Six Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

This is Naked Capitalism fundraising week. 670 donors have already invested in our efforts to combat corruption and predatory conduct, particularly in the financial realm. Please join us and participate via our donation page, which shows how to give via check, credit card, debit card or PayPal or our new payment processor, Clover. Read about why we’re doing this fundraiser, what we’ve accomplished in the last year,, and our current goal, continuing our expanded news coverage.

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Six, you say. I had a terrible struggle over the headline, because I wanted to make a witty allusion, but the one quotation that came to mind was Shakespeare’s lovely “sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care” (close reading) but eesh, those words are spoken by Macbeth, and it’s unlikely that you or I cannot sleep for the same reasons that Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth can’t sleep. I struck out with lullabies, too, and also music and song lyrics about sleep (although the top hit, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” expresses the beautiful sentiment that the singer doesn’t want to fall asleep because “I’d miss you baby,” and no, I’m not being ironic. I never would have thought it of Aerosmith). So I went with the clickbait. I apologize.

Anyhow, I thought I’d do a little research on sleep, because the topic “insomnia” started coming across my feed, presumably because of press releases on that topic, though maybe it was the oyster insomnia that did it (Hakai, picked up by The Atlantic).

We don’t know why we sleep (or why any creature that sleeps, sleeps[1]). From Wikipedia’s “List of unsolved problems in biology“:

What is the biological function of sleep? What is the purpose of dreaming? What are the underlying brain mechanisms? What is its relation to anesthesia?

We understand REM sleep and circadian rhythms. “The body’s natural sleep-and-wake cycle is reasonably attuned to a 24-hour period,” but “reasonably” is doing rather a lot of work, there. Why does the cycle exist in the first place? After all, with “nature red in tooth and claw,” sleep, which renders us completely vulnerable for approximately one-third of our existence, must be worth taking such a risk for. But worth what? Nobody seems sure. In fact, we know very little about what is most important to us. We don’t know why we are conscious, why we have (or don’t have) sex (verb or noun), or why we die. Similarly, in science, unanswered but important questions are: What is the nature of gravity? Why is time different from other dimensions? Is morality hardwired into the brain? How did flowers evolve?

Not only do we not know what causes sleep, a cursory search — sleep mavens, please correct me — suggests that our data on sleep isn’t all that great either. From the Lancet, September 2023:

[D]ata exist to suggest that objective measures of sleep are more accurate in assessing health outcomes, because self-reported sleep variables can be influenced by other physical and mental health factors. Objective measures provide a more accurate representation of sleep patterns, enabling clinicians to make more precise diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment plans for the disorder.

Objective measures, including the multiple sleep latency test, have been proposed as essential tools for assessing the severity of insomnia.


Future large-scale, multisite, randomised, placebo-controlled trials should explore personalised treatments for different insomnia subtypes, thereby promoting healthy longevity for individuals worldwide.

You don’t have to be an RCT fetishist to accept that if studies like this don’t already exist, we may not know very much about sleep at all. To underline the difficulties with self-reporting — actually the fun part, which we’ll get to in the tips section — this preprint, also from September 2023:

We compared the percentage of those self-reporting usually having insomnia symptoms at UK Biobank baseline assessment (2006-2010) to those with a Read code for insomnia symptoms in their primary care records prior to baseline…. We found that 29% of the sample self-reported having insomnia symptoms, whilst only 6% had a Read code for insomnia symptoms in their primary care records. Only 10% of self-reported cases had an insomnia symptom Read code, whilst 49% of primary care cases self-reported having insomnia symptoms.

Sure, it’s easy to create the narrative that MD’s aren’t listening to patientsMR SUBLIMINAL Guffaw! Science fiction stuff but that’s still quite a discrepancy.

So we don’t know why sleep, our object of inquiry, exists, and the data about it is arguably bad, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to define it. Once  again from Wikipedia:

Sleep is a state of reduced mental and physical activity in which consciousness is altered and sensory activity is inhibited to a certain extent. During sleep, there is a decrease in muscle activity, and interactions with the surrounding environment. While sleep differs from wakefulness in terms of the ability to react to stimuli, it still involves active brain patterns, making it more reactive than a coma or disorders of consciousness.

(I’ve helpfully underlined the words and phrases I’d like to, well, have more clearly defined.) Reading these words literally, as a sort of checklist, it would seem that sleep and being drunk or stoned (“decrease in muscle activity”) are in the same bucket, but “I have heard” that the three states are actually quite different.

Be all these philosophical questions as they may, the CDC, characteristically, jumps right in:

A third of US adults report [see above] that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression—that threaten our nation’s health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to motor vehicle crashes and mistakes at work, which cause a lot of injury and disability each year. Getting enough sleep is not a luxury—it is something people need for good health. Sleep disorders can also increase a person’s risk of health problems. However, these disorders can be diagnosed and treated, bringing relief to those who suffer from them.

Even if we don’t understand sleep, we still know what missing sleep means. We have a word for it: Insomnia. Of course there’s an NGO, the Sleep Foundation:

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, even if you have ample time and a bedroom environment conducive to restful sleep. An insomnia diagnosis requires these sleep troubles to also cause daytime impairments, such as sleepiness or difficulty concentrating.

Up to [oh] two-thirds of people occasionally experience insomnia symptoms. These bouts of sleeplessness may or may not meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis of insomnia [oh], depending on how long they last and whether they cause distress or interfere with daily functioning. But it is important for anyone who has concerns about their sleep to discuss them with a health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

It sound like “daytime impairments” means trouble in the workplace. The RAND article that littered my feed, “Insomnia: The Multibillion-Dollar Problem Sapping World Productivity,” concurs:

Workers who experience any symptoms of insomnia miss 14 days of work every year and spend another 30 days at work but not being fully productive, the researchers estimated. Chronic sufferers are absent for up to 18 days and present but not productive for up to 54 days.

