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Comprehensive Guide to Sleep Like a Baby

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

I used to have terrible insomnia, but after overcoming HPA axis activation and excessive inflammation, I now sleep great. I have also helped over 1,000 clients, over 80% of which have sleep issues.

Introduction and How to Implement These Tips

Approximately 30% of the general population suffers from insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), almost six out of ten Americans report having insomnia and sleep problems at least a few nights a week [1].

I used to have terrible insomnia. I realize now that it was caused by HPA activation as a result of inflammation. This would derange my circadian rhythm and I’d make it worse by staying up late often. I also had general anxiety about life and this would keep me up as well.

I’ve been sleep-hacking for years and this list has been the product of years of experimentation.

You can download my sleep optimization resource list here, including my ultimate sleep stack, for free:
I don’t utilize all of these tools simply because I don’t need to anymore. But I have them if need be. I try to always do the minimum that is effective.

I have not seen anyone implement these tips and still not be able to fall asleep.

Types of Sleep

Slow Wave Sleep

There are two main types of sleep that are responsible for the vast majority of cognitive and health benefits of sleep slow-wave and REM sleep. Combined they make up 40 – 45% of sleep.

Slow Wave Sleep is the part of your sleep that is known as deep sleep. It’s also called Delta wave sleep or stage 3 sleep because it’s the third stage of non-REM sleep. It makes up about 20% of total sleep time [2].

Slow-wave sleep is considered important to consolidate new memories. Slow-wave sleep improves episodic, memory [3].

The primary function of slow-wave sleep may be to allow the brain to recover from its daily activities. Another function slow-wave sleep effects are the secretion of growth hormone, which is always greatest during this stage [3].

It is also thought to be responsible for a decrease in sympathetic (anxious) and increase in parasympathetic (relaxed) neural activity [3].

Lack of slow-wave sleep can play a role in Depression, OCD, Anxiety, Narcolepsy, ADHD, Diabetes, Schizophrenia, Fibromyalgia, Juvenile Chronic Arthritis, Parkinson’s [4] and Autism [5].

Slow-wave sleep declines drastically as we get older. It goes from an average of 19% of total sleep during early adulthood (age 16 – 25 years) to 3.4% during midlife (age 36 – 50 years). It is replaced by lighter sleep (stages 1 and 2) [6].

Reduced slow-wave sleep may predict high blood pressure in older men [3].

Overall, compared to REM sleep, slow-wave sleep seems to be significantly more important at keeping us healthy.

REM Sleep

REM sleep typically occupies 20 – 25% of total sleep.

REM sleep seems to have fewer health benefits compared to slow-wave sleep, but it might be more important cognitively. However, it still is critical, as prolonged REM sleep deprivation leads to death in experimental animals [7].

Most of your dreams occur during REM sleep [2].

During REM, our breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and shallow, our eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, and our limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed. Our heart rate increases, our blood pressure rises, and males develop erections.

The release of certain neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and histamine, is completely shut down during REM. This is how our muscles are paralyzed [7]. This paralysis protects you from acting out your dreams [2].

According to one theory, certain memories are consolidated during REM sleep. Numerous studies have suggested that REM sleep is important for the consolidation of procedural memory and spatial memory [7].

REM sleep aids the process of creativity by forming associative elements into new combinations [7].

REM is particularly important to the developing brain, possibly because it provides the neural stimulation that newborns need to form mature neural connections and for proper nervous system development. It may also increase neurogenesis in adults [7].

Some say REM sleep is important because by shutting down neurotransmitter release, we regain sensitivity to them [7].

A reduction of REM is associated with autism [5].

Effective Ways To Fall & Stay Asleep

Be Outside As Much as Possible in the Day in Order to Obtain Enough Bright Light

Bright light is the single most effective way to readjust your circadian rhythm. I notice a very significant effect with this intervention.

The more you’re outside in the day, the better your sleep will be.

I set my life up so that I live in an area where I can be outside for the most hours in the day (moderate temperature all year round, clear skies, rains very little, no mosquitos).

In people 60 years or older, bright light therapy helped their insomnia. 45 min was more effective than 20 minutes [8].

Another study didn’t find significant changes in older adults with primary insomnia [9]. However, it did find that it was able to shift the circadian rhythm. I would still recommend you try it.

In any case, it’s important for neurogenesis/neural development [10].

Bright light therapy was found beneficial in a couple of studies to help shift workers change their circadian rhythm and in other conditions [11, 12, 13].

I make sure to be outside as much as possible, which is very helpful.

If you live in a cold state, you can try some band-aids that aren’t as successful as the sun.

You can use the Bright light device in the morning about 1 foot away from my eyes. Or you can use the portable Bright Light Device. If you work in an office and can’t get the big one then I’d recommend this instead. When I can’t be around my computer or bright light device, I use a Bright Light Device that you can put on a cap.

You want to use the bright light first thing in the morning to reset your circadian rhythm. I recommend 15 minutes of usage if you’re sensitive to bright light and 30 minutes if you aren’t.

