Episode 5: You Can’t Hack Your Way to Better Sleep… Or Can You?
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You’ve heard about cherry juice for better sleep, but what about banana peel tea? Or NyQuil chicken? (Don’t try this one at home, folks!). If you’ve been on the Internet, it’s impossible to avoid the proliferation of sleep tips, tricks, and “hacks” that have popped up – all of which claim to be the key to falling – and staying – asleep, and fast.
But do they actually work? Listen as Dr. Harris and Dr. Raj Dasgupta dive deep into 2024’s most popular sleep hacks to separate fact from fiction – so you know exactly which ones are worth trying (and which to avoid!).
Dr. Raj: If you go to bed angry, the wrong things come out. You get secondary anxiety. So just, there are certain things you just don’t want to talk about. Finances before going to bed. Family members before going to bed. Watching the news before bed.
In 2024, they did a survey about what were the things preventing people getting good sleep. And it was watching TV, specifically the news. The news gives everyone insomnia, dude!
Dr. Shelby: Welcome to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby where we really want to know, how are you sleeping? Really. Are you sleeping? Two-thirds of Americans wake up feeling groggy and weird. Wondering why they were up at three in the morning. Wondering if there’s something wrong with them. If that sounds like you, you have come to the right place.
I’m Dr. Shelby Harris, a licensed clinical psychologist, and I’m the Director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis, where we dive deep into all things sleep, so you can get the rest that you deserve.
Today, we’re talking about sleep hacks. Yes, that term that I cannot stand – hacks. They may occasionally help when you find yourself tossing and turning, but if you’re constantly struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, you may need to talk to your doctor.
Still, popular hacks are everywhere. Everywhere. They’re almost impossible to avoid. And to help us sort fact from fiction, we’ve invited Dr. Raj Dasgupta, Pillar4’s Chief Medical Advisor, to go down the rabbit hole with us. The author of Medicine Morning Report: Beyond the Pearls, with appearances on The Doctors, Bill Nye Saves the World – that’s super cool – ESPN and Larry King Now, the quadruple-board certified Dr. Raj is really just a regular dude. He really is.
So together, he and I will break down specific hacks, decide if they really work, and most importantly, discuss when to tell your doctor about your sleep problems. Dr. Raj, thank you so much for joining us today, and welcome to Sleep Talkin with Dr. Shelby.
Dr. Raj: Oh, Shelby, thank you for having me here. And you know, it all comes full circle. It just seems like yesterday, you were on my podcast, we introduced ourselves, and now we’re kind of playing for the same team. Look at us, dude.
DS: I love it, and I, I think that we both come from this same viewpoint when it comes to sleep medicine. So I have a feeling we’re going to be on the same page about a lot of stuff today.
DR: I think the only difference between us is that you’re super athletic and you’re winning marathon medals. And I’m still going to In-N-Out hamburger, getting double doubles here in California.
DS: Oh, don’t be fooled. I have stopped at many an In-N-Out after my trips out West. I wish we had them out here in New York.
So you’re no stranger to social media. And I’m sure you have seen a gazillion hacks that are out there. I mean, my favorite was the sleepy chicken where you cook chicken and NyQuil, which I will not recommend to anyone. I mean…
So what do you think distinguishes a hack from practical sleep advice?
DR: You know what, because I have three kids and I have a four, an eight and a 10, and my 10-year-old teaches me words. I didn’t even know “hack” was a word. It was a hip word. So she’s like, I’m doing this hack. And, you know, being on the older side, I’m like, Is it a bad thing? And I realized these are, like, little tips that people come up with.
I think there’s very limited evidence base behind most hacks, but you know, I think what they want to do is show you easy ways to accomplish something, to achieve a goal of some kind and hacks can be in anything. But of course, me and you, our eyebrows get raised up when you hear some of these hacks sometimes, because I think both of our instincts is that, where, where did you read that? And what’s the evidence behind that? And I gotta tell you, I didn’t know about the, the NyQuil chicken. I’m getting nightmares about that right now.
DS: Sleepy chicken. Sleepy chicken. It’s amazing. But I think, you know, we know that getting good sleep can be really difficult, and hacks sometimes or often seem like quick fixes.
Do you think that’s why they’re tempting? Is that people have sleep issues and they’re looking for a quick fix?
DR: You know, I think we’re doing a better message, not the best message to let everyone know that, hey, sleep is important. Sleep is one of those pillars of health. There’s our diet, there’s our exercise.