Using those numbers, the researchers calculated that the United States loses more than 1 percent of its total economic output to chronic insomnia every year. That adds up to around $207.5 billion. The United Kingdom loses 1.3 percent of its output every year, or $41.4 billion. France forgoes around $36.3 billion, and Australia and Canada both lose more than $19 billion.

The key driver for insomnia is, apparently, rumination (“circling thoughts,” “racing thoughts”). One sleep psychologist characterizes rumination as a “mental loop” that goes on “for hours and hours”:

Through my research, I’ve found that the No. 1 sleep killer isn’t social media or an uncomfortable mattress — it’s rumination.

Rumination is a sleep-blocker because it keeps your mind aroused, especially in bed, when it’s dark and quiet.

Your attention is drawn back, again and again, to this thing that didn’t go well or to a regret. I’ve laid in bed and replayed a dumb comment I made at a party, even though the person I said it to probably forgot it moments later.

Negative thoughts and emotions like these are what neuroscientists call “”salient”” because they are so noticeable and loud.

There’s no magic switch to completely turn off rumination. Your brain’s job is to consolidate information and build new synapses by dredging up moments and memories from your day — even the things that upset you.

The best time to get ahead of worrying is during the day, when you have important things to do and don’t have time to get caught up in mental loops for hours and hours.

(The author then goes on to recommend worrying during the day, when worry is likely to be more productive). 

The Kings College Student Counselling and Mental Health Support Service brochure on “Worry, Rumination & Insomnia” characterizes rumination as:

brooding or thinking in a circular and unhelpful way.

And recommends the following checklist:

Ask yourself:

  • Have I made progress towards solving a problem?
  • Do I understand something about a problem (or my feelings about it) that I haven’t understood before?
  • Do I feel less self-critical or less depressed than before I started thinking
  • about it?

If you didn’t answer ‘yes’ to at least one question, you are ruminating

They also present this handy chart:

But what if the “trigger” of the worry is not a problem that can be solved? What if the the answer to “Can I do anything about it?” is “No”? You would have to be a Zen Master or a Bodhisattva to “Let the worry go.” How is “do something else” useful when the “something else” is sleep?

There are, of course — besides Pharma — various cures for insomnia, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other strategies, like mindfulness and so forth. However, none of these Soviet psychiatry-style cures them discuss what the “trigger” might be, when clearly economics — especially in the workplace — is likely to be both “salient” and insoluble, especially for those who must sell their labor power to survive. For example, this article from the Daily Mail, “How a sleep shrink helped CURE my insomnia nightmare: I’m getting 90 minutes more every night – and you could too, says INGEBORG VAN LOTRINGEN“, discusses cure after cure after cure, but in the middle, there’s this throwaway sentence:

I slept like a baby for nearly 40 years until a financial upset in 2008 — I had my life savings in an Icelandic bank . . . they vanished — meant I didn’t any longer.

Losing all her money in The Great Financial Crash caused her to lose sleep! And tens of millions of others! They should all go get Behavioral Cognitive Therapy! From Sleep Review:

Two of the studies asked employees to report their counterproductive work behaviors during the day and their off-work feelings and sleep quality at night over the course of 10 workdays. The researchers found that committing counterproductive behaviors at work was significantly related to work-related ruminative thoughts in the evening, which further led to insomnia at night.

“Counter-productive work behavior”! The idea! And from Asia in Science Daily:

The results showed that people in Asia have shorter sleep, and display higher variability in both sleep timing and duration on weekdays…. [P]eople in Asia also had lower sleep efficiency. This may be because factors that result in short sleep (e.g., work-related anxiety) also lead to lower quality sleep.

While there are many socio-cultural factors that affect sleep patterns, the team hypothesises that because it plays such a fundamental role in our lives, work (and the broader work culture) is one of the most influential factors affecting how we sleep. Previous evidence from time use studies have demonstrated a strong association between long work hours and short sleep. Additionally, there is evidence that preoccupation with work demands and the inability to stop thinking about work contribute to sleep disturbances.

Everybody wants to talk about triggers, but nobody wants to talk about the hand that holds the gun… 

Having pointed to an obvious structural cause of the insomnia oddly not considered by the Sleep Industrial Complex[2], I will now turn to the sort of individualized anecdotes and solutions I previously deprecated, as practiced by me. 

(1) My first tip is white noise. For a long time, I fell asleep to the white noise produced by a fan, winter and summer. More recently, to the fan, I searched YouTube for “train sleep sounds,” and to the fan added, IIRC, eight hours of a train going through the snow in Norway. Clickety-clack!

(2) I believe I picked up the idea of counting backwards in a Travis McGee novel. McGee, I believe, started from 10. I start from 400 or 500, count “499, 498….” then suddenly realize I’ve “lost my place” and restart the count from, say, “467.” Of course, I lost my place because I fell asleep. I learned this trick when I was living in a glorious apartment in Center City, Philadelphia, where my sleeping quarters were like six feet away from the all-enveloping, supersonic screaming of a ventilator hood from a 24-hour restaurant next door. I slept like a log!

(3) I thought I had a hard time falling asleep (why falling and not rising?) until I started listening to podcasts, because when I listened to the previous night’s podcast for a second time, I could spot when I fell asleep because the material was new. In fact, it takes me about ten minutes to fall asleep (correcting years of delusion that I didn’t all asleep easily). For a long time, my favorite was Mike Duncan’s History of Rome, which is not only good, but delivered in Duncan’s soothing voice. It was entertaining to fall asleep to Caesar being ransomed by pirates, and then wake to Augustus gelding the Senate. I really learned a lot! (Duncan’s excellent Revolutions podcast, and Rich and Tracy Youngdahl’s brilliant The Civil War[3] served the same function; again, wonderful “story arcs” delivered by soothing voices).

