The struggle of sleep.
Without quality sleep, there is no quality of life. The body can’t heal, memory fails, inflammation markers increase, and the risk of Alzheimers, Heart Disease and Cancer skyrocket. (1)
After testing dozens of products, supplements, gadgets, techniques, and spending thousands on improving my sleep, I’m coming to the conclusion that two basic but overlooked factors can hinder sleep quality:
1) Food. Eating foods that your body doesn’t tolerate, or that activate certain liver function, too close to bed time (sugar, carbs, grain, too much protein) throw off the bodies natural sleep rhythm. There’s growing research on the role of the liver in regulating circadian rhythm, (2) and I realized this in myself when my Deep sleep quality dramatically improved during my 7 day fast.
Compare deep sleep unfasted with a big meal before bed (3):
… versus fasted (3 days without food)
2) Breathing. Air quality, moisture and breathing problems might be the biggest source of insomnia in this country. (4)
If it’s too dry or too humid in the room, it might hurt your sleep. Dry winters and summertime air conditioning are likely indicators that it’s time to invest in a humidifier. (5) Here’s the nightstand humidifier I use.
Dust, allergins and toxins in the environment adversely affect sleep quality. A mild allergic reaction can obstruct breathing passages. As I’ve learned, a cleaner, dust-free room can do wonders for sleep. Air filters help, but actively vacuuming dust is probably more effective.
Another source of breathing problems comes from the skyrocketing obesity rates, causing a national sleep apnea epidemic. Simply stated, too much fat in the neck area restricts breathing. Instead of healing, people are suffocating in their beds. They wake up more exhausted than they went to sleep. For overweight people, weight loss can dramatically improve sleep quality. A fun and easy to learn diet that I’ve enjoyed is the Slow Carb Diet.
Breathing became a focus for me when I realized that I sleep with my mouth open. This is more common in European populations, due narrower nasal passages. Other causes may be a deviated septum, allergins, sleep angle (too many pillows or too few).
Side effects of mouth breathing can include, frequent tooth cavities, receding gums, Oral Dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance in the mouth). Most people don’t even know that they’re mouth breather, but signs may include waking up with super dry mouth, bad breath, sensitive or bleeding gums. Too many people write off receding gums and frequent cavities as genetic, when they’re more likely environmental triggers. (6)
The fixes here aren’t pretty, but here are two cheap sleep breathing hacks:
1) Snore strips. Like the ones made by Breathe Right. They stick over the nose, and spread it open to help get more air in with every breath. Pick up a pack at your local Rite Aid or Duane Reade.
2) Tape your mouth shut. Yes, it sounds insane, it looks insane, but it freaking works. It has been the Occam’s Razor to my sleep problems. Now that I’m used to it, I feel like I have found quality, consistent sleep for the first time in my life! Ideally, this is a temporary solution while I condition my sleep self to breathe through my nose, but even if it isn’t, it’s a small price to pay.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress with it, but here’s a screenshot of last night’s sleep:
I’ve spent nearly nine months and more money than I’d like to admit on “hacking” my sleep. As with most hacks, I realized that it’s the basics + consistency that fix a problem. Along the way, this sleep obsession has had me learning more about the body than I could have ever imagined, so the investment has yielded interest in all areas of my life.
Sleep, nutrition and exercise are the three fundamentals that make the body tick. Damn near any problem in life can be improved by fixing or balancing the three.
Human O.S. Project
“… the few that make it to the top of their ambition through a thousand indignities realize at the end it’s only for an inscription on their gravestone.” – Seneca
*Please do not use anything on this page to treat or diagnose a medical condition. Above is my journey, chronicling the surprising findings and the research I encountered along the way.
1 – Researchers are studying the link between sleep and cancer – http://www.cancercenter.com/community/newsletter/article/researchers-are-studying-the-link-between-sleep-and-cancer/
2 – Much of the research done links broken sleep to damaged liver function, but I’m saying that the flow goes both ways, that unstable liver function adversely effects sleep. Here’s an article linking liver cirrhosis patients to increased incidences of insomnia: https://www.jcircadianrhythms.com/articles/10.5334/jcr.aa/
3 – Tracked using the very inexpensive and reliable Xiaomi MiBand 1. The “set it and forget it” of sleep trackers with 30 days of battery life on a single charge.
4 – Air Pollution May Disrupt Sleep – American Thoracic Society
The effects of bedroom air quality on sleep and next-day performance – Journal of Indoor Air. Note that this study only used a sample size of 14, still better than my sample size of 1.