Author Julie Casper, L. Ac., is a hTMA clinician and educator, she works with patients across the U.S. and internationally. In addition, she supports health professionals who are interested in adding clinical hTMA to their practice. Contact:

Update: 17 February 2018

Sleep — The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

Author: Julie Casper, L. Ac.

A good night's sleep is crucial for many maintenance functions, including cellular repair. Chronic lack of sleep is so destructive that it shortens life expectancy. When you combine the pressure to work harder, the overuse of stimulants, increasing environmental toxicity, EMFs, chronic low-level antibiotic exposure, and other sources of stress — getting a good night's sleep very difficult.


Laughing Child
  1. Adequate Sleep Cycles
  2. Healing Requires (extra) Sleep
  3. Quality Sleep Requires Energy
  4. Reverse Breathing and Breathing Pattern Disorders
  5. Sleep Apena
  6. Steps to Improving Sleep
  7. What if you still can't sleep?
  8. The Scientific Power of Naps (Brain Benefits)
  9. Addiction and Anxiety
  10. What are Excitotoxins?
  11. Three Sleeping Postures
  12. Toxic Sleep
  13. The Ideal Bed
  14. Resources

Adequate Sleep Cycles (Non-negotiable)

A simple way to determine if you are getting adequate sleep is to understand ‘sleep cycles.’ One sleep cycle lasts 1 and ½ hours. We require a total of 4 to 5 sleep cycles per night for maintence, repair and energy.

Without enough sleep, there is low energy and disease. Adequate sleep results in vitality and health. Over twenty large scale studies all report that essentially: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. To take just one example, adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime. A lack of sleep also impacts effective control of blood sugar. Sleep deprived cells become less responsive to insulin, which can cause a prediabetic state of hyperglycaemia. When your sleep becomes too short, you are susceptible to weight gain. Among the reasons for this are the fact that inadequate sleep decreases levels of the satiety signalling hormone, leptin, and increases levels of the hunger signalling hormone, ghrelin.

No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation. Matthew Walker, Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the UC, Berkeley

Getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The reasons for this are difficult to summarise, but in essence it has to do with the amyloid deposits (a toxin protein) that accumulate in the brains of those suffering from the disease, killing the surrounding cells. During deep sleep, such deposits are effectively cleaned from the brain. What occurs in an Alzheimer's patient is a kind of vicious cycle. Without sufficient sleep, these plaques build up, especially in the brain's deep sleep generating regions, attacking and degrading them. The loss of deep sleep caused by this assault therefore lessens our ability to remove them from the brain at night. So, more amyloid, less deep sleep; less deep sleep, more amyloid, and on and on. In his book WHY WE SLEEP, Matthew Walker says that it's interesting that both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, whom were vocal about how little sleep they needed, both went on to develop the disease. And, that it is a myth that older adults need less sleep. Aside from dementia, proper sleep aids our ability to make new memories, and restores our capacity for learning.

Healing Requires (extra) Sleep

Maintaining a natural sleep/wake cycle is essential to healthful sleep. Until the introduction of electric lights (and now, 24/7 everything) we woke and slept with the cycles of the sun. We all have genetically evolved to follow the natural pattern of light and dark. When light stimulates the eyes, the pineal gland responds with hormonal release and brain activity which acts to keep you awake and alert. Disruption of your natural sleep/wake cycle can result in adrenal fatigue, which can lead to chronic fatigue, viral, bacterial and fungal infections, and headaches (just to name a few of the health problems associated with inadequate sleep).

During the day the sympathetic nervous system is used, spending energy and tearing down the body. The sympathetic nervous system is balanced by the parasympathetic system which is associated with rest and regeneration, maintenance and repair. If you skimp on regenerative activity by not sleeping enough, physical and mental performance suffers. Illness develops because there is not enough time to repair damaged tissues in the body. If you have a chronic illness, you absolutely need extra rest and sleep.