Get AM Sun

AM sun will reset your circadian rhythm and you will become more tired at night.

This means right when you get up, you go outside and have the sun hit your retina.

I wake up and go outside with my computer for an hour while I guzzle 1 gallon of water.

Get Adequate Full Body Sun in the Day

In addition to exposing your eyes to light, getting adequate full-body sun will also help your sleep.

Sun increases nitric oxide potently.

Nitric oxide accumulation in the brain’s basal forebrain is both necessary and sufficient to produce sleep. Nitric oxide makes us tired by increasing adenosine [14].

Nitric oxide can also make us thinner by increasing metabolism [15, 16].

I recommend 45 minutes a day on average.

Block Out Blue and Green Light At Night

Red Glasses block blue and green light from entering your eyes. I’ve tried 7 pairs over the years and I found these to be the best one for me. You want to start wearing red glasses 4 hours before you go to bed.

UVEX orange or amber glasses will only block out blue, which is the worst spectrum for going to sleep.

I happen to usually wear the UVEX ones simply because I get tired with those, but if I were having sleep issues, I’d go with the red ones.

The Protocol is to keep wearing them for more hours if you still can’t fall asleep.

I also use the popular f.lux program to reduce blue light (it doesn’t completely block it out).

In addition to the glasses, I also have Blue blocking light bulbs so that I don’t get it from on top of my glasses.

Another good idea is to have Blackout Curtains to block light bombs from outside.

When the blue spectrum enters your eyes it shuts down melatonin production, a hormone essential for sleep. Even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux can inhibit melatonin. 8 lux is double the brightness of a night light.

These glasses actually work better than melatonin itself, which suggests that there’s more than light is doing than just shutting melatonin down.

Blue light is more damaging than just inhibiting melatonin, so melatonin supplements won’t suffice.

Warning: You will look like a dork (refer to the above picture).

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Reduce ALL Lighting At Night

In addition to blocking out certain spectrums of light (such as Blue), any wavelength or color of light is capable of keeping you awake if it’s bright enough.

For this reason, it’s important to not only block out light but make your light as dim as possible after the sun goes down. So shut off your TV and dim your computer, phone, Ipad and any other electronics.

I also use the popular f.lux program to reduce the intensity of light.

In addition, the Blue blocking light bulbs are low wattage, so they’re also good.

Another good idea is to have Blackout Curtains to block light bombs from outside.

Black tape is also useful to block out stray light from electronics.

Don’t Eat At Least Three Hours Before Bed

Eating before bed can destroy your sleep. When I eat too closely before bedtime, my sleep takes a dive. Other people notice this as well. Food is an important circadian time-setter.

You shouldn’t go to sleep hungry either. If you’re hungry before bed, then you’re either not eating enough in the daytime or you’re eating too far from the time you go to sleep. I’ve found starting to eat dinner at about 6 – 6:30 PM is ideal. My dinner takes about 30 minutes to eat and I go to sleep between 10 – 11 PM.

If you find yourself hungry because you forgot to eat, then eat a small amount. Consume foods that are easier to digest such as honey.

Keep to a Circadian Rhythm

Your body has a rhythm by which it releases hormones such as cortisol and other proteins – including inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines like TNF and IL-1b are instrumental in causing fatigue.

When this rhythm is ruined, we won’t be able to fall asleep as easily. So going to sleep and waking up at a similar time is pretty important.

I’m terrible at keeping to this, so that’s why I have to resort to other means. But if you do keep to this, this could be all you need to do.

I consider circadian disruption as one of the fundamental causes of disease in modern civilization.

Frequent travel, especially across time zones, is one of the most common causes of circadian disturbance.

Animals that are forced to eat during their resting period show increased body mass and altered expression of clock and metabolic genes. In humans, shift-work that favors irregular eating times is associated with altered insulin sensitivity and higher body mass. Shift-work and chronic circadian disruption also lead to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health issues and inflammation [17, 18, 19].

Inadequacies of some nutrients like Vitamin D3 [20], Vitamin B-12 [21] and Vitamin A/Retinol can disrupt our circadian rhythm. While all nutrients are important for the circadian rhythm, the above 3 are the most important based on my knowledge. Even if we consume the RDA we can be deficient for various reasons. Zinc is capable of delaying the circadian rhythm (22).

See my article on how to keep to a circadian rhythm.

Sometimes even if we do everything right, we can still have a circadian disruption.

Temperature Regulation: Keep It Cold

The ideal temperature for falling asleep is around 65° F or 18° C for most people.

60 – 67 degrees is the range that you should keep to, depending on the thickness of your sheets, how much clothes you have and how intolerant you are too cold. For 67 degrees, you want a very thin sheet layer and fewer clothes. For 60 degrees you want standard covers (not too thick). A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.

Temperature is only second to light as the most significant zeitgeber or circadian timer setter. Make sure this is taken care of.