So it’s nice to know that people want to keep good sleep, but sometimes the best sleep, the way to get it, it’s not easy. And it’s boring. And it’s all about my favorite letters, C.B.T. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, you know, and, you know, and me and you can make it exciting. But sometimes when you say, “Well, if I tell you that you could tape your mouth [shut]…” If I told you you could eat a banana, you could put a pineapple plant in your room, why not? It just sounds good. You know what I mean? So of course, it’s just tempting. It’s just tempting.
DS: Right. I always tell my patients that if it was as easy as, like, drinking tart cherry juice, I would have no job. Like, it’s like that. If only.
So, all right. So we had a lot of fun compiling a list of some of the sleep hacks from all around the internet, TikTok being the biggest area where I see a lot of the hacks put on there. So they’re popular for sure, but now let’s see if we can actually help. So let’s go through some of them a little bit.
So you ready? Because our first hack is bananas, literally. So according to TikTok, some foods like bananas make you feel more sleepy. You can whip up frozen bananas for dessert. That is really delicious. But don’t toss the peel. It’s packed with magnesium. So a lot of these hacks, the trend with bananas says that the peel and banana overall is a nutrient that can really induce sleepiness with magnesium in it.
And for the perfect nighttime drink, you should boil the banana peel for five to six minutes, add in a dash of cinnamon and a little bit of honey, and then you’ve got yourself some soothing banana tea. Some people really swear by this banana tea for the magnesium and the sedating qualities.
So what do you think? Will banana tea be something that you think people should be adding to a wind down routine?
DR: Well, that’s an easy one. The answer is no, but I think that my response would be, number one, if you want to get good sleep, don’t eat too late at night. I don’t care if we’re talking about eating ice cream, eating bananas or tart cherry juice.
You don’t want to eat right before you go to bed. Why? Because of four other letters – GERD. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, heartburn, multiple awakenings, and arousals throughout the night. Not good for sleep.
Now, when I hear bananas, of course, there are a couple of key things that, you know, we know are favorites for the sleep hackers out there.
They love the word tryptophan. They can’t believe that amino acid exists. And me and you, because sometimes we’re smarty pants, you know, we know that tryptophan, goes on to make things like serotonin and melatonin. So, you know, they always say, “Hey, get some tryptophan.”
Of course, magnesium. That’s like the hottest thing ever. Everyone’s like, hey, where’s my little magnesium oxide? You know, we, and you both know magnesium is kind of a muscle relaxant. It helps out with anxiety. So conceptually, everything sounds cool. Potassium is in bananas. So if you get a lot of cramps at night, you can always write down, it helps out with the leg cramps, you know what I mean?
So. Conceptually, you’re always like nodding your head. And that’s why I always tell my residents and fellows, it’s how you present it. If you present it like that, of course, why not?
DS: It’s a cure.
DR: You know? Yeah! But it’s more than just, hey, eating that banana. But I will say this, you know, I do get late night munchies sometimes before going to bed, especially if I’m watching some Netflix.
Bad sleep habit, but yeah, I would say before grabbing like Cool Ranch Doritos and your Choco Taco, if you want to have a banana, that’s not that bad. You know, I won’t go around boiling the peel to get the magnesium out there, you know, but I think that if you got to eat something, a banana’s not bad.
It’s definitely not a be-all, end-all, and conceptually some of the science sounds great, but me and you both know that what sounds good when you’re sitting down at a desk, doesn’t translate to good sleep without the foundation of it.
DS: Right. And this will be a theme throughout all the hacks pretty much. But if it works for you and you’re fine with it and it’s not causing any major disruption in your life, then go ahead, boil the banana peel. I’m all for it. You do it.
But if it’s not working after a few tries, it’s probably not the thing that’s going to help you.
DS: So you gotta let go of it.
DR: I got to throw this out there. And anytime you talk about magnesium people forget, you know, number one, this will be for everything. It’s kind of like, there’s no data that says taking a supplement beyond a dietary recommended allowance does anything. And if you take too much magnesium, you start pooping all the time, man.
DR: People forget you take Mag Citrate when you’re all clogged up and you have constipation.
DS: Right. And it helps. Right. And the thing about magnesium is that I think people think about it like it’s melatonin, too. Melatonin is more of a sleep timing shifter than anything, and we do use it at certain times.
Magnesium, I always say, it just kind of chills you out.
DS: It’s not going to make you sleepy necessarily, but it helps set the stage. But if it’s not working after a few days, move on to something else.
DR: I agree.
DS: All right, so let’s talk about hack number two, the warm shower. So take a warm shower about 90 minutes before bed.
