanine so many people find it helpful to feel awake but less stimulating than coffee.

2. Eat an earlier dinner. 

Your body digests, metabolizes, and absorbs food best early in the day because this is when insulin sensitivity is the highest [22]. Moreover, melatonin suppresses insulin release making digestion more difficult at night [22]. Intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating, and not eating past 7:00 PM can help regulate your circadian gene expression for weight control and better sleep health [22][23].  

Try This: If you’re going out to dinner, have most of your calories for breakfast and lunch and eat a lighter dinner. 

  • Pick a meal low in saturated fat and refined sugar as these can produce less slow-wave sleep, cause night arousals, and reduce overall sleep quality [24].
  • If you have low blood sugar at night, eat a fat and protein-rich snack in the evening like almond butter to prevent hypoglycemia-induced panic attacks [25]. See my conversation with Dr. Kristen Allott for details on hypoglycemia-induced panic attacks.

Pro-tip: If you happen to eat a heavy dinner, take a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement afterward for improved digestion and better sleep. 

[Recommendation: Pure Encapsulations Digestive Enzymes Ultra]

3. Avoid junk light.

Minimize your exposure to artificial light at night, wear blue-light blocking glasses, and turn on blue-light settings on your devices. Exposure to bright light from 11:00 PM to 4:00 AM has the most significant effect on suppressing melatonin and promoting dopamine release, which can trigger an actively depressive state the next day [26].

IV. Incorporate a wind-down ritual. Having a routine or ritual to decompress before getting into bed helps to relax the body and mind for sleep. Below are some examples you can try to set yourself up for a good night’s rest.

Try This: 

1. Dim or turn off any overhead lights. Your retina is programmed to pick up light from the sky above to cue your circadian rhythm that it’s daytime. As nighttime approaches, dim or turn off overhead lights and use floor and desk lamps at eye level or below instead [27]

2. Take a warm shower 1-2 hours before bed.  Showering before bed helps improve sleep efficiency and sleep onset by enhancing heat dissipation from your core to the palms and feet, which lowers core body temperature favorably for sleep [28]

3. Have a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea. Chamomile [29], passionflower [30], lavender [31], and valerian root [32] teas are clinically validated to aid in relaxation and sleep onset. Stop drinking at least 2 hours before bed to avoid having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night [33]

[Recommendation: Traditional Medicinals Organic Cup of Calm]

4. Keep your bedroom cool. This is a super important one for me—I always sleep terribly in a hot room. Our body temperature naturally lowers at night, so cooler bedroom temperatures can help facilitate a good night’s sleep. Opening a bedroom window to allow cool, fresh air to come through can help improve sleep quality [34].

  • Pro tip: If you share a bed with your partner, try using separate blankets if you have different sleep temperature preferences.

V. My top sleep supplements. Sometimes supplementation can be really helpful to support good quality sleep. Always consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any recommended supplements. 

1. Magnesium: 75% of Americans do not meet the RDA for magnesium, which is what’s considered adequate to avoid negative impacts in most of the general population. When it comes to optimal levels, even less of us are meeting the mark. As a cofactor for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body and an essential nutrient for relaxation and quality sleep [35][36], it’s no wonder we’re so sleep deprived!

[Recommendation: 500 mg magnesium daily]

2. Plant-based melatonin: Melatonin is responsible for initiating sleep. It also plays a role in blood sugar regulation, acts as an antioxidant, and has anti-diabetic effects [37]. Supplemental melatonin aids in sleep onset, but taking it every night may indicate an underlying issue that needs attention. Take 0.3-3 mg of a plant-based melatonin 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed.

[Recommendation: Herbatonin 0.3 mg Plant Melatonin

3. CBD: I personally don’t take CBD, but I have many friends who use it for anxiety and sleep who’ve had great experiences. Proper dosage depends on weight and metabolism, so it’s best to start with a low dose and slowly increase until you reach your desired effect. CBD is considered a safe treatment for anxiety, insomnia, and sleep disorders, with studies reporting beneficial effects on sleep between 20 and 1,500 mg/day [38].

[Recommendation: Calm by Wellness Hemp CBD Sleep Oil Tincture]

SPLURGE!

