Reading Seth Roberts Puts Me to Sleep

Photo by: Pepe50

The Simple pleasures

Waking up from a good night’s sleep is one of life’s luxurious simple pleasures.  For me, it’s right up there with playing with puppies and putting on jeans fresh from the dryer.  On the other hand, a restless night is physically and psychologically debilitating.  String enough sleep deficient nights together and personal performance suffers.

Recovery as a Motivating factor

When I headed back to the weight room this summer, it had been a while, since I had done a fundamental strength training program.  I knew I was going to be sore and I wanted to do everything within my power to facilitate recovery.  Sleep facilitates recovery.

Two problems

I was encountering two problems on the sleep front.  The lesser problem was difficulty falling asleep or onset insomnia.  For me this is more often than not work related.  If I am in the middle of a big project, anticipating an upcoming negotiation, or preparing for a hearing, when I lay down, my mind is still running through options and playing out different scenarios and the good idea fairy keeps me from falling asleep.

The other problem was far more consistent.  Most nights, at around 10:15 or 10:30, I would drop off to sleep without a problem.  But, I would wake up sometime between 0400 and 0430.  Six hours of sleep was not good.  This was a problem that needed my attention.

Mike Mahler, Melatonin, and Magnesium

Just as I was getting serious about fixing my sleep problem,  I read this post by Mike Mahler.  This is a holistic article, but Mike makes some pretty straightforward statements about the importance of sleep.  He also shares that he had successfully improved his sleep by using magnesium oil and melatonin.

Both made sense to me.  I knew that magnesium supplements can make you drowsy (see Consult Your Biological Clock to Optimize the Effectiveness of Vitamin and Mineral Supplements) and I use melatonin to help expedite recovery from jet lag.  In mid-June, I ordered some magnesium oil and I started taking melatonin.  I started with 1 mg of melatonin one hour before bed.  Eventually, I upped the dosage to 2 mg.

Right out of the gate, melatonin worked.  I fell asleep easily and slept hard.  I was getting up at 0600.  With nearly eight hours of sleep, I felt great.  This was a wake up call for me on the exponential difference that a couple of extra hours of sleep makes.

I felt so much better…so, you can imagine my disappointment when, within six weeks, I was back to waking up between 0400 and 0430.

Seth Roberts to the Rescue

The melatonin effect had been gradually waning.  Even before I killed that experiment, I knew I needed to look for another solution.  I regularly read Seth Roberts blog (you should too) and decided it was time to print out and read through his 2004 paper: Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Ten examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight.

One of the self-experiments chronicled in the paper, reports that skipping breakfast reduces early awakening.  Why would skipping breakfast reduce early awakening?  Anyone who has had to get up early to feed horses might already know the answer…food anticipatory activity.  Animals become more active a few hours before feeding time.  If you are asleep, then becoming more active requires waking up.

I love breakfast.  Hands down it is my favorite meal of the day.  It is also when I eat the most.  Skipping breakfast was not going to happen.

But, pushing breakfast back from 0630 to 0900 was an option.  I just had to bring my breakfast with me to work.  I hoped that eating later would recalibrate my anticipatory activation phase back to around 0600 and I would get back my 2 hours of missing sleep.

I started experimenting with a late breakfast in August.  I was traveling through multiple time zones at the time.   So, I had no idea whether it was working.  But, by the time I got back to Korea, eating a late breakfast was becoming a habit.

After recovering from my jet lag, I noticed that the experiment was working. Now, I wake up and get out of bed between 0600 and 0615.  Sometimes, I still wake up in the middle of the night, but after a quick bathroom break, I’m right back to sleep.  I get to work at 0800.  After working for an hour, I take a break and eat (e.g. 3 hard boiled eggs, +/- a cup of cashews or macadamia nuts, and a smoothie).  This regiment has been working well for eight weeks and shows no signs of weakening.

Negotiating From My Side of the Bed

There is one other thing.  I hate alarms.  I always have.  If I am sleeping alone, I wake up before the alarm, just so I can shut it off without having to hear it.

My wife, on the other hand, repeatedly hits the snooze bar to keep getting a couple more minutes of sleep…and the clock is on her side of the bed.  Did I mention, she works 12 hour shifts and has to get up an hour before me.

She made a big concession in agreeing to shut the alarm down after the first buzz.  Without the snooze cycle in play, I am able to roll over and sleep for another hour, while she gets ready for work.

Tackling Onset Insomnia

This was the lesser problem, as I generally tend to fall asleep fine.  But, I do keep a notebook and pencil by the bed. That way, if the good idea fairy pays me a visit, I can jot down some notes and forget whatever it was I was thinking about.  By the way, most of my great late night ideas, suck in the cold light of day…hardly worth losing sleep over.  But, if you don’t want to miss the odd good idea and ruminating is keeping you awake, a notebook and pencil can work wonders.