You should keep lowering the temperature or decreasing the thickness of your sheets until you wake up in the middle of the night because it’s too cold. Then adjust to make yourself a bit warmer.

You also want to sleep in a room with adequate ventilation because a packed room will also interfere with your sleep.

Reduce Your Nervous System Activity

The activity of your nervous system is one of the biggest factors in causing sleep problems.

One of the most common reasons we have trouble falling asleep is because our mind is wandering and we are usually thinking about stressful things like work. When this part of our brain is activated (prefrontal cortex, amygdala) it’s hard for us to fall asleep.

Stress causes a release of CRH, which destroys your sleep by decreasing slow-wave sleep and increasing REM [23]. Therefore, you should chill out the rest of the day as well.

One mechanism by which CRH decreases slow-wave sleep is by inhibiting GHRH, which stimulates growth hormone release. CRH causes shallow sleep, blunted Growth Hormone and elevated cortisol [24].

The first step to stopping mind wandering is adopting certain attitudes. These attitudes are letting go and acceptance. Letting go and acceptance are the hardest things in the world. This is all simple, but not easy.

Letting go and acceptance doesn’t need explaining, but I’ve found exploring exactly what these mean to be beneficial.

That’s why I recommend these programs to get you on the way to a better life:

  • Mindfulness for beginners – I fall asleep when I listen to this
  • Wherever you go there you are – I fall asleep when I listen to this

I literally listened to the first 2 programs about 200 times. It’s been a godsend.

Ironically, stressing about going to sleep can keep you up. Your goal should be to relax, not go to sleep.

Exercise – Especially At The Right Times

In the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 Sleep In America survey, regular, vigorous exercisers reported getting the best sleep [25].

Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g., walking) reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of sleep of people with chronic insomnia; however, in the same study, vigorous aerobic exercise (e.g., running) or lifting weights did not improve sleep [26].

The best time to exercise for sleep benefits is either right upon awakening or at 5 PM.

With long-term exercise, adults with insomnia fell asleep more quickly, slept slightly longer, and had better sleep quality than before they began exercising [26].

Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep. Exercise also reduces arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Exercise can also help reset your circadian rhythm [26].

Exercise also lowers the body’s pH, which triggers an increase in adenosine [27]. Adenosine is a master regulator of sleep and it increases slow-wave and REM sleep [28]. Exercise can increase slow-wave sleep [3].

Stay Away From Lectins or Inflammatory Foods

Lectins are a big underlying cause of sleep issues by increasing inflammation and causing hypothalamic dysregulation.

The effects of lectins result in being tired in the day, and tired but wired at night.

Follow my lectin avoidance diet.

Stop Working An Hour Before Bed

For most people, engaging in work or anything that is cognitively demanding before bed activates their prefrontal cortex and keeps you up.

You should put your laptop away and just chill out before bed.

If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim.

Make Sure You’re Eating Enough in the Day Time

If you aren’t eating enough calories, your metabolism will slow and you will build up less adenosine, which will make it harder to fall asleep.

In particular, it’s important to get enough protein, but adequate carbs and fat can also help sleep.

Make Sure Your Thyroid Hormones Are Optimal

If your thyroid hormones are low, your metabolism will slow and you will build up less adenosine, which will make it harder to fall asleep.

Do These Yoga Poses

I do a basic yoga program at night that knocks me out. Yoga in general decreases the HPA axis and sympathetic nervous system [29]. This makes any nervous energy or jittery feelings disappear. This is a large reason many people can’t fall asleep: we have too much nervous energy.

I’ve done many other yoga programs and this one works the best for putting me to sleep. I personally uploaded the video to Youtube.

Meditate and/or Breathe

One of the most common reasons for insomnia is that our mind wanders and this will cause a type of excitement. When we meditate this puts us in a much more relaxed state, which is conducive to going to sleep.

I recommend “Guided Mindfulness Meditation” by Kabat-Zinn. These days, I don’t use a program, but it was important for me in the beginning. My mind is still more likely to wander without the program. That’s why listening to the program is better.

The audio version of the “Open Focus” program is also good. It’s a bit weird, but it works. It has an added benefit of improving my heart rate variability.

If meditation isn’t your style, some simple breathing exercises may do the trick. Breathing deeply mimics how your body feels when it’s already relaxed, so after inhaling and exhaling for a few rounds, you just might find yourself feeling calmer. That’s because deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve.

Dr. Weil gives good breathing exercises.

Go to Sleep and Wake Up At The Same Time

Sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Start by setting a realistic bedtime that will work with your lifestyle. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime.

Avoid sleeping in even on weekends or nights you’ve stayed up late. It can be tempting to sleep in on weekends, but even a couple hour difference in wake time disrupts your internal clock. The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you’ll experience. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This strategy allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm, which often backfires in insomnia and throws you off for days.

Be smart about napping. As mentioned above, napping is a good way to recharge and make up for lost sleep hours. But if you tend to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, napping can make things worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating naps altogether or limiting them to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.

This is something that I’ve never kept to, but I know I should.

