Sleep and health

The sleep/wake cycle impacts health in many ways. The hormone melatonin has become more familiar as it now more available over the counter as a supplement that may help with sleep. It may help with getting to sleep – but timing – when it is taken, and how much – not an excess, are important factors, and it may not help with staying asleep. Sleep and wake are very complex processes within the brain and body, with many chemical signals causing activation or inhibition of different areas of the brain which then signal activation or inhibition of body functions. Reviewing all of them is beyond the scope of this post – including just the summary points is my goal.

  • Insomnia seems to be a hyperarousal of the system, both the brain and body remain more metabolically active than within normal sleep causing difficulties falling asleep and then leaving the person lest rested after sleeping because it was never reaching deeper relaxation of the brain’s activity levels. The hyperarousal tends to continue during the day so the person with insomnia may be irritable and not able to concentrate as well but may not feel tired or sleepy as might be expected after missing that many hours of sleep. The risk with ongoing insomnia though is the person is in need of deeper sleep and accidents may be more likely to occur in physical activity or in oversight of details in mental activity, especially when there are multiple demands on attention.
  • The wake/sleep cycle is essential for health for many reasons but the overall point is that different functions of metabolism occur when awake than during sleep, and both are important to overall health. Repair and detoxification, roughly, are the focus of the sleep hours and energy use and activity and learning/creating new connections between brain and nerve cells are the focus of wake hours.
    • Sleep and wake have different specialized genes and proteins for metabolism – what gets made or what gets cleaned up and reused or excreted/detoxified. Wakefulness activates genes that are used in active metabolism, using sugar for energy, and sleep activates genes that are important for using fats for building cell membranes or myelin sheaths around nerve cell connections.
    • Chronic sleeplessness can cause insulin resistance and lead to increased risk for diabetes or metabolic syndrome, whether the sleeplessness was due to inadequate hours of sleep because of a busy schedule, or due to poor sleep quality because of insomnia or other health problems or overuse of caffeine or stimulating lights late at night. More about insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome is available in a TEDmed video talk about obesity and insulin resistance. A doctor suggests that the approach medical research has taken in looking at obesity as a cause of insulin resistance may be wrong – insulin resistance may lead to obesity. Peter Attia-What If We’re Wrong About Diabetes?, TEDmed.
    • Hypertension, high blood pressure, is also a risk of chronic sleep problems.
    • Add up the problems of reduced myelin sheath production, blood sugar and blood pressure problems, and it is easy to see that long term risks of poor sleep quality may include dementia whether typical forgetfulness type due to loss of connections between brain cells or the loss of brain cells in Alzheimer’s dementia.

Solutions vary depending on the type of sleep problem however general tips for an ideal sleep setting include:

  • A cool room temperature – the body temperature is at its lowest during sleep.
  • Complete darkness – for the pineal gland to make melatonin the use of a light blocking eye mask on long airplane rides may help provide deeper sleep. In the home setting or when traveling cover alarm clock lights or other digital lights during the night and close curtains. Complete light blocking curtains are ideal.
  • Stop using digital screen devices about a half hour to an hour before intended time to try to sleep. Additional tips about electric light: Digital screens are a very bright type of light and blue lens glasses are available for eye protection for anyone who spends many hours per day using laptops or smartphones. The light settings on the device may also offer a dimmer evening setting which may help reduce eyestrain.*
  • Avoid coffee or other caffeine containing stimulants for about four to six hours prior to intended time to try to sleep.
  • Have a regular time to go to sleep and wake up each day. The average person does need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night and teenagers and toddlers ideally may need 10 hours of sleep for best cognitive performance and physical health.  Lack of sleep for adults seems to negatively affect reasoning and verbal performance more than short term memory. (3)
  • Avoid high fat, hard to digest meals or snacks in the hours prior to intending to try to sleep.
  • A cool compress on the forehead or over the eyes or on top of the head may help relax sooner if insomnia and racing thoughts are a problem or feeling hot and jittery. Reusable gel packs designed for sprained ankles or other sore muscles can be kept in the freezer and then wrapped in a few layers of thin fabric to protect the skin from being overly chilled. The gel pack will eventually lose its coolness but use on the forehead may help slow down the metabolic activity of the brain, which then helps slow down signals to the body to be jittery – 20 to 30 minutes with a cool gel pack may help reach a more relaxed state before the pack is warm. Having several in the freezer could allow you to rotate the warm one with a chilled one if reawakening in the middle of the night is a problem. **
  • If reawakening in the middle of the night is a problem but you are still sleepy, try not to use any bright lights while visiting the bathroom or kitchen, etc. If wide awake, then it is recommended to just get up and do something for a while until feeling sleepy again rather than tossing and turning in bed and getting more anxious or jittery.
  • If reawakening in the middle of the night is consistently happening around 4:00 am then low serotonin levels may be a problem.  (University Health News) Taking the precursor to serotonin, 5HTP or the herbal St John’s Wort, may help provide your body with serotonin.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for sleep issues has been found to be as or more effective than sleep promoting medications while they are in use, and more effective at long term benefits even after the therapy or medication is no longer in use. Anxiety may be an issue but habits can also affect insomnia, naps and early bed times may disrupt sleep and staying awake during the day, and ideally getting some bright sunshine or full spectrum light during wake hours can help with the body’s 24 hour metabolic patterns. (CBT-I, National Sleep Foundation)