Not getting regular, quality sleep can also lead to weight gain. It has to do with the time your body needs, while sleeping, to do the healing and biochemical rebalancing of your cells. Inadequate sleep leads to changes in hormones that affect energy and appetite. The less you sleep, the more likely you will have weight problems. Research supports the association between sleep deprivation, decrease in energy expenditure, and even weight gain.

Sleep is often maligned, and mostly misunderstood. Many people think that sleep is something you do when you are so exhausted that you collapse into a sort of coma — until the next morning's coffee, that is. Many of us purposely try to sleep less by incorporating various stimulant aids (coffee and caffeinated drinks, nicotine, alcohol, pharmaceutical boosts, anger, vigorous exercise, etc.). Perhaps you have heard the cliché, "I'll sleep when I'm dead!" It is interesting to consider who might benefit from this cultural attitude.


Quality Sleep Requires Energy

The simple (important to understand) evolutionary purpose of sleep is to repair biological systems. Our cellular biology actually requires periods of rest and sleep for growth and to perform maintenance functions. These processes are energy intensive. For optimal growth, and repair, our amazing bodies have evolved over millions of years to require high-quality sleep.

Reverse Breathing and Breathing Pattern Disorders

Many people have a "reverse breathing pattern," or other breathing pattern disorder which can disrupt sleep. During normal breathing, the exhalation is the active part of the breath where the diaphragm and transverse abdomnis muscles are contracted to push the air out, the inhalation is the relaxed part of the breath where these muscles relax, allowing air to move into the lungs and fill the vacuum created by the exhalation.

In reverse breathing, rather than the exhale being the active part of the breath, the inhalation becomes the active part by engaging upper back and shoulder muscles to forcefully suck the air in. This results in incomplete filling of the lungs and inadequate oxygen intake. Reduced oxygen intake can cause low-grade chronic hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). Hypoxia also initiates the stress response, releasing the fight-or-flight hormones, preventing relaxation and sleep. Oxygen deprivation negatively impacts sleep because sound sleep requires fully oxygenated tissues and cells. Two common causes of reverse breathing are sitting in poor posture which causes restricted diaphragm function, and chronic anxiety which causes upper chest and shoulder breathing.

To help determine if a breathing dysfunction is affecting your sleep and health, you can download the Nijmegen questionnaire (self-assessment). The Nijmegen questionnaire gives a broad view of symptoms associated with dysfunctional breathing patterns and is commonly used as an aid for clinicians in diagnosis.

Download: The Nijmegen questionnaire self-assessment

Sleep Apena

Sleep apnea afflicts between 12 and 18 million Americans and may be the most under-diagnosed serious medical condition. A JAMA study reports one in five adults has some degree of sleep apnea.

Apenea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. The word apena means the temporary cessation of breathing, especially during sleep when there are one or more pauses in breathing. Breathing pauses may last from a few seconds, to minutes. Typically normal breathing then resumes, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. When breathing pauses or becomes shallow it can result in chronic or low-grade hypoxia. A continuously interrupted sleep pattern prevents getting to the most beneficial 90 minute sleep cycle. As a result, the quality of sleep is diminished which makes one tired during the day. There are serious risks associated with sleep apena.

Some risks associated with sleep apena:
Sleep Apena Resources

Insomnia and Drugs

Insomnia is said to be the most common sleep disorder, but according to the National Institutes of Health, insomnia affects only 10 percent of us. And in almost 50% of those cases the underlying cause is illness or the effects of a psychoactive substance; commonly coffee, alcohol or medication. In fact, 25% of Americans now use some form of sleeping pill, or sleep aid at night.

The risks of taking sleeping pills (benzodiazepines and other sedatives) outweigh the benefits among people over 60 in a series of studies carried out between 1966 and 2003. The pills helped people fall asleep and they slept more, but they were twice as likely to slip and fall or crash a car due to dizziness from the pills than they were to get a better night's sleep.