(4) Then came the war in Ukraine, and I moved on from history podcasts to nightly YouTube reports, the best for my purposes being Alexander Mercouris (“Good day”). Mercouris too has a soothing voice. Being now of an age to wake up during the night, I move the YouTube progress bar ahead each time I wake, and restart the podcast, so that by morning I can be said to have sampled most of the previous days events. However, since the Ukraine war seems headed for stasis — insofar as a meatgrinder can be said to be in stasis — I may move back to Rick and Tracy; they are now well past Gettysburg, and into the battle of Chickamauga (which Longstreet messed up all on his own, this time without any help from that bloody incompetent, Lee).

* * *

So there we are. We may not know why we sleep, or have good data on sleep, but we do have a name for not being able to sleep, and we know that when we can’t sleep, rumination may be the proximate cause, even if we want to erase the final economic cause. We know so much, and yet we know so little! Perhaps, readers, you will share tips on how you get to sleep in comments.

P.S. I should, however, add one more tip (5): If you’ve been ruminating and losing sleep because you have yet to donate to Naked Capitalism, the tip jar is to your right. Pleasant dreams!


[1] Do we even know we are awake?

[2] Of course, insomnia is one effect of Covid; see here, here, here, and here.

[3] All these podcasts are multiyear projects, some approaching a decade of a podcast a week. I don’t know what it is about the podcast medium that encourages this.


The final tip: (6) J.S. Bach’s “The Goldberg Variations” are said to have been written to relieve the insomnia of Count Hermann Karl von Keyserlingk, the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony. So here is a playlist of them:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Curiousities, Guest Post, Income disparity, Pandemic, Science and the scientific method on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


      1. britzklieg

        I’d suggest Brian Eno’s “Discreet Music” or “Ambient 1” (6 hours)

        I’ve never had much trouble sleeping, although there were moments in my career I would sometimes have difficulty before a big performance. Curiously, the sleepless nights did not diminish my performance and in at least a few instances I felt the performances were better because the “fatigue” I felt disabled a certain “muscular” approach (“forcing”), especially when singing high dramatic notes, which is never the right choice in singing opera.

        …and the only decidedly noticeable difference now that I stopped smoking cannabis (aside from losing the weight by which munchies kept me a bit chubby for 50 years) is that I don’t fall asleep as fast and yet I dream far more vividly – an intriguing tradeoff actually, even when the dreams are uncomfortable. Or perhaps it’s that I remember them more vividly… who knows?

        I’ve tried for years to find, and to no avail, an article about sleep in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine, from probably 30 years ago. It covered much of what l.s. writes in this essay but what I remember most was specifically on studies about insomnia and sleep aides. In a nutshell, the studies used neural monitoring devices to register the actual amount of sleep each participant experienced with and without sleep drugs as opposed to what the participants self-reported and the result was that the actual amount of sleep by those drugged and undrugged was not essentially different, but that those who were “aided” in their sleep reported far more satisfying sleep. The article concluded that sleep aides do not so much help one sleep better, rather they allow the subject to remember that they slept better.

        I wish I could provide a link, but I’m quite certain that my comment reflects accurately the substance of the article.

        1. Antagonist Muscles

          Brian Eno rocks! Er, Brian Eno’s ambient music is excellent. He also does rock ‘n roll music too. Brian Eno’s “Lux” is my favorite to listen to in the hour before I get into bed. If you can’t appreciate ambient music, try Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue.” This best jazz album of all time is also the best to fall asleep to. As much as I like John Coltrane, his music doesn’t work as well for late night listening. (Coltrane was a musician on “Kind of Blue”.) While I am uncertain what album is the consensus second greatest in jazz history, Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” would get many votes. “A Love Supreme” is sublime, but I think it is more suitable for the morning.

          1. britzklieg

            Eno! His early work in rock, with Robert Fripp and King Crimson was so unique, because he wasn’t a studied/practiced musician but his electric sound tapestries were seminal to the bands uniqueness and success. He went from being an off-stage sound contriver (for lack of a better word) to the on-stage center of attention, not the least for his great “look.” There’s a fine documentary about his rock years -“Brian Eno” which cover the years 1971-1977 (tubi, pluto tv, freevee, roku), afterwhich he evolved into the composer genius which he ultimately attained. He wrote the 3 second “Apple” sound for Steve Jobs, ha! And I agree Miles’ “KInd of Blue” would be a good choice for sleeping specifically because it “wanders” without a driving and regular beat which is why Coltrane doesn’t work (and why Eno’s ambient music does, at least for me – nothing to hold onto, everything to drift away to). And I absolutely love Coltrane, with a special fondness (being a singer) for his collaboration with Johnny Hartman… one of the best covers of Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” evah!!!

            1. mrsyk

              Brian Eno indeed! interestingly, for me it’s the ever descending energy over side two of “Before and After Science” for getting sleepy.

        2. playon

          It’s known that cannabis suppresses REM (dreaming) while sleeping, although if it helps people fall asleep it might be worth the trade off.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Not just Abu Ghraib. With some prisoners, guards will check them every quarter of an hour or so – I think – and they have to stand up to be checked. If they do not, a team will go in and rouse them. For their own welfare and as a safety check mind. These are not drug barons in prison or the like but typically prisoners whom the establishment does not like. Best thing of all is that this sort of torture leaves no marks and if they have to appear in court, are allowed a night of sleep to hide the effects.

    2. John R Moffett

      One primary purpose of sleep is to give your brain time to remove excess cellular detritus and waste products, as well as to recharge energy stores. It is a fairly recent discovery that the brain’s “glymphatic system” becomes highly active during sleep, moving more fluid through the system to clear things out, especially protein waste (e.g., misfolded proteins) that can build up. So sleep is necessary for clearing the brain of waste products, and lack of sleep leads to a buildup. Since Alzheimer’s involves a buildup of misfolded proteins, there may be some connection to poor sleep.