If it’s snake oil, I don’t care.  I’m keeping the magnesium oil.  It’s part of my ritual for falling asleep and I have not had any trouble getting to sleep since I’ve started using it.

I also have implemented the Tim Ferriss no non-fiction before bed rule.  Which means my fiction reading is up substantially (William Gibson – Zero History, Andrew Vachss – Haiku, and right now I’m reading Tom Robbins – Villa Incognito).  Please send your recommendations for fiction that engages the imagination.  I’m a non-fiction junkie, so I need your help.

After I put the book down, I take one last step to expedite falling asleep.  I visualize a burning candle.  I focus on the flame of the candle, exhale, and do my best to empty my mind.  This little bit of meditation helps me relax and soon after the candle appears in my mind’s eye, I’m falling asleep.

MY Recipe for a Good Night’s Sleep

1.  Take evening supplements, including magnesium oil 30m to 1h before lights out.

2.  Read fiction for 30m to 1h before lights out.

3.  Lying meditation after lights out.

4. Don’t use snooze.

5.  Eat a late breakfast (or skip breakfast entirely if you are so inclined).



Sleep Your Way To Better Physical and Mental Performance

Odds and Ends Before the Big Trip

Flipping Switches and Turning Dials


11 responses to “Reading Seth Roberts Puts Me to Sleep

  1. I almost exclusively read non-fiction before bed. I’ve never liked fiction much, it generally bores me (A friend recently told me that disliking fiction is an indicator of Autism, hm…)

    The best bedtime reading materials, in my opinion, are art history books (Aztec architecture, religious iconography, Victorian era medical oddities, etc.)

    Though I do love Tom Robbins’ “Another Roadside Attraction”, and “Slapstick” by Kurt Vonnegut.

    • Hadn’t heard that about autism and disliking fiction. Wouldn’t say that I dislike fiction…but, I am picky. I love Vonnegut and enjoyed Tom Robbins’ Villa Incognito. So, I will add both of your recc’s to my reading list. Thanks again, -Adam

  2. Excellent suggestions. I actually have the same problem with the alarm issue. My husband often has to get up very early in the morning for work, but once his alarm goes off and he’s up moving around, it’s really hard for me to get back to sleep! So I just try to get to bed earlier… which is not easy since Daylight Savings Time hit me like a train a couple weeks ago. Reading before bed is like a sleeping pill for me, though–even non-fiction will work if it’s not something that gets my mind buzzing. The trouble is I don’t do if half as often as I should!

    • Elizabeth, I’ve been trying to get to sleep earlier too, for the same reason. Seems to be working. One thing I have noticed is that occasionally, I will have a brief period of relaxed wakefulness during the night. Most frequently at 0200 or 0300, but sometimes earlier. Turns out, if you are getting enough sleep, this may be part of our natural sleep pattern. See this very quick TED talk by Jess Gamble – So, now I don’t worry about it and find that I drift back to sleep.

  3. Wow, that was a really interesting video. I think that’s the best way to treat a time of wakefulness during the night–don’t worry about it. I think laying around worrying about getting enough sleep is just about the worst thing to do! do notice that when I go to bed really early (like before 9 o’clock), I do tend to have a wakeful period around midnight or so. It tends to be a calm period and I still feel rested in the morning. I never thought about it being part of the natural sleep cycle.

  4. Hi Adam – Great post. I am working through resolving my insomnia issues. What kind of magnesium oil do you use? Thank you for providing this wonderful resource!

    • Callie – I use Ancient Minerals magnesium oil. You can get it online at Amazon. It comes in a spray bottle, so it’s super easy to use, just spritz and massage it in.

  5. Thanks! Are you saying that you do not have to ingest the magnesium oil, and that it is effective when spritzed on the skin? Cool! I appreciate the tip!!

    • Exactly – Transdermal magnesium is believed to be absorbed faster and more efficiently than oral supplements. Note, the soothing effects of epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) baths may be derived from the exposure and absorption of magnesium.

  6. Thank you so much for the info! CVS did not have the spray. 🙂 So, I am going to order online, based on your excellent recommendation. I noticed that the MagOX is hard to digest. Thanks again!

  7. Is there a specific part of the body you find works best, for magnesium oil? I find if I rub it on my chest, abdomen, it sends my heart racing! But when this stops, I do get a great nights sleep. Also, I rub it into sore joints and muscles. It really does provide relief, but you have to remember to wipe of the excess or it gets left all over the bed!
    Great article, thanks for sharing your story. I’m heading over the Seth’s blog now!

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