Sleep and Healthspan; Part 2, Sleep Solutions

sleep solutions

Sleep solutions are a bundle of science-proven methods for getting the type of sleep you need to help repair your body and mind, especially as you get older. Oddly, getting proper sleep in evening begins in the morning.

sleep solutions

Sleep solutions are the focus of this post.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained the health problems we face as we age and our sleep becomes disrupted. Much of this is because our “sleep architecture” tilts with age in ways that are detrimental to our long-term health, or health span.

Sleep architecture refers to sleep cycles or phases: REM, light sleep and deep sleep. We need to spend a certain amount of time in each cycle for our sleep to be restorative.

If you want to age more slowly and more healthily, you need to fight the aging process. This is true with respect to muscle wasting (sarcopenia), cognitive dysfunction, etc., and it’s true with gaining or maintaining restorative sleep.

So, Part 1 explored the health impacts of disrupted sleep, and here in Part 2 I’ll cover what to do about it; namely:

Let’s dig in, beginning with the morning…


Prepare for Sleep in the Morning

Sleep solutions in the morning

Odd as it may sound, it’s in the morning after you awaken that you want to prepare for that evening’s sleep. Yes, that sounds counterintuitive, given that most of us are trying to cast off early-morning grogginess and prepare for the day. But, strangely, you can do both with the same protocol.

The common denominator for achieving morning wakefulness and evening sleepiness is your circadian clock.

The key assertion behind this relies on a person’s circadian clock synchronization, also referred to as circadian rhythm. Dr. Satchidananda Panda is a renowned expert on circadian clocks, and is the Professor of Regulatory Biology Laboratory a the Salk Institute where he studies the genes, molecules and cells that keep the whole body on the same circadian clock.

I summarized some of Dr. Panda’s work relative to meal timing in my post, When You Eat Is More Important Than What You Eat, as well as his Ted Talk, where he made these points:

  • Circadian clocks are present in different parts of our body. They turn on and off thousands of genes at different times of the day, and by doing so they tune our physiology, metabolism and other biological functions to specific times of the day.
  • We have to reset our circadian clock, as it must be adjusted and tuned to the light/dark cycle of the environment you’re in, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get over jet lag. It’s therefore very useful to understand how our environment tunes our clock so that we may exert better controls over our circadian rhythm and, thereby, our overall health.

What I’m suggesting is that you begin this circadian clock “tuning” in the morning, right after you get up. Andrew Huberman PhD. agrees. He’s a Stanford neurologist and podcaster who has popularized the protocol of properly preparing yourself for your evening respite first thing in the morning [1].

Let’s explore why.

Get sunlight into your eyes Sleep Solutions

You want to expose yourself to morning sunlight exposure, because blue wavelengths of sunlight are the primary environmental cue that synchronizes the body’s internal circadian clock. Blue wavelengths help suppress the production of melatonin (the sleep-promoting hormone) and adenosine (a molecule that promotes sleepiness),  and increase the release of cortisol (the alertness-promoting hormone). Exposure to sunlight in the morning helps reinforce the body’s natural circadian rhythm and can improve alertness and cognitive performance during the day.

Several studies have supported the benefits of morning light exposure and the timing of caffeine intake. For example, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that exposure to bright light in the morning improved sleep quality, alertness, and cognitive performance compared to dim light exposure.

According to Dr. Huberman, the morning sunlight needs to enter the eyes because the light-sensitive cells in the retina (particularly the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells) are responsible for signaling the body’s internal clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus. This light exposure helps synchronize the SCN with the external light-dark cycle, promoting the appropriate release of hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate the body’s circadian rhythms.

Of course, you don’t want to blind yourself by staring at the sun wide-eyed. Open your eyelids just a bit and let them flutter in order to substantially reduce the sunlight intensity. While you’re at it, take a few, slow deep inhalations and exhalations and direct your mind on what you want to experience this day.

When the sun’s not out in the morning, a full-spectrum light will work. Using a full-spectrum light or light therapy box in the morning can provide similar circadian benefits as natural sunlight exposure when sunlight is not available.

These devices are designed to emit bright light that mimics the intensity and spectral composition (including blue wavelengths) of outdoor light, which is important for properly entraining the circadian rhythm.

Many studies have demonstrated that morning light therapy can shift circadian rhythms, increase alertness, and improve sleep-wake cycles, similar to the effects of natural sunlight exposure [2][3][4].