So the idea behind this is it’ll quickly raise your temperature, your core body temperature, prompting your body to cool itself down. Similar to what we want to have happen, that drop in your core body temperature about an hour or two before sleep. So what do you think about the warm shower, 90 minutes?
DR: So I’m kind of excited about this because I think the teaching point when we talk about circadian rhythm in general is that circadian rhythm is not only about sleep. It’s about our body temperature too. And my wonderful little phrase is going to be – and you can borrow this, Shelby, whenever you want – when you lay down, you cool down, when you get up, you warm up.
DS: Oh, I like that.
DR: Yeah. And so what happens is when we talk about where did that warm bath come from? And it technically is the warm bath. But of course, many people don’t really have a bath so we say shower. And I’m kind of a shower dude myself.
So the whole concept is that you’re raising your body temperature and making your body warmer. And it’s really that decrease, the slope of decrease in the body temperature that really is going to be more in line with cooling you down and helping you get ready for sleep. So I love the theory behind it.
I’d love a warm shower, because just taking a warm bath or shower, it’s just relaxing. You can close your eyes, let all your worries go away. So I got to tell you in general, and plus it’s good hygiene. You don’t want to go to bed all dirty. You know what I mean? Like if I came back from the hospital and not showered, my wife would kick my behind.
DS: Yeah, I get that.
DR: So I’m going to say that once again, not the be-all end-all, but I like the hot shower. I like the science behind it. And it’s been around forever. I’ve always heard about the warm bath, warm shower.
DS: Yeah, the studies I think were done a long time ago, if I remember correctly, in Japan, like really long time ago.
But there weren’t that many, and there’s not been that much research about the whole warm bath, warm shower, ideal amount of time if you’re doing a shower. But I usually tell people, like, 90 minutes before bed, do about a 20-minute, 15-minute, shorter. I mean, it’s not great for the environment, but –
DR: I’m like, why? You threw out 20 minutes.
DS: I know. [The baths] were originally 20 minutes, so a shorter shower for sure. But the idea of warming your body up and cooling yourself down. But I think the other thing too is that there’s a lot of things that get mixed up on social media now. Like people are often telling people right at bedtime to take a hot bath or a hot shower.
They’re right before bed. And I’m like, that’s not making sense. We need it to cool down a little bit. So timing is everything. And just anecdotally, and I say this all the time, is that I don’t know of any research behind it, but I’ve had patients over the years, because I specialize in women who are perimenopausal and menopausal, that some of my patients have sworn by it helping their hot flashes.
Like I said, there’s no data behind it, but what’s the harm in trying a hot bath or hot shower a few times? See if it helps, go from there.
DR: And you know, what’s funny? Now, the big hip thing is not a warm shower or hot bath. It’s, like, a cold plunge.
DS: Oh, I know, right?.
DR: That’s your thing, because you after your marathon, did you jump in a cold plunge?
DS: I did after my first marathon, I have not done so since. I am not strong enough will-wise to be able to do it. It’s not easy. Okay. So we’re, we’re giving, like, a kind of a check to the warm showers being a good thing for our biology. It’s not necessarily going to solve all problems, but it does help some people for sure.
So hack number three. Brain tapping. So this hack has to do with how our brains naturally follow repeating rhythmic patterns. So lying in bed with your eyes closed, tap a steady rhythm on your thighs, alternating from the left to the right with each tap. And then you breathe in and you breathe out on a count of four.
So little by little you slow the rhythm down and your brain is supposed to follow. So what do you think about brain tapping?
DR: So I knew I was coming on this podcast and, you know, I read the notes, you’re like brain tapping. I wasn’t super familiar. So I had to, like, YouTube it. I had to TikTok it a little bit. And I really thought when they said tapping, it was like tapping into your, you know, your temporal lobe or tapping into your frontal lobe. I didn’t literally know it’s like tapping on your brain. Oh my God. So I got to tell you, of course, being in the bigger scheme of why it’s very benign, I like the breathing. I like the whole rhythmic thing.
I don’t think there’s any downside, and some people get really passionate about this. You know what I mean? There are like some docs talking about brain tapping, you know?
So I’m going to say because it’s not eating anything, not putting anything on your body. It’s about mental and visualizing all these things, very limited downside, you know? And some people are like, Hey, if you want to go to bed pretty quick, do some – and there’s different degrees of brain tapping too, you know what I mean?
So it took me a while to kind of get into it. I’m not really… I don’t like the title of it. I think me and you need to come up with a new title of it. So it can take off, you know, we’ll charge TikTok. But I don’t see much downside in it. So what would you say?
