Bedtime books that help children to sleep better

Kids love to fall asleep after a good story

Sleep experts and child psychologists have known of the years the importance of bedtime rituals. They encourage a seamless transition from the playful day to quiet slumbers. The bedtime story is probably the most potent bedtime sleep aid for children.

Here is a selection of my top five books for parental reading for small ones.

The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

One of the best books for young children in recent years which is topped the Amazon bestsellers list is called ‘The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep’. It’s been written by a Swedish psychologist structured with a focus on design to help to all children into a deep sleep. it encourages the parental reader to vary their voice allowing and leading their child or children into slumber.

How  Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen

This is a really enjoyable way to have some fun and make your child snigger before bed. You can’t go wrong with this amusing book that helps them to laugh at themselves and at dinosaurs!

Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse

 A wonderful book about the rituals that we as parents create for our children. This book will appeal to parents all over the world, as it will remind you of what it was like when you were little.

Interrupting Chickenby David Ezra Stein

 This is a wonderful story of children who like to discuss and go through the story and sometimes get so excited if forgotten that the meant to be getting ready to fall asleep. This book is also good for parents who may wish their reading-age children to do role-play, as is great fun taking the roles, including their role as the over eager, interrupting chicken.

 The Sleep Bookby Dr Zeus

 The book begins with a yawning little bug,  and continues as all of Dr Zeus’s books, imaginative classic. And this one is particularly good to read and listened to at bedtime. The only challenge is for parents to stay awake through the entire book without yawning themselves!

Dreamy locations for better sleep

All over the world there is a rapidly growing market for dreamy locations to improve your sleep. Sleep hotels, sleep clinics, sleep retreats, luxury spas dedicated to better sleep are opening up, often in remote or unusual places.

While millions of us are living our usually sleep deprived lives, there is an ever growing number of people willing to travel far and wide for a dream destination, or rather a location where sleep and dreams are the main event, dream vacations for optimal sleep. This is literally the stuff of dreams!

Here are some examples of the lengths that some people can go in their search for better sleep (at a cost of thousands £££££) whereas mostly all they need to do is to follow all the recommendations for sleep hygiene. However some of these dream locations do sound rather wonderful!

I was reading about an example of this as I flicked through a magazine in my waiting-room at my dental surgery. There it was, a sleep programme from Six Senses, the luxury spa hotel group.

The article said they’d created a coordinated sleep programme with the help of the renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Breus who is a member of the Six Senses Integrated Wellness Board. He has pioneered the sleep programme which consists of being met as you arrive by their sleep ambassador, who will assess your sleep requirements and help you to choose the right pillow from a vast array of options for every sleep position imaginable. That’s just the beginning. You would benefit from two years of scientific sleep research at the hotel, using high-tech sleep monitoring gadgetry, touch of a button blackout blinds that descend beautifully, enjoy sheets, duvet cover and pillowcases made from moisture-wicking organic eucalyptus and cotton. You have the choice of wearing bamboo-fibre pyjamas for breathability and comfort, although you could sleep naked. There’s a jasmine spray for spritzing in the bedroom and a variety of relaxing extras to help you to achieve a state of deep calm. Beside the bed is a little Book of Wellness, and earplugs and eye masks for the light and sound sensitive are provided.

Their beds and mattresses are all from the British bedding company, NaturalMat, hand made from natural fibres as the name suggests. All the mattresses are wired to track your sleep, with a pad underneath the mattress connecting to a device called a Withings Aura that will measure every aspect of your sleep. Throughout the night it will record the levels of your sleep cycles: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. It will also record your average heart rate and temperature, monitor the noise and light and temperature of the room, and track your physiology as the lights in the bedroom dim with red light and the room is bathed in ambient sounds.

A word of warning! When visiting these wonderful sweet retreats, make sure that you are not ruining the experience by drinking too much alcohol if any. Enjoy eating a delicious meal, but remain ideally alcohol and caffeine free, crystal clear mineral water, and not eating too late or too much, should guarantee you a good night’s sleep, as long as you don’t stay up too late over-stimulating your brain with technology, news feeds and so on. The whole idea is to learn how to improve sleep, not to remain sleep deprived. The sleep hygiene list is the key wherever you travel will increase the chances of wonderful sleep every night.

In the mornings, you’ll awaken and after breakfast, you’ll be encouraged to get some sunlight first thing in the morning whatever the weather, participate in morning yoga classes, and later on your sleep stats will be assessed by their sleep expert.

You will next undergo a full health assessment, your bio markers will be measured for sleep, serotonin levels measured, BP, heart rate and variability, cholesterol, adrenaline and cortisol levels (the hormones that are released during stress), diet, weight, toxin buildup assessment and so on…

The day is filled with yoga classes, trips to wonderful restaurants or eating in wonderful restaurants in the spa, walking through woods by the river, meditating to the sound of Tibetan singing bowls, massages all designed to help improve the next night of sleep on the sleep stat review the next day.

Regardless of how exhausted you arrived, how bad your electronics digital addiction was, these breaks of sleep optimization and rest are just what the doctor ordered!

When it’s time to leave you’ll be relaxed, and in the state of oneness and well-being. You will have learned the importance of afternoon naps, no longer than thirty minutes in the early afternoon, your sleep training will have been completed, and you will be ready to return to real life and a sleep optimized nightlife. Available throughout the year. From £334 for three nights plus accommodation. sixsenses.com.

Here are a few other dreamy locations with a very small timezone difference as returning home with additional jet lag issues is not ideal for a sleep optimisation retreat.
Lefay Resort & Spa, Italy. Rediscover delicious sleep at their ‘Sweet Dreams’ sleep retreat with breakfast, lunch and dinner included, as well as acupuncture, moxibustion, foot, body and facial treatments with the focus on relaxation and getting a better night’s sleep. Available throughout the year. From £2,228 per person for five nights, lagodigarda.lefayresorts.com.