The key factors that make light therapy boxes effective for circadian reset are:

  • Light intensity: They typically emit 10,000 lux or more, which is comparable to outdoor light levels and much brighter than typical indoor lighting.
  • Full spectrum: They provide broad spectrum light including blue wavelengths that are most effective for suppressing melatonin and resetting the body clock.
  • Timing: Using the light box for 30-60 minutes in the morning, soon after waking up, is ideal for anchoring the circadian rhythm. In this case, you need not be staring at the light, but be in it.

Three sunlight simulators to consider:

  1. PHILIPS SmartSleep Sleep and Wake-Up Light, Simulated Sunrise and Sunset: This popular and highly-rated wake-up lights gradually increases light intensity to mimic a natural sunrise.
  2. Verilux® HappyLight® Luxe – Light Therapy Lamp: A powerful light therapy lamp with adjustable brightness levels and a UV-free, full-spectrum light.
  3. Northern Light Technology Travelite: A larger light therapy box that provides 10,000 lux of broad-spectrum light for circadian entrainment.

Clear adenosine

Adenosine is a purine nucleoside molecule that plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. Here’s how its levels fluctuate and interact with the sleep process:

  • During wakefulness: Adenosine gradually accumulates in the brain as a byproduct of cellular metabolic activity. The longer you are awake, the more adenosine accumulates, leading to increasing feelings of sleepiness and sleep pressure.
  • During sleep: Adenosine levels start to decrease as you fall asleep; however, it does not get completely eliminated during sleep. Its levels continue dropping through the night, but there is still a residual amount present towards the end of the sleep period.

Typically, when you wake up in the morning after a night’s sleep, there’s still a residual amount of the sleep-promoting molecule adenosine present in your brain and body. This leftover adenosine contributes to that groggy, not-fully-awake feeling many of us experience upon waking.

To counteract this and become fully awake and alert, getting exposure to bright sunlight (or artificial bright light if it contains blue wavelengths of light) in the morning is helpful for two key reasons:

  1. It helps clear out those remaining levels of adenosine from your system. The bright light exposure acts as a signal to keep metabolizing and eliminating the residual adenosine.
  2. It entrains and resets your circadian rhythms/body clock for the new day. The sunlight cues the brain that a new wake cycle has begun.

So by using morning sunlight to purge the residual adenosine while also resynchronizing your circadian timekeeping, you can feel more refreshed, awake and alert to start your day. The adenosine hangover is removed while your sleep-wake cycle is realigned.

Another little understood reason to purge adenosine build up in the morning has to do with the glymphatic system that I wrote about in Part 1:

“The glymphatic system is a brain-wide metabolic waste clearance system that operates during sleep. It’s a functional waste clearance pathway that facilitates the efficient elimination of soluble proteins and metabolites, including adenosine, from the brain interstitial space.”

The accumulation of adenosine as a byproduct of brain metabolic activity is related to the function of the glymphatic system in eliminating metabolic waste byproducts from the central nervous system. This clearance during sleep is crucial for maintaining proper neuronal function and cognitive performance upon waking. Disruptions in the glymphatic system’s waste clearance ability have been linked to the accumulation of neurotoxic metabolites and the development of neurodegenerative diseases [5][6].

Suppress melatonin

The blue wavelengths of sunlight help suppress the production of melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the pineal gland in the brain. It plays a key role in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles and circadian rhythms.

Here’s how it works:

  • Melatonin levels rise in the evening as it gets darker, promoting feelings of sleepiness and preparing the body for sleep.
  • Its production is suppressed by light exposure, especially blue wavelengths from sunlight during the day.
  • Melatonin levels remain elevated throughout the night during typical sleep cycles.
  • In the morning, with exposure to sunlight or bright light, melatonin levels start to decrease, promoting wakefulness.

So melatonin essentially acts as an internal signal for nighttime, helping entrain the body’s circadian clock and biological processes aligned with the natural day-night cycle. It is often called the “sleep hormone” because of its role in initiating and maintaining high quality sleep patterns when produced at the appropriate times.

Although the body produces it naturally as part of the built-in sleep-wake regulation system, many people also take melatonin supplements to help adjust sleep schedules, overcome jet lag, or treat circadian rhythm sleep disorders like delayed sleep phase syndrome. (I’ll address melatonin supplementation later.)