Use A Good Mattress

Make sure your bed is comfortable.

Everyone has different preferences for their bed. Some people like more firm, while others like more soft. If you’re a side sleeper and you’re thin, you’ll want a relatively soft mattress.

You should have enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. If you often wake up with a sore back or an aching neck, you may need to invest in a new mattress or a try a different pillow. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam or egg crate toppers, and pillows that provide more or less support.

  • Tuft and Needle Mattress (have not used)
  • Zinus Sleep Memory Foam Mattress, 6 inches for a cheaper option (Have Used)

In addition to these beds being comfortable, you shouldn’t be sleeping on coil mattresses because they attract EMFs [30].

If you’re using a magnetic, you’ll get more of a magnetic field with the 6-inch mattress.

Reserve Your Bed For Sleeping and Sex

If you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will be harder to wind down at night. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. That way, when you go to bed, your body gets a powerful cue: it’s time to either nod off or be romantic.

Visualization and Progressive Muscle Relaxation

First developed in 1915, this technique will never get old. “Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation exercise in which you systematically tense and then relax all the muscle groups of your body,” according to clinical director of UPenn Medicine’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program Phil Gehrman, Ph.D [31].

It was shown to reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality in a study of women undergoing breast cancer treatment [31].

It might feel a little silly the first time you try it, but go ahead and imagine yourself somewhere calm, relaxing and sleep-inducing. This deep relaxation method can slow brain wave activity, coaxing you toward sleep.

I’ve never used these, but they are popular tips on the internet.


When all else fails, there’s always pot.

Marijuana is the best substance to shut your mind down and relax your whole body.

There are different strains and they don’t all work the same. Also, people differ in their response to it. I would suggest to try it and see if it helps you fall asleep.

In a small study published in 1973, THC reduced the time it took for 9 subjects with insomnia to fall asleep by over an hour on average. It also leads to an increase in time spent sleeping [32].

THC causes an increase in stage 4 sleep (i.e. deep or slow-wave sleep) but decreases REM sleep [33].

THC is an agonist of the CB1 receptor, which increases adenosine. By the same token, anandamide also increases adenosine [34]. CBD also increases adenosine [35].

In a small trial of 17 people, THC was found to significantly reduce sleep apnea [36].

“THC stabilizes autonomic output during sleep, reduces spontaneous sleep-disordered breathing, and blocks serotonin-induced exacerbation of sleep apnea” [36].

CBD, the other major active ingredient, increases total sleep time. There was a non-significant increase in slow-wave sleep at higher dosages. The time it takes to get into REM differed based on the dose (A high dose took longer to get into REM, while a lower dose took shorter) [37].

CBD also increases REM sleep in anxiety-related conditions like PTSD through its anti-anxiety properties (anxiety reduces REM) [38].

Interestingly, CBD is known to be very calming, but it’s also wakeful promoting [39].

THC is known to have some anxiety-producing effects, but it’s better at increasing slow-wave sleep.

For sleep, you want to get strains that have a good amount of THC and CBD (a 1:1 ratio). THC actually helps your sleep and CBD balances the anxiety-producing effects of THC, so both are important.


I don’t recommend ANY drugs or supplements for sleep, but not everyone can live optimally, so people need bandaids.

Diphenhydramine or Benadryl is a first generation antihistamine. It’s FDA-approved as a non-prescription sleep aid.

Not every antihistamine will do. You want to take the antihistamines that cross the brain barrier. The newer ones don’t.

I’ve found it somewhat effective at quickening sleep onset, but I haven’t experimented with it much.

Benadryl has an anxiety-reducing effect. It has also proven to have mild anti-obsessive effects in one study researching OCD medication. Originally intended to act as a control medication, it, in fact, produced a significant decrease in OCD symptoms [40]. The mechanism is probably as a result of increasing serotonin [41].

It works by blocking histamine, which promotes wakefulness. It doesn’t alter slow-wave or REM sleep [42].

I use Benadryl if needed.


I’ve used honey for 5 years before sleep, but I’ve cut it out since going on a lectin avoidance diet.

One reason for bad sleep is energy depletion while sleeping. Honey restores glycogen levels and keeps our brain fueled and calmer. This prevents bouts of low sugar (hypoglycemia).

Hypoglycemia during sleep can disrupt slow-wave sleep [4]. High carbohydrate consumption increases slow-wave sleep [3].

This will mostly be of benefit to you if you don’t eat past a certain time (good move) and you are generally watching your caloric intake.

Prescription: 1 tablespoon of raw honey before bed.

If you’re eating enough in the daytime and you’re doing the other tips right, you shouldn’t be getting hypoglycemic at night.

So I see this as a temporary measure for people.


You can’t talk about sleep-hacking without mentioning melatonin. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and in most ways an anti-inflammatory.

Melatonin has shown benefits in humans or animals regarding obesity, IBS, GERD, cancer, Alzheimer’s, immune disorders, cardiovascular diseases, depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), delirium, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, migraines and headaches, ALS, tinnitus, menopausal depression, gallbladder stones, sexual dysfunction and insomnia in the elderly. Most of the studies have shown benefit [43].