People who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep. 6-year study of over 1-million adults

Steps to Improving Sleep

  1. Do not take sleeping pills. This includes over-the-counter pills. Don't go to bed until you're sleepy. If you have trouble sleeping, try going to bed later or getting up earlier. Get up at the same time every morning, even after a bad night's sleep. The next night, you'll be sleepy at bedtime. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep, get out of bed and return when you are sleepy. If you do wake up because you are excited about something, or have something that needs to be resolved, don't feel bad about missing out on some sleep. It might be a great time to strategize.
  2. Stop all stimulants. For example, sugar, coffee and caffeinated or energy drinks, nicotine, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs (many are stimulants), anger, vigorous exercise late in the day, etc. Stimulants can block the calming neurotransmitters which help you to sleep. They also create biochemical chaos which can cause mind racing and disorganized thinking, making it hard to relax enough to sleep.
  3. Quiet and dark. Sleep in a room that is quiet and completely dark (any light inhibits melatonin production). Minimize exposure to bright light before going to bed (avoid flickering lights and screens). Exposure to light before bedtime can slow down our ability to fall asleep by reducing levels of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. Scientists have found that the blue-light wavelengths have become prevalent in our world (LED television sets and computers, smartphone and tablet screens) and these slow melatonin even more efficiently.
  4. Eat right. Improper diet is a common cause of poor sleep. Digestive problems, poor gut flora, the excitotoxins (explained below) in processed foods, sweets and inadequate nutrition all contribute to sleep disruption.
  5. Movement. The body requires physical movement to promote in all kinds of healthy metabolic processes. A sedentary lifestyle is responsible for a myriad of negative health consequences, including sleep problems. Sit less, stand-up and walk more. Movement makes you feel good. People exposed to daylight or bright light therapy sleep better.
  6. Detoxify the environment. Improve bedroom air quality, eliminate toxic exposures (i.e., toxic bedding, toxic furnishings and finishes).
  7. Mitigate EMF exposure. Move electric appliances far from your head (alarm clock, fan, computer, cell phone,etc.). If possible, turn off bedroom circuit breaker.
  8. Take a nap. Nap during the day or practice intensive rest therapy.
  9. Ask for help. An experienced practitioner may prescribe other supportive therapies such as amino acids or protomorphogens. These therapies require that you work with your practitioner to refine the protocol to your biochemistry. Monitoring and adjustments over time are necessary also.
  10. Avoid worrying. Watching the news at night is especially toxic to emotions, avoid upsetting things. Bed is for sleeping and sex.

What if you still can't sleep?

Sleep issues can be challenging to fix, but not impossible. What if you have tried everything and you still can't sleep well? If so, you may have some mineral imbalances that are either putting you in a sympathetic dominant state, or have led to an exhaustion state. The best way to determine this is with hTMA screening, which can identify mineral imbalances and provide direction to help readjust levels and ratios to a healthy homeostasis. Because when your general health is good, your sleep will be good also.

Another possibility is that for some reason you can no longer produce the neurotransmitters needed to control your circadian rhythm and relaxation states. Sometimes amino acid therapy is useful to help provide neurotransmitter support until your cells are able to do this on their own. Amino acid therapy should be combined with hTMA mineral balancing so it can be temporary, needed only until your mineral levels and ratios provide for healthy cellular production and control of these important neurotransmitter molecules.

Leonardo da Vinci would sleep for 15 minutes every 4 working hours.

The Scientific Power of Naps (Brain Benefits)

A study published in PubMed found that a 5-10 minute nap creates a heightened sense of alertness and increased cognitive ability. A 10-20 minute nap provides a quick recharge, and a 60-90 minute nap allows for a deep sleep rejuvenation. In addition, one recommendation is to sit slightly upright during your nap to help avoid deep sleep. If you do find yourself dreaming during your power naps, it may be a warning sign of sleep deprivation.

Want an excuse to sleep on the job? Take these scientific tips on "Power-Naps" to get the most energy out of your day, while remaining productive and non-reliant of caffeine. If done properly, naps can change your life!