      It sounds odd, but the best sleep aid I have found is to take one normal strength aspirin before bedtime. I am not sure why it works (I don’t have pain that I am treating), but for me it really does.

      1. playon

        We evolved on a planet that rotates every 24 hours, I suppose spending 12 hours a day in darkness must have some effect. Other mammals sleep but don’t seem to need darkness to do so. Maybe it is because we have such a large brain relative to other species?

      2. John Zelnicker

        Lambert – Perhaps the reason that rejuvenation has to wait is that while we are awake, our minds are bombarded by sensory inputs as well is the normal cogitating and paying attention to the matter at hand.

        Once we are asleep, those sensory inputs are suppressed, some more that others, e.g., hearing seems to stay more “awake” than vision.

        With a lower level of sensory inputs our minds can devote more energy to integrating the events and thoughts of the day into our self-conceptualization (maybe not the best word).

        Sleep should also let our muscles rest and, IIRC, that’s when new muscle fibers are created after exercising.

        I certainly feel “rejuvenated” after a good night’s sleep.

      3. John Zelnicker

        Okay – Here’s my technique for falling asleep and it rarely takes me more than 1 minute to do so.

        It’s all about the breathing:

        Take a full breath through your nose only, counting to 4. Your belly should push out.

        Release the breath fully through your mouth only, also to a count of 4. Your belly should pull in.

        Concentrate on the sound of your breath or the movement of your belly. It’s very difficult to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. This helps keep out intruding thoughts and worries.

        If such thoughts do break through, mindfulness techniques can help. Acknowledge the thought, decide to deal with it later, and let it go.

        I learned this from a little book called “Science of Breath”. I don’t have my copy right now so I can’t give you the author or publisher and there seem to be a lot of books with that name. It’s most likely the one written by a Yogi.

  1. GC54

    I’m not a fan of Fitbit’s surveillance/google data sharing, but my Inspire sleep tracker on wrist helps deliver solid 6+ to 7 hr slumber, broken into REM, light, deep, awake. It tracks motion and respiration and compares last night to 30 day and age-specific averages. Getting the right nighttime temperature in total darkness and a consistent bedtime* is key. Fitbit shows i nod off usually within 10 mins if i turn off the light at the same time. Also, orange bulb to read preferably in another room and no screen time an hr before.

    * Cat goes off at 5 am exactly 12 hr after his dinner +- only a few mins (,how??), so 10 pm bedtime for me works. I can time shift him a bit, but it feels unnatural.

  2. Bruce F

    While trying to go to sleep, to stop going over what I did during the day and what I need/want to do tomorrow, I tell myself that my “thoughts” are a tool (and that I should think of them as ‘outside’ of myself) and that I don’t use tools in my bed. It seems to work.

  3. Not Qualified to Comment

    “Myself when young did eagerly frequent
    doctor and saint, and heard great argument
    about it and about: but evermore came out
    by that same door as in I went.”
    – Omar Khayyam

    Is not the distinction that one always wakes into the same consistent world whereas one’s dreams have no consistency. A man who experiences himself a butterfly might wonder which is his reality, but if the next night he experiences himself as a goldfish he can only be the common factor – the man. Unless the philosopher would argue that he might be a butterfly dreaming itself as a man dreaming himself as a goldfish.

    1. Sergey P

      I had this question for my parents when I was 4. How do I know this is not a dream, and going to sleep I actually wake up to the real world?

      Your comment sparked my curiosity.

      What if consistency is a sign not of solid reality, but of a certain mode? I mean, quantum world is supposed to be less solid. Can we think of consistency as just a quality, not proof of existence? Then again, what is existence. And so I slowly drift asle

  4. mrsyk

    Reading a book works for me. If I read into the night at least I won’t be ruminating, a practice I’m familiar with.
    It occurred to me that doctors not wanting to prescribe sleep meds might be behind some of that imbalance between self reported and med record numbers.

  5. Sergey P

    Thank you, Lambert, for this playful piece. Reading your prose is a joy in and of itself.

    As for the question posed, since I sleep with my girlfriend, audio is not an option. Though when she is away, I immediately become anxious and so watch Ryan George’s wonderful Pitch Meeting videos. Before that, during the covid anxiety phase, my comfort content were carwow car reviews.

    But when she is around, I just read stuff on my iphone. Twitter makes me more, much more anxious. Unlike my beloved NC, where articles and comment sections feel very comforting.

    Ruminating for me was always a symptom, not a cause. When I feen anxious my mind races, not vice versa. And boy have I been anxious these past three years!

    Then again, I’m lucky (so far). I have trouble falling asleep probably twice a year, and it’s usually because of evening coffee.

  6. Randall Flagg

    I’ve found it helpful to just start replaying a series of great moments. Or things just like remembering a great trip in the car and remembering the trip as I looked out the window. The fields. The houses and farms. The landscape…
    Best wishes to all for finding a decent nights rest.

  7. maria gostrey

    i slept for decades with fan noise, but abt 1/2 a dozen yrs ago or so, i happened upon

    japanese garden
    cat purr
    88 keys

    oh my!

    my kid also tells me its an excellent sound track for gaming. he particularly likes “medieval library”.

  8. Harry Shearer

    Lambert, my go-to audio sleep tool is a BBC Radio 4 programme called “In Our Time”. Fascinating but arcane subjects, and a host whose voice is custom-built for the purpose.

    1. begob

      Every time! Occasionally some contributors get out of their depth, which can be irritating, and some austerity budget episodes are too short at 30 mins. I believe Lambert has recommended it previously, but for educational purposes.