A meta-analysis done in 2013 found that melatonin decreases the time it takes to fall asleep, increases total sleep time and improves overall sleep quality [44]. Melatonin increased slow-wave sleep in elderly insomniacs [45]. Melatonin was able to increase REM sleep as well in people who had reduced REM [46].

A large dose of melatonin before bed (5mg) increases REM sleep [47].

I recommend 1mg of Melatonin to everyone who doesn’t follow the listed tips above.


Magnesium has been shown to be effective in clinical trials in improving sleep efficiency, increasing sleep time, decreasing the time it takes to go to sleep and reducing early morning wakings [48]. Magnesium is also involved in thermoregulation [49].

The cited study gave the shittiest version of magnesium – magnesium oxide. 500mg of Magnesium via magnesium oxide is like a third or half of the effect as magnesium calm if you asked me.

I’m assuming the mechanism is by blocking NMDA receptors and increasing GABA [48]. Magnesium also resulted in increased melatonin levels [48]. In another study, magnesium was able to increase slow-wave sleep [50].

It’s irrelevant how much magnesium you have in your diet. This isn’t to prevent a deficiency. The purpose is to overload your body with magnesium so that it passes your brain barrier in larger quantities and blocks your NMDA receptors and increases GABA.

Magnesium is calming but also has a stimulating property for me. I recommend it to people who have issues with sleep onset even after trying my other recommendations.


In humans, approximately 45g of glycine is synthesized in our body, and 3 – 5g of glycine is ingested from the daily diet.

Ingestion of 3g of glycine in sleep-restricted people resulted in less fatigue in the daytime [51].

In healthy people, 3g of glycine improved subjective sleep quality. People went to sleep more quickly and got into deep or slow-wave sleep more quickly as well. There was no change in REM sleep. Glycine also lessened daytime sleepiness and improved performance of memory recognition tasks [52].

You need to take 3 grams because it won’t diffuse across the brain barrier if the concentration isn’t high enough.

Glycine acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter via glycine receptors. Furthermore, glycine improves sleep in rats by decreasing core body temperature and increasing vasodilation. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is necessary for glycine-induced hypothermia and vasodilatation because ingested glycine primarily acts on the NMDA receptors in the SCN [51].

I recommend Glycine at night for people who have sleep problems.


Nitric oxide accumulation in the brain’s basal forebrain is both necessary and sufficient to produce sleep. Nitric oxide makes us tired by increasing adenosine [14].

Nitric oxide can also make us thinner by increasing metabolism [15, 16].

Arginine is the cheapest and one of the most effective supplements to increase nitric oxide.

It has the potential to make people sleepy and I recommend it when all else fails.


You want to be very careful with taking herbs at night because they decrease cytokines TNF and IL-1b, which are important for inducing sleep.

Valerian is one exception. Drinking this in a hot tea will have a better effect.

In a small clinical trial, Valerian increased slow-wave sleep and the time it took to get into slow-wave sleep. There was an increase in REM sleep, but the placebo group also increased REM sleep [53].

It works by increasing adenosine [54] and GABA (A) [55].

I recommend Valerian when lifestyle factors don’t cut it.


Uridine has its own receptors by which it induces sleep [56].

In rats, it increases slow-wave and REM sleep [57], both of which are extremely important.

I recommend Uridine when lifestyle factors don’t cut it.


Whenever I ruin my circadian rhythm or stay up really late, I usually only sleep 5 hours or less. The next night is annoying because I’m over-tired and usually don’t sleep well.

A nice dose of sarcosine prolongs my sleep and makes me feel very well rested when I awake.

Sarcosine’s main mechanism involves inhibiting a transporter, called GlyT1, which takes up glycine and D-serine into cells. This increases the levels of glycine and D-serine in the body and increases their effects.

I recommend sarcosine when lifestyle factors don’t cut it.


Theanine is great at inducing sleep, sometimes making people sleep longer and feel more restful.

A clinical study in kids with ADHD, they found some improved measures such as sleep efficiency [58].

Theanine counteracts the reduction of slow-wave sleep by caffeine consumption [59].

It works by increasing GABA and serotonin (It also increases dopamine) [60].

Vitamins and Minerals

A study of veterans suffering from both chronic pain and Vitamin D deficiency found that Vitamin D3 supplements led to both reductions in pain, and improvement to sleep and to the veterans’ sense of well-being [61].

Calcium goes well with magnesium and can also help us sleep. Calcium is directly related to our cycles of sleep. Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. I put some Calcium in my night stack and also in my water.

In one study, researchers found that calcium levels in the body are higher during REM sleep (the dreaming phase). The study concluded that calcium deficiency can cause disturbances in sleep. Supplementation of calcium reversed this [1].

It’s thought that milk helps us sleep in part because of calcium. If you’re not eating dairy, then it’s very difficult to get enough calcium.

