The last 6 months I’ve been experimenting with a number of alternative ways to increase the quality of one of the core foundations of my wellness program – sleep.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that sleep, above everything else that I do to stay healthy and fit at 55, is the main foundation of my overall wellness program.
Without a good nights sleep, everything else that I do falls apart irrespective of how well I eat, how much I train or meditate, or anything else I do for my overall wellness during my waking hours.
For 50+ guys like me sleep is not just a number – it’s a critical part of overall health and it can have a massive metabolic and hormonal affect on us as we age if we don’t get enough of it. The health affects of too little quality sleep? Everything from decreased testosterone and human growth hormone, increased insulin resistance to decreased memory and cognitive function, to increased systemic inflammation (which is seen by many as probably the #1 killer of men). The list goes on – it’s no joke.
I’ve written before about my basic sleep program here – the usual stuff you probably already know – like get off your iPhone, skip the alcohol at night, have a dark room, exercise early in the day, and other standard tips. But like everything in life – things evolve so think of this as an update and supplement to my previous sleep program and advice.
So what am I doing about it? Well, like all things, I’m always looking first to the best science and research – and then formulating a program around what works best for me, because it’s not a “one size fits all”. And as I’ve found out, it takes a lot of experimentation to get the right program that puts you out at night – and most importantly, keeps you out!
So in no particular order here are some of the alternative sleep therapies I’ve been experimenting with and which you may want to try on top of the usual stuff.
Blue Light Glasses
If you want to channel your inner Bono then these are the glasses for you. Blue light glasses reduce your exposure to the light wavelengths that can affect natural melatonin production – the theory being that exposure to computers and other light devices (iPad’s, TV etc) delays the onset of natural melatonin and hence affects the quality of your sleep. Basically all that blue light from computers (the main culprit) is tricking your body into thinking it’s still daylight. Blue light glasses filter those light rays out. These are the ones I use which have great reviews. You may look weird but they work based on all the reviews and studies I’ve read. I use them most nights when I’m reading my Kindle. Most Naturopaths recommend using them 2-hours before bedtime.
The Chili Pad
Of all the products I’ve been testing the Chili Pad was the one I was originally the most excited about. I’d been wavering about the purchase for a while because it was so freaking expensive and I could just picture my wifes face when I told her that I was going to be chilling my side of the bed (“NOT A HAPPY FACE”). But they sent me a discount code (50% off) that prompted me into finally buying it (hint: email their support team and ask them for a coupon like I did).
The Chili Pad is basically what it sounds like – a full length sleeping pad that’s water chilled (down to a min of 55 degrees) via a chilling unit that sits on the floor next to your bed. The theory being that your optimum sleep temperature is at 60-68 degrees and the Chili Pad achieves that by keeping you at a constant temperature all night without the fluctuations of heat and cold which can occur in a normal sleep cycle.
I’ve written about the benefits of cold therapy before so you know I love the cold – mainly for increasing my testosterone and HGH levels. But the Chili Pad? For me I just didn’t get it – any benefit that is. I didn’t mind the noise so much as I sleep with earplugs anyway. I just found that it had no real affect on my sleep patterns. At first I couldn’t get it cold enough to feel measurably cooler in my bed. I thought it was faulty so I sent it back for a replacement. But the second one was the same so I gave up.
I can tell you though that a lot of my professional athlete friends swear by it so don’t be put off just by my experience. The company offers a pretty good refund policy so it’s worth experimenting with. If you don’t like it then just send it back.
In any event, the key to activating better sleep is to go to bed cold (not hot) – either by taking a cold shower, or jumping in your pool if you have one. I usually have an ice-bath set up permanently in my back yard that I use daily after training to cool down. I dunk myself in that sucker right before bed. It definitely does the trick.
The Nayoya Acupressure Mat
This one is for the Yogi in all of us. But rather than lying on a bed of nails the Nayoya Mat is a mat that incorporates what looks like plastic golf shoe spikes to stimulate specific acupressure points in your upper back and neck. The company promises everything from reduced back & neck pain to better sleep if you use if for 10-15 minutes in the evening before bed. My verdict – this thing definitely works and I’d highly recommend trying it. All those 2.5K (4.5 star) reviews on Amazon back me up on this one.
Melatonin – In the Right Dose
OK, we’ve all heard of melatonin so it’s not such a big revelation. What is unknown however is that we’re taking too much of it. The commonly marketed dose is 3mg and that’s been the norm. The thing is that according to the studies that’s probably 10x too much, especially for men. So 300mcg is what I take. This is the one I use.
One more thing: the key with melatonin is to take it 45 minutes to 1 hour before bed. That is the optimal time for the body to adjust its cycle and start the sleep process.
Brainwave entrainment is a method to stimulate (“train”) the brain into entering a specific state (like sleep) by using a pulsing sound, light, or electromagnetic field. The pulses elicit the brain’s ‘frequency following’ response, encouraging the brainwaves to align to the frequency of a given beat.
There are specific frequencies for many daily objectives including overcoming anxiety & stress, promoting better creativity, stimulating your analytical skills in math/complex equations, and you guessed it – better sleep.
I’ve been using the Brainwave App to test it out for 10-15 minutes before I go to sleep. It’s got 3.5K five-star reviews in the App Store so it works. Download it and try it out for yourself. I definitely think it helps me.
This one surprised me when I starting experimenting with it as it’s counterintuitive to human nature. You sleep less so you probably think you need to go to bed earlier right? Well it turns out the opposite is the case.
How does wake therapy work? You start by calculating your normal nights sleep. For example if you go to bed at 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM but wake up for 1.5 hours twice in the night then that’s 5 hours total sleep. You subtract the total sleep time from your wake time and that becomes your new bedtime. In the above example this is now 1 AM. Each night thereafter you add 15 minutes to your overall sleep time (by going to bed 15 minutes earlier), until you reach your ideal sleep time. When doing this program you don’t take any naps or drink any alcohol as both can interrupt the program. This type of treatment also treats depression and anxiety and is one of many alternative sleep disorder treatments recommended by Naturopaths.
I tried it for a while by going to bed later than normal and it did seem to work. I don’t specifically use this program though on an ongoing basis but I have a modified version. It simply involves going to bed at exactly the same time each night – which for me, if you’ve read my book or blog, you would know is 10.24 PM. Not 10.23 or 10.27 – 10.24 on the dot.
A few other additional quick tips:
- Remove any electrical cords running under your bed to prevent EMF’s which have been shown to decrease melatonin secretion;
- Don’t check emails, Instagram, Facebook in bed before you sleep. That can all wait. Nothing is that urgent;
- Don’t sleep with your phone next to you for the same reason as in (1.) above; and
- Turn off your Wi-Fi at night. I do this by putting a timer on my router and modem which turns off the Wi-Fi at 9.30PM at night and back on the following morning at 7AM.
As I said above, it’s all experimental. Try some of the more alternative methods above and also some of the tried and true that I’ve written about before. Put together a plan that works for you and get on it! Your pillow that is!