*Modern laptops or smartphones emit bluelight which may inhibit sleep. (1) Wearing blue light blocking glasses in the evening for any screen time may help reduce the effect. It has been found helpful to prevent sleep difficulties to wear them during the three hours prior to trying to go to sleep. The blue light blocking glasses are not needed for use throughout the day however. Eyestrain from a long day working with a light screen may cause dry itchy eyes and eyedrops for moisture and taking occasional breaks may help prevent that problem. Read more: (2).

**The tip about keeping gel packs in the freezer for use as a cold compress for the forehead that I mentioned for insomnia in the last post is something that I have found helpful in the past for migraines. I tried it recently for insomnia after learning in the course about sleep and neurobiology that a “biothermal device” had been found helpful in sleep lab studies for patients with insomnia. (Sleep, Neurobiology, Medicine and

The drawing suggested they had an electric blanket type compress size cooling device that laid over the forehead and slightly over the ear area, so a little bigger than a gel pack designed for sprained ankles. However a gel pack for sprained ankles is already at stores and electric cooling biothermal devices are not yet available to my knowledge. The point – my trial use with a freezer gel pack for insomnia was very helpful at slowing my thoughts and helping my body reach a relaxed state fairly quickly. I didn’t immediately go to sleep but it did seem to help. I’ve tried it several times now and one night got another out of the freezer when I was awake but sleepy in the middle of the night. 

Environmental cues and genetic differences can effect sleep patterns. (Sleep, Neurobiology, Medicine and Society, (How Nature and Nurture Shape the Sleeping

There is more on this topic however this is an overview of the importance of sleep.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

  1. Dustin Eves, Do Computer Screens Emit UV Light?,
  2. Do Blue Light Blocking Glasses Really Work? 2018,,
  3. Conor J Wild, Emily S Nichols, Michael E Battista, Bobby Stojanoski, Adrian M Owen; Dissociable effects of self-reported daily sleep duration on high-level cognitive abilities, Sleep, , zsy182,

Autism in females may have slightly different symptoms

Girls and women on the autism spectrum or with Asperger’s Syndrome may not be diagnosed because their symptoms may be less physical and more daydreamy, seeming to not pay attention but then able to try to fit in and look attentive. Extreme difficulty with eye contact, to the point of physically not being able to have typical eye to eye contact with others when speaking or listening is a classic trait of males with autism. Less obvious problems with social interaction for girls and women with autism may be due to a tendency towards innate caregiving traits which would be needed for child rearing and/or other physical differences that lead to less severe autism changes in the brain, such as a protective effect of having more estrogen and less testosterone (estrogen receptors during fetal development seem to be involved in risk of autism development).

Checklist for females regarding Asperger’s syndrome traits – written by a woman who herself has Asperger’s syndrome and has a son with the condition; she discloses that she has a Master’s degree with some psychology training but isn’t a psychologist; she suggests that it may help identify who may have the condition; – having 75% or more of the traits may suggest a person has Asperger’s syndrome: Adult female/AFAB Asperger’s syndrome traits – Slower and sensory friendly

I would add, somewhat humorously after having completed a variety of diagnostic checklists in the past that simply making it all the way through all of the checklist’s sub-lists may be an indicator too as interest in many details is a trait – and it is a very long and thorough checklist compared to many psychiatric screenings that are for only one type of condition. Screenings that mix several types of conditions together can also be quite long. The lengthy list was like meeting a friend or family member though for me. It felt familiar in a world that can often seem confusing. Empathy for another’s situation or even expectations about how difficult it might be to tolerate something familiar like spending time in a cold room can be difficult for most people – a discussion of empathy: Why developing emotional intelligence is harder than you think, (

