Dr. Chris Renna shares tips for women on how they can get a better night's sleep
Dr. Renna: I am speaking scientifically now. It’s going to sound like I am launching into a spiritual concept but I am not, that we are the product of light. Everything on earth is the product of light and everything on earth has a rhythm and that rhythm is based on light and dark.
And one of the things that lighting Paris did for us was began an almost year round eternal summer. In that we lost, now especially, but with the advent of incandescent light, artificial light, we have prolonged daylight and the only time in nature that daylight is very long is during the summer and summer solstice is the longest day of the year.
But we have learned with artificial light to prolong the day and to stretch our life into hours into the night when it should be dark, when our natural body rhythms should be moving into a different cycle than it does during the light.
So what happens to us over time is we lose our internal rhythm, the clock that helps us sleep adequately and restfully every night, and in the hours that we stay awake we add a little more work to our schedule.
There was a great cartoon that I saw in the New Yorker magazine a couple of years ago and it’s a picture of a woman sitting at a desk in some executive or administrative position and a fellow kind of casually dressed with his jacket hung over shoulder and he is looking down at her, obviously making a move, and the caption is ‘Hey, a few of us are getting together after work to do a little more work – want to join us?’
And I thought about that, what it says about our society, that we find work to do right up until 11 o’clock at night, and then at 11 o’clock at night, without any real day and night rhythm, we get a second wind and we use that second wind to create some ‘me’ time – from 11:00 until 1:00 or 11:00 until 12:30 or 11:00 until the clock scares you, and that’s when it is ‘me’ time. You go on the internet, which is the brightest light in the house, or you watch television, the second brightest light in the house, or you read or you do more things, you do the things you like to do – again reinforcing that light stimulus in the brain that doesn’t allow your brain to disconnect and help you go to sleep.
So the first way to improve your sleep, and this is for everyone who doesn’t think they are sleeping adequately or restfully, is to try and reset that clock. The way to do it is within one hour of sun down, whatever season you are in or whatever latitude, within one hour of sun down, take about two or three milligrams of chewable melatonin.
Melatonin, as you know, is over-the-counter. It wouldn’t be over-the-counter if it were not safe enough to be over-the-counter and that’s been challenged, so I think melatonin is a safe thing to take. Chewable is very different. The body deals with it very differently than the melatonin you swallow.
Chew two or three mg of melatonin within an hour of sundown. That’s when your brain would be releasing melatonin were you not subject to artificial light. If the brightest light in your vicinity were fire your brain would be releasing melatonin at 7:00 or 7:30 or 6:30 or 8 o’clock – depending on the season of the year and you would start to feel sleepy at that time.
You would also be less active because when the lights are on you can walk around wherever you want. When it’s dark you don’t want to walk around that much.
So two or three mg of chewable melatonin at sundown, turn out all the overhead lights. The angle of light hitting the retina has different effects on neurochemistry and on the chemistry of sleep than the angle of light that hits the retina this way or from the bottom.
So lamp light is much less like sunlight than you would think. Turn it all over in lights at sundown. You can watch television but watch it from a distance of 10 feet so that the light dissipates. By the time it is hitting your retina it’s very dull at that point – dim.
No computer screens. Now I have some women who say to me, “Well I absolutely have to, what can I do about that?” Turn the brightness down as much as possible. What you’ll find and what I learned is that if you turn the screen of your computer down, or brightness down, you don’t want to look at it. So it will help you wean yourself from looking into your computer screen.
So melatonin, overhead lights off, television from a distance, no computer screens – okay. Eight hours prior to when you have to wake up - so if that’s 6 o’clock, it’s 10 o’clock. If it’s 7 o’clock, it’s 11 o’clock. You can figure that out.
Eight hours prior to when you have to wake up you should plan to be asleep so that maybe you’ll be asleep 15 minutes sooner or maybe you’ll be asleep 15 minutes after, but you’ll be there.
So 30 minutes prior to that, go to bed and read. Remember all the cartoons or all the representation we have ever seen about hypnosis? With hypnosis, they always took this thing and they made our eyes go back and forth and back and forth, because that is a hypnotic pattern. That’s reading. When you are reading your eyes are going back and forth and back and forth. So reading is a hypnotic activity.
At the first sign of fatigue put the book down, put the magazine down, whatever you are reading, turn off the light and go to sleep, and you’d be surprised, if you try it you’d be surprised how quickly you go to sleep after that.
So that’s how you restore the sleep cycle. Now over what period of time would it take for a woman to re-establish her rhythm? 28 days. Women are set on a 28-day clock. All of their biological rhythms are based on a 28-day clock. That’s not to say that they are all 28-day cycles but they are all influenced by the 28-day cycle that made life happen.