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Diễn đàn trí thức (Diễn đàn trí thức) – Bài tham luận của GS.TSKH Nguyễn Ngọc Trân được trình bày tại cuộc tọa đàm về Nhiệt điện do Ban Tuyên giáo Trung ương tổ chức tại Hà Nội Nhiệt điện than bủa vây ĐBSCL: Phá thế ‘thập diện mai phục’ Giải vây ĐBSCL khỏi nhiệt […]

via Nhiệt điện than trong tổng sơ đồ năng lượng QG đổi mới — CVD

(Diễn đàn trí thức) – Bài tham luận của GS.TSKH Nguyễn Ngọc Trân được trình bày tại cuộc tọa đàm về Nhiệt điện do Ban Tuyên giáo Trung ương tổ chức tại Hà Nội

(3) Tăng trưởng NLQG phải đi trước và là tiền đề cho tăng trưởng kinh tế. Nhưng với tốc độ nào, liên quan ra sao với hệ số đàn hồi điện là hợp lý? Nhớ rằng:

♦ Nhu cầu và tốc độ tăng trưởng của NLQG còn tùy thuộc vào mô hình tăng trưởng kinh tế;

♦ Mô hình tăng trưởng kinh tế ngày nay của các nước đã thay đổi dưới tác động của hai cuộc cách mạng công nghiệp lần thú ba và lần thứ tư;

♦ Tạo ra nguồn NL mới phải đi cùng với tiết kiệm trong sử dụng NL;

♦ Mô hình tính toán nhu cầu và tốc độ tăng trưởng của NLQG theo tăng trưởng GDP, và phân bổ các dạng năng lượng cần thường xuyên được cập nhật.

Tỷ trọng của kinh tế tri thức ngày càng tăng. Công nghệ thông tin, tự động hóa, kinh tế công nghiệp 4.0, kinh tế nông nghiệp ứng dụng công nghệ cao, thương mại điện tử, và một số ngành kinh tế dịch vụ, sử dụng NL ít hơn các ngành công nghiệp nặng nhưng đóng góp không kém phần quan trọng cho GDP.

(4) Mô hình tăng trưởng kinh tế lại phải được lồng vào bối cảnh toàn cầu hóa kinh tế, hội nhập quốc tế, biến đổi khí hậu toàn cầu và phải tính đến những tham vọng của các siêu cường về lãnh thổ, lãnh hải và tài nguyên thiên nhiên.

(5) Tổng sơ đồ phải tính đến tiềm năng năng lượng của các vùng kinh tế – sinh thái của đất nước, khai thác tối đa các tiềm năng này để đóng góp vào tổng sơ đồ, đồng thời phục vụ cho sự phát triển kinh tế xã hội của địa phương.

Sự đổi mới này trong xây dựng tổng sơ đồ năng lượng quốc gia còn giúp tối ưu hóa mạng lưới truyền tải điện quốc gia, giải tỏa ràng buộc và áp lực “thêm 1MW cần 11 km đường dây”.

Một ví dụ cụ thể đó là tiềm năng NL Gió ở duyên hải Trung Bộ, Nam Bộ và Tây Nguyên, và tiềm năng NLMT suốt dọc duyên hải Nam Trung Bộ, Tây Nguyên và Nam Bộ thuộc loại cao nhất nước.

(6) Kết hợp tập trung với phân tán, giảm tải cho tập trung, cùng lúc với phát huy tiềm năng của phân tán được định hướng bằng chính sách của Nhà nước.

Có như vậy mới tìm được giải pháp cho các bài toán nan giải với cách tiếp cận tập trung bao cấp: đầu tư bao nhiêu để tạo ra một việc làm mới? (USD/job); để có thêm 1MW mới cần 11,8 km đường dây?; cần đầu tư bao nhiêu để tăng thêm 1m2 nhà ở/người dân ở Hà Nội, (câu hỏi từ những năm 1980), v.v. …

Năng lượng phân tán, một mặt sẽ giảm tải cho tập trung, mặt khác sẽ tạo ra việc làm mới (job engine) mà người dân tự đầu tư và hưởng thụ thành quả. (Xã An Bình (Lý Sơn) từ khi có điện là một ví dụ).

(7) Tầm quan trọng, vai trò của chính sách mà Nhà nước kiến tạo cần ban hành. Chính sách đúng sẽ giải phóng năng lực của xã hội. Đó là một trong những bài học lớn của Đổi Mới 1986.

(8) Các tiếp cận trên đây đan kết với nhau. Do vậy cách xây dựng tổng sơ đồ cần được đổi mới với tầm nhìn rộng, với quan điểm hệ thống và động, và tư duy luôn đổi mới.

Chú thích:

(*) Bài tham luận được trình bày tại cuộc tọa đàm về Nhiệt điện do Ban Tuyên giáo Trung ương tổ chức tại Hà Nội, ngày 05.03.2019.