Potassium is an important mineral in the body that helps to relax muscles and nerves, as well as to promote healthy circulation and digestion. Research has shown a possible genetic link between potassium and slow-wave sleep (or delta sleep), which is the deepest phase of our sleep cycle. This is the time when we get our most restorative sleep [62].

I’m often deficient in potassium and I know this when I get muscle twitches. Supplementation makes this disappear in an hour. I recommend Potassium gluconate. I take 2 grams of the powder with meals in the morning and afternoon. Be careful not to go overboard.

Zinc, when part of a formula of magnesium and melatonin, was effective in various sleep outcomes. [63] I kind of see how zinc can be somewhat effective, but I can’t say for sure that zinc helped me sleep. Zinc increases acetylcholine by being an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. I recommend 15mg daily.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) deficiency can cause less slow-wave and REM sleep [64]. Vitamin B3 (also known as Niacin) has been shown to promote REM sleep. A deficiency in Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) can cause sleep disturbances [65]. Vitamin B6 helps the body to produce serotonin, which is a relaxing neurotransmitter.

I recommend taking 1 cap of a B-Complex a day to make sure you’re not deficient in any B vitamins.


Oxytocin is our natural ‘love’ hormone.

I don’t use this for this purpose, but you’re welcome to. Actually, by injaculating I get some oxytocin because sperm contains some of this.

In healthy people, long-term administration of oxytocin reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and it increases sleep efficiency by increasing the percent of REM sleep episodes [66].

Falling in love, having sex, nursing, and positive social encounters all of these lead to increased oxytocin [67].

Low levels of oxytocin promote sleep but high levels promote wakefulness [68].

I use L. Reuteri to increase oxytocin [69].



I’m not sure if these help me fall asleep or the strong smell makes my mind wander a bit less. Anyway, this seems to help a bit, but I wouldn’t call it strong.

I use Chamomile essential oil and Frankincense essential oil. I like frankincense better. I put a couple of drops on my hands, temples and near my nostrils. I could see it being the case that if you don’t like the smell then it might not work for you.

Massages and Saunas

Massages and Saunas are quite effective at making me sleepy and relaxed. The problem is regular access to these. Whenever I have the chance I exchange massages with people.

Sleep Mask

Sleep masks are great at shutting out all light and helping me fall and stay asleep. This is especially important if you go to sleep late because light can wake you up early.

There’re a few options, but I switch off between a sleep mask with earplugs (more comfortable for me), and a heatable sleep mask, which also smells like lavender.

Cold Showers

Acute cold is a potent way to increase the function of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is largely responsible for making us feel relaxed.

Cold increases metabolism and can help build up adenosine.

Some people notice benefits to sleep even when they take cold showers in the daytime.

Since cold showers are annoying, I end up not doing it that much. It’s also hard to get the timing right. You want to do it a few hours before bed, but not too close to bed.

I turn the shower to the coldest setting a minute before I’m done. It’s very uncomfortable and activates your stress response very acutely. For me, I become very relaxed in 15 – 30 minutes of taking a 1- to 5-minute shower set to maximum cold. Adjust to your own experience.

Since it’s only for a brief period, the body super compensates by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and you become relaxed. There’s a very noticeable anti-depressant effect. This is purely just an n=1.

Alternatively, you can dip your head into a freezing bucket for 5 seconds and keep on increasing it by 5 seconds every few days.


Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a term for a phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, or other regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, touch or other stimuli.

Many videos on youtube use whispering and touching people or an object and it makes you feel relaxed. It comes off as sexual often, but I feel sleepy and tingly from it rather than turned on.


You can tell me which ASMR video you find is the best.


Humans are exposed to much higher CO2 levels because of CO2 emissions, but also because we’re indoors most of the time.

This is another reason to be outdoors.

Oxygen will increase metabolism and mitochondrial function.

Morning Supplements Upon Awakening

These supplements can help your sleep in various ways if you take them upon awakening:

The mechanisms are by increasing SIRT1, NAD+, Adenosine, Cyclic AMP and by decreasing cytokines.

In an open-label human study, PQQ was able to significantly improve sleep quality in people with a sleep-impairing disorder. The improvement took 4 weeks to come about. After 8 weeks, people were able to fall asleep quicker [70]. I’m not sure if it’s helped me, but I really like it anyway.

In a human study, a single Pregnenolone dose increased slow-wave sleep [71]. For some people, it harms their ability to sleep, but you’re welcome to try it.

I recommend taking this first thing in the morning because it increases wakefulness by blocking GABA(A) receptors [72]. It’s also quite relaxing, though.


In a clinical trial, people without sleep problems were exposed to a sleep disturbance. When they took 300mg of progesterone at 11 PM, people were awake 53% less and slow-wave sleep was 50% higher. Growth hormone secretion increased, while evening and sleep TSH levels decreased [73].

The study concludes “Use of progesterone might provide novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of sleep disturbances, in particular in aging where sleep is fragmented and of lower quality” [73].

I recommend Progesterone Cream by Source Naturals.