      One more factor in the effect of sleep is the operation of the glymphatic system – glial related lymphatic flushing of the brain. Andrew Huberman on youtube recommends Non-sleep Deep Rest to induce it outside of sleep: I often catch myself beginning to snore half-way through a 20 min session. Similar to yoga nidra.

  9. playon

    I can tend to ruminate and I think as one ages sleep can become more difficult. When we lived in Thailand I began wearing a sleep mask and earplugs when I went to bed (there was a lot of scooter traffic noise) and I’ve continued the habit. I will often use a meditation technique of counting my breaths up to 5 and then starting over. I find that being online at night is a no-no. Reading can work if it’s nonfiction and somewhat boring. Exercise earlier in the day can also be beneficial. With me it’s not so much falling asleep but waking too early and ruminating on the day to come that is the problem.

    1. Jason

      I second use of a sleep mask – it really helps me sleep later than sunlight slipping through the gaps in my Korean blinds would otherwise allow. Meditation on one’s breathing didn’t get me to sleep any more easily, but it did get me less stressed about not being asleep, and that’s worth something.

  10. ambrit

    I had a friend in High School who had to have his bedside radio on at very low level to get to sleep.
    Phyllis seems to have gotten into the habit of reading herself to sleep. I usually have to turn off the light for her. She will wake up and start up where she left off in the book she was reading when she fell asleep. She usually has no trouble finding the point in the text where she drifted off to resume reading.
    I don’t know how I “fall asleep.” Since we rely on the small window air conditioner in the bedroom window during the summer heat as the only mechanical cooling system for the house, that sound serves as “white noise” for me.
    An item of fascination to me is the effect of light seen through closed eyelids on the sleep pattern. I need darkness to sleep most of the time, Phyl can sleep in full sunlight. Tis a puzzlement.
    Stay safe.

  11. Robert Hahl

    I listen to both Alexanders of the Duran at 1.25x. They both sound completely natural after about 5 seconds.

    I recently switched from coffee to tea. It has improved my sleep and I am loosing weight as a bonus. I don’t even want coffee anymore.

  12. ChrisRUEcon

    Thanks for this! I am losing a lot of REM sleep (my FitBit confirms) due to too much rumination.

    I’ve tried “10 Hours of Rain” from YouTube, gummies, melatonin …I would rather not use the latter two, so I will focus on perhaps podcasts or some such.

  13. The Rev Kev

    Best night of sleep that I ever had was decades ago when I stayed overnight with this family. The room they gave me was in a basement with no windows and it was dark as in total darkness. Nothing for the brain to look over while asleep, no distractions, just nothing. Went out like a light and slept solid the entire night.

    1. britzklieg

      This describes exactly my bedroom in Manhattan, where I slept great for 23 years! Basement, absolute darkness and no sound, except for the time when they started building a large condo on my block (corner of B’way and West 93rd St) when the granite shattering, pile driving “booms” would start at 8 am, and which I endured painfully for several months, ugh!

  14. DopeyPanda

    I missed out on 30 years or so of better sleep because I didn’t realize I needed a CPAP machine! Thanks to an oxygen monitor bought at the start of the pandemic it showed I would stop breathing constantly during the night. Am now much happier with my CPAP…

  15. clarky90

    A further tip for a good nights sleep……..

    Get interested in Lucid Dreaming
    AKA, Dream Yoga in Buddhist circles

    “Read the newest LDE magazine here!
    In this issue:
    Robert Waggoner interviews author, Athena Laz. Arlindo lucidly encounters his deceased mother-in-law! Peter M. shares lucid tips on how to end lucid dream droughts. A lucid nightmare teaches Gillian Thetford how the mind (and its beliefs and expectations) works! Plus many pages of reader submitted lucid dreams to enjoy.”

    In olden times, people looked forward to sleep time. (Netflix times one trillion!). They went on spirit quests, met with their ancestors, departed friends………. and so on and on and on..

    Now most of us are steeped in “the nightmares, fears, fantasies, perversions of others (mostly “Hollywood writers (thank God they are on strike, may they cease polluting our subconsciousness with their endless drivel.))

    Learn to Lucid Dream. (A dream that you have agency in). You will be counting the hours until you can jump into bed and start really dreaming.

    Sleeping has been taught to us, by our masters, as a waste of time. It is not….

  16. herman_sampson

    Excercise helps me to fall asleep faster and if sufficient, doesn’t allow me to remember dreams. Good, 10 to 20 mile bicycle rides, which were easy to do when I could ride to work (before I retired)did the trick. Also, podcasts or music from non-commercial radio. I have adapted well to my CPAP machine – I know many do not adapt – I usually see that I have slept 6 – 8 hours, with a smiley face on itsdisplay, indicated the mask seal was good and pushing air effectively.

  17. Dalepues

    Hah! You mentioned a year or two ago the trick of counting backwards to lull yourself to sleep. At the time (and still) I had problems with sleeping straight through the night, so I gave it a try. It works, but in my case I have interrupted the reverse flow of numbers with engine displacements. Strange, I know. I start at 500, which is the largest gasoline engine produced by GM, a Cadillac motor. Counting down to 472, another Cadillac motor, then to 460, the big Ford V-8, then a pair of GM big blocks, the 455 and 454, then the Mopar 440, the Ford 429 and 428, the Chevy and Ford 427, the Mopar Hemi 426, the Oldsmobile 425, the Pontiac 421……’s exhausting, and that’s why it works for me.