Addiction and Anxiety

Sometimes people wake during the night with their mind racing. Or they toss and turn and can't get to sleep. Anxiety leads to a sympathetic dominant state where the areas of the brain involved in higher reasoning are overridden in favor of the brain's more primal fight or flight response. There is a distinct constellation of symptoms that make up anxiety disorders. Pharmacological and psychological treatments for anxiety disorders are often used, yet the most common response for an individual with anxiety is to use recreational drugs to alleviate the symptoms. The widespread availability and relative low cost of alcohol means that it is frequently used as self-medication for anxiety disorders, low mood and sleep problems. Prospective studies show that alcohol dependence and anxiety disorders demonstrate a reciprocal causal relationship over time, with anxiety disorders leading to alcohol dependence and vice versa (Kushner et al. 1990). Alcoholism and social anxiety disorder comprise the next most prevalent mental disorders after depression (Kessler et al. 1997). They are often present together, increasing the therapeutic challenge.

Why It's Dangerously Wrong to Approach Addiction as a Kind of Disease

The disease theory of "addiction" and the science used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain. Of course, "the brain changes with addiction," says psychologist Marc Lewis, "but the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease." All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain's secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they're not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn't like the term "recovery" because it implies a return to the addict's state before the addiction took hold.)

If addiction is a form of learning gone tragically wrong, it is also possible that it can be unlearned, that the brain's native changeability can be set back on track. "Addicts aren't diseased," Lewis writes, "and they don't need medical intervention in order to change their lives. What they need is sensitive, intelligent social scaffolding to hold the pieces of their imagined future in place — while they reach toward it."

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that rises and falls due to both external and internal cues. Pathological anxiety (anxiety disorder) is characterized by its intensity, duration, autonomy (meaning it has a life of its own) and functional impairment often characterized by changes in behavior. The relationship between alcohol and anxiety disorders cannot be understood without knowledge of the effect of alcohol on brain neurotransmission and the role of neurotransmitters in these disorders. It is now very clear that neurotransmitter and receptor function are altered in both anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence. Three neurotransmitter systems are likely to be especially important in this relationship: the γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin (5-HT) and noradrenaline systems.

For therapy to be effective, a comprehensive assessment of the patient is critical, although it is commonly thought that patients do not accurately reveal their true alcohol and drug consumption, evidence of substance use can be obtained from tests and a physical examination. In patients with anxiety disorder, the amount being consumed is not as relevant as the reliance on the substance. Natural therapy can include any combination of counseling, short-term amino-acid supplementation, exercise and clinical nutrition. However, for therapy to be effective, the patient's compliance and commitment to improving their health is essential.

What are Excitotoxins?

Excitotoxins inhibit sleep, and worse. A number of food additives, including MSG (monosodium glutamate), aspartame and L-cysteine have toxic effects on the nervous system. These chemicals are added to a broad number of processed and restaurant foods to enhance their flavor. Often, several of these brain toxic additives are combined. Young people are more vulnerable to the negative neurological consequences because the developing brain is approximately five times more sensitive to their toxic effects than the adult brain. The mechanism by which these food additives damage the brain is called excitotoxicity, a process where certain brain cells are excited to death. Neuroscientists consider excitotoxicity to be the central mechanism in a wide number of diseases, including strokes, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer's dementia, Parkinson's disease and ALS), heavy metal toxicity (mercury, lead, cadmium and aluminum), infectious brain diseases (encephalitis and meningitis), autism, brain trauma and multiple sclerosis.

Three Sleeping Postures

There is no inherent right or wrong sleeping postion. The sleeping position you prefer may be effected by a number of personal or environmental factors.

1. Back-sleeping (optimum)

For many people back-sleeping is the ideal position. It allows internal organs to function unconstricted, enables complete diaphragm movement for full breathing capacity, and it prevents positional-restriction of spinal nerve function and spinal-cerebral fluid flow.