SHA Wellness Clinic, ‘sleep recovery program’ in Spain. For those with sleep disorders, this retreat has been designed to help you recover from insomnia, and improve overall sleep quality. The clinical approach with sleep assessment, with doctors consultation, session with a nutritionist, and many treatments over ideally their recommended 7-night minimum but ideally a full 14 night stay to achieve the best long term sleep results. Available throughout the year. From £3,300 for seven nights, shawellnessclinic.com.

I wish you a good night’s sleep.
Max Kirsten
Finally as a free gift from me, why not also download my ‘Better Sleep Drifting’ Relaxation for sleep MP3 download. Visit https://www.maxkirsten.com/better-sleep-mp3-download/

Vampire shoppers and the vampire economy!

There is a new 21st-century phenomenon called vampire shopping, so named because sleep deprived bleary eyed parents, insomniacs and gamers go online to make purchases between 1am and 6am.

Barclaycard has reported that as many as one in three shoppers now spends more money online at night, compared to 5 years ago.

Vampire shoppers spend a third more than normal shoppers, most of whom are people who are not sleeping well, usually 1-4am er’s buying random stuff that they don’t really need, and sometimes even with nowhere to put it. 75% of people don’t send back the last thing they didn’t want!

Nocturnal shopping is a thing of the NOW.

Nocturnal shopping became possible thanks to the evolution of technological devices since the smartphone revolution. The ‘one click’ purchases on Amazon, Ebay, Paypal and other electronic payment systems makes shopping just so unbelievably easy, and therefore waiting until morning completely unnecessary when the sleep deprived make very often impulsive shopping bleary eyed random purchases before bed, or even when they wake up in the middle of their sleep (if they are experiencing bouts of insomnia), buying shoes, clothes, jewellery, and even ‘replacement lithium battery stocks after realising they’ve forgotten something essential, and two out of ten are ordering food shopping online.

And vampire economy is booming and is predicted to grow year on year, even though shoppers are often buying things that they often don’t even really need in a bleary eyed state such as holidays, and large pieces of furniture on impulse!

There are now calls for safety measures to be put into place, such as putting stops on buying habits or behavior from bedtime and to wake-up to curb out of control impulsive shopping habits. Shopping channels that broadcast late at night have known for a long time that there is a very lucrative market in vampires staying up late and feeling compelled to buy something that they’ve seen that they don’t really need, and then regret buying it or them in the morning.

And whether morally right or wrong, retailers are exploiting this new market. As humans and technology evolve driving this new lucrative ‘Vampire Economy’.

Top zombie hour vampire purchases are usually made on smart phones, tablets and laptops include: birthday presents, children’s toys, baby gear, vacuum cleaners and games consoles. Another popular late-night vampire purchase is an increasing river of new replacement pillows as people becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their sleep set-up.

There is also a growing trend to hide their arriving growing river of packages and daily deliveries in cupboards as the vampire shopping habits begin to cause embarrassment and shame. Others would call this form of late-night shopping ‘compulsive shopping’ leading towards compulsive ‘shopping addiction’.

Even bleary eyed a good question to ask before pressing the purchase button, is “Do I really need this?’ or perhaps a sensible law is to wait until the afternoon before deciding on whether to buy the item sitting in the basket at the checkout.

But maybe we shouldn’t be afraid of the ‘vampire shoppers’, and more worried about the sleepless zombies!

Sleeping cats and dogs!

 

Do cats dream of mice and men?

Cats sleep on average 15 hours each day, which if you think about it is most of their lives spent sleeping. Have you ever wondered what cats dream about?

Cats can sleep as much as 16 hours a day, and older cats spend even more time at rest — as much as 20 hours a day. That sleeping habit is a result of the cat’s evolution, nutritional habits and physiology. In the wild, cats have to hunt in order to eat, and the stalking, chasing and killing of prey burns a lot of energy. Sleeping helps cats conserve energy between meals. Of the time cats spend sleeping, about three quarters of it is what we might call snoozing. In that state, cats can get all the rest they need, but they’re still alert enough to awaken at a moment’s notice. You can tell when a cat is in light sleep because their ears will twitch and rotate toward noises and their eyes will be open a tiny bit. Even when they’re sitting upright, cats can slip into that dozing mode.

Do cats really dream?

The remaining quarter of cats’ sleeping hours is spent in deep sleep, but older cats might spend as much as 30 percent or 40 percent of the time at that level. Cats in deep sleep are usually curled up with their eyes tightly closed. Sometimes, they might even have their tail over their face, like a fluffy sleep mask. Deep sleep is critical for the body’s ability to regenerate itself and stay healthy. It’s also the time when your cat dreams.

By this point if you’re a dog lover, or horse lover, or an animal lover of any other type, you may have decided to switch off and perhaps mentally go to sleep. Aha!

But I will also be asking if dogs dream?

So feline cats sleep the most up to 20 hours on a 24-hour period. I remember being told that humans were the only conscious beings, capable of asking why, and then possibly doing something about it. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that just as all animals sleep, including humans. As I have watched a number of cats in my own house fast asleep, sometimes I see them dreaming, REM sleep, their eyelids are flickering, often sleeping on their backs, I can see the arms and legs moving slightly responding to their dream. But I have no way of knowing what they’re dreaming about?

In many ways cats are faster than us, more agile than us, and can hear better than us, and can hunt better than us, because their eyesight is so good day or night, and their reactions are quicker than ours!

I was interested in the research by Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, who is a professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in New England, USA, who said in an article in Metro, that cats definitely dream.

He says that, ‘Cats exhibit all the physiological and behavioural characteristics of dreaming sleep in humans: low voltage fast wave activity, fast EEG activity – where the cerebral cortex (thinking centre) and hippocampus (memory centre) are active in the face of continued behavioural sleep.

‘Behavioural sleep is characterised by the absence of muscle potentials, super relaxed posture, unresponsiveness, and elevated auditory threshold.

‘This is the so-called the sleep of the body, where the mind is still active.

‘The fast wave EEG activity in periods of REM sleep is the dreaming phase of sleep.

What is REM sleep?

REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is one of the four stages of sleep, and should take place every 90 minutes or so while you’re snoozing.

During REM sleep, your eyes will make distinctive movements while closed. This is when dreaming takes place. REM sleep is associated with maintaining important neural pathways and even learning new information. Your heartbeat during REM sleep will be rapid, which could be a response to the dreams you’re having.

‘These periods alternate with periods of slow wave sleep (the sleep of the mind) in which some muscle tone remains (the body is not totally relaxed) and there is no dreaming.

‘During the former fast wave sleep, rapid eye movements and twitching movements of the limbs, vibrissae and ears are seen.’

Just like humans, cats have periods of deep sleep where they are completely relaxed in their bodies, but their minds are actively dreaming. Dr. Dodman also has some ideas about what cats might dream about.

He says: ‘Like us, cats will probably dream about things that have gone on in the recent or distant past. ‘Maybe stalking a bird or mouse. Maybe being petted. Maybe an altercation with another cat or dog.’

Although dogs sleep slightly less than cats do, with adult dogs getting an average of 12-14 hours sleep a day, Dr. Dodman says that the brain activity present during sleep is remarkably similar.

‘The sleeping patterns of dogs, cats and humans are all very similar.

‘However, the phase length of REM sleep vs. slow wave sleep varies between individuals and between younger and older subjects.’ This means that the amount of dream time you get depends on your individual characteristics and your age. So potentially, cats and dogs could be dreaming just as much as you do.

If you see your cat’s little legs cycling or their ears twitching as they snooze, they’re probably having a satisfying dream about catching the bird that’s always mocking them from a high tree branch in the garden, or getting the better of the neighbour’s dog.

Sweet dreams are made of Miow and Woof!

M

Max helps Jarvis with sleep on ‘Wireless Nights Special 2019′

‘The perfect night’s sleep’ is Jarvis Cocker’s New Year’s Resolution for 2019

In this episode Sleep Coach Max Kirsten helps Jarvis Cocker find better sleep as he continues his nocturnal exploration of the human condition. He often lies awake at night trying, unsuccessfully, to nod off. But, not one to give up, his New Year’s resolution is to crack this habit and attain the perfect night’s sleep. His restless search leads him to fellow insomniac Marina Benjamin, and to even he go inside his own brain with The Sleep Coach Max Kirsten. A surreal experience.

To listen or download the podcast visit Radio 4 https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0001v06

I’m speaking at SOMNEX The Sleep Show 13th/14th Oct 2018

During the writing of my NEW sleep book I was also contacted by SOMNEX The Sleep Show, and invited to speak as The Sleep Coach, and to offer one-to-one walk-in sleep clinic during the show! I will be there throughout the event, if you go to their website below you’ll be able to find out more details about the show, who all the speakers are including myself, what days they are speaking and when, I hope to see some of you there on the day. 

As a speaker I can offer you a fantastic 40% off. Visitor tickets are currently £20 but if you enter the promo code: SPK40 when you book herehttps://bit.ly/2MdFI21you can get a ticket for just £12!

Visit SOMNEX | The Sleep Show on Saturday 13 & Sunday 14 October (10am til 6pm) at The Old Truman Brewery in London.

Get exclusive access to expert advice, innovative new products, specialist exhibitors, multiple interactive workshops and immersive classes – all designed to help you understand how to improve your sleep and give you and your family a fun day out!

 

Visit www.somnexshow.com

Instagram: @somnexshow

Twitter: @somnexshow

Facebook: @SOMNEXshow

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/somnex-the-sleep-show

 

As always I wish you a great night sleep,

Max

New Sleep Book

I’ve just finished writing my new book ‘HOW TO SLEEP’ – all the ‘do’s and don’ts’ for achieving a truly great night’s sleep. The journey of writing this book began when the publisher Michael Joseph Penguin Random House, asked me if I would be interested in writing my own book on the subject of how to get better sleep. Since I’ve been wanting to write this sleep book for some time, I lept at the opportunity, after having done the deal, I began to write, and write, and write… So it’s been some time since I’ve posted a sleep blog.

During the process of writing intensely every evening and all weekends and then towards the end even more than that, I was immersed in the world of sleep from a conscious point of view. I spoke to sleep scientists, sleep psychiatrists, sleep doctors, sleep experts, sleep technology manufacturers, sleep technologists, sleep surface manufacturers of pillows, mattresses, beds, and nutrition for achieving better sleep.

And although I learned that sleep is a very subjective experience, that we’re all different, and therefore how much sleep we need or get will vary from person to person, and night to night. For many people at eight hours is the ideal amount, some are fine on just seven hours a night, fewer than you think can sleep for less than this without long-term health problems over the horizon, and that obviously children need the most sleep. But the truth is, almost all of us could improve the amount of sleep that we get get, or allow ourselves to have.

And the enemies of sleep, or at least good quality sleep are basically these:

1, Not ENOUGH natural sunlight during the day.

2, Too MUCH artificial light during the evening.

3, Not going to bed at the same time every night.

4, Not waking up at the same time every morning.

5, Too much use of smart phones, tablets and electronics in the crucial hours before bed.

5, Over-stimulation of the mind before bed.

6, Too many stimulants, caffeine, nicotine, sugar affecting the metabolism at night.

7, Not getting enough exercise particularly during the day.

8, Eating too late at night.

9, Not being even close to following a sensible sleep hygiene list.

10, Allowing worries and anxiety free-reign in your brain lying in bed.

12, Not understanding which foods to eat to sleep well?

13, Not understanding the Circadian Rhythm.

I could go on, as I’ve learned so much from writing my sleep book. Now I’m moving on to my insomnia sleep programs, so that when my sleep book is published early spring next year 2019, all my other sleep coaching tools will be ready to help the sleep deprived to become sleep INSPIRED!

As always I wish you a great night sleep,

Maxx

Does pain keep you awake at night?

Pain management for better sleep.

You will need to work out if your lack of sleep is causing your pain? or if the pain is causing a lack of sleep? Then focus on whichever came first.

