Wednesday, April 24, 2019

30-Day Booty Building Challenge

Summer is just around the corner, which means I need to get my butt (quite literally) into gear. My diet is mostly on track via macros and overall balanced eating, but I know I need to step it up a notch with my workouts if I want to look and feel great come beach season.

My booty has always been a “problem area” for me, so a couple of years ago, I decided to focus on building and firming up my glutes with a 30-Day Booty Building Challenge. I was committed to making a change, but I didn’t want the extra workouts to take over my life. Basically, I wanted a glute program that was short and sweet, but very effective. You guys know I’m ALL about efficiency when it comes to my workouts, so this challenge was no different!

And you know what? In a short amount of time, I saw results! So much, in fact, I decided to commit to another 30-day challenge for the month of May. This time, however, instead of doing one round of each workout, I am going to knock out two. It ends up being just 10 minutes a day. If you add weight to these exercises, you’ll feel the burn for sure!

Interested in participating? I would love for you to join me! Accountability is most definitely needed as summertime approaches, and I know I’m not the only one! Leave a comment below, and let me know if you’re in! We’ll have weekly check-ins and giveaways here on the blog, so keep a look out each week! 🙂

30-Day Booty Building Challenge

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

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10 Natural Sleep Aids: What Works and Why

By now, the average person grasps just how important sleep is for our overall health. It seems like every month there’s a new popular science book extolling the virtues of sleep. Parents remember the zombified newborn days and can see (and hear), firsthand, what happens when a toddler doesn’t get enough sleep. And on a visceral level, we feel the need for slumber. Even if we’re unaware of or refuse to accept the health dangers of long-term sleep restriction, there’s no getting around the abject misery of a bad night’s sleep.

We all want better sleep. We all need better sleep. But how?

Sleeping pills are not the answer for most people.

(But please note: Don’t discontinue or alter a prescribed treatment or medication regimen without consulting your doctor…and, likewise, don’t begin a new regimen—like those below—without running it by your physician.)

In one recent “positive” study on the effects of sleeping pills, almost every single subject suffered one or more side effects, ranging from headaches to nausea to irritability to dizziness to dysgeusia (a condition where your sense of taste is altered).

In another, taking Ambien the night before decreased cognitive performance and increased subjective sleepiness the next morning.

Studies aside, there are thousands of horror stories about people ruining their lives (or behaving in a way that had the potential to do so) after taking sleeping pills. Twitter rants that get you fired, sleep driving, tooth grinding, furniture rearranging, sleep eating. And those are just the ones that people live to tell.

That’s not to say sleeping pills are useless. They’re legitimate drugs to be used for specific medical conditions, in specific patient circumstances. They aren’t to be trifled with. But if you’re just trying to “get better sleep,” you’ve got options. And I’m not even mentioning the lifestyle and behavioral modifications you can make to improve your sleep.

Here are my favorite natural sleep aids….


GABA is the inhibitory neurotransmitter. It calms the brain. It soothes the brain. It de-stresses the brain. And it’s a major factor in the creation of melatonin, the hormone our brain uses to trigger sleep onset. Insomniacs have reduced brain GABA levels compared to non-insomniacs; the same goes for people with sleep apnea. Restoring physiological levels of GABA, then, is a first line of defense against poor sleep.

Oral GABA has a blood-brain barrier problem—it doesn’t cross it particularly well. Children have more permissive BBBs, but most of my readers aren’t children. Nitric oxide tends to increase GABA diffusion across the blood brain barrier, and there are a couple of ways to increase nitric oxide in conjunction with taking GABA to make the latter more effective for sleep.

You could sunbathe. That increases nitric oxide release. The only problem is that most sunbathing occurs during the midday hours, not at night. It’s unclear how long the boost from sunlight lasts, though it certainly can’t hurt.

You could take apocynum venetum, an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine that increases nitric oxide release. In fact, one study showed that taking GABA with apcynum ventum improves sleep quality.

Before you start sedating yourself, see if GABA has an effect.

2. Melatonin

When it’s bedtime for your brain, your pineal gland starts pumping out a hormone called melatonin. This initiates the onset of sleep and triggers subjective feelings of sleepiness; it also sets your circadian rhythm.

Supplemental melatonin crosses the blood brain barrier and acts very similarly to endogenous melatonin.

Don’t use melatonin every night. Not because you’ll get “addicted” (you won’t) or “your natural production will stop” (it won’t), but because you should focus on producing your own. If I get a big dose of late night blue light, I might nibble on a little melatonin. If I have more than a single glass of wine at night, I’ll have some melatonin before bed as alcohol depresses its production. And when I travel, I always take a few milligrams an hour before my desired bedtime in the new time zone.