People on the autism spectrum may not show their feelings in typical ways but they may still be emotionally concerned. From the video checklist about Asperger’s traits in females (youtube):

  • “Section G. Sensitive:
  • 11. Becomes hurt when others question or doubt her work.
  • 14. Dislikes words and events that hurt animals and people.
  • 16. Huge compassion for suffering.
  • 18. Tries to help, offers unsolicited advice, or formalizes plans of action.
  • Section C. Escape and Friendship:
  • 19. Cannot relax or rest without many thoughts.
  • 20. Everything has a purpose.
  • Section D: Comorbid Attributes:
  • 10. Misdiagnosed or diagnosed with other mental illness and/or labeled hypochondriac.
  • 13. Wonders who she is and what is expected of her.
  • Section F. Social Interaction:
  • 8. Comes across at times as narcissistic and controlling. (Is not narcissistic.) “

Musical interlude: “We can be kind” sung by Nancy LaMott for the 40th MSU-IIT Baccalarreate service. (We can be kind, youtube)

The video checklist about Asperger’s traits in females (youtube) also included in the section “B. Innocent, 4.  Finds it difficult to understand manipulation or disloyalty. 5. Finds it difficult to understand vindictive behavior and retaliation. 6. Easily fooled and conned. and 10. Abused or taken advantage of as a child but didn’t think to tell anyone.” While eye contact and fitting in to society may be easier for a female on the autism spectrum the ability to pick up on cues and understand what is a joke or what is meant seriously may still be difficult, and that can also make protecting oneself from being manipulated or to recognize danger more difficult. People with autism and other mental or physical disability or differences can be more at risk for being abused physically or sexually. Abusers may encourage silence with threats or guilt or if something is said then deny or blame the victim for the abuse.

Physical health can make mental skills or symptoms better or worse – better is better in my opinion.

How healthy or well rested and well nourished a person of any health can affect their ability to understand and respond quickly to situations however it can make even more of  difference in a person with an inflammatory condition which may be an underlying problem for many people on the autism spectrum or with Asperger’s syndrome (the terms are used somewhat interchangeably but symptoms can vary among individuals significantly). Nutrient deficiencies can make mental health symptoms worse for anyone but again may have more obvious impact for someone with a history of trauma or with ADHD or bipolar disorder – symptoms can be somewhat similar across a variety of mental health conditions. Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can also increase mood or physical symptoms.

Recognition of social differences and recovery from physical problems led to improvement in Asperger’s symptoms – with a lot of work – according to this story:

Many factors have been found that can be involved in developing autism however they all lead to the similar problem of inflammation. So individually discovering what toxins and environmental or physical problems are causing inflammation and slowly working to reduce the load of negatives and increase the positives such as antioxidants or relaxation methods is the – with a lot of work. The goal isn’t to negate a person – to prevent a person but to improve health for a person and to improve quality of life physically and that often also improves mental agility in a variety of settings, social or academic or creative. Asperger’s syndrome and some individuals on the autism spectrum may have above average skills in some areas. The increased number of synaptic connections may also increase some creative and intellectual abilities.

The potential benefit of having a healthy brain on the autism spectrum: More synaptic connections and supportive brain cells may be involved with increased creativity and intellectual ability.

Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton were both scientists who may have had some traits similar to Asperger’s Syndrome and who both made significant discoveries regarding physics. ( Albert Einstein’s brain was examined after his death to see if there was any differences, the number of brain cells involved in sending nerve signals was similar to average however more support cells/glial cells were found, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. (

Astrocytes are a type of glial cell that may help with supporting fluid balance within the brain and helping with removal of toxins from normal metabolism – think a lot and you burn a lot of energy and that does leave some leftover material that needs to be removed. Oligodendrocytes are glial cells that help build the myelin coating around the connecting branches between brain cells. Myelin coating allows brain signals to be sent at a much faster rate than between cells without the fatty layer of insulating material. Oligodendrocytes support many brain cells, not just one, so they may also help with strengthening more helpful connections and pruning off less helpful branches – speeding up beneficial routes and removing less efficient pathways.