Not sleeping properly can not only magnify but sometimes even generate pain signals.

However, if you are one of those people who has either had a long term health issue causing you to find sleep difficult, broken and intermittent, Or, if you have had surgery, or any musculoskeletal, neurological or naturopathic pain signals that you’ve already probably been searching for an alternative to opiate based addictive pain medication, usually containing a form of codeine that can cause unpleasant physical dependency even sometimes from short and long-term use.
There are also other painkillers, often synthetic like oxycodone, and tramadol amongst others that can equally be fine for short-term use, but the body soon adapts to the presence of the substance and if one stops taking the drug abruptly, withdrawal symptoms occur. Often, apart from unwanted constipation, night sweats hot and cold, there must be a better and more natural non-addictive way to deal with pain. Also avoid paracetamol tablets with caffeine which reduce sleep ability and all nicotine products at night.
Here are a few of my suggestions to help reduce the need for powerful addictive pain drugs to achieve better sleep.
Firstly, here in the UK it’s possible to buy an over-the-counter product called Nuromol containing a blend of paracetamol and ibuprofen. Always read the label and follow the instructions as paracetamol can only be taken as directed, however, mixed with ibuprofen its effectiveness is greatly multiplied. Therefore taking these just before bed and having another dosage if required later on in the night by the bed with a glass of water can greatly help improve/ reduce pain signals that can make deep sleep elusive.
Secondly, one of the rules of the mind, is that what ever you focus your mind on it becomes magnified. As a sleepcoach, I train my clients to focus elsewhere, either the different parts of the body, the feeling of relaxation which also greatly reduces pain signals, as well as learning how to release tension with breath and then physically feeling the benefits can help greatly
Another rule of the mind, is that whatever you try not to think about, is what you actually think about. Understanding this simple truth, and instead focusing intensely on other things like perhaps your head on the pillow, how comfortable you can get in your bed, feeling increasingly more than thinking, shifting the attention off of the thought of pain signals, focusing on relaxing and mild discomfort until the non-addictive pain medication kicks in helps greatly.
There are obviously times when pain signals for some are so great that the quality of deep sleep seems almost impossible to achieve, however the discomfort from recent surgery, or recent injury, or digestive and inner organ problems, and so on make the acceptance of the pain, and a commitment to at least relax and achieve as much rest as possible even if sleep is almost impossible, will at least help to alleviate some of the horrific alarm signals that the sleep deprived suffer. Any relaxation, distraction from the discomfort, will make these usually challenging times more bearable until the short-term pain spike reduces.
Relaxation and acceptance are two of the most important keys to better sleep pain management, if not discomfort reduction and control. At my sleep clinic in central London, where I treat insomniacs, and all anxiety and pain related sleep problems this is the first thing I teach.
Sleep medications that can helpful include over-the-counter drugs that have a sedating effect, like antihistamines, or combination pain reliever and sleep aids, such as Paracetamol or Tylenol PM if in the US. Prescription sleep medications should only be for short term use. Always discuss pain and sleep medications with your doctor, MD, GP, or pharmacist.
Learn how to rest and to relax deeply, until good sleep becomes possible.
Remember that good sleep is a key to curing chronic pain.

As always wishing you better sleep,

Max Kirsten

A to Z of Sleep Earplugs

A to Z of Sleep Earplugs

Ear plugs are like cars, there are just so many different types!

Not all insomnia and sleep problems are caused by anxiety. When I go through my MOT Sleep Survey to identify the root causes of a clients sleep difficulties, it will often identify either hyper-sensitivity to sound, with an external stimulus issue like the sounds outside; cars, trains, or even aeroplanes; or their neighbours above or next door, the dawn chorus, or their partner’s snoring, or just the sounds of their breathing and so on… babies, children and pets etc… This leads me often to my A to Z of Sleep Earplugs

If hyper-sensitivity to sound is at the root of their not being able to sleep deeply, or for as long as they would like because they keep being woken by sound. I usually recommend a variety of sleep earplugs based on various relevant parameters. Often my clients say they have already tried earplugs and that they didn’t work either because they didn’t block out the sound they wanted to block out. Or, that they were too big and uncomfortable, and often, they said that they didn’t like wearing earplugs because they live alone (most often women living alone with safety issues), or that even though outside noises bothered them, because they have a baby, child or even several children, that they weren’t comfortable blocking out all noise in case of a child based emergency.

All of these reasons of course, are totally valid, although not in my opinion the end of the conversation. There were still essential reasons to explore the various possibilities and solutions to help noise sensitive poor sleepers.

In my deep and varied Sleep Coach tool box, I keep a variety of different earplugs and much more…

My A to Z of Sleep Earplugs collection includes:

1, Very narrow foam ear plugs ideal mostly for people (usually women) who have narrower ear canals or tunnels – excellent sound reduction 36db.

2, Parental ear plugs. These are special attenuated ear plugs which reduce the outside sounds of traffic etc, but still allows the sound of babies and children for parents wanting better sleep but also needing to be able to still hear their children and babies if needed – sound reduction 24 db

3, Various shaped 3-tier Silicone ear plugs (hyper allergenic – medical grade) with various noise reducing densities 22 db upwards.

4, And a vast array of earplugs that vary in shape, size and sound reduction. I also have thicker earplugs of various foam densities that can totally block out up to 46 dB of sound – making lorries, noisy neighbours, or being under the flight path of noisy planes… to lying next to the worlds loudest snorer.

5, There are also a number of hi-tech solutions with incredible noise cancelling properties or even a sound bubble gadget with a noise exclusion zone containing and blocking out your partners snoring that are also most definitely worth exploring if quietness is a priceless commodity. Some of this kit can cost a lot more than good foam ear plugs though!

6, For snorers in a relationship sharing the same bed, there are also a number of other very simple nasal options worth considering if you and your partner want to achieve better sleep. There is a special plastic insert that opens the nose channels wider. There are also a number of pillows and sleep positions that help to reduce problem snoring. There are many options to explore before surgery, sleeping next door or even eventually spitting up.