Now, you might have noticed that melatonin and adenosine are both cleared by morning sunlight, but their patterns during the sleep-wake cycle are somewhat inverse to each other.

For adenosine:

  • Levels gradually build up during wakefulness as a byproduct of cellular activity
  • During sleep, adenosine levels start declining but there is still a residual amount left upon waking
  • Morning sunlight exposure helps metabolize and clear out this remaining adenosine hangover from the sleep period

For melatonin:

  • Levels start rising in the evening as it gets dark, promoting sleepiness
  • Melatonin remains elevated throughout the sleep period
  • In the morning, sunlight exposure causes melatonin levels to drop again

So while adenosine accumulates during wake and depletes during sleep (but not fully), melatonin has the opposite cycle – rising at night for sleep and dropping in the morning light for wakefulness.

Morning sunlight exposure accomplishes two things:

  1. It clears the residual adenosine that had been declining but was still present after sleep
  2. It suppresses the elevated melatonin levels that had been promoting sleep during the night

This dual action on both compounds “resets” the internal signaling for the new wake cycle – eliminating the remaining sleep promoters (adenosine and melatonin) to transition to a state of heightened alertness.

So, in essence, the morning light acts as a zeitgeber (time cue) for the body’s circadian rhythms by clearing out the contradictory biochemical wake and sleep signals that had built up during the previous wake/sleep periods.

Increase cortisol

Morning sunlight has the opposite effect on cortisol than it does on adenosine and melatonin, for rather than suppressing it, the sun’s blue wavelengths of sunlight increase the release of cortisol, which in this instance promotes alertness and activity.

Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone” because it’s released in response to stress, but it also plays a crucial role in the body’s natural circadian rhythm. In the morning, the body experiences a cortisol awakening response (CAR), which is a sharp increase in cortisol levels shortly after waking up.

This cortisol surge helps promote alertness, energy, and cognitive function in the morning hours, preparing the body for the day’s activities. While chronic elevated cortisol levels can be detrimental, the natural CAR is an essential part of the body’s circadian rhythm.

Why morning cortisol should not contribute to stress

Cortisol surge does not necessarily contribute to stress if it occurs in the context of the body’s natural circadian rhythm and hormonal cycles.

Cortisol plays an essential role in the “fight or flight” response, which is an evolutionary adaptation that prepares the body to deal with acute stressors or threats. In these situations, the sudden increase in cortisol levels helps mobilize energy reserves, enhance cognitive function, and prime the body for physical activity, which can be beneficial for survival.

However, when cortisol levels remain elevated for prolonged periods, it can have detrimental effects on various bodily systems. Some of the potential negative effects of chronic elevated cortisol levels include:

  • Suppression of the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections and illness.
  • Disruption of metabolic processes, leading to increased blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Impairment of cognitive function, particularly memory and concentration.
  • Disruption of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms.
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Adverse effects on bone density, potentially increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Interference with proper digestive function and nutrient absorption.
  • Psychological effects, such as anxiety, depression, and mood disturbances.

It’s important to note that acute, temporary increases in cortisol levels, such as the cortisol awakening response (CAR) in the morning, are part of the body’s natural rhythms and are generally beneficial. However, chronic stress and persistently elevated cortisol levels over an extended period can lead to the detrimental effects mentioned above. /thrive_toggles]

Delay the caffeine

Caffeine is a widely used stimulant that blocks the effects of adenosine in the brain, promoting alertness, mimicking the effects of wakefulness. Although the science in this matter remains unclear [7],

Dr. Huberman thinks that the effectiveness of caffeine can be influenced by the body’s circadian rhythm and adenosine levels [1]. By exposing oneself to morning sunlight before consuming caffeine, the body may be better prepared to utilize the stimulant effects of caffeine more efficiently, as the light exposure has already initiated the process of adenosine clearance.

How long should you delay the consumption of caffeine?

There’s no definitive amount of time that I could find. In my case, I begin my day standing on my east-facing deck and peering at the sun, whilst I do some breathwork to center myself and slow my heart rate. I then go over in my mind what I want to accomplish in the day, and then go for a walk, intermittently looking at the sun. I drink two cups of coffee, often followed by two or more cups of green or matcha tea after returning home one-half hour later.



Oh no, say it ain’t so!

If you don’t exercise, it must get annoying that it’s touted as being the cure-all for everything. It’s not, although I’d be hard pressed to name a health metric that couldn’t be ameliorated by exercise. And this includes sleep.