If you snore or suffer from apnena or acid reflux, sleeping on your back may be difficult. A sleeping wedge can usually provide temporary relief from this problem and allow you to sleep on your back.

Back sleeping tips to help maintain a natural healthy curvature of the spine.

correct back-sleeping posture

Back-sleeping is the anatomically ideal sleeping posture.

  • Position one or two pillows under your knees (or use a specialized knee-bolster or leg-wedge).
  • Arm position as shown in illustration, or arms at sides with palms facing up.
  • Add a lumbar support positioned opposite your navel (a towel rolled up to width and thickness of the palm of your hand works well, it should not create too much lumbar curvature).
  • Sleep so neck-head alignment is flat, try to elongate the cervical spine. Use no pillow under your head (a small neck roll or pillow may be used if you have kyphosis).
  • Sleep on a firm mattress, a soft mattress causes poor spine position.
2. Side-sleeping
side sleepingSide-sleeping may provide benefits for some individuals. For example, if you have digestive issues, are pregnant, or have backpain. However, side-sleeping puts excessive pressure on the hip and shoulder. Over time the pressure on these joints can result in chronic hip and shoulder pain (Oriental Medicine has a name for this pathology; "50's shoulder"). Side-sleeping can put the spine in a poor position which can lead to back pain. When sleeping on your side, it is important to maintain support for the natural curvature and alignment of the spine:
  1. Use the right height pillow to maintain correct neck-alignment to the spine.
  2. Add pillows between your knees to maintain proper pelvis position relative to the spine.
3. Stomach-sleeping (avoid)
Sleeping on your stomach should be avoided because it compresses the internal organs and limits diaphragm and rib cage movement, restricting breathing. Also, it puts your spine in a bad position, and is a common cause of low back pain and neck pain.

Toxic Sleep

dust mite

Dust mites feed on organic detritus such as flakes of shed human skin. Dust mites are a common cause of asthma and allergic symptoms. Potent digestive enzymes in their feces and are major inducers of allergic reactions.

Amazing 3D animation shows scale MITE

The average North American spends 90% (or more) of life indoors. Because we spend up to one third of our lives sleeping, detoxifying your home should begin in the bedroom. The bedroom should be a health-promoting, healing sanctuary. Instead, it is commonly one of the most toxic places in a home. The average conventional mattress contains numerous highly-toxic chemicals which we breath in for eight or more hours per day. Chemicals found in mattresses are known to cause many negative health effects, including cancer. Also important for your health is using non-toxic bedding (sheets, blankets, pillows, and even children's stuffed animals).

Another form of dangerous pollution found in the bedroom comes from electric and magnetic fields (EMFs). Electro-pollution is responsible for a wide range of serious neurological and organ related conditions. Electric and magnetic radiation is shown to cause cellular disruption in embryo development, impede cellular detoxification, and in general, prevent healing.

The Ideal Bed

We spend up to 1/3 of our lives sleeping, detoxifying your home should begin in the bedroom. The ideal bed is supported by a real wood frame (unfinished or finished with a non-toxic product). For a longer product life and easier maintenance, the bed itself should contain layers, preferably made of organic materials.

Three components of an ideal (layered) mattress

  1. Natural mattress. Natural mattress materials include organic cotton, wool and latex. Latex is very expensive. You can find combinations of these materials or use just one kind.
  2. Wool topper (1-1/2 to 3 inches thick). A wool topper can easily be put out in the sun annually to kill dust mites.
  3. Wrap the mattress and topper in a washable wool mattress pad/cover. Washability helps control dust mites and remove their feces. Dust mite feces contain enzymes that cause allergic reactions in humans.
Organic beds, mattresses, bedding, furnishings, etc.

Some organic cotton products contain fire retardant. Be sure to ask for a mattress without fire-retardant (you may need a doctors note saying that you cannot be exposed to fire retardant chemicals for health reasons). As public awareness grows, so do your options for purchasing non-toxic beds and bedding.

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