  18. furnace

    As a sidenote, it might be of interest to know that the way we sleep is, in fact, historical. Roger Ekirch has studied the matter at length. As he shows, pre-modern humans slept with a pattern of segmented sleep, that is to say, first four hours, followed by a period of being awake, then a further four hours, instead of the whole “unbroken” sleep of today. From At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past:

    Until the close of the early modern era, Western Europeans on most evenings experienced two major intervals of sleep bridged by up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness. In the absence of fuller descriptions, fragments in several languages in sources ranging from depositions and diaries to imaginative literature give clues to the essential features of this puzzling pattern of repose. The initial interval of slumber was usually referred to as “first sleep,” or, less often, “first nap” or “dead sleep.”3 In French, the term was premier sommeil or premier somme,4 in Italian, primo sonno or primo sono,5 and in Latin, primo somno or concubia nocte.6 The succeeding interval of sleep was called “second” or “morning” sleep, whereas the intervening period of wakefulness bore no name, other than the generic term “watch” or “watching.” Alternatively, two texts refer to the time of “first waking.”7″ (pp. 300–301)

    This has ended seemingly because of the rise of cheap and widespread artificial lighting, which greatly affects human physiology (as well as allowing people to remain up and productive much later into the night). But as he continues, a bit further ahead:

    “In attempting to recreate conditions of “prehistoric” sleep, Dr. Thomas Wehr and his colleagues found that human subjects, deprived of artificial light at night over a span of several weeks, eventually exhibited a pattern of broken slumber—one practically identical to that of preindustrial households. Without artificial light for up to fourteen hours each night, Wehr’s subjects first lay awake in bed for two hours, slept for four, awakened again for two or three hours of quiet rest and reflection, and fell back asleep for four hours before finally awakening for good. Significantly, the intervening period of “non-anxious wakefulness” possessed “an endocrinology all its own,” with visibly heightened levels of prolactin, a pituitary hormone best-known for stimulating lactation in nursing mothers and for permitting chickens to brood contentedly atop eggs for long stretches of time. In fact, Wehr has likened this period of wakefulness to something approaching an altered state of consciousness not unlike meditation” (pp. 303–304)

  19. SES

    Several studies (sorry, I’ve lost the links) have found that some kinds of insomnia improve after cataract operations, because you can again sense enough blue light during the day to synchronize the sleep–wake cycle with the night–day cycle.

    I had the kind of insomnia that’s worse in the winter when the days are shorter and darker (I live in rainy Vancouver). It manifested as awakening at night and then an inability to get back to sleep. I took several of the usual supplements that have research support, but nothing really worked. When the cataract in my right eye was removed in September 2019, nothing really changed. In March 2020, I had the cataract removed from my left eye and within a week or two, my insomnia had completely resolved. I still take those supplements, but now I can sleep! If I wake up, I fall back to sleep in a few minutes. Only maybe twice a year does the old problem recur, when I know I’ll have to get up early for an early-morning appointment.

    Some people find apps like F.lux useful – they adjust the colour temperature of your screen, eliminating most of the blue light, which promotes wakefulness, after sunset.

  20. Jessica

    Long ago, I tried to read Ulysses by James Joyce. It put me to sleep every time. Never got past the third or fourth page. Finally, I sacrificed it as a literary work and turned it into my go-to sleep aid for when I had the hardest time getting to sleep.
    “Well, no way I’m going to sleep in this agitated state. At least I’ll finally make progress on Ulysses.” Zzzzzz
    Eventually, I ran across an audio copy of Ulysses and loved it. In that format, the book is truly brilliant. Joyce must have intended it to be consumed this way. Much of it is like someone listening to an AM radio and frequently changing the station. (It was written 10 years before the advent of commercial broadcast radio.)
    Back to melatonin.
    Melatonin seems to work differently for different people. For me, it works if I take pretty low doses (1 mg at most; often 1/2 mg) and use it only to let myself go to sleep not to force myself to sleep. I use it more like a Chinese herbal preparation than like Western medicine, in the sense that one has two-way relationship with the herb. Something like many people have with ayahuasca, only without the visitations and emetic effects.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Eventually, I ran across an audio copy of Ulysses and loved it. In that format, the book is truly brilliant. Joyce must have intended it to be consumed this way.

      I can hear Joyce in my head when I read it, all the different intonations of all the different characters, so I guess I am my own audiobook. Perhaps Joyce did too, and thought everyone was like him.

      1. witters

        Perhaps Joyce did too, and thought everyone was like him.
        Ambiguous: 1: as an artist? or 2: as a (plain old) human being?

        1. ambrit

          The two can be coterminal. All you have to do is to find the relevant angle.
          I’ll posit that there is no “Magic Threshold” that ‘defines’ an Artist. I have met tradespeople whose work is a process of artistic creation. I have met “Artists” whose work is flat, bland, and designed to stimulate the “Popular Taste” of the time. Tom Wolfe wrote an infamous send up of the “Art World” years ago.
          See, (I have linked to this before,):,art%20criticism%20by%20Tom%20Wolfe.
          So, first and foremost, an ‘Artist’ has to be a functioning Terran human being. Otherwise, he or she would be better served living in a cloistered community.
          That’s my story and…..

  21. DJG, Reality Czar

    I am willing to adapt to Jung’s hypotheses as to why we sleep and dream: The world of dreams is as important as our waking life. We have to give attention to what the unconscious portion of our minds is portraying in dreams.

    Sleep is also a period of rest, when the various organs repair themselves. My herbalist here, on Via Mazzini, pointed out that the liver processes mainly at night, so that waking up between midnight and three is during “liver time.” So waking up at certain hours may accord with certain functions of the body.

    Then there are the epiphanies. Note the discussion of what Hieroi Logoi are:

    Scholars have commented that the English translation, Sacred “Tales”, is perhaps a little dismissive. In the original Greek, however, the title situates these works in what was an established literary genre, the hieros logos, an account of the epiphany of a god to his worshippers. So, in terms of the intended audience, rather than writing an autopathography for fellow sufferers, Aelius Aristides may well have seen his account as a votive offering to the god Asklepios, equivalent to the inscriptions and images of body parts found at that god’s sanctuaries.