Consistent exercise routines can contribute to a more restorative sleep experience by improving sleep onset, duration, efficiency, and quality. Exercise helps you attain sleep through several mechanisms [8][9][10]:

  • Increases sleep drive: Exercise causes physical fatigue, which helps build up the natural drive to sleep at night. This combined with the energy expenditure during exercise promotes better sleep onset and duration.
  • Regulates circadian rhythms: Moderate exercise, especially when done earlier in the day, can help reinforce the body’s circadian rhythms by raising core body temperature followed by a natural temperature drop a few hours later, which can initiate sleepiness.
  • Reduces sleep disruptions: Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the number of nighttime awakenings and improve sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent actually sleeping).
  • Improves sleep quality: Exercise can increase the amount of time spent in deep, slow-wave sleep, which is the most restorative stage of sleep important for physiological recovery and repair processes.
  • Alleviates sleep disorders: Exercise can help alleviate symptoms of certain sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, by reducing stress, improving mood, and promoting weight management.
  • Regulates hormones: Exercise can help regulate the production and release of hormones like melatonin, cortisol, and growth hormone, which play crucial roles in the sleep-wake cycle and overall sleep quality.

It’s important to note that the timing, intensity, and duration of exercise can impact its effects on sleep. Generally, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or strength training completed several hours before bedtime (e.g., in the morning or afternoon) is recommended for optimal sleep benefits.


Nix Late Night Consumption

Don't eat late at night

It’s pretty simple: don’t eat or drink alcohol or anything caffeinated before bed.

Eating late at night can cause metabolic disruptions and lead to poor sleep quality by causing indigestion and discomfort, and affect the natural release of growth hormone during deep sleep.

Stop eating 3 hours before bed

Consuming large meals or certain types of foods close to bedtime can interfere with sleep quality, and may cause acid reflux or discomfort. The process of digestion requires energy and increased metabolic activity, which can disrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle. Late-night eating, especially of high-fat or high-carbohydrate foods, can cause discomfort, heartburn, and fluctuations in blood sugar levels, all of which can contribute to poor sleep [11].

Additionally, certain foods and beverages, such as those containing caffeine, can have a stimulating effect, making it harder to fall asleep and potentially disrupting sleep architecture, which you might recall governs REM, light sleep and deep sleep cycles. It’s recommended to avoid large meals, caffeine, and heavily processed or sugary foods close to bedtime to promote better sleep quality [11].

How close to bedtime?

Well, a 2021 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that eating a nutrient-rich meal one hour before bedtime resulted in less restorative sleep and reduced morning alertness compared to eating the same meal four hours before bedtime.

While individual responses may vary, most experts recommend avoiding large, heavy meals two to three hours before bedtime to allow enough time for proper digestion and to prevent digestive discomfort or elevated body temperature, which can interfere with sleep.

My practice is to stop eating three hours before bed time and to only drink decaffeinated tea and water (sometimes with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed in to help stabilize post-dinner glucose.)

If you have to eat something closer to bedtime, consume something that could promote sleepiness such as tart cherry juice, kiwifruit or almonds:

  • Tart cherry juice contains melatonin and antioxidants that may improve sleep quality;
  • Kiwifruit is rich in serotonin, a precursor to melatonin, which can aid sleep onset; and
  • Almonds contain magnesium, which may promote muscle relaxation and sleep.

You might also consider ensuring that your last meal of the day, dinner, is high in fiber and low in saturated fat and sugar. A 2016 study published in the Journal Clinical Sleep Medicine found that eating less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep.

Results of the study show that greater fiber intake predicted more time spent in the stage of deep, slow wave sleep, which, as noted in Part 1, tends to decline as we age. In contrast, a higher percentage of energy from saturated fat predicted less slow wave sleep. Greater sugar intake also was associated with more arousals from sleep.

Don’t drink alcohol before bed

While alcohol may initially promote drowsiness and help with falling asleep, it can significantly disrupt the overall quality and sleep, particularly the deeper stages of sleep, which are crucial for feeling rested and rejuvenated. Alcohol consumption can suppress REM (rapid eye movement), the stage of sleep associated with dreaming and memory consolidation, and also exacerbate sleep-related breathing issues, such as snoring and sleep apnea [12].