This never worked for me, but it helps some people in some situations according to that trial.

Hot/Warm Shower/Bath

A warm shower is known to make us feel more relaxed. You should try taking a warm shower at night and see how it works for you.

Body warming by a hot shower or bath can increase slow-wave sleep [3].

Ketosis/Low Carb Diet

Ketogenic diets have been shown to increase the amount of slow-wave sleep in healthy individuals [4].

In healthy sleepers, a very low carbohydrate diet over the short-term promotes increases in the percentage of slow-wave sleep and a reduction in the percentage of REM sleep [3].

Ketones (acetoacetate, but not hydroxy-butyrate) increase slow-wave sleep and both have as a key component [74].

Herbs and Supplements That Can Help At Night

Note that I don’t actually take any supplements at night anymore, since I was able to fix my sleep without supplements, and supplements became counterproductive, even though they helped for a while.

When you’re at the point that you’re not getting inflammation, you’re fixing your light cycles and you’re capable of toning down your nervous system, that’s when your sleep will get better.

Hops (increases GABA [75]), Chinese Skullcap, R-Lipoic Acid (a very high dose-600mg), Reishi (must be this one), Lavender, Passionflower, Eleuthero (must be this one), Astragalus and Cocoacalm also help me to go to sleep a bit. I’m only using the first three right now and cycling them. I wouldn’t say these are the most effective, so I left them out. But they’ve worked for me. I have never tried California poppy alone, but it’s supposed to help.

Astragalus makes a few clients of mine also sleepy. Traditional medicine says astragalus is stimulating, but I don’t find that to be the case. I use 2 grams of Astragalus every night.

Oleamide increases slow-wave sleep and decreases body temperature [76]. It also shortens the time to fall asleep [77].

I use the following at night because I realized they make me tired, but I can’t say everyone will feel this way. I don’t take all of these regularly.

Thymus extract and Agmatine aren’t supposed to make you tired, but they make me tired.

Schisandra potently calms the nervous system and can help you fall asleep if your nervous system is keeping you up.

Bioactive milk peptides may work. I actually haven’t tried this because it contains casein, which I’m intolerant to.

Supplements That Didn’t Work For Me

People have reported that Hypothalamus glandular improved their sleep, but it made mine worse, I think. Perhaps the mechanism is that the hypothalamus contains GHRH, which stimulates growth hormone and increases slow-wave sleep [78]. I put a couple of pills under my tongue.

Taurine and Glutamine may help and I used to put these in my night stack but I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed anything. So if it does do anything, they’re weak. They’re both supposed to increase GABA [79, 80], but it’s not one of the more effective solutions – not for me at least.

Ashwagandha, Honokiol, and Lithium are relaxing. But even though they’re relaxing, they wake me up as well, so I can’t recommend them. However, they help some people.

5-HTP effects on sleep are not crystal clear. Repeated high doses were administered to three healthy subjects. REM sleep first decreased and then rebounded after a few weeks. However slow-wave sleep increased in two subjects who initially had a small amount of it and the effects lasted [81]. In general, serotonin is believed to increase slow-wave sleep [82].

Studies support the notion that serotonin predominantly promotes wakefulness and that under certain circumstances it can contribute to tiredness [83].

Huperzine A, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, increases REM sleep, but not slow-wave sleep. I’ve experimented with this a few times before, but I don’t like strong acetylcholinesterase inhibitors like Huperzine A. I don’t recommend it to anyone. It likely works by increases acetylcholine levels in the brain, which is critical to getting into REM sleep. Choline supplements might help as well.

The GABA drugs Picamilon and Phenibut don’t either work for me, but they may work for you. GABA itself isn’t supposed to pass the blood-brain barrier, but some people claim it helps them. I didn’t notice an effect even after 15 grams.

Kava, peppermint, and chamomile are supposed to be relaxing. Kava only relaxes me without making me tired. Chamomile makes me tired, but after a half hour, it causes me to become more awake in some ways. I don’t like it as a sleep aid. Peppermint makes me tired but also irritates my stomach.

Sclerotium, and SSRI and PDE4 inhibitor, improves some people’s sleep, but it didn’t do anything for mine.

Cordyceps has adenosine in there, which is supposed to induce fatigue. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of it in there and it didn’t do anything for me, nor did it wake me up.

Bacopa is too strong of an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor for my taste. It relaxed me but didn’t help me fall asleep.


AVE – Audiovisual Entrainment (I use David Pro) helps me fall asleep. I use this if I need to nap in the day.

AVE basically helps you meditate. It works by “entraining you” to a certain frequency, kind of like putting you in a trance.

I’m a terrible meditator, but the AVE forces you into a meditative trance.

It uses a combination of CES, audio, and visual beats at the same frequency to entrain you.

My only issue with using this at night is that it pulses light in the glasses.