I. Take a bath. Set aside a time during the week for a relaxing hot bath. Taking a bath 90 minutes before bed can help you fall asleep faster, reduce your core body temperature, and signal melatonin production [28].  Optimize relaxation with magnesium-sulfate Epsom salts, which are best absorbed through the skin and have a calming effect on the body [39]. It only takes about 15 minutes to feel the benefits [40].

II. Guided meditation. Meditation helps improve sleep quality, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and fatigue [41][42]. But for those who don’t meditate, a guided sleep meditation or Yoga Nidra may help you fall asleep faster.

 III. Journal. Journaling is a cost-effective way to improve mental distress and general well-being]. In particular, practicing gratitude in the evening is linked to earlier sleep onset, longer sleep duration, and better sleep quality [43][44]. Take a few minutes at night to make a list of what you’re thankful for, or:

  • Try This: “5-minute journal”, a book of writing prompts that shift your mind into a state of optimism and leave you feeling positive and grateful.

IV Keep it cool. If you’re a hot sleeper, try investing in cool, breathable sheets or advanced sleep technology like the chiliPAD, a water-powered, temperature-controlled mattress topper designed to keep you cool throughout the night and provide a deeper, more restful sleep.

 V. Noise control. Live in an apartment or somewhere where it’s noisy at night? A sound machine can help muffle out any distracting sounds keeping you from falling asleep such as traffic, pets, loud neighbors, or your partner snoring.

VI. Mouth taping. Nose breathing keeps your nostrils and mouth moist, warms the air you breathe, increases vasodilation and blood flow [45], and filters out any dust or allergens to prevent them from entering your lungs. In contrast, mouth breathing can cause snoring, fatigue, asthma [46], oral dysbiosis [47], dry mouth, gingivitis, and cavities [48]. See my conversation with Dr. Steven Lin and Dr. Mark Burhenne for more details on how mouth breathing impacts sleep quality—it makes a huge difference!

Here’s how to get started mouth taping:

  1. Apply coconut oil or lip balm to your lips and slightly around the surrounding area to avoid stickiness and skin irritation from the tape residue.
  2. Cut a piece of tape about the size of your mouth plus 1-2 inches extra. Fold-down the extra bit of tape on each side, making a handle for easy removal the next day.
  3. Place the tape on your mouth horizontally, making sure your mouth is completely covered for the duration of the night. Remove the tape in the morning and repeat on a nightly basis.

Mouth tape: For beginners, 3M Micropore Tape is a great low-cost option. Make sure to only use a super small piece. For those who have more experience, SomniFix makes a soft, gel-like adhesive mouth tape that’s clinically proven to aid in sleep quality.

VII. Next level supplements. 

1. Magnesium: There are several different types of supplemental magnesium, all serving unique purposes within the body. BiOptimizers combine seven forms of magnesium at their optimal dose to upgrade virtually every function in your body. 

2. Taurine: A sulfur-containing amino acid and essential nutrient, taurine plays a significant role in cell development and neuroplasticity. Additionally, as a GABA receptor agonist, taurine helps lower blood pressure and calm the nervous system [49] [50]

[Recommendation: 500-2,000 mg 1 hour before bedtime]

3. 5-HTP: Serotonin is the precursor of melatonin and plays an integral role in our sleep-wake cycle [51]. Avoid 5-HTP if you are taking SSRIs because it can cause insomnia and serotonin syndrome [52]. When taken with 300 mg of GABA, research shows an additive effect and the potential to improve sleep quality even more [53].

[Recommendation: Start with 50-100 mg daily and increase to 100-200 mg over 2-weeks] [54]

Conclusion: Sleep has a profound impact on our immune health, weight control, blood sugar regulation, mental health, and overall metabolic health. Good quality sleep has an overarching effect on how we feel and function while awake, so it’s crucial that we get enough of it. Making lifestyle changes for a healthy sleep routine may feel like a difficult or overwhelming task at first, so start with a few simple steps, and once you’re ready, gradually add more and watch how your sleep improves! 

To learn more about how to optimize your sleep health, sign up for Dr. Mark Hyman’s Sleep Master Class, now available for free!

If you tried my Step-By-Step Sleep Protocol, I would love to hear from you on what worked, or didn’t work. Text me your feedback at 302-200-5643

In health and gratitude,
Dhru Purohit

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