    Horatio says: “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange.”
    Hamlet replies: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your marketing plan.”

  22. Ignacio

    Birds, particularly birds during migrations have been shown to sleep while flying. They apparently (i cannot recall precisely) shoot down their brain for sleep by halves.

    I love nature documentaries. Watch and re-watch many of them. On weekends public TV stations in Spain usually broadcast these in after lunch time. Ten minutes of that and I fall asleep like a stone. Does this prove that when you feel comfortable it is easier to fall asleep easily?

    I have used the Mercouris podcast trick a few times and it works.

  23. Biologist

    What a beautiful piece of writing!

    Ruminating: what’s helped me is indeed write down the worries with a few notes of what I may do about them. This tricks my brain into thinking I’ve dealt with them even if some are unsolvable personally (job precarity, climate breakdown, etc).

    Sometimes I fall asleep reading on my phone, obscure Wikipedia pages about the origins of the Bourbon dynasty or the fall of Constantinople or linear B or abandoned underground (subway) stations in London or Paris. You get the idea.

    White noise related: a friend puts on an episode of Star Trek Next Generation and without fail falls asleep within 10 minutes. A combination of something familiar, dark star views, and the low humming warp engine?

    For the latter there are great youtube loops:
    I actually use it for writing.

    Sleep well all!

  24. WhoaMolly

    Maybe too late to contribute to this string, but here goes…

    – Get a good mattress. What worked for us was a high quality “firm” mattress.

    – Try an adjustable base that allows you to lift your head and legs. Sleeping with head and legs elevated slightly has been shown to improve health. (Nasa found the exact angles when researching best position for astronauts. Sometimes called the ‘zero g’ position)

    – CPAP. Life changing device, if you need one, and many people do.

  25. Lexx

    I started to make a list of ‘don’ts’ and then saw what they had in common. For me the answer was ‘control heat’ in all its forms. Do not go to bed still digesting dinner, no caffeine or alcohol, no excess noise or light, the room as cool as possible (just the right amount of bed covers for the season), and pain managed down to a sleepable threshold.

    Worry and the anxiety of uncertainty, usually in an ‘excess sense of responsibility’ form, varies. I might be ‘my brother’s keeper’, but these days my ‘brother’ cares FA about my opinion regarding… well, anything at all. My fellow man (or really, Americans) are extremely fond of their own good opinion, frequently informed by what few “reliable” sources they allow into their tightly defended reality bubbles, to the point where ‘social rules of the road’ no longer exist, their paths have become too individualized, erratic and non-negotiable. Might as well go to sleep or those ‘brothers and sisters’ could keep you in a constant state of exhaustion, and sleeplessness your self-created problem alone.

    Worries put aside and in a cool dark environment (inside and out) I sleep pretty well, averaging about six hours a night, most of it satisfying.

  26. eg

    I think I saw somewhere that during sleep cerebrospinal fluid moves in and out of the brain in a way that it doesn’t while we are awake. Perhaps this is a clue as to the “purpose” of sleep.

  27. FreeMarketApologist

    Re: Noise. Gotta say: I prefer silence. I wear a pair of earplugs, and it makes a tremendous difference in quality of sleep. If you’ve never used them it can take a little bit of getting used to (couple of weeks to adjust to the feel of having your ears stopped up), but I found I sleep far better with them. Also, wear them on the plane: When you take them out, you will be astounded at how much noise you’ve avoided.

    I second the recommendation for cool bedrooms — my idea of perfect is 65 degrees and a selection of covers of various weights.

    Many research hospitals conduct various sleep studies — if you have the time, they can be worth signing up for. I’ve spent a few nights in the sleep lab fully wired up for monitoring — terrible sleeping condition, but it’s my sacrifice for science.

    1. anahuna

      I have a very simple formula: No thinking after 6 pm. No matter what comes up after that hour, it can be dealt with according to the old Russian saying: The morning is wiser than the evening.

      1. Anthony H

        Years ago, one of my students was training to be a Hypnotist. I told him of my method of getting to sleep, which I thought up when I was a young child. He said that It was essentially self-hypnotism. So I thought you might be interested, and here it is: Think of a story, a narrative, and start to tell it to yourself. Carry on with it until you fall asleep however long it takes. The next night repeat the narrative as exactly as you can, and you should fall asleep well before the end, if not then continue the story. It has always worked for me.

  28. Revenant

    One of my few natural talents is sleeping. I sleep like a baby – or a man with no conscience.

    I fall asleep immediately I hit the hay and I wake up 6-8 hours later, usually after an apparently dreamless sleep. I can sleep on all forms of transport and in all climates. I cannot explain how or why. My children do not seem to have inherited the talent.

    I do have a marked personal preference for cold, fresh air though and I will throw off my cover rather than try to sleep with too much heat. My first room-mate at Cambridge had to quit because I kept my bedroom window wide open all winter. External noise can “make it difficult” to get to sleep but for me, accustomed to instant results, that means it takes a few minutes to fall asleep rather than a few seconds.

    I can count on one hand the times I have not been able to sleep when I wanted to for anything other than pharmacological reasons. There was a period of a couple of weeks in College during my finals when I would shut my eyes and feel I was free-falling, which was entirely brought on by stress (mostly but not exclusively to do with exams).

    In contrast, my partner is a very light sleeper who spends twice as long as I do in bed for half the quality of sleep (going to bed at 8pm some nights!). At one point, out of devilment, I would go to bed at the same time in sympathy and then whisper, in turning out the light. “Race you!”. This was not helpful for getting to sleep, apparently. :-)

    My other weird talent, if it can be called that, is that I have never known a headache. I have no experience of what it feels like: conceptually, it must be terrible, but people tell me they have these awful pains and yet seem to be plodding on with life as if they don’t have an axe through their skull, so I find it all rather hard to empathise with. I’ve learned to nod and offer painkillers but the whole thing is a closed book to me. Thank God!