DS: Yeah. So the way I look at it is it’s, I mean, there are actually psychotherapies that look at using tapping, not my area of specialty by any means, but when I look at the tapping here, and it’s rhythmic tapping, that I think really serves more of the almost meditative mindfulness component. So it’s something that you’re able to focus on.
And one of the things that I say all the time with my patients and even on this podcast is that meditation is a wonderful, wonderful tool for sleep. Not necessarily to meditate yourself to fall asleep to.
I have people practice meditation during the day, but this is something to help kind of focus your brain or give yourself something to focus on. So the tapping, your breathing. It’s just a nice thing to help kind of be a placeholder and calm your body and your brain down so you’re not worrying about anything and everything else.
DR: So this is something that me and my wife always kind of debate about. So, you know, the whole rule is if you’re in bed, and you can’t fall asleep in like, you know, 20 minutes or so, stimulus control, out of the bed, and do something else.
DR: But we all had those really rough nights where you can’t sleep. So my wife’s technique is that, hey, you know what she does is like, even if she can’t go back to bed, she like closes her eyes and kind of, air quote, meditates. You know what I mean?
DR: And she almost feels like she kind of goes in and out of sleep and she has sleep misinterpretation, and it works for her. And I, I brought it up because you mentioned the word meditate. And I think that it’s so nice to be in a peaceful place, but let me throw this to you.
What’s that balance between that 20 minutes, stimulus control, versus hey, just close your eyes and get that – just relax in bed. You know what I mean? Do you ever debate about that?
DS: Oh, yeah, yeah. So for, for listeners, so the idea of stimulus control is that the idea is if you’re not sleeping well, it’s you get out of bed after about 20 minutes.
Now, some people get very hard and fast with the 20-minute rule, and I don’t love that because it makes people want to look at the clock or now get hyper-focused on how long it’s been. And one of the cardinal rules when it comes to insomnia treatment is stop looking at the clock throughout the night, so.
DS: So I always say to people, the idea behind stimulus control is really so that you’re not in bed, getting the bed to be associated for things other than sleep and sex. So if you’re there and you’re really anxious, your brain is on fire, you’re – what I see happen more is that people start worrying about sleep, getting annoyed, frustrated. They’re trying to force themselves to get sleepy by lying really still.
That’s the sign that, okay, it’s been about 20 minutes. about get out, go do something else, quiet, calm, relaxing. But if you’re in bed and you’re in and out, I always say sleep is the lack of conscious awareness. So if you’re in and out, you’re not having an anxious thought process.
You’re not frustrated. You’re not trying to force sleep to happen. And like your wife, she’s kind of just focusing on some breathing or something like that. I have no problem with that. Because she’s probably in and out a bit and it’s not associating the bed with frustration, which is really the thing that we don’t want the bed being about.
So I kind of have, I have levels of when I want people to get out of bed more than anything.
DR: And you can imagine, like, you should see this. I’m like, honey, it’s been 20 minutes. Get out of the bed. No, you get out.
DS: Yeah. People get very – it’s so true. People get very fixated on that 20 minutes because the rule is get out of bed after 20 minutes. And I don’t love that.
DR: Yeah, totally.
DS: Hack number four. Wear socks. I have personal opinions about this. So in order to sleep, your body needs to lower its core body temperature like we were talking about before with the bath. Wearing socks is one of the quickest ways to do this as it circulates more blood to your feet.
So tell me about it.
DR: So I think the concept of this is going back to my favorite phrase about your body needs to cool down when you lay down, to warm up when you get up, and it’s all about regulating body temperature and how do we do that? We have to actually retain heat or dissipate heat, meaning heat has to go away, and where does that happen?
It happens in the skin because the skin has a lots of these vessels called capillaries. So one way to do that is to improve circulation, so more blood goes in these capillaries, so we can either retain or dissipate heat, is in theory by wearing socks. So once again, I’m, I’m really kind of geeked out and dorky when I hear science. I just love talking about it.
But then again, can you bring the bench research to the bedside? It’s tough. So I’m going to tell you about me. Like, I can’t sleep with socks on. That’s not my jam. You know what I mean? It just feels weird to me. So of course, the whole thing is you want to be relaxed. You want to make sure that you have your favorite beat up concert t shirt when you go to bed like I do, you know?
So I want you to wear what makes you happy. But of course, if you have freezing cold feet you may want to think about it. And if you haven’t noticed, I love my wife. She’s a rheumatologist.