7, For noisy neighbours there are a number of sound insulation boards for floors, walls, ceilings and doors to explore as well.

So visit a good sleep coach to help you to explore all the various possibilities to reduce or eliminate unwanted sounds.

I hope you found my A to Z of Sleep Earplugs useful to solve any sound issues.

As usual I wish you a really great night’s sleep.

Max Kirsten

Blinkist interview with The Sleep Coach

Blinkist Podcast Bonus: A “How-To-Sleep” Talk with The Sleep Coach – Max Kirsten,

In this special bonus edition of the Blinkist Podcast, we talk to sleep specialist Max Kirsten. Max is a clinical hypnotherapist and an award winning sleep coach, and he’s worked with stars like Adele and Ewan McGregor.

In the podcast, Max and Ben delve into topics like the right position for optimal sleep, how one even becomes a sleep specialist, the problems some of his most difficult patients experience, and much more. This is a perfect follow-up to the first sleep-themed episode, which featured Arianna Huffington speaking about her new book The Sleep Revolution, and how we’re killing ourselves with bad sleep hygiene.

(P.S. if you don’t already know, Blinkist is an app that condenses the key ideas of 1,500+ nonfiction books — the best ones in the world, actually — into beautiful, powerful little mobile reads that help you learn more, read more, and explore more than ever).


Blinkist Podcast with Sleep Expert Max Kirsten

Transcript

Max Kirsten: Hi Ben, thank you for inviting me to come on the show.

Ben Schuman-Stoler: Thanks for coming on the show, this is great. This is our second sleep expert!

MK: How’s your sleep, are we going to talk about yours or are we going to avoid that?

BSS: We can try, but I have to say, especially in the past few weeks, I’ve been pretty good. I’ve been bringing a lot of stuff home, of like, getting the cell phones out –

MK: You’re doing your sleep hygiene!

BSS: I am, I’m all about it.

MK: That’s good! And have you got any devices? We’re in the 21st century so I think devices are kind of cool to have but the people that sleep the best don’t need devices, they don’t need anything, just sleep don’t they?

BSS: Which kind of devices do you mean?

MK: Well, there’s a whole bunch of these gadgets, you know, you can be wearing your fitbits, or you can have things actually fit to the bed under all the pillows. I’m fascinated by all this stuff but I have to say I’m quite keen to keep the technology to a minimum, generally. That said, when I get some of this stuff I’ll be trying it all out and my room will be like a techno jungle.

BSS: I actually did write down, one my questions is, do you use any of the new tech for sleep? And then I wrote down besides your own app, but your app isn’t a sleep app, right? It’s for quitting smoking.

MK: Actually my sleep app — which I took down last year — I had two — I took them down and I’m re-packaging them at the moment. I also have a free one that people download which is 20 minutes to fall asleep. Really nice thing to listen to. But the real question is — I don’t listen to myself. There’s something a bit weird about listening to yourself.

BSS: You mean you don’t put yourself to sleep?

MK: I do, but I don’t listen to myself to do it.

BSS: Who do you listen to?

MK: I don’t listen to anyone. I do a sequence and you can ask me about that.

BSS: You have your own routine, right?

MK: That’s true. Before I became a sleep coach I suffered from sleep difficulties, I would hesitate to say insomnia but I certainly would say it looked like insomnia, it sounded like insomnia and probably was. It was semi-infrequent but I found that going to bed was beginning to be something that I didn’t look forward to. I treat lots of people with insomnia now, anxiety-related sleep conditions. And I would lie in bed trying to figure out how can I fall asleep? Why am I still awake? What do I need to do? So I originally set out to conquer that for myself and in the process of looking at everything, listening to everything, I was also training to become a clinical hypnotherapist and in the process of all of this I discovered how to relax at a very deep somatic level and that became a part of it. I then created a blend of techniques that I’ve distilled into something that I call the ABC of Better Sleep but is basically a sequence that you can do not to try to sleep — because that’s always the thing with people with sleep difficulties, they try to sleep, and people who sleep well never try to sleep — trying to sleep is the worst thing you could ever do. Same thing as trying to relax or even trying not to think of the color red. It’s not helpful.

You know, I used to be a person that woke up in the night. Lots of people either have trouble falling asleep, which was one of my issues — thinking too much — but I almost invariably used to wake up in the middle of the night and it would be like UGH and it can be the loneliest place in the world. You wake up in the night and you feel like everyone on this side of the planet is already unconscious. And then I now have this thing that I do and I think of it more as a game, it’s a technique but it’s a pleasurable process that feels like a game. So that even if I get out of bed if I’m not annoyed. I actually look forward to getting back into the bed, and getting comfortable. that’s the starting point of the sequence that I teach people.

BSS: So let’s break this down. You mentioned suffering. You said you were suffering, you didn’t wanna call it insomnia but it looked like insomnia. It’s an interesting word because Arianna Huffington also used that word a lot and said there’s so much unneeded suffering that we’re doing to ourselves, so why did you use that word in particular?

MK: Arianna’s great — I wish I could talk to her with you I’m a big fan of her book — but I agree. We’re doing this to ourselves. We’re not even aware of the effect of everything coming in. You know, caffeine is interesting. I like caffeine but there’s a time we should be phasing it out (and there are some people it doesn’t agree with). Towards the evening the last caffeine most of us should be having should be approximately eight hours before bed at least. Because otherwise the effects of it are going to still be there when you want to sleep. And I can think of plenty of times when I sat in a nice restaurant with some nice friends, maybe it’s Friday night after a busy week and someone says would you like to have coffee now after your meal and someone says, “Oh yeah,” and before you know it we’re all ordering espressos! I think maybe people in the US are a little bit ahead of that now but I have to say a couple of my friends quite happily have a coffee before bed. These are the things we do to ourselves, I think at our peril. I mean look, coffee and devices is only two small elements of what can lead to having sleep difficulties. But I think anxiety, the worries of all that’s happening in our ever-changing world, and I think if sleep hygiene is a new kind of subject, I think veering away from most of the national news towards bedtime is no bad thing.