(1) Xem thêm: Shannon N. Koplitz et al, Burden of Disease from Rising Coal-Fired Power Plant Emissions in Southeast Asia. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2017, 51, 1467−1476, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03731

(2) EVN, Tổng hợp tình hình tro xỉ tại các NMNĐ than của EVN. Tài liệu Hội nghị “Sản xuất VLXD từ tro xỉ” Hà Nội, 20/6/2018.

(3) Công việc đã được thực hiện tại Phòng thí nghiệm Kỹ thuật hạt nhân thuộc Trường Đại học Khoa học Tự nhiên, Đại học Quốc Gia Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh.

Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, ngày 04.03. 2019

  • GS. TSKH Nguyễn Ngọc Trân
    Nguyên Phó Chủ nhiệm Ủy Ban Khoa học và Kỹ thuật nhà nước (1980-1992), nguyên Phó Chủ nhiệm Ủy Ban Đối ngoại của Quốc Hội (1997-2007), Đại biểu Quốc hội (1992-2007).

Share – Người làm được việc lớn trước tiên phải đúng giờ: Trễ hẹn là biểu hiện của một kẻ vô kỉ luật, ích kỉ và không đáng tin cậy!

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Là tổng thống đầu tiên của Hoa Kỳ, bên cạnh tài năng lãnh đạo chính trị và quân sự xuất chúng, George Washington nổi tiếng kỹ tính với vấn đề đúng hẹn.

Khi Washington hẹn người bán ngựa đưa những con ngựa ông muốn mua đến vào lúc 5 giờ sáng và người đó đến muộn 15 phút, người quản ngựa nói với anh ta rằng Ngài Tổng tư lệnh đã ở đây đợi từ lúc 5 giờ nhưng giờ Ngài đã đi làm việc khác, Ngài cũng không thể kiểm tra tình trạng của lũ ngựa cho đến tuần sau.

Nếu ông hẹn gặp các thành viên Quốc hội vào giữa trưa, người ta thường thấy ông ấy bước vào phòng làm việc Quốc hội vừa lúc đồng hồ điểm 12 tiếng.

Sự đúng giờ của Washington còn thể hiện cả trong giờ giấc ăn uống. Ông ấy ăn tối đúng 4 giờ chiều mỗi ngày. Nếu các thành viên Quốc hội được mời đến dùng bữa đến muộn hơn giờ hẹn, họ thường ngạc nhiên khi thấy ngài tổng thống đã ăn được nửa bữa ăn hoặc thậm chí đã kéo ghế đứng dậy. Trước sự sững sờ của vị khách lề mề, Washington sẽ nói: “Ở đây chúng tôi rất đúng giờ. Đầu bếp của tôi không bao giờ hỏi khách đã đến chưa mà chỉ hỏi đã đến giờ chưa.”

Khi thư ký của Washington đi họp trễ và anh ta đổ lỗi cho chiếc đồng hồ đeo tay của mình, ngài tổng thống chậm rãi trả lời: “Thế thì cậu phải thay đồng hồ mới thôi, hoặc là tôi phải thay thư ký mới.”

Thái độ nghiêm túc với việc đúng giờ của George Washington bắt nguồn từ cuốn “The Rules of Civility” (tạm dịch: “Quy tắc ứng xử lịch sự”), cuốn sách ông đọc từ ngày trẻ. Ngài tổng thống lặp lại nhiều lần những châm ngôn trong cuốn sách như “Không chịu trách nhiệm với những điều bạn không thể làm nhưng một khi đã hứa thì phải làm đến nơi đến chốn”. Đối với Washington, đúng giờ là cách thể hiện sự tôn trọng đối phương và ông hy vọng mình cũng nhận lại điều tương tự.

Những câu chuyện trên cách chúng ta hàng thế kỷ nhưng ý thức đúng giờ thì không mất đi tính thời sự của nó. Người ta gọi đây là một “đức tính giản dị nhưng đáng tin cậy” và chắc chắn là nó không làm khó chủ nhân đến mức phải gồng mình lấy hết dũng khí và sức lực để thực hiện. Sự đúng giờ thể hiện tính kỷ luật và tự chủ. Ngay cả khi nó không được thừa nhận rộng rãi là một nét tính cách quyến rũ, sự đúng giờ vẫn là yếu tố cần có ở một người đàn ông đáng tin cậy.

Tại sao đúng giờ lại quan trọng?

Tầm quan trọng của sự đúng giờ không mang tính phổ quát, nó phụ thuộc vào từng nền văn hoá. Ở châu Mỹ La tinh hay Quần đảo Thái Bình Dương, giờ giấc giữa nhiều nơi có thể khác nhau và nhiều khi thời gian gặp gỡ không được rõ ràng. Thế nhưng không ai có thể phê phán giá trị của sự đúng giờ đối với một người đàn ông sống trong nền văn hoá luôn coi trọng việc đúng hẹn. Giống như việc một người đàn ông phương Tây luôn cẩn trọng trong từng cái bắt tay, cách đeo cà vạt và cả cách anh ấy giữ cửa cho một người phụ nữ, họ làm những điều này như một phần cuộc sống của mình cho dù không phải ở nền văn hoá nào chúng cũng phổ biến.