And one of her pet peeves, she sees people who have something called Raynaud’s. And Raynaud’s is associated with many kind of autoimmune type diseases, something called scleroderma.
And if you get exposed to cold, oh my God, your hands and feet turn white and blue and red. It’s painful. So if you do suffer from that, definitely wear some socks. You know what I mean?
But I would say it’s not a game changer for me. It’s whatever makes you feel better. But the science we talked about is accurate. That’s about it.
DS: Yeah, I agree. I actually have Raynaud’s myself. So I know very well. I wear socks to sleep at night, but I wear like big fuzzy kind of fleecy socks that just, like slipper socks, that are amazing. But I actually like to keep my bedroom, because we always talk about wanting to cool your body off, so I like to keep my bedroom cool. My husband loves it cool. My kids love their rooms cool. But I’m so cool. I mean, we’re talking like 68 degrees. It’s not like freezing, but I’m so cold. We keep it so cool that my hands and my feet get really cold at night.
So I wear the socks to help with the dissipation of the heat to keep my feet warm. But then I wake up a few hours later and I’m usually pretty warm [so] I take them off. So it does help me to keep a cool body, and keep a cool room at the beginning of the night so that I can acclimate a bit better. So I’m a fan of socks to bed. If you want to do it by all means, but I don’t think, like I said, it’s a cure for insomnia for most people.
All right, so military sleep hack. This is a really big one that I hear about all the time. So, first detailed in 1981 in the book Relax and Win: Championship Performance, allegedly developed by military officials to help soldiers fall asleep in wartime conditions, minimizing fatigue and exhaustion.
So here’s how it works: Relax everything in your face, including the tongue, jaw, eye muscles, and then you drop your shoulders as far down as they’ll go. Then you follow that with your upper and lower arms to relax, and then one side at a time you do your arms. And while you’re doing that, you’re breathing out. You’re relaxing your chest and your legs and you’re working with your thighs, then working down to relax your body, essentially from head to toe.
It’s very similar to a progressive muscle relaxation that we do in anxiety management a lot. So then we ask people to try and clear your mind for 10 seconds before thinking about one of the following images. So your body’s now relaxed and you want to really think about either lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above, or you’re lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch black room.
And people have sworn that after practicing this for six weeks, they claim that they fall asleep in under two minutes with this hack. So what do you think?
DR: Well, I always kind of chuckle, and God bless our military, I love them immensely and dearly. Thanks for serving our country. But I don’t know if the military should be giving advice about sleep. You know what I’m saying?
I have friends in the military, and they’re not pro-sleep. They’re like, wake these poor men and women up in the middle of the night to do their training. So like, it’s, I always find it kind of strange that it’s called the military technique, which should be how to stay up late and protect our country, you know?
DR: But I will say the concepts behind it are awesome. Like, I’m not going to say, it’s called the, I heard about that two minute thing, I mean, God bless it. If it does it for you or you, I’m not going to say it doesn’t. I think that’s setting the bar really high for two minutes, but I love what you were just kind of emphasizing on.
I love progressive muscle relaxation. That is one of my jams. It’s hard to do, but you’re, it starts with the fingers and you move right up in your face. I love it. I love imagery. I love, you know, things that you can think about. So I think the core things that make up the military technique, key things about it, imagery relaxation is totally awesome.
DS: Yeah, I think the thing, too, to keep in mind, too, is when we’re talking about using it in the military as a hack, these are people who are pretty sleep deprived already, who are running so many hardcore operations. I mean, I can’t even imagine how sleep deprived people are, so that it might work for them to be able to fall asleep in really tough situations. Right? Where they might not be in the most comfortable of situations or at varying times.
But if you’re someone who has a more routine sleep wake schedule, you can give it a try for sure, but it might not work as fast as in two minutes because you might not be at the same level of sleep deprivation as someone who might be in the military.
DR: Well summarized. Well summarized.
DS: There you go. So, hack number six. This is a really popular one. So screen dimming apps and blue light glasses. So blue light can impede the release of melatonin and make us feel more alert. Unfortunately, nearly all of our devices give off blue light. So to combat that, people are really stressing the use of screen dimming apps, blue light blocking glasses, really just limiting devices before bedtime. So kind of a sleep hygiene, sleep hack kind of thing. But what’s your take on it?
DR: You know, I think the big thing about them is the science is totally spot on. You know what I mean? It’s all about, hey, we have different wavelengths of light. There’s blue light and blue light will actually prevent the release of melatonin.