Furthermore, as the body metabolizes alcohol during the night, it can lead to frequent awakenings and disruptions in the deeper stages of sleep, which are crucial for feeling rested and rejuvenated.


Practice Sleep Hygiene

sleep with an eye mask

What I mean by “good sleep hygiene” is the stuff that you consciously do in preparation for an uninterrupted, restorative good night’s sleep.

Here are four suggestions:

1. Ditch the blue light

Yes, it was helpful to awaken you in the morning, so no surprise that it  can interfere with sleep in the evening. Blue light emitted by all the various screens we habitually use, like smartphones, tablets and computers, inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals our brain it’s time to sleep, thus disrupting our circadian rhythms and making it harder to fall and stay asleep [13].

Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening, signaling the body to prepare for sleep, but exposure to blue light in the evening hours can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime, disrupting the sleep pattern you want.

Try to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime, or try using light filters on your devices, or wear blue light blocking glasses.

2. Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule

Go to bed and rise at the same time, even on weekends. This can help regulate the body’s internal clock and improve sleep quality.

3. Get cool in the dark

Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet to promote better sleep. Rather than try to block outside ambient light from entering my bedroom windows, I wear an eye mask. My body is so entrained to sleep with his mask that I quickly succumb to sleep soon after putting it on.

4. Get calm

Engaging in calming activities like reading a book (not your phone or computer), taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques, such as light stretching or deep, slow breathing, can signal the body to prepare for sleep.

If none of that works sufficiently you may get some help from supplements.


Sleep-inducing Supplements

While sleep hygiene practices are the cornerstone of healthy sleep, certain supplements may offer additional support in some cases. That said, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements, as they can interact with medications or have other side effects.


  • Melatonin can help initiate sleep and may modestly increase slow-wave sleep duration.
  • Typical dose range: 0.5 mg – 5 mg taken two hours before desired bedtime.
  • Start with the lowest effective dose, often 0.5 mg – 1 mg.
  • Avoid doses higher than 5 mg, as they don’t appear to be more effective and may cause next-day grogginess.
  • Long-term melatonin use is not recommended without medical supervision.


  • Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, and has been shown to enhance slow-wave sleep.
  • Typical dose: 1 g – 2 g about one hour before bedtime.
  • Higher doses (>2 g) are not recommended as they can cause side effects.


  • GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that may promote deeper stages of sleep, though more research is still needed.
  • Dosage is less established, but 100 mg – 200 mg before bed is often used.
  • More research is needed on ideal GABA dosing for sleep.


  • Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions and plays a role in regulating melatonin. It also helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation.
  • Magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurinate are two highly bioavailable forms.
  • The suggested dose is 200-400 mg before bedtime. Can cause gastric side effects at higher doses, so increase slowly. Start on the lower end to assess tolerance.
  • Allow a few weeks to experience full effects, as it takes time to replenish body stores.

Valerian Root:

  • Valerian is an herb that increases GABA levels in the brain, which has a calming, sedative effect. It may also increase sleep cycle regularity.
  • Suggested dose: 300-600 mg of standardized valerian root extract 1-2 hours before bed; or 2-3 g of the dried root in tea form.


Your Takeaway

Just in case you did not read Part 1, let’s begin with the three “takeaways” I posted there:

  1. You can’t have good health, especially as you get older, without consistent restorative sleep wherein your sleeping pattern maintains the recommended time periods in each cycle: REM, light and deep sleep.
  2. If you can track your sleep cycles with a smart watch, band or ring, do so, and ensure that you consistently are in line with these ranges:
  • REM: 20-25% of total sleep time
  • Light: 50-60% of total sleep time
  • Deep: 20-25% of total sleep time
  1. Chronic insufficient sleep can negatively impact cognition, metabolism, immunity, hormones and cardiovascular health. Since you have to do it anyway, do your best to get enough restorative sleep.

And now, let’s add a few from this post, Part 2:

  1. Prepare for your evening sleep in the daytime by using sunlight to:
  • Reset your circadian clock
  • Clear the adenosine and melatonin
  • Increase cortisol
  1. Delay caffeine until #4 is done.
  2. Get regular exercise
  3. Stop consuming food, caffeine and alcohol three hours before bedtime
  4. Practice good, sleep-inducing hygiene
  5. If all else fails, try some of the suggested supplements.


I’ll end with this: Send this post to someone who needs some sleep!

Last Updated on May 11, 2024 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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