The main reason you shouldn’t rely on melatonin for everyday use is that supplemental melatonin pharmacology doesn’t quite emulate endogenous melatonin pharmacology. The way most people take it is in a single dose before bed. The way the brain produces it is consistently through the night. If you want to emulate physiological levels of melatonin, you’re better off taking a single dose of instant release melatonin followed by a dose of slow release melatonin, or a supplement that includes both forms. Even then, it’s not the same.

3. Collagen

I still remember the first time I drank a big mug of bone broth at night. It was one of the not-as-rare-as-you’d-think cold “winter” nights in Malibu. I was sitting on the couch, reading a book, and got about 3/4 of the way through a mug of chicken foot broth before, apparently, falling asleep right then and there. A bit of research the next day revealed that glycine, the primary amino acid in collagen/gelatin/broth, can have a powerful effect on sleep quality. Not only that, glycine also lowers body temperature (an important part of the sleep process) and improves wakefulness the next day. And if you’ve got REM sleep behavior disorder, glycine may be the solution.

In fact, the glycine-sleep effect was another consideration in creating Collagen Fuel and Peptides. Everyone talks about the benefits to joint health, performance, skin, nails, hair, and general inflammation, but I want folks to also discover the benefit of glycine-enhanced sleep, too.

If you take collagen, aim for at least 10 grams at night. If you’re taking straight glycine, 3 grams is the minimum dose. Those are threshold doses; more may help even more.

4. Magnesium

We talk a lot about “age-related” declines in health, vitality, performance, and basic physiological functions. We also talk about how much of what we call “age-related” isn’t inevitable. It’s not so much that the passage of time degrades our bodies and how they work, but that we become more susceptible to poor lifestyle, dietary, and exercise choices because of compounding negative interest. We’re born with robust health and if we fail to maintain it, our health worsens as time progresses. If we never stop moving, lifting weights, and eating right, aging doesn’t happen to the same degree.

One thing that changes with age is how we sleep. In older people, sleep architecture is different: More time is spent awake and there’s less slow wave sleep. Sleep spindles, those oscillating bursts of brain wave activity, begin disappearing. Sounds inevitable, right? Except that research shows that taking magnesium reverses these age-related changes to sleep architecture.

Taking some Natural Calm (a great magnesium supplement) after your CrossFit workout and falling asleep faster is one thing. But to actually restore youthful sleep architecture? Amazing.

5. CBD Oil

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis.

And to me, the most interesting aspect of CBD lies in its potential to improve sleep. A 2017 review provides a nice summary of the effects of CBD on sleep:

In insomnia patients, 160 mg/day of CBD increased sleep time and reduced the number of arousals (not that kind) during the night.

Lower doses are linked to increased arousals and greater wakefulness. Higher dose CBD improved sleep.

In preliminary research with Parkinson’s patients, CBD reduced REM-related behavioral disorder—which is when you basically act out your dreams as they’re happening.

More recently, a large case series (big bunch of case studies done at once) was performed giving CBD to anxiety patients who had trouble sleeping. Almost 80% had improvements in anxiety and 66% had improvements in sleep (although the sleep improvements fluctuated over time).

Here’s how to find a good CBD oil.

6. Theanine

Theanine is a chemical found in tea, especially tea grown in shady conditions. Because it is structurally similar to glutamate and easily passes the blood brain barrier, theanine binds to various glutamate receptors in the brain, inhibiting the action of some and promoting the action of others. It also increases serotonin, GABA, and glycine in the brain—all chemicals that can pave the way for better sleep.

Theanine is another of those sleep aids that isn’t expressly about sleep. It’s about relaxation, about letting you get out of your own way. If in the course of relaxation and stress reduction you end up taking care of the thing that’s messing up your sleep, theanine can be said to be a big sleep aid.

This is a good theanine. I also make a supplement (Adaptogenic Calm) that contains theanine and other stress-reducing compounds.

7. Lutein and Zeaxanthin

One of the most powerful sleep aids is wearing a pair of orange safety goggles that blocks blue light after dark. Viewed after dark, blue (and green) light suppresses melatonin secretion, pushes back sleep onset, and throws off your entire circadian rhythm. Blocking the light with goggles allows normal melatonin production to proceed and promotes earlier bedtimes and better, deeper sleeps.

What if you could take a supplement that simulated the blue-blocking effect of a pair of orange safety goggles? Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, plant-based pigments found in colorful produce and pasture-raised eggs that are actually incorporated into the eye where they offer protection from sunlight and inhibit the melatonin-reducing effect of nighttime light exposure. Human studies show that taking lutein and zeaxanthin on a regular basis improves sleep quality, reduces sleep disturbances, and lowers dependence on supplemental or pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Here’s a good one. Trader Joe’s also has a good supplement called Super Vision.