So I definitely like as, you know, night approaches, you actually want to get away from light, so melatonin can be released and kind of start that whole sleep cycle. But what is the main problem? The main problem is we should say, Hey, you should transition to sleep, you should have a sleep routine. And, you know, maybe not bring that cell phone, that iPad into the room.
I think it’s going to be, hey, let’s nip it at the bud, which is you shouldn’t be in a situation where if you have insomnia, you’re doing these things and saying, hey, I’m just gonna shade out the blue light and it should be okay. So I’m gonna give it – love the science. I always talk about the blue wavelength of light during many interviews just like you.
But I always go back to, hey, if you have insomnia, you shouldn’t be doing these things in bed to begin with.
DS: Right. And actually the research more recently is coming out with being less hard and fast about blue light being the complete devil for everything when it comes to sleep. So people, I think are just, I mean, I see people who are just trying to optimize everything and they’re in these like reddish tinted rooms and they’re doing… it’s really, it’s, it’s not great, but it’s not as horrible, I think, as everyone makes it seem.
But the bigger issue in my opinion, like you were saying, was it’s also like, What the heck are you looking at? What are we doing? Are we getting sucked into binge-watching stuff, work, social media, all that stuff is not helpful either. So that, in my opinion, is sometimes a bigger issue than just watching an episode of, I don’t know, The Office for a little while to quiet your brain down before bed.
So then it’s not great, but it’s really the devices that we’re getting sucked into that are making us then stay up later or making our brains just more active.
And then the one other thing to keep in mind that you were talking about was with it suppressing melatonin, right? That’s a big issue. All these people are taking melatonin supplements left and right to try and help themselves with their sleep.
And then you’re on all these screens that are probably, at least somewhat, you know, diminishing melatonin.
DR: Well, I caught something you kind of slipped in there and I’ll bring it up. You mentioned the red light. So that’s the other big thing that we’re always getting interviews about lately. What about the red light? You know?
And in theory, all this is theory, it’s supposed to release more melatonin. And you’re right. There are these lightbulb Nazis out there that have the blue light for this, the red light for that. And it was interesting. I just did some interview about in 2024 they did a survey about what were the things that were preventing people getting good sleep.
And it was watching TV, specifically the news.
DR: The news gives everyone insomnia, dude.
DS: And I don’t care if you put on some red glasses or blue light blocking glasses, if you’re watching things about the news nowadays before bed, good luck going to sleep even with blocking the light.
DR: No one’s going to bed anymore.
DS: I know. And it’s just, it’s a big problem that I think people are not always willing to address. And the, the simple thing that I always talk about is like, just get an alarm clock, get your phone out of the room, get a real alarm clock. So you don’t even have that temptation at bedtime.
DR: No, totally. 100 percent.
DS: Here’s one that I, I actually don’t know as much about. I don’t, I haven’t come across this one so much.
So hack number seven, so get a pineapple plant. Several types of plants like the snake plant and aloe vera have been shown to purify the air, removing harmful substances like formaldehyde.
Additionally, NASA conducted a survey which found the pineapple plant could cure snoring by producing additional moisture, preventing nasal passages from drying out and closing up.
Please tell me more about this one because I don’t know this.
DR: So it’s awesome. I think your, your manager, director did some good research. That was one of my first interviews I did at USC, a long time ago. And I thought it was cool because it catches people’s attention, the pineapple plant. So anyways, the big thing about this is I was more pro this being a pulmonologist than a sleep doctor because, you know, it’s all about something called photosynthesis.
And if some of your fans are like, why did he bring up that, like, biochem word, what is photosynthesis? It’s the opposite of what we do. And what do I do? I suck up all the oxygen and I breathe out carbon dioxide. But what plants do, and why it’s cool to be green, is that plants actually use carbon dioxide to actually make oxygen. That’s photosynthesis.
So when you’re in a room at nighttime, it’s nice to have a plant because of the fact that it’s going to be taking all that carbon dioxide out of the air and give you more oxygen. And it’s going to provide moisture. So it’s going to be a nice thing to do when we talk about, hey, if you have an irritated allergic type nose, you know what I mean?
And you have a little more moisture in the room because you have a plant there. Well, it’s going to allow you to breathe through your nose and not breathe through the mouth, where you get all that snoring, you know? So I’m pro-green, I like a plant. It’s called a pineapple plant. That one does it kind of the best, you know what I mean?
So I would say, I don’t think there’s any downside. People might think you’re kind of weird for having a pineapple plant next to the bedside, but it’s all right. It’s all right.
DS: So you’re not cooking the plant in anything. It’s just literally like right there.
DR: Don’t cook the poor pineapple plant.
