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Importance of Sleep and Sleep Hygiene

If you have a clean bill of health, poor sleep hygiene may be the cause of your sleep challenges.[1]

Sleep hygiene involves living in a way that physically and biochemically helps the body sleep.

Sun Effect

Remember the internal clock you have in your hypothalamus? The internal clock depends on sunrise and sunset to regulate it so your body can prepare for sleep as the sun sets. Exposing yourself to sun during the day and avoiding bright light before going to bed helps keep your internal clock in check and on schedule.[2]

Light Effect

Before the advent of electric lights, it was normal to go to bed when the sun went down, wake up in the middle of the night to stoke the fire (with its red glow) and have some fun, and then go back to bed.

Old texts talk about this first and second sleep. It was also common to have naps in the middle of the day, especially on long hot summer days when the days were longer, causing later bedtimes and earlier morning times.

Now we have artificially set times that we go to bed and wake up, disrupting our natural sleep cycles. So if you find yourself regularly waking up in the middle of the night, do not despair. This could be your natural cycle.

If you have trouble falling asleep, avoid overhead lighting and looking at backlit screens for at least two hours before bedtime.

Artificial lighting messes with our internal clock, making our light-sensitive brain think it is still high noon. As a result, our brain delays preparing for sleep and doesn’t produce melatonin.

At bedtime, switch from overhead lighting to bedside or table lamps, which mimic the sunset.

If you must look at a screen at night, adjust the screen to the lowest level of brightness, wear red glasses, or use a “twilight” app because the blue light emitted from computer screens hinders melatonin production.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, avoid bright light (especially white or blue light), release some stress with some light activity, and then attempt to go back to sleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep, I take a dose of melatonin, put on my red glasses so I can work on the computer without messing with my internal clock, work on the computer for less than an hour, and then put the computer away and meditate until I fall asleep.

Schedule Effect

One lifestyle habit that aids in sleep is keeping a regular schedule in which you get up and go to bed at the same time every day.

Getting into a regular routine helps keep our internal clock in rhythm. The rising and setting of the sun is the most important factor in keeping our internal clock in rhythm, but with the advent of artificial light, this is often skewed by having bright lights on well past sunset.

When you work a night shift, your internal clock is forced out of synch with natural light and dark cycles. The good news is that if you keep a regular schedule of light versus dark, your body can acclimate to a night shift. But if sometimes you stay up late and sleep in, and other times have to wake up early, this irregular schedule messes with your internal clock, making it difficult for your body to know when to prepare for sleep, similar to what happens when you have jet lag (see Chapter 1 for details on jet lag).

If you feel tired during the day, allow yourself to take a nap in the middle of the day, or at least rest, so you do not crash and fall asleep too early that night, which would mess with your regular sleep schedule.

Exercise Effect

A physically exhausted body sleeps better. It’s best to exercise first thing in the morning for several reasons.

One, you are more likely to do it. Later in the day you may be too busy or tired to exercise.

Two, exercise energizes you. You generally want to avoid intense stimulation right before going to sleep.

Still, I believe it is important to exercise every day, so if you cannot exercise during the day, it is better to get some exercise in the evenings than not at all.

With that said, if you suffer from insomnia, make it your daily routine to exercises every day by noon, if not first thing in the morning, for at least thirty minutes.

Room Conditions for Better Sleep

Your room should be as dark and quiet as possible. Our brain is light sensitive, as discussed earlier in the chapter, so light can impair sleep. Use blinds or curtains to block outdoor light, and close your bedroom door if light shines into your room from other parts of the house.

Our brain’s thalamus determines whether external stimulation needs the attention of our consciousness. This autonomic gatekeeper allows us to sleep unless we need to be awakened to face a potential threat. If noises are present, our sleep can be interrupted.

We may not be able to control some aspects in our life that impair sleep, but the volume of noise should be controllable. So keep your sleeping area as quiet as possible.

Soothing Sound Effects

If you can hear noises outside of your control when you are trying to fall asleep, try playing soothing sounds to drown out the interfering background noises. Parents and caregivers read or sing to children at bedtime because soothing sounds can lull them to sleep. This technique can also work on adults.

You can try listening to lullabies, a recorded story, or audiobooks with calm or soothing content. Don’t choose something stressful or a recording that has a laugh track that might wake you up after you fall asleep!

I often listen to soft rhythmic drumming or meditative music if I don’t fall asleep after my contract-relax muscle routine.  Some find white noise machines helpful (more on this in a later chapter).

Allergy Effect

Allergies occur when the body attacks pollen antigens because it thinks they are antigens on a virus or bacteria. This confusion leads to cold-like symptoms but without the actual sickness. When your body is confused, its defenses can hurt you instead of help you. Allergies cause congestion, which negatively affects sleep.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, try eating a teaspoon of local honey; the beehive should be within 25 miles of your home (as the crow flies). Honey from a hive close to your home is filled with pollen antigens you are breathing. When you eat it, the body learns that the pollen antigens are “self”—something good that you assimilate into your body for energy—and not a “not self”—a foreign thing that needs to be attacked.

Self-cranial massage techniques and chiropractic manipulation that focuses on the head can help the sinus symptoms that often occur with allergies. To learn more, check out my Combat Headaches book.Stress Effect and How Crying Can Help

When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones into the body. This puts us in a fight-or-flight versus a rest-and-digest mode. How can you expect your body and mind to sleep when they think there is still a tiger in the room?

You can’t sleep until these hormones fall to a level where you can rest and digest again.

Sometimes when you’re stressed, you just need to cry and release your emotions, but society has taught us that it’s not acceptable to cry. Holding back tears causes tension and creates more stress. Stress is a major cause of insomnia; it leads to dis-ease that leads to disease (heart problems, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and all sorts of other health issues).

Understanding Types of Tears

First, let me describe the three types of tears.

Basal tears: These tears lubricate the eyes so they don’t dry out.

Reflex tears: These tears remove irritants. When you cut an onion, you cry reflex tears, which remove the irritating chemical that is released with the cutting action


Psychic tears: These tears are due to emotional stressors (both extreme happiness and sadness).

The Healing Power of Tears

The best way to purge stress hormones from your body is to release your psychic tears.

Emotional (psychic) tears are composed of different compounds than the basal and reflex tears. They consist of protein-based hormones like adrenocorticotropic hormone (a type of stress hormone). I find it astonishing that the body removes excess stress hormones and other toxins by excreting them through the eyes in the form of tears. Crying is simply essential for the body to release stress, relax, and heal.

Not only do we gain physical benefits when we cry, but if we’re in the presence of others, we gain social benefits as well. We are social beings, and when we cry, we communicate our emotional state, helping others determine our needs. Even though the psychological aspect of the healing process is difficult to understand, many people agree that expressing sadness and getting a hug (or some sign of sympathy or empathy) help us feel better.

The complexity and interplay of the body’s systems never cease to amaze me. Medically, we often look at each part of the body in isolation. We fail to see how one part of the body can affect another, let alone consider how something like refusing to cry can affect your ability to sleep.

To learn more about sleep and how to improve your sleep, look for my up and coming book “Combat Insomnia”.  


[1] National Institutes of Health, “How Is Insomnia Treated?”

[2] Wilson, “In the Clinic. Insomnia,” Annals of Internal Medicine.

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