BSS: So say something about what sleep hygiene really kind of is, because it’s a weird term. I don’t think everybody — or people who aren’t familiar with your work or this trend of talking about sleep — what is sleep hygiene and how do you make a good one?

MK: Well you’re right, Ben, it isn’t what everyone’s aware of. Perhaps only the people with sleep difficulties. I assume everybody’s a sleep coach or everyone is seeing one and of course there are lots of people who sleep wonderfully. They get into bed and can even sleep in a car park or in a queue — some people can sleep anywhere — and there are people who have difficulties. And the first thing is to eliminate the externals, which can be contributing to sleep issues. Sometimes it’s the last thing that people realize. I’ve just been doing a sleep clinic in London here, in Shoreditch, something called a pop-up nap station as sleep ambassador for Eve Sleep who –

BSS: You know, they sent us a mattress!

MK: Oh they did?!

BSS: Yeah we had a little nap station in the office. They’re great.

MK: So that would be one of the sleep hygiene questions: What do you sleep on? What’s the room like? What’s the light like? That’s a big one. Do you have a dark room? How dark is it? Some people have, they like the light to come through the window at dawn. Some people rise at dawn and sort of go to bed when sun sets except they don’t because they’re on devices. So you know, limiting lights — ideally black. The brain makes melatonin as the evening progresses — it’s the hormone that regulates the main sleep cycle and that’s why coming away from screens, reducing light, lowering the light down so that the eyes which really do two things, of course we see with our eyes but they’re one of two parts of the body with multiple function, the eyes are also a light meter and we’re not aware of this but the optic nerve is regulating and measuring the amount of light that’s coming through and as it senses that it’s getting dimmer and dimmer it’s telling the body that it must be the time to begin to make melatonin, more and more of it, for sleep. So winding down is important but I think having as much black or at least very darkened room — I personally go for total, extreme black I like to put on an eye mask, it has this foam edge around it so that zero light comes around the side of my eye mask. If someone opened the blinds and there’d be streaming light around me, I’d be in total black, unaware of the new day until I decide that I’m ready for the new day.

BSS: Wow, I have a colleague who says he sleeps with the curtains open because the sun wakes him up naturally, he doesn’t use an alarm –

MK: Well I think that’s actually wonderful, the romance of that is wonderful. As a parent and as a hard working adult, and I do work hard, and I struggle, and if I was to just have no curtains and be waking up at, I don’t know, at the moment sunrise in London is around 4:30–5:00 in the morning. If I’m up at that time and yeah I’m an early bird but I think I’m more of an owl. I could force myself to do it, all the things to get ready to do, my son to get to school, and then work. I’m not quite sure what happens later in the evening! I certainly can’t go to bed when the sun sets, that’s for sure, and I can’t live by the circadian rhythms of just sunrise and sunset. But there are those who can do it and if they’re sleeping well and they can get up at the sunrise, I admire that.

BSS: So what about somebody like a snoozer, someone who has trouble getting up or is always groggy, or constantly hitting the snooze button?

MK: OK, I think it’s interesting with snoozing as opposed to napping, napping is something you take in the afternoons and preferably for no longer than 30 minutes, 20 minutes tops. I’d love to talk to you about napping in a moment. But the snoozer is wanting that little more, is not quite satisfied, maybe they weren’t sleeping that well earlier and they just wanna try — the ones I see anyway — they’re the ones who kept waking in the night and lay there for extra hour, tormented, and finally when they do fall asleep they so don’t want to get up if they can help it. It’s usually a sign of an unsatisfied night’s sleep. I now have come around to the realization of just how extraordinary sleep really is so you know I’m all for napping I’m all for snoozing but you know I think napping is an area now and certainly in business, I do more and more lectures with corporations and the city and companies for their staff and this whole new era of napping — the idea of having 20 minutes at work would have been unthinkable 10–15 years ago. Bosses would’ve thought just forget it, it’s an interruption with the work day. But now that there’s some real research, people who take short naps perform at a much higher level — are you familiar with the coffee nap?

BSS: I’ve only read about it. I haven’t done one.

MK: Ok it’s something that came out of some research and this is one of the reasons why we set up the nap station in East London — although part of it was so that people could come see the various beds and things as well — but these pods, and they’re setting them up more and more and I was reading about it in Arianna’s book as well — the zeitgeist really is to make this time for staff it’s better for their overall health, you know a 30-minute nap boosts your immune system and some extraordinary things happen. It’s counterintuitive, but the idea of having a small coffee before taking a nap. I mean I wouldn’t have even thought that — it’s madness — there’s research about how if you have a little coffee and then a nap, it takes time for the caffeine to be absorbed, and during the nap your brain is having a chance to do its cleansing process — I’ll talk about that in a second — and then the caffeine sneaks it in about 20 minutes and by the time you awaken — as long as long as it’s not more than 20–30 minutes — you feel more refreshed and more able to do whatever it is you were going to do. Your cognitive function is improved. They were doing this research and the purpose of it was to see if a light sleep if you’re driving would make you a better driver, whether having a coffee and then a break would make you a better driver. It turned out that having a coffee and a short nap made you a better driver and that’s where the research comes. But it’s very interesting, and someone’s just recently coined this — I wish I had said it but I’ll say it to you first because I’ve doubt you’ve heard it: nappuccino.

Although personally I think I prefer something like a flat nap.

BSS: Right, a flat wink.

MK: Exactly and you don’t even necessarily need to nap everyday but for those who’ve been sleep deprived, let’s say you’re jet-lagged or you were up all night at a party, a nap is going to reset you. It’s a very powerful thing.

BSS: So when I mentioned to my colleagues that I was talking to a sleep coach, a sleep expert, and someone who does it professionally, they were like, that’s impossible, that’s not a real thing. And I said of course it is, you know, why not? There’s mindfulness training, there’s all sorts of training to make us better people. How did you do that? How did you end up being a sleep specialist? What do you call yourself? Do you call yourself a sleep specialist? A sleep coach?

