Dr. Bacon here. As we approached our second month of being open here at Elevate Health, I started to realize something. I was not sleeping well. I would wake multiple times in the night, often feeling like my sleep was not restful. I would then wake in the wee hours of the morning — well before I needed to get up — feeling exhausted yet wide awake.
My first thought was “this is stress, you just started a new business, it will go away.” But the combination of starting a new business and not sleeping well just made the stress worse. I realized I needed to get to the bottom of my insomnia and nip this trend in the bud.
Now I help people with insomnia all the time, and I’m very successful at it. So I felt like I had access to a lot of effective tools. I often prescribe supplements that can be very helpful for insomnia. However, I decided I wanted to start with my sleep routine and see if I could reverse my insomnia without taking any supplements at all.
I was already doing the basics: I keep my bedroom cool, quiet, and dark; I drink a relaxing cup of tea before going to sleep; and I don’t do any work in bed.
I realized, though, that I was taking my phone to bed with me and often reading articles on it before trying to sleep. I figured this might be the culprit, so I cut my pre-sleep screen time out to see how much of a difference it would make.
It did make a difference — I was falling asleep more quickly — but I was still waking multiple times in the night and not feeling well rested in the morning. So I did what I do anytime I feel I need to know more about a subject: I started researching.
And I learned of some truly fascinating studies that have recently shed new light on the problem of insomnia.
For starters, it turns out the most restorative sleep tends to happen between 10pm and 2am. This means if you aren’t going to bed until midnight, you are likely missing out on the highest quality sleep you could be getting.
I was already aware that light at night can make it hard to fall asleep but I figured it couldn’t hurt to look at some of the newer research on this as well. I discovered exposure to screens is much more concerning than I had thought. As little as two hours of screen time at night can suppress melatonin to daytime levels, which means suppressing levels to basically zero. Therefore, reducing screen time and other light before bed is critical in facilitating the body’s production of healthy melatonin levels.
Next, I learned that the production of chemicals that orchestrate falling asleep (melatonin) and waking up (cortisol) are both highly influenced by routine. Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same times every day facilitates more normal regulation of these key chemicals, which helps us fall asleep easily, stay asleep through the night, and wake feeling rested.
In addition, just as darkness is important for the production of melatonin, the research I found suggested that sunlight exposure first thing in the morning is excellent at boosting cortisol. This helps you feel awake and ready to go in the morning.
Finally, I learned something that really helped motivate me to get better sleep. Sleep deprivation has actually been recently categorized as a carcinogen. I know, I did a double take as well when I read that. It is believed that this increased risk for cancer is due to the decreased levels of melatonin that occur with lost sleep.
This was the last straw. I had been slowly developing a new plan to improve my sleep. But this last discovery really scared me, so I decided to enact my new plan immediately.
I replaced screen time with reading and crossword puzzles while I had tea as part of my pre-bedtime routine. I started getting in bed by 9:30 pm. I kept my room cool, quiet, and dark. I set an alarm for 7 am and on waking I took a little bit of time in the sun.
And the results were outstanding.
I started falling asleep much more quickly – after about five to ten minutes at the most. I also slept through the entire night. And I didn’t wake once. I woke before my alarm but only by about 15 minutes and I felt rested and ready to start my day.
Another added bonus that let me know I’m getting into different depths of sleep is I started dreaming again. I didn’t even realize I hadn’t been dreaming, but within one night I started having vivid dreams every night.
I find now I’m addicted to my new bedtime routine because I feel so much better. And it didn’t take a single pill – I was able to retrain my own body to do what it knows best for sleep.
I hope my story can serve as an inspiration for you to incorporate some of these new techniques into your own sleep routine so you can start getting more (and better) sleep.