Dr. Naiman, welcome back to Motormouth. My patients in SE Asia have been pushing me for two years to get another interview with you. Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your packed schedule to get us updated on the “healing night.”
Dr. Rubin Naiman : Always a pleasure to sit with you, Adam
You and I first connected back in 2007 after the release of your outstanding book,“healing night.” Since then you have published a very helpful audio book with Dr. Andy Weil, as well as the Yoga of Sleep, a spiritually oriented take on sleep and dreams. Are there any new books in the pipeline?
Yes, a number… I’m working on a book about dreaming, a cookbook for bedtime snacks, an audiobook to help cancer patients with sleep issues and a medical textbook on integrative approaches to sleep.
Give us a sneak peek into some of the new content you are publishing. In your discipline, sleep and dreaming, have there been any discoveries or significant breakthroughs since we last talked?
Well, I would say more significant insights than discoveries. I don’t think we’re going to improve much on Mother Nature’s design of sleep and dreams. I think one of the greatest challenges we face around getting healthy sleep is humility. Sooner or later we need to come back to the realization that sleep is not simply a servant of waking life. Yes, it provides exquisite support for health, memory, performance, our appearance and more. But sleep is also a sacred state of serenity — a gracious gift offered us at the end of each day – if we are willing to receive it.
Having said that, I think that our deepening understanding of the key role of life’s natural circadian and other rhythms in our health and happiness calls attention to the importance of exposure to natural light and darkness. I think most of us are deficient in morning light and evening duskiness. I frequently recommend morning walks and evening dusk simulation.
A little birdie told me that you are working on some sleep related products for consumers. Have you figured out any magical sleep potions?
I assume that was a little night birdie. Well, I’ve had a long-standing interest in developing products that do not supplant but instead support natural sleep. Most sleeping pills do not provide true, healthy sleep. The most magical sleep supportive potion I’m aware of is melatonin. Unfortunately, most people who try it are not adequately informed about its use – the type to use, the dose, the timing, etc. For now, I can share that I’m involved in the development of a truly intelligent melatonin supplement that will target specific types of sleep concerns.
There seems to be much confusion on both sides of the exam table about how to properly use melatonin. Why?
We have a much better understanding now – when it comes to melatonin, one size does not fit all. People who are having difficulties falling asleep and those having trouble staying asleep need to use melatonin in different ways. Also, folks with circadian rhythm disorders, those who do shift work and people who are jet lagged also need to personalize their use. Because melatonin is the queen of our nighttime physiology, its not surprising that we are discovering melatonin can be useful in treating a wide range of conditions like cancer, PMS, hypertension, depression, GERD and macular degeneration, to name a few.
Are Americans trending towards or away from sleep fitness? Which countries are the healthiest in the evenings?
Research suggests that despite our best efforts, sleep disorders continue to be epidemic and are actually worsening for younger folks. Developing countries that go for modern conveniences also get modern challenges. I’m not sure that sleep health is so much a matter of what country we live in, but how we choose to live there. I know of great sleepers in New York and poor sleepers in rural Alaska.
American kids continue to have increasing levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes. What do we know about young people’s sleep habits in the U.S.? Is there a link?
Yes, there’s an unquestionable link between losing sleep and gaining weight for both children and adults. Sleep loss plays havoc with insulin resistance, a prediabetic process. Poor sleep also damages natural rhythms of hormones like leptin and ghrelin that govern satiety and appetite.
5 hour energy drinks and other stimulating drinks are increasing in sales every year. I think our readers need to hear what you think of these products.
There are certainly times we all need a boost in energy, right? There are two important things to consider about this – what we use and when we use it. Spiking our energy with intense cocktails of stimulants is not the best idea. When we spike our energy upward it quickly ricochets back down and starts bouncing around. I prefer something gentle and well understood like caffeine. A cup of green tea provides a modest dose of caffeine along with L-theanine, a mellowing agent. If one can tolerate it, moderate coffee consumption can actually be health promoting. But when we use such boosting agents is critical. I suggest boosting our energy when it is already on the upswing. This way we are working with, not against our natural rhythms. When the tide of our energy begins to recede, I recommend something more radical – take a rest.
We recently talked about the downside of certain herbal teas marketed for sleep Can you share more with our readers.
Well, I think its generally wise for consumers of such products to become well informed. I think you’re referring to the common practice of including chamomile is sleep supportive teas. Chamomile is, in fact, a safe and effective relaxant, but it also happens to be a mild diuretic. So even if it helps you get down to sleep, it could just as well pressure you to get back up to use the restroom.
There’s a rumor that we may be seeing a documentary of your work in the near future. Is there any truth to that?
Yes, thanks for mentioning this, Adam. There is a coalition of filmmakers from the US and Canada who are organizing and beginning fundraising to create a documentary film about my novel approach to sleep. It focuses on both sleep science and sleep spirituality. We’ll have a website up soon at ILoveYouSleephead.com.
Have you encountered anything recently that further convinced you that sleep is indeed an essential part of a proper beauty program?
Well, we’ve known for some time that healthy sleep has numerous healthy aging benefits. More recently, we are beginning to recognize that healthy REM sleep or dreaming is also critical to our appearance. In REM sleep all of our voluntary muscles, including the muscles of our face, become most deeply relaxed. I think of dreaming as nature’s Botox. We all need more of it. And as you know, melatonin promotes REM sleep and dreaming.
I have patients in SE Asia who are desperate for counseling from someone like you. Are you doing tele –consults by chance?
Yes, in recent years my practice has included a growing number of international patients. Skype is a most effective and economical way to do this.
Last question, then I need to get some sleep. How does a world’s expert in sleep cool down from a busy day and “get ready for bed?”
There’s really nothing that unusual about my pre-sleep ritual. You know…I dim the lights down an hour or two before bed, floss my teeth to keep my dentist happy, maybe watch some comedy on TV or read something light or poetic. I think even more important than what one does in preparation for bed is how one does it. If there is an essential secret to good sleep, it’s simply about recognizing it for what it really is — something sweet, sacred and serene. In doing so, we fall back in love with sleep and look forward to greeting it nightly like we would a lover.
Dr. Naiman, your work is truly fascinating and I hope we can get you back here before another three years zip by. All the best to you. Good night.