DS: Everything I feel like is getting cooked in NyQuil or a banana peel nowadays. All right. So pressure points. Let’s see this one.
So massaging incredibly sensitive parts of the body is believed to, by many, to increase relaxation. So you use pressure points to hack your sleep. Like, to do that, you would try rubbing your temples, you’d rub between your eyebrows, behind the ears, below your wrist, on where your pressure points are. So what are your thoughts on this?
DR: Well, you know what? This is kind of a shout out to the weighted blankets out there. You know what I mean? Because it’s all about those pressure points. This is a shout out to my wife.
One of the major things she sees quite a bit is of people suffering from fibromyalgia. And they definitely have their pressure points.
And in general, I do like a massage. I gotta be honest with you. You know what I mean? If I get a massage, I’m going to fall asleep because it’s what happens. So I think the concept, if there’s a point where if you do a gentle rub, combine that with part of your sleep routine, combine that with breathing, combine that with relaxation. There’s really no downside in doing it.
But once again, I’m sure your phrase and my phrase, that sleep is very individualized and it works for some and not others, but I kind of like it. What about you, Shelby?
DS: I think same thing. It’s like, if it helps to relax you, that’s not a bad thing at night. I mean, who could not use more relaxation nowadays in this world?
So if it’s something that can help you to set the stage for sleep, that’s great. Don’t expect it’s necessarily going to induce sleepiness. . So, but, but if it’s something that can help relax you, by all means, give it a try. For sure.
Alright, so let’s try another hack. So share good news. I like this one. So, according to a sleep study from 2017 conducted in-person and over the phone, participants slept better and fell asleep more quickly after their partners told them something good from their day. What do you think about that?
DR: I just love that concept in general. I think communication is so awesome and like what my wife does is when we get home, part of our bedtime routines, we ask each kid what was the best part of their day and we go around the room and I love that. And I love like, you know, sharing things that, you know, that are important to me, that are stressful for me, it makes me less stressful.
So I love communicating and I will say this, is that there was some sort of study, a kind of, I need to kind of, I’m reaching a little bit here, is that you really shouldn’t argue or have a fight, or go to bed angry at each other. And part of the thought process of that is that, you know what I mean, that, you know, you- if you go to bed angry that, you know, the wrong thing has come out. You get secondary anxiety.
So there’s a whole thing about, you know, there’s certain things you just don’t want to talk about. Finances before going to bed, family members before going to bed, watching the news before the bed. So anything that’s opposite of that, which is sharing wonderful, positive things. I love it.
DS: Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. And the thing, I think it also widens your view of the world. There has been research looking at gratitude before bed too, and that gratitude can be really beneficial for sleep in general.
And it’s not about just being, you know, saying, Oh, I have only good things in my life and I’m ignoring all the negative things and the neutral things. That’s not the point of it. It’s just helping to really widen the viewpoint, so that you’re not thinking about everything negative.
So the 4-7-8 breathing method. So you place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and then you breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then you breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds.
So the idea behind this technique, the inventor, Dr. Andrew Thomas Weil, you may have heard of him. He recommends practicing it at least twice a day, four to eight sets each time. So what are your thoughts on that?
DR: Okay, I’m going to like switch my sleep hat to my pulmonary hat right here. So I love breathing techniques. I love diaphragmatic breathing for a lot of my patients, asthma, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, you name it.
So a couple things is that I am always pro nasal breathing. That’s the way we’re supposed to breathe. And why do we have to do it that way? It’s for a few things. Number one, breathing through the nose helps humidify the air. You know what I mean? If you suffer from things like asthma, usually we call that cold asthma because you go out in the morning, it’s so cold. So you want to humidify the air.
If you’re allergic and have asthma, what does the nose do? It has things called cilia. And cilia will filter the air, to take all those yucky, yucky things from the air and help filter it. So it does humidification. It does filtration. And there is some data that says by doing nasal breathing, it may possibly release something called nitric oxide, which is a dilator that helps out with blood pressure.
I don’t believe it as much, but what I do believe is when you do nasal breathing, it definitely helps relax you. That’s why we combine 4-7-8 breathing techniques, relaxation, and everything.
So I like it. I think it should be part of other meditation and relaxation techniques. And it’s good for just lung health. So definitely I’m going to give it two thumbs up.
DS: Yeah. And I think the 4-7-8 part, you know, there’s a gazillion different ways to do deep breathing exercises. I learned so many in graduate school. I think the 4-7-8 is just one way to give you something to focus on while you’re doing it. It helps to build in that mindfulness aspect.