MK: I refer to myself as a sleep coach, I’ve been called sleep expert, I mean I’ve learned how not to sleep to become expert at that. But as a sleep coach, part of my training I did here in London with the London Sleep Center with the help of Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim, the consulting psychiatrist for sleep there, and I’ve been on various courses, I looked at CBTI, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, I’ve looked at various methodologies, sleep medicine — I am generally against medications although sometimes people come to see me with all sorts of things they’ve been taking — but the goal to me in my ethos is to help people get natural sleep. To get away from all the pills and to get into a much cleaner way to approach sleep and to relax and to then enjoy it.

BSS: So you studied it. But why was it so personally interesting to you?

MK: Well because I came from a position of having had insomnia myself and then in the process of my work as a clinical hypnotherapist — I was seeing more and more people for anxiety-related sleep difficulties and insomnia that I found that just hypnotizing people to have better sleep wasn’t broad enough to help them to overcome the full issue, the full picture. So then I started to blend teaching people how to do self-hypnosis and combined it with some of the other things that I’ve discovered, autogenic sleep training, and a mindfulness-based one that I like to teach. And I developed these in the course of developing my sleep programs that are on my website. And I had several apps, the sleep programs I was developing several years ago, that have won awards both in the US and over here for helping people sleep –

BSS: I listened to The ABCs of Sleep.

MK: You did? You didn’t tell me that.

BSS: Well yeah, that’s how I got all my questions, you know?

MK: So you’ve been learning the A and the B and the C?

BSS: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about relaxing the eyelids but you know you got to let the conversation flow.

MK: Well let’s talk about it.

BSS: We can talk about it. But I’m curious about both. I like hearing about your techniques, but I’m also really interested in the patients you see — and what’s the most difficult sleeping case you’ve had? Can we talk about that, too?

MK: What was great about doing the thing at the nap station actually is that it was the first time I’ve ever had like a walk-in sleep clinic. So you know people were queuing up on the Saturdays I was there and I had people who had parasomnias, people who would wake up in the night paralyzed and terrified they couldn’t move, that was a usual one, because you know some people don’t sleep very deeply for a number of different reasons that have to be identified but when we sleep there are different phases of sleep and the REM phase, which is the dreaming and rapid eye movement phase of sleep, is also interestingly when we are the most physically disconnected, paralyzed, from hurting ourselves in bed while we’re dreaming. So you don’t knock things off the table or punch the wall. So when people are in this sleep state, this phase, it is possible, particularly if they’re not going into deep state at all in the first place, there are things like, even alcohol interferes with sleep architecture, but some people just pop up almost mid-dream. They’re still dreaming but they open their eyes and they know they’re in bed but they also find that they don’t seem to be able to move. And for some even, bits of the dream are seeping into their waking experience it’s very unusual but it can be quite alarming.

BSS: What’s this called again?

MK: This is one of the parasomnias. It’s a waking paralysis and rather than being completely alarmed by it, which is easy if you never had it happen to you, is to understand it first of all. To know am I dreaming am I awake and to know that you can go back to sleep or even — I’ve had it, it can be in a nightmare, it’s not one of the best — we’re talking about some of the more unusual and extreme ends of what I do. Another lady who’s seeing me at the moment awakes every half an hour and we’ve eliminated almost everything that it could possibly be and she’s been to see lots of people before she came to me and the only thing that we can truly identify is that she has a lot of anxiety, very low level, all of the time. And it means that she finds it almost impossible to get to deep sleep because she’s got very higher levels of adrenal stress cortisol that makes it very difficult to fully truly completely relax and let go. The autonomic nervous system is in two parts, and the sympathetic, which sounds wonderful, has all to do with stress, fight or flight and life’s challenges, and the parasympathetic is when we feel safe and relaxed. Sometimes people see me for IBS or digestive problems and they often have these problems because they’re constantly in the sympathetic stress state and teaching people how to relax and let go and to re-set the autonomic nervous system back to the middle really, because some have autonomic nervous system imbalance which is if you like why this lady was finding it so hard to sleep — because of her physiology. So she’s going through a relaxation program daily as well as at night so she can begin to create regularly, throughout the whole day, a training for her to get physical relaxation and also I’m helping her to overcome her anxious thinking, because thoughts are the ones that cause the chemicals in the first place.

BSS: So let’s take this case again. Can you use your — I wanted to talk about eyelid relaxation that you talk about in The ABCs of Sleep — so like can you use that for this kind of case, this woman? Or is it the kind of thing that’s too kind of general to help her.

MK: Absolutely, and I taught her to use the ABC technique which in its cutdown version is to relax your eyelids to the point where they feel so relaxed they won’t work and then to spread the relaxation through the B, the breath, through the body. To take her to the point where she’s beginning to feel more and more deeply calm and relaxed. That’s the first place to get to. If, on the other hand, your mind is constantly in a circular motion looking for things to be worried about, the next thing to go wrong, then it’s probably highly likely that these people take that to bed with them. If they’re already in a sort of hyper-vigilant state and dreading going to bed because of another night of waking up every half an hour — doesn’t make you want to go to bed does it — so the combination of sleep dread (or not-sleep dread actually), there need to be a re-programming. Learning how to relax is part of it. Learning mindful you know CBT, really, mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to understand and to recognize when one is thinking this stuff again and again and to observe it rather than just be in it and to see these thoughts like clouds and to be more interested in the sky between the clouds and to recognize that these thoughts are what make us feel let’s say negative and therefore anxious and the feelings that go with that.

BSS: It’s like you have to take a step back, be objective about your own thoughts?

MK: Step back, and see almost as though your thoughts are coming in a loop by habit rather than even just consciously deciding to have anxious thoughts. Half of my work is to get people to wake up and to snap out of negative loops and mind patterns, to become more present. And the other half of my work — and this is how I became a sleep coach — is helping people to let go and become unconscious. It’s the most wonderful process. It’s so undervalued, sleep, I mean I think of sleep as a spiritual experience, it’s a subjective thing, but I think of sleep as when we let go into the universe, I think of sleep as well as the letting go process about getting out of the way, it’s nothing to do, it’s just a wonderful opportunity to just release and to let go into the safety of relaxation that takes you away to let’s just say the C of dreams. I say the C of comfort that leads to the sea of dreams.

