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Posts Tagged ‘Sleep’

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How light exposure affects health – an interview of Dan by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Sunday, January 19th, 2014


Today, my video interview with Dr. Mercola was published. We talked about how to get great sleep and the influence of light on health, sleep, and daytime alertness.

Here are some of the summary notes posted on his website.

  • If you don’t sleep well, you’re not going to be optimally healthy no matter how good your diet and exercise are.
  • Maintaining a natural rhythm of exposure to daylight, and darkness at night, is an essential component of sleeping well.
  • Light is important because it serves as the major synchronizer of something called your master clock. Other biological clocks throughout your body in turn synchronize to your master clock
  • To maintain and “anchor” your master clock, you want to get bright outdoor light exposure for 30-60 minutes a day
  • In the evening, avoid the blue light wavelength. This can be done by using blue-blocking light bulbs, dimming your lights, and if using a computer, installing a blue light-blocking software (F.Lux)


Getting the right light exposure across the day, evening, and night is crucial to helping you get regular, deep sleep and to support robust wakefulness during the day. It takes time to experience the maximal benefit of proper light exposure. You need to have the right light at the right time for multiple days in a row to experience the full effect on improved daytime alertness. However, as discussed in the beginning of the interview, duration and timing of sleep also impact the equation. In our modern world – due to a large amount of forces of modern life – it’s easy to get less sleep than you need and to have too much variability in timing of your sleep.

At the end of the interview, we discussed self tracking for sleep practice mindfulness. To solve the problem of variable sleep timing and insufficient sleep duration, Dan’s Plan created a free sleep tracking tool (video description) that uses effective behavioral techniques to keep you mindful of how you’re living day by day. It’s not hard to imaging how making this tool a part of a person’s daily routine could lead to the addition of 30 extra minutes of sleep per night. If you’re like most people, and you’re getting insufficient sleep on a regular basis, these 30 minutes per night are a huge benefit. Practiced over time, the difference is equivalent to you missing 22 complete nights of sleep over 1 year!

Some new quantified self devices provide feedback on sleep stages. However, it’s normal for sleep to adjust night after night so this sort of detailed sleep analysis – unless your diagnosing a sleep issue – isn’t really necessary. At worst, it’s misleading. A better use of these new technologies should aim to help you maintain the behaviors that help you get good sleep, like getting into bed at the right time. If I were to tell you that your sleep efficiency score from last night was 85%, what does that mean to you? Is that good, bad, or normal? On the other hand, if the tool were to remind you that your target bedtime is, let’s say, 10:45p, but you’re going to bed on average at 11:30p recently, now you have increased mindfulness and a clear goal for what you can do tonight to get the sleep you need. That’s very useful, especially since there are many temptations that make missing sleep easy. This sort of tool helps you fight back, making the right sleep behavior more visible and salient in your day-to-day lifestyle. Tracking, therefore, is useful for both the novice and expert alike, because regardless of you level of knowledge of the sleep science, mindfulness of your own daily sleep practice helps you maintain a healthy pattern long term, and that’s what counts in the end.

Bottom line:

It’s challenging to get the sleep you need in the modern world. To get the sleep that helps keep you healthy and performing at your best, it’s useful to learn the fundamental components of good sleep (discussed in the video above), maintain smart light rhythms day by day, and engage with the right tools to keep you mindful of your daily sleep practice. Sleep is hugely important in our health and these are some of the cutting-edge but practical techniques to help you get the best sleep possible. If you’re not tracking sleep now, you should start today. Over the course of time, doing so will mean you’ll be more likely to get better sleep which will have enumerable benefits on your health and daily experience.


“Eat Less and Exercise More” is Not Good Enough

Monday, June 27th, 2011


(Mozaffarian et al., NEJM 2011)

There is a recent paper out in the New England Journal of Medicine in which the investigators examined relationships between diet, behaviors, and weight over time frames of 10-20 years in over 120,000 adults in the US. The investigators found that people gained an average of 3.35 pounds every four years and that weight gain was significantly associated with higher consumption of potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats, and processed meats (see figure above). Weight gain was inversely associated (less weight gain with greater consumption) with consumption of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt.

So, you might be asking yourself – what’s the big deal? How did this paper get into a top-tier journal by confirming what we all already know – that chips and soda are bad for you and fruits and vegetables are good for you? Well, here are a few additional findings and speculations that I think make the paper more interesting than the “potato chip findings” that have been grabbing the headlines.

One of the strengths of this type of work is that the authors have looked at data for a huge number of people. This increases the likelihood that the findings have external validity or that they will be generalizable to the population at large. However, a limitation to this type of study (observational, not interventional or controlled) is that we can only make correlational inferences or talk about “associations” and not “causes.”

“You want fries with that?”

What is the “that?” It might be the case that certain types of foods are more likely to be eaten together (think burger and fries). The authors reported that there were only a few correlations between food types. For example, people more likely to eat vegetables were also more likely to eat fruit. Likewise, people more likely to eat unprocessed red meat were also more likely to eat processed meats. And, people more likely to consume low-fat dairy were less likely to consume high-fat dairy. These sorts of findings seem to make sense, probably because we largely recognize that meat of one type can often substitute for meat of another type and that dairy of one type can often substitute for dairy of another type. Less clear, however, is which foods might be serving as economic complements. The consumption of a complement is typically tied to something else. For example, you probably eat very few hot dog buns in the absence of hot dogs – the bun is an economic complement. This brings us back to the question of whether you want fries with that and what is the “that?” Chips and fries often accompany burgers, sandwiches, and sodas. Chips make people thirsty and I rarely see chips paired with water, coffee, tea, or milk. So, perhaps what we’re looking at here is clusters of foods or behaviors.

Another way to think about this is to ask yourself what percentage of chips or fries that you have eaten did you make yourself at home? It is likely that fries are often associated with eating on-the-go and chips are often associated with convenience stores and impulse purchases. True, the chips and fries don’t help, but they alone are not the entire story.

So, where do we go from here? It’s an interesting exercise to think about what foods and behaviors in your life tend to be complements or are associated with each other. It is also interesting to think about foods and behaviors that you might be able to substitute for one another to help you achieve your goals (e.g., a piece or fruit or yogurt in place of a sweet or dessert). If certain foods and behaviors are clustered together, a couple of initial substituions could help the whole house of cards begin to fall…  


Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Of course, science is always happening, but right now the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (aka, the SLEEP meeting) is being held in Minnesota. If you couldn’t make it this year, don’t worry – Dan is at the meeting and has been feeding us data hot off the presses via Twitter.

Don’t wait kids – see what’s new in sleep research here!

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