The best natural sleep aids restore the ancestral sleep baseline. At baseline, humans should be walking around with good GABA levels. They should be getting enough magnesium, collagen/glycine, and carotenoids from their diet. It’s normal to produce melatonin after dark. And even though humans haven’t been dosing themselves with CBD or theanine for very long, it also isn’t normal to be inundated with chronic, low level stress and persistent anxiety—the type of stress that ruins our sleep, the type of anxiety that CBD and theanine can regulate.

What else?

8. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is an herb in the mint family. The fragrance is intoxicating (I’ve even used lemon balm in a roasted chicken), but not the effects. It doesn’t directly induce sleep—it’s not a sedative or a hypnotic—but if stress and anxiety are getting in the way of your sleep, lemon balm will help clear them out.

9. Valerian

Valerian root has a long history as an anti-insomnia herb. The ancient Greeks used it and traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medical traditions continue to use to it to treat bad sleep. Valerian contains a compound that slows down the brain’s metabolism of GABA, thereby increasing GABA levels and letting what the brain already produces hang around even longer.

I’ll admit I’m more ambivalent about these last two options. While they’re certainly gentler than pharmaceutical sleep pills, and lemon balm in particular is a legit way to deal with stress and anxiety, their efficacy for sleep is questionable. The evidence just isn’t there, though I grant that many people report good results.

10. Combinations

Many of these individual compounds become more powerful and more effective combined with each other. Since these aren’t pharmaceutical drugs with very narrow safety profiles rife with contraindications, taking them together usually isn’t an issue, but check in with your doctor anyway (especially if you’re taking other medications or have known health conditions).

And today’s list isn’t exhaustive. There are other compounds, herbs, and supplements that can probably help people improve their sleep.

Most of the adaptogens, like ashwagandha or rhodiola rosea, have been shown in one study or another to improve sleep in humans. Anything that helps get you back to baseline, back to homeostasis, back to normal—will restore your sleep if it’s suffering. And if you’re suffering, your sleep is likely suffering because sleep is such a fundamental aspect of the human experience. Anything that improves your health will also probably improve your sleep.

This goes without saying, but don’t limit yourself to natural sleep supplements. Don’t forget about the importance of lifestyle, of exercise, of diet, of morning light exposure and nighttime light avoidance. Supplements can help, but they can’t be the foundation for good sleep hygiene. You’re just asking for trouble—or subpar results.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Now, let’s hear from you. What natural sleep aids have you found most useful? Is there anything I overlooked or forgot? Let me know down below.



Pinto LR, Bittencourt LR, Treptow EC, Braga LR, Tufik S. Eszopiclone versus zopiclone in the treatment of insomnia. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2016;71(1):5-9.

Dinges DF, Basner M, Ecker AJ, Baskin P, Johnston S. Effects of Zolpidem and Zaleplon on Cognitive Performance After Emergent Tmax and Morning Awakenings: a Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Sleep. 2018;

Yamatsu A, Yamashita Y, Maru I, Yang J, Tatsuzaki J, Kim M. The Improvement of Sleep by Oral Intake of GABA and Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 2015;61(2):182-7.

Held K, Antonijevic IA, KĂĽnzel H, et al. Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002;35(4):135-43.

Kim S, Jo K, Hong KB, Han SH, Suh HJ. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharm Biol. 2019;57(1):65-73.

Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Monteferrario F, Antoniello N, Manni R, Klersy C. The effect of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc on primary insomnia in long-term care facility residents in Italy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59(1):82-90.

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from Mark's Daily Apple

Birch Baby Sleep: 4-6 Months

I have procrastinated writing any baby posts for the past two months (for some odd reason) because I’ve wanted to write about sleep. However, I think I wanted to have and end to the story first, which obviously will not come. Parenting is one never-ending journey! I’m planning to write about other milestones (eating real food, starting to move, etc.) in a six month post, but I have so much to say about sleep I had to make it its own post!

I did everything I could to avoid the four month sleep regression. You might recall that Mazen’s sleep was h o r r i b l e between 4-6 months, and so I followed all the “rules” to help Birch learn to self soothe. Of course we’ll never know if it was nature or nurture, but Birch has been a pretty good sleeper from about the one month mark on. I do think nurture has at least something to do with it. We practiced “le pause” and really paid attention to his cries and cues before rushing to the bassinet every night. (See Baby Sleep: Two Months In.)

At the four month mark he was sleeping 9-10 hours straight most nights!