BSS: Right and it’s very calming, unfortunately I listened during the day so I couldn’t go all the way into relax mode if you know what I mean.

Well let’s see what I got. We could do a quick-fire round? You want to do a quick-fire? Let’s do five.

MK: OK.

BSS: Alright here we go, quick-fire round, number one: what’s the most common lie about sleep that we see in our daily lives?

MK: Wow, what’s the most common lie that we see in our daily lives?

BSS: Or what do you find yourself most commonly having to debunk?

MK: Ok that’s interesting. I’m trying to think of the best way to answer the question. That somehow there’s some magic trick to sleep. Some people are ritualistic. I mean, I think routine is good, but the idea that you’ve always got to do one thing — I think sleep is effortless. There’s nothing to do!

BSS: There’s no silver bullet.

MK: There’s no silver bullet and in fact we’re all different so anyone who tells you the best way is this, it’s flawed from the moment they say it because we’re not all the same.

BSS: Number 2: is there a healthiest sleep position, like side sleeping, belly sleeping?

MK: Without a doubt the side is the very best way both for the position of the spine but also it seems that when we sleep or even nap that the side position is the side that helps for the cerebral spinal fluid in the brain to cleanse itself better.

BSS: OK — does it matter left or right?

MK: It’s an interesting question, I think it doesn’t really matter because nobody just sleeps on one side. If you look at any time-lapse photography people are on their back or side, all those things but I think predominantly that the best side to sleep on from a physiology point of view, I understand, is on the left side and that has to do with the blood pressure and the fact that your heart is slightly to the left and by sleeping on your left side predominantly, it is better for your physiology and I believe it means you’re slightly less likely to have things like heart attacks and strokes. Not to worry anybody.

BSS: All these stomachs sleepers just had a freakout.

MK: It’s interesting about stomach sleepers. Stomach and on-their-face sleepers are the ones who are most likely to grind their teeth.

BSS: Really?

MK: Yeah because they’re kind of putting their head onto their jaw, into their face. When I work with people who have you know tooth grinding, one of the techniques is to get people to sleep with their airwaves open, head slightly tilted back so the jaw naturally falls away from the teeth. It seems completely unnatural for someone who’s not used to that but between that and I like to use hypnotherapy for teeth grinding as well, I find that’s the best way of making the change so they don’t destroy their teeth.

BSS: Alright, number 3: pillows. Best pillow, does it matter?

MK: Well I think pillows are very subjective, I think if you sleep on your face, if that’s the way you have to do it, you want to have a soft pillow because you don’t want to be having your head completely tilted back if you’re sleeping on your face, but I think that side sleepers would benefit from a reasonably firm pillow — the Eve Sleep ones are unbelievably amazing, but there are others.

BSS: Alright, number 4: how does it affect us to sleep outside? Is there a difference between sleeping outside or inside?

MK: That’s a good question, I like that. I recently went camping with my son and I certainly think there’s a big difference and I was sleeping in this tent and I haven’t been camping for decades and it wasn’t quite summer yet so nights were very very cool and the coldness of the air on my face at that time of year wasn’t for me ideal but I did vaguely sleep. Honestly I couldn’t wait to get home to the luxury of my bedroom. I personally think sleep is for sleeping, the less disturbances there are, minimum light, definitely the room should become slightly cooler as the evening progresses when you fall asleep. Ideally a cooler room when you fall asleep. I mean sleeping out on the patio or on the roof if you’ve got a roof terrace, at a certain part of year in the middle of a heat wave, could be fantastic, but I wouldn’t recommend it all year.

BSS: Sub question: when you went camping did you bring your mask thing that closed out all light?

MK: Very good question. You know what? I so did.

BSS: Yeah?

MK: Here I have a sleep box with a number, not all my masks are the same. I have probably ten different kinds, not all ear plugs are the same I have more than ten. There are even ear plugs for women, different sizes and widths, you know channels are usually narrower for women or when they want to hear their kids or certain sounds but the one I like, with the foam, that one I took with me and I was definitely glad when I was in my freezing cold tent with my son. That was the one luxury, other than the fact that I like to wear sleep socks which I know is odd but I’m very tall and it helps circulation to my feet. It’s one of the things that people with sleep difficulties — and they actually have cold feet! Sometimes I go through all the different questions around the environment and physiology just to find out people have cold feet when they sleep.

BSS: There’s a Seinfeld episode with George and Jerry are in a hotel room for some reason and Jerry likes to, he’s a feet tucker, he likes to keep his feet tucked, and George likes to kick off the blankets. You can add that in your next book or do some kind of deep analysis.

MK: That’s great. I’ll have to research it. Did you say George was the feet tucker?

BSS: I think Jerry was the feet tucker.

MK: So George likes to kick his feet out, so George probably then doesn’t want to wear sleep socks either because he likes the air circulating.

BSS: Right.

MK: My wife is warmer than me, she likes to kick the covers off but I still like to keep the covers on the lower half of the bed so my feet stay warm. GOD we all have these weird variations! It’s amazing anyone can sleep the night with anyone else!

BSS: Alright so last one: what’s the one rule for sleeping? Like, Huffington has one rule: no phones in the bedroom. Hands down.

MK: Let’s just assume that’s a given. Although there are lots of people who like to have their iPhone apps measuring and Fitbits and such and I’m not sure how to reconcile that but ultimately good sleep you don’t need devices. You can use them to learn to sleep better but it’s like nobody should listen to recordings every night, it’s just learning. Once you get past all of that, and assuming there’s no phones or electronics around you then I would say the number one rule is never try to sleep. Sleep is effortless, you never try to sleep, you relax, you get out the way and by getting out of the way, that’s the way sleep happens: you relax and let go.

BSS: That’s a perfect ending!


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