I don’t recommend this, but since we’re on the topic, when I zapped my brain with Ultrasound, I fell asleep more easily. It shut my brain down for the next day too – ya, that’s why I don’t recommend it. Nice antidepressant, but it makes you dumb.

tDCS may improve sleep in people with insomnia (84) and it enhances slow-wave sleep [85]. It’s also been used to improve sleep in euthymic bipolar [86] and post-polio [87] patients.

Whole Body Vibration” makes me a bit sleepy, but only at night. Not sure how this works.

A White Noise Machine can be helpful if it’s noisy outside. I just use an Air Purifier, as they’re usually quite loud. It’s not loud where I live, so I don’t use it at this time.

Molecular Hydrogen Machine may increase slow-wave sleep because it increases Ghrelin.

Some people find a Fitbit helpful to track their sleep and see how interventions help them. Otherwise, you can try apps on your phone that measure your sleep.

Resistant Starch

Jo’s Resistant Starch results in butyrate production, which some report results in increased lucid dreaming and better quality sleep.

Since butyrate is an alternative brain fuel, it helps prevent hypoglycemia during the night. It relaxes me but it doesn’t help my sleep.

Stay Away From Excess Liquids, Alcohol, Caffeine, Nicotine, Benzodiazepines, PGD2 Inhibitors, and Most Herbs

Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening. Drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or other fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night.

If you have sleep issues, caffeine is not a good idea. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, which are important for falling asleep.

Alcohol may help you relax and fall asleep in the short term, but it can disrupt sleep over the course of the night. It also keeps you from entering the deeper stages of sleep.

Nicotine stimulates orexin, the wakefulness system in your brain [88].

Benzodiazepines (e.g. Ativan, Valium, Klonopin) decreases slow-wave sleep [3].

Prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) increases adenosine in the place where it promotes sleepiness (under the subarachnoid space of the basal forebrain) [89].

Some herbs inhibit PGD2 such as Tea, Fish Oil, Ginger, Resveratrol, Quercetin, Luteolin, Nettle. This would have the effect of preventing an increase in adenosine in the brain, which is important for sleep. This is all theoretical, however.

Herbal supplements taken in the evening have tended to interfere with my sleep.

You want to be very careful with taking herbs at night because they decrease cytokines such as TNF and IL-1b, which are important for inducing sleep.

Avoid Oxidative Therapies At Night

Oxidative therapy is one that induces a large increase in free radicals. This stimulated the mitochondria by increasing NAD+.

Here’s an example list of oxidative therapies that shouldn’t be done within 4 hours before bedtime:

Write a To-do List Before Bed

In one study, fifty-seven healthy young adults (18 – 30) completed a writing assignment for 5 min prior to overnight polysomnography recording in a sleep laboratory.

Compared to the control group, participants who wrote a to-do list about tasks that they needed to complete in the next few days fell asleep significantly faster.

The more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep.

Therefore, to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for 5 min at bedtime [90].

Things that Can Worsen Sleep


It’s important to make sure that you’re not having inflammation in general because that can cause sleep issues.

Cytokines like IL-1, IL-6, and TNF can activate your stress response (HPA axis) and also disturb your circadian rhythm [91], both of which will keep you up at night.

Inflammation in the day will be bad for your sleep by disturbing your circadian rhythm, but slightly elevated cytokines at night and while you’re sleeping is normal and even beneficial.

It might be worth reading through some of my inflammation series.


Alcohol worsens sleep quality and length and should be avoided in people with sleep issues.

Imbalanced Hormones

Cortisol appears to enhance REM sleep [103].

Testosterone generally benefits sleep. However, both low and high testosterone can worsen sleep [104].

Estrogen generally improves sleep [105], which is why people with menopause often have sleep problems.

GHRH, Ghrelin, and Galanin enhance slow-wave sleep [106].

Somatostatin (inhibits GHRH) impairs sleep [107, 108].

Prolactin enhances REM sleep [109].

VIP slows the non-REM–REM cycle [110].

NPY induces sleep [111] and was found to be low in people with insomnia [112].

NPY and CRH are antagonistic to one another and the ratio is what seems to be important for sleep as well. Meaning low NPY and high CRH will cause insomnia [113].

CCK induces non-REM sleep, in particular, the CCK1 receptor. Eating-induced sleep is prevented by CCK1 receptor antagonist [114].

DHEA in high dosages taken by healthy young men increased REM sleep [115].

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen flipped the script on conventional and alternative medicine…and it worked. Growing up, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that were poorly understood in traditional healthcare. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a learning journey to decode his DNA and track his biomarkers in search of better health. Through this personalized approach, he discovered his genetic weaknesses and was able to optimize his health 10X better than he ever thought was possible. Based on his own health success, he went on to found SelfDecode, the world’s first direct-to-consumer DNA analyzer & precision health tool that utilizes AI-driven polygenic risk scoring to produce accurate insights and health recommendations. Today, SelfDecode has helped over 100,000 people understand how to get healthier using their DNA and labs.
Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, with a mission of empowering people to take advantage of the precision health revolution and uncover insights from their DNA and biomarkers so that we can all feel great all of the time.


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