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Twelve Sleep Hacks to Help us get Lean & Healthy.

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A few years ago, Jim came to my office desperate for help. He’d gained 140 pounds over three years, ballooning up from a slim 186 to a whopping 320.

He wasn’t eating more than most people—some very specific lifestyle changes created his weight gain.

Jim had gotten divorced, remarried, had two children, lost his mother, and almost lost his brother. He used to be in shape. Jim worked out, played football, and ate well.

Then his schedule changed. He started working the night shift at his security job. He worked all night and took care of his daughter during the day while his wife worked. That left Jim no time for exercise and only about four hours for sleep.

Worse, he craved sugar and carbohydrates and ate one huge meal of pasta, rice, and bread before going to work each night to give him energy.

Like so many Americans, Jim was a victim of a culture that prides itself on productivity, where sleep became a nuisance that got in the way of work, family, TV, the internet, email, and exercise. We make up for this lack of sleep by filling our tanks with sugar, refined carbs, caffeine, and other stimulants we hope will give us more energy (yet ultimately zap it).

The main thing in Jim’s life that changed before his weight gain was his sleep schedule. That’s no coincidence. Research links even one partial night’s sleep deprivation to insulin resistance in otherwise healthy folks, paving the way for type 2 diabetes and obesity.

As this and other studies show, hormones underlie these problems. Our bodies have a finely tuned appetite control system governed by certain hormones that sleep can profoundly affect.

Among them include our hunger hormones: ghrelin (that makes us feel hungry), cortisol (that stores fat), and leptin (that makes us feel full). Bad sleep knocks these and other fat-regulating hormones out of balance.

A Gallop poll showed 40 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. But it isn’t just quantity; our quality of sleep is also suffering.

Numerous issues can interfere with sleep, and some patients require a sleep specialist who can (through trial-and-error) find what might cause sleep disturbances.

Yet for most of my patients, these 12 strategies can help restore 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep. The difference in their energy levels, weight loss, and overall health is night and day (pun fully intended).

  1. Avoid or minimize substances that affect sleep, like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.
  2. Avoid stimulating activities for two hours before bed. This includes watching TV, using the Internet, and answering emails.
  3. Go to bed (preferably before 10 or 11 p.m.) and wake up at the same time every day.
  4. Exercise daily for 30 minutes (but not less than three hours before bed, which can affect sleep).
  5. Use the bed only for sleep and sex.
  6. Keep the bedroom dark or use eyeshades.
  7. If we live in a noisy environment, block out the sound with earplugs (soft silicone ones work best).
  8. Make the room a comfortable temperature for sleep (not too hot or cold).
  9. Take a hot bath at night for 20 minutes. Add two cups of Epsom salt and 10 drops of lavender essential oil to the bathwater.
  10. Take 200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate before bed, which relaxes the nervous system and muscles.
  11. Try taking other supplements and herbs to get sufficient shut-eye, such as calcium, L-theanine (an amino acid from green tea), GABA, 5-HTP, melatonin, valerian, passionflower, and magnolia.
  12. Still have trouble sleeping? Get checked for other problems that can interfere with sleep, including food sensitivities, thyroid problems, menopause, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, heavy metal toxicity, stress, and depression.


Optimal sleep is so important, and even one night of bad sleep can throw us off in numerous ways. What strategy would you add here to get a good night’s sleep? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.


Author: Dr. Mark Hyman
Image: Flickr; Mislov Marohnić/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran

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About Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health MattersAchieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues. Dr. Hyman also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen,he created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church congregation collectively lose 250,000 pounds.  He is an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show and is on the board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating American students about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Hyman crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease. Dr. Hyman plays a substantial role in a major documentary, produced by Laurie David and Katie Couric, called Fed Up (Atlas Films, September 2014)which addresses childhood obesity. Please join him in helping us all take back our health at his website, follow him on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram.


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