And just as we thought we had escaped the dreaded regression, it began. Within days of Birch turning four months old, he learned how to roll over. This led to me taking away the Merlin suit that he was so cozy in and putting him into a regular sleep sack. (The Kyte brand gifted from my sister is my favorite!) I don’t think it was the sleep sack transition itself that led to the multiple wakes but him trying to practice rolling all night long. For a night or two I tried rolling him back to his back because I was nervous about SIDS. But I finally gave in and let him sleep on his tummy and he hasn’t slept on his back for a minute since! He’s a full-on tummy sleeper like me. But during those nights when I would roll him back OR when he would get to his tummy, he would wake up and fuss.

ALSO, in an effort to get longer naps, I started nursing him before his naps. I “knew better” than to nurse him totally asleep, and I made sure he opened his eyes before putting him in the crib, but I think this still created a sleep association that was timed perfectly with the rolling.

So when he would be totally awake and upset from the rolling, nursing was the only way I could calm him down enough to get back to sleep. I then reinforced this at naptime! So basically this was mostly my fault. I knew I had to un-do the nursing association and remind him that he already knew how to self soothe.

After he learned how to roll over I felt that his bassinet was probably too small and also contributing to mediocre sleep and we switched to the Lotus Travel Crib in our room. If he hadn’t slept well in the Lotus I was considering just moving him to his crib for nights, but it’s such a hike to the nursery from our room that I wanted to hold off if at all possible.

When your big brother comes in to wake you up in the morning 

The Fix

We had quite a few choppy sleep weeks in a row and then finally feel like we’ve come out on the other side. So what fixed it?

-Birch learned to roll (I think it took about a week for him to do it effortlessly)

-He’s 100% in sleep sacks. I’m actually SO glad to be done with swaddles and suits.

-He’s out of his bassinet and in a crib (even if it’s a lightweight crib in our room)

-When he wanted to nurse at night I turned on all the lights, changed his diaper first to delay the nursing, and then did my best to keep him awake by talking to him (sorry sleeping Thomas!) When he was done eating we went back into sleep mode. This goes against your instinct not to wake them up too much, but it’s the best long-term solution.

-And I stopped nursing him to drowsy before naps and got back on the eat, play, sleep routine train. It was dumb of me to ever veer away from that!

We are now back to one wake or a full night straight through!

I’d say about 50% of the nights he nurses between 3 and 5. And the other nights he sleeps a whole night (9-10 hours). On the nights that he has an earlier bedtime (no late afternoon nap) he tends to want to eat between 3 and 5 but then he will sleep until 7ish. On the nights that he has a late afternoon nap he goes to bed later but he sleeps all night and will often wake up closer to 6:30. The second option is the one that I prefer, but that afternoon nap and bedtime are 100% based on how naps have gone that day.

Naps In The Crib

Speaking of naps, he has been napping AMAZINGLY well. (Knock on all the wood). Birch takes all of his naps in his crib in his nursery. I definitely do want him to get used to his crib for when it’s time to move him downstairs at night. I have no idea when that will be. I am thinking around the 9 month mark, but I once said the 6 month mark and now here I am not ready. It’s definitely more about me than him!

On typical days I put him down 2 hours after he wakes up and he will sleep for 2 to 2.5 hours!! Amazing since Mazen never slept more than 39 minutes until he was six months old. I aim for nap #2 about 2 to 2.5 hours after the end of the first one. Sometimes he will do another 2.5 hour one, and sometimes it’s more like 1.5. The shorter second nap means he’ll probably do a late afternoon third nap and if he does a longer second nap he will skip his third one.

So days are either:

2.5 + 2/2.5 –> early bedtime around 7


2 + 1.5 + 1 –> later bedtime around 8

I aim for 2 to 2.5 hours of wake time between naps. Occasionally he fights a nap or wakes up early, which I think is related to teething or some other comfort problem, and we have a 1.5 + 1.5 + 1 or something. We just roll with it and the clock starts over for a 2 hour wake time.

Hand Pump

Whenever I mention Birch doing a long night someone always asks me what I do about engorgement. I have this little silicone hand pump and I keep it in my night stand. It works by suction only, and it’s perfect if you just want to take the edge off. I sometimes wake up before Birch and will pull off 3 ounces before he nurses (and he still gets plenty!) I think once he starts to sleep all night, every night this will get better.

Follow Little Z Sleep!

Little Z Sleep on Instagram is an awesome account to follow! Becca is actually local to Virginia – in Richmond – and a friend of mine bought her newborn sleep program and recommended her to me. She has SO many great tips on her feed (like her question Tuesdays in her stories!) and she has programs you can buy if you want an in-depth lesson or personalized consults. She ALSO has a terrific podcast! Highly recommend! She’s the one who talked about making sure eating time was awake time to break the association at night, and that was such great advice. It worked for us!

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