    I don’t know if these talents are related neurologically….

      1. Revenant

        I have only my partner’s word for it. Apparently I put my head down and I’m gone. I wouldn’t know, I’m not really there! :-)

        If it’s any consolation, I am rubbish at waking up. I have to go to bed with the curtains drawn back and then I will wake up with the light but only when it is strong, so that would be 8am or later in summer and late morning in winter. If I am camping, I might wake up before 7am but certainly before 6am or anywhere near dawn. If I have to wake up before the sun is high, I have to set multiple alarms. Perhaps I am unusually insensitive to blue light?

        I also sleep very deeply. Not merely through the proverbial fire alarm but literally through a malfunctioning smoke alarm in a high ceilinged bedroom (15ft), when my partner had to fetch a step ladder, erect it, bash the smoke alarm off the ceiling with a broom and then return the step ladder. I knew nothing about it until the morning when I tripped over the broom!

  29. Martin

    That chart, “The worry tree”, has been of no use for me when dealing with climate change. “Can’t do something about it, so don’t worry” is not enough to fool me into sleeping. It’s sometimes even more bothersome than my tinnitus, and that’s saying something.

    Years ago I wondered if I should just cut back on climate related news, as it was so bleak, but it felt like an irresponsability. Nowadays climate catastrophes are mainstream news, and there is no getting away from them even if you would want to. Ignorance IS bliss.

  30. Amfortas the Hippie

    i’ve been an insomniac for as long as i can remember.
    a fan is the only thing that helps, aside from exhaustion.
    rumination is the biggest culprit…although the my Pain Problem and the Complex PTSD and associated Hyperawareness(thanks, mom) likely play a large role.

  31. ddt

    When younger and prone to ruminating about problems of youth, onanism did the trick. No problems ‘falling’ asleep now. It’s various family members waking me up (mom with dementia, kids being kids, dog and cats doing their nocturnal things, etc.) that’s the problem.

    1. Arizona Slim

      In my neighborhood, it’s dogs to the nth degree. They bark the night away on a regular basis.

      What are they barking about? No clue.

      Ever tried talking to their owners? Matter of fact, I have, and it was an exercise in futility.

  32. Dee

    My naturopath recently recommended that I do Yin Yoga for 30 min every day to de-stress. I had done lots of yoga in the past, but find that Yin Yoga really does the trick of switching from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system. One morning I only had 20 min for yoga, but felt better even after just 20 min. It helps release a lot of deep tension by holding poses for a few minutes each.

    Yin Yoga is different from the Restorative Yoga classes that I’ve done, a bit more active, so I looked for a description of the differences:

    I have been using the “Yoga with Kassandra” and “Travis Eliot” YouTube channels the most. They have videos of different lengths.

  33. GDmofo

    On tip #1, I also sleep with a fan, winter and summer. I recently upgraded as well, but not with train sounds; I started falling asleep to the Steve McQueen film “Le Mans”. Its great, theres probably less than 10 minutes of dialogue in the whole movie – and most of that is the track announcer lol. The rest is the soothing sounds of V-10s and 12s racing around Le Mans. Obviously not for everyone, but for some, heaven.

  34. Glenda

    There is an interesting article in Science Newsletter this week.
    I noticed the point that people with narcolepsy are often lucid dreamers and part of the article is about their experiences. I just happened to talk to a new friend about her experience with lucid dreaming and then found out that many of her close relatives also have some version of narcolepsy. One of the story’s subjects had learned to communicate that he was dreaming by moving his hand and eyes. It’s fascinating. Nice that they have stopped ignoring lucid dreaming as an immeasurable psychic phenomenon that was only done by practitioners of the occult..

  35. Steve M

    I waded through 62 comments to finally read one resolution that resonates with me. However, I had to write it.

    I can’t cite accurately but a recurrent Kinsey-Institute-style sexual survey recently found that Americans are having less sex nowadays than ever in the history of the survey. Simultaneously, a greater proportion of Americans are suffering from insomnia than ever before.

    Correlation is not causation but copulation knocks ’em out every time, I’ve noticed. Assuming it’s not some guilt-laden affair such as cheating or coercion or such. All physical and mental blocks to sleep are almost always removed in a vigorous release.

    To extrapolate from there, even without sex, wasn’t Paleolithic humanity primarily sleeping communally? Feeling someone next to you provided the security to sleep?
    Don’t know. But i can ask.

  36. George Carver

    Thanks for the great article and comments! My personal trick for falling asleep may sound specific, but I think there’s an underlying concept that might be useful for others, if they can adapt it to their own tastes. I play first-person automobile racing video games, as well as watch real-life in-cockpit racing videos as hobbies, to the point where I have multiple tracks (Monaco, Monza, Spa, etc.) memorized from the driver’s point of view. I know the braking zones, where to change gears, and so forth. If I need help falling asleep, I will imagine racing one of these tracks, with the more details added the better. Sometimes I won’t even complete a single three minute lap, and there doesn’t seem to be an adrenaline issue. Alternatively, I imagine putting a racing suit on over fire resistant underwear, lacing up my boots, taking my helmet out to the pits, where my mechanics are working on the car, getting strapped in… I usually don’t even make it to the start of the race!

  37. Acacia

    Great article, Lambert, thanks.

    One simple thing I’ve found that can help with rumination is to write down a list of the things that I’m thinking about. I keep a file open on the PC and just add to it. This practice seems to create a sense that “it’s been sorted…for now” such that I can then put it out of my mind and get to sleep.

Comments are closed.