Autism seems to involve a difference in early childhood development when typically excess connecting pathways between brain cells are removed. The extra connecting pathways are removed as much as typical in the brain of a person with autism. This difference may make it easier to notice many details but also may make it easier to become overstimulated. Valuing each other’s differences can aid society as we benefit from each other’s strengths and support each other in ways where we may need help.

The connecting pathways in men and women tend to be slightly different – men tend to have more stronger connections within each separate side of the brain – within the right or left hemisphere, while women tend to have more strong connections that cross from one side to the other. (video) Loss of communication abilities after a stroke may be less severe in women than in men due to this tendency. 

Reducing inflammation may help protect against both short term worsening of symptoms and protect against development or worsening of chronic illnesses.

Reducing inflammation after a stroke or in any inflammatory condition can help protect against damaging oxidative stress chemicals. Foods rich in antioxidants and other plant phytonutrients can help reduce oxidative stress directly by providing antioxidants or indirectly by helping to signal to our own body to increase our own production of antioxidants. In normal health we make many protective chemicals and it would be difficult to match the amount from diet alone. The combination of antioxidants from the diet and our own internal production can be most effective. Pomegranate and other colorful fruits, (variety of links), vegetables, herbs and spices, and whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds all can help provide antioxidants and the other beneficial phytonutrients to help boost our own production of antioxidants.

I have not protected myself in situations where I was uncomfortable but didn’t seem to have control of myself let alone assertiveness skills to control the situation. Sleeplessness, extreme stress and fear, and nutrient deficiency were all problems. I have read a lot about assertiveness skills and interpersonal skills and also about the health impact of sleeplessness and nutrient deficiency and I hope to never feel taken advantage of again. I share information because pain hurts, whether physical, emotional or inflammatory. It takes a lot of work to cope with specialized health needs or even to maintain general health needs at an optimal level.

Sleep, enough and of good quality, helps in many ways, more on this topic later.

I will write more about sleep in a separate post, some information is in this previous post about sleep and Alzheimer’s dementia. Autism may also be more prevalent in males than females because Alzheimer’s is more prevalent in post menopausal females than males or younger females – some cases of autism and Alzheimer’s may be related conditions in which the presence of estrogen has a protective effect against an inflammatory autoimmune like response of white blood cells (immune cells & neurological conditions).

Colorful produce often has antioxidants and other phytonutrients that help promote our own ability to make antioxidants and benefit our immune system.

Preventing worsening of symptoms and maintaining more stable health and mood for individuals on the autism spectrum may help prevent chronic conditions or other psychiatric conditions from developing or worsening. I have been experimenting with healing foods for my own diet (summary links in this post) and a next step would be to try to prepare products to share with a test market or clinical trial group.

Pomegranate peel is more concentrated in phytonutrients and with a slightly different group than the fruit seeds and juice which are also nutritious. People already eat the fruit and juice is also available however the peel has only been used in animal and few human studies within a whole fruit extract. My health and mood seems greatly improved with as little as a spoonful or two of my version of peel extract, which is made in a similar way to vegetable soup stock which uses peels and other excess from certain types of vegetables. The peel extract is quite acidic, similar to lemon juice, and I’ve used it on salads or added to soup. I’ve also thickened it slightly and flavored it with extra spices and that recipe makes a flavorful additive for coffee or tea. I’ve baked with it in order to try to have a more shelf stable product for traveling but it can be easy to eat too much of a food that tastes good but which actually does have medicinal qualities. The dose of a spoonful or two is small enough that dehydrating it and putting it in capsules would likely be possible for a supplement company.

I share this information because I care, and it would be nice to be able to just buy (or manufacture in my own company) the powdered peel extract – the more companies and individuals who add nutrient dense foods to their diets and products the better in my opinion. The planet needs healthy people if only to reduce the waste level from medical supplies and to reduce the amount of medications in the ground water from our own waste products. Pomegranates are fairly drought tolerant and are grown for commercial sale in the U.S., South America, Australia, and New Zealand. They likely are grown in other areas too. Other varieties than the main commercial variety are available which can tolerate different growing conditions (more info,, and which may have similar or slightly different health benefits than the commercially available type.

Ideas for development – may be helpful in many areas of the world.

Recipes can not be copyrighted but a cookbook or article can be. Products based on foods and herbs can not be patented but specific company formulations can be kept a trade secret. The benefit of a trade secret is no time limit as long as the secret is protected, while patents or copyrights have a limited number of years of legal protection.

It is never too soon to try something new!