So you’re counting, you can be more mindful while doing it. If your mind wanders, bring yourself back to the numbers that you’re doing. So I give it a big check mark as well. I think it’s a great thing to help set the stage.
So writing down your thoughts. So journaling can play a real good role for some people, they swear by this, as an anxiety reducer for them. Or it will help with unresolved stress from the day.
So free writing for just 15 minutes about anything on your mind, just kind of writing the heck out of everything, can help you feel more clear headed and ready for sleep. So what do you think of that?
DR: Dude, I totally love it. So for a couple of things. So I would say one thing on that one, if there’s any, like, sleep fellows or residents listening, there’s a difference between a sleep log and a sleep journal.
I think of sleep logs like, when did you wake up? What time did you go back to bed? Did you nap? You know what I mean? And then when we talk about the sleep diary, the sleep journal, it’s going to be like, hey, what did you eat? What did you do that day? Did you have a fight that day? So it’s more encompassing.
And when we talk about things like insomnia, one of the best things I love about insomnia is making a journal. Writing down your thoughts. You know what I mean? And especially if you’re having nightmares or anything like that, it’s good to know what happened during that day. It’s also, it’s good practice, it’s good writing, and you’ll probably get some clues about what’s going on and things that you shouldn’t do during the day or maybe should do more.
DS: Yeah. I always say, whatever you go to bed with, that’s on your brain before bed. If you don’t deal with it, it’s going to be there at three in the morning when you wake up. So you got to kind of journal and get stuff out. So, or at least if journaling isn’t for you, find some way of processing some of your day.
Sleep is not an on-off switch where you’re just going, going, going, and then you pass out. You never really actually think about your day. And journaling is a nice structured way to do that.
DR: Oh, let me throw this out there, because my patients do this, I got to give them a heads up. So when you’re doing a sleep log or journal, for me or for any sleep doc, you don’t want to do that in the middle of the night when you wake up, you know what I mean? You’re supposed to do it in the morning.
DS: Yeah, my instructions are always right before bed, and then in the morning. I do not want you looking at the clock. And it’s not gonna, it’s not intended to make your sleep worse.
DR: Where’s my pen? Where’s my pencil?
DS: Exactly, exactly.
What sleep hacks really stand out for you today? Or what tip would you give that we didn’t mention?
DR: Alright, so I dunno if this is gonna be a hack, but you know, I’m always playing the family angle because I’m, I’m in the trenches right now. And I think that hack is going to be the word patience, you know?
And I really feel that if you wanna get good sleep. It’s not just you, it’s you and your bed partner. It’s you and the family. It’s you and the family dog, you know? So I think that being patient with everyone, and I had to do that a lot lately because of that time change, you know what I’m saying? And I didn’t think it was gonna hit our family that hard, but it kind of did. Kids got a little, a little more rambunctious in the morning.
So I think my hack for everyone is always be patient, especially with anyone out there, especially if you’re gonna have kids. And what is one thing that really helped us? You know, kind of transition to sleep? You know, kids are growing up, which kind of stinks.
We used to do a family puzzle together. And I kind of liked that because of the fact that we’re there and we’re doing something that’s not technology and that worked for us during that period of life.
So I think the answer is find what you could do as a family together. And I think the one I really loved is talking and sharing positive things about your day. So yeah, that’s, that’s my little two cents right there.
DS: Yeah. And I love the patience aspect, it’s like, you know, I think hacks, the problem with hacks, in my opinion, is they give the idea that there’s a quick fix for everything and there isn’t always. And sleep is the sort of thing where I say this day in and day out, there is individual variation from night to night.
So a banana peel might help you some nights, but it might not help you every night. So it’s about trying things out, being consistent with it, really making longstanding changes. If something you’re doing is not working after two weeks, talk with someone. It really is probably not the solution for you. So really don’t ignore it.
But if the things that we talked about are helpful and you find they’re great and they’re not interfering with your life, then by all means, go ahead.
Thanks for joining us. Dr. Raj, really appreciate it.
DR: Super welcome, SleepDocShelby.
DS: Thanks for listening to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby, a Sleepopolis original podcast. If you’re not routinely getting a great night’s sleep, remember to follow and subscribe for more Sleep Talking wherever you get your podcasts.
And for even more sleep tips, visit sleepopolis. com and you can also visit my Instagram page, @SleepDocShelby.
Today’s episode was produced and edited by Freddie Beckley. Our Head of Content is Alanna Nuñez and I’m Dr. Shelby Harris.
Until next time, sleep well.