Cookbooks or video tutorials, deli style restaurant, group home with a centralized kitchen – many options exist in life and all may be helpful in different markets. Autism and other mental health conditions including Alzheimer’s dementia have become more prevalent. Alzheimer’s dementia is very sad in that the area of the brain that forms new memories is preferentially damaged and symptoms aren’t severe enough for diagnosis until after a large percentage of the area is affected. Prevention ten to twenty years earlier would be the best strategy. Brain cells don’t regrow typically. Improvements after a stroke occur by undamaged areas of the brain being retrained for new tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is an inflammatory process that effects large regions. 

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Duty to Warn

Duty to warn is phrase used in medical care regarding an ethical duty to warn patients or research participants or anyone at risk of the potential harm. My own health and my experience helping others has made me appreciate wellness and sharing what has helped or what can be harmful are things I feel ethically it is my duty to warn or inform anyone who might be interested. We are one – your pain is my pain and the Earth needs more health. It is hurting too.

Empathy – feeling emotionally connected can also feel painful, a short article discusses the idea of the pain that may occur with feeling compassion for other’s suffering:

The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe, (

The words sympathy, empathy and compassion are used somewhat interchangeably however they can refer to slightly different things. In medical settings the care of patients can be affected positively or negatively by how the caregiver provides help. Research with patients receiving cancer treatment found that patients felt that empathy and compassion were beneficial while sympathy was perceived more negatively. Compassion was felt to be most beneficial by the patients. What is the difference? Sympathy seems to be regarded as pity-based remarks or attitude about the chronic illness that was offered without having been asked, with less of a feeling of being understood. Empathy may be closer to feeling emotionally understood and compassion included feelings that the caregiver was acting with love and kindness out of a altruistic – giving mindset. (3) The risks of rudeness in a medical setting and possible value of kindness is discussed in a review of a research study on rudeness in a neonatal clinic setting: A Message to you Rudy, about Rudeness, SGEM#227.

Feeling like there is a physical problem and being told that it must be hypochondria or mental illness is not as helpful as being told that a reason for the symptoms are unknown at this time. Chronic itch, chronic pain and other vague symptoms of inflammation may be labeled as psychosomatic instead of unknown cause. Overactive TRP channels can be involved in chronic itch and chronic pain and the variety of possible substances and other reasons for a flair up in symptoms can make it very difficult to notice the pattern. I would rather be told we don’t know what is causing your symptoms than to be told to see a talk therapist or to be prescribed medications for mental illness that may cause additional symptoms due to side effects. The following chart is something I created after noticing a pattern, a very complex pattern, in my own symptoms and researching what the connection might be —- TRP channels. Not all substances or factors would cause symptoms for all of the conditions or for all people with a certain type of condition, however they may in larger amounts, or they may when the symptomatic condition is in a more severe state of inflammation. In reading about patients with some types of chronic itch symptoms I could feel their itchiness and mental hurt when treated as just difficult patients with anxiety problems – anxiety other extreme itchiness perhaps.

More about chronic itch and inflammatory stress conditions is available within a longer page/chapter I wrote about G3:Relaxation & StressG3.5: Negative stress chemicals may cause symptoms like itching, migraines, pain or IBS. ( Preeclampsia is a prenatal condition that can become life threatening for the woman and expected infant and it affects a significant percentage of pregnancies – more information about TRP channels and a physical position that might help reduce internal pressure on the channels is available in the section on G5: Preeclampsia & TRP Channels. It is a yoga style position that was recommended to reduce risk of a breech birth during my own pregnancies and I found it relaxing. ( I feel a duty to warn – a duty to inform other expectant mothers about a simple strategy that might protect their infant from a potentially life-threatening condition.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

  1. Shah SK, Hull SC, Spinner MA, et al. What Does the Duty to Warn Require? The American journal of bioethics : AJOB. 2013;13(10):62-63. doi:10.1080/15265161.2013.828528.
  2. Andrew Boyd, The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe,
  3. Sinclair S, Beamer K, Hack TF, et al. Sympathy, empathy, and compassion: A grounded theory study of palliative care patients’ understandings, experiences, and preferences. Palliative Medicine. 2017;31(5):437-447. doi:10.1177/0269216316663499.
  4. Dr. Simon McCormick, SGEM #227: A Message to you Rudy, About Rudeness, Aug. 22, 2018, A Skeptic’s Guide to Emergency Medicine,