Sau đây là những lý do tại sao đúng giờ lại quan trọng:

Đúng giờ thể hiện sự quyết đoán. Khi bạn nói với ai đó bạn sẽ gặp họ vào một thời điểm cụ thể, thực tế bạn đã đưa ra một lời hứa. Bạn hẹn sẽ có mặt lúc 8:00 nhưng 8:15 bạn mới đến tức là bạn đã thất hứa. Việc đúng giờ thể hiện bạn là người dám nói dám làm.

Đúng giờ thể hiện bạn là người đáng tin cậy.Người ta tin tưởng những người nói được làm được – nếu anh ấy nói anh ấy sẽ có mặt, anh ấy sẽ có mặt. Nhưng với người không đúng giờ, người ta sẽ không thể trông cậy vào anh ấy – họ không biết tìm anh ấy ở đâu khi cần. Những người cộng tác với anh ấy sẽ cho rằng người này không biết tự sắp xếp thời gian của mình và nghi hoặc này sẽ dần vượt qua giới hạn của vấn đề giờ giấc, câu hỏi dấy lên trong mắt nhiều người là: “Nếu anh ta đã không coi trọng thời gian thì còn điều gì anh ta không coi trọng nữa?”.

Benjamin Franklin từng nói với một nhân viên luôn đi muộn nhưng lần nào cũng lý do sẵn sàng một câu như này: “Tôi nhận ra là người giỏi bao biện ngoài giỏi cái đó thì chẳng giỏi thêm cái gì khác.”

Đúng giờ gia tăng sự tự tin của bạn. Việc bạn đúng giờ không chỉ cho người khác thấy bạn là người đáng tin, nó còn cho bạn thấy bạn có thể tin cậy chính mình. Bạn càng giữ được lời hứa bạn đã hứa, bạn càng trở nên tự tin. Khi bạn kỷ luật với bản thân, bạn sẽ không bị động trước những giới hạn và thói quen của mình và làm chủ cuộc sống tốt hơn.

Đúng giờ đảm bảo cho việc bạn có thể thể hiện bản thân tốt nhất. Sau khi đâm vào đuôi xe ai đó, phóng xe với tốc độ bàn thờ, nhấp nhổm tìm kiếm bóng dáng cảnh sát giao thông hay chửi thề trước đèn đỏ, bạn khó có thể dồn sự tập trung cho bài thuyết trình mình sắp phải trình bày hay buổi xem mặt bạn đợi chờ cả tuần lễ – bạn run và căng thẳng trước những áp lực bạn mới trải qua. Trái lại, nếu bạn đến đúng giờ, sớm hơn một chút càng tốt, bạn sẽ có vài phút để sắp xếp những suy nghĩ trong đầu, lướt qua tài liệu và giữ biểu cảm gương mặt ở trạng thái tốt nhất.

Đúng giờ thể hiện tính kỷ luật. Người đàn ông đúng giờ cho thấy anh ấy biết tổ chức thời gian của mình và lưu tâm đến tiểu tiết. Anh ấy có thể tạm gác việc kia để làm việc này hay anh ấy có thể hoãn việc vui chơi lại để lo cho công việc.

Đúng giờ thể hiện sự khiêm tốn. Châm ngôn “Always late, but worth the wait” (tạm dịch: “Luôn đi trễ, nhưng đáng công đợi chờ”) có nghĩa là đôi khi sự chậm trễ và sự trân trọng đi đôi với nhau. Người ta sẽ rất vui mừng khi bạn đến nhưng họ còn vui hơn nếu bạn tới đúng giờ.

Đúng giờ thể hiện sự tôn trọng bạn dành cho người khác. Đi trễ là một biểu hiện của sự ích kỷ, bạn đặt nhu cầu của mình lên trên mọi người. Bạn muốn có thêm một phút để làm những việc bạn muốn, nhưng để có một phút đó bạn phải lấy đi một phút của người khác, đó là lý do tại sao…

Bạn nói đi trễ 1 phút không sao, nhưng sự thật là:

Đi trễ là một hình thức ăn cắp. Đó là sự thật phũ phàng nhưng nó vẫn là sự thật. Khi bạn bắt ai đó đợi chờ, bạn đang lấy đi của họ những giờ phút họ không bao giờ có thể lấy lại được, những thời giờ có thể đem lại cho người ta tiền bạc hay chỉ đơn giản là để họ làm những điều họ cảm thấy quan trọng. Để đến đúng giờ đã hẹn với bạn, người ta phải hy sinh. Hy sinh đó có thể là dậy sớm hơn, rút ngắn thời gian tập thể dục, từ chối đọc cùng con một câu truyện cổ tích và sự lề mề của bạn làm những hy sinh này đổ sông đổ bể. Nếu bạn không có ý định trộm 10 nghìn trong ví ai đó, bạn cũng đừng nghĩ đến việc trộm của người ta 10 phút làm gì. Đi đúng giờ thể hiện bạn quý trọng thời gian của mình và không coi rẻ tài nguyên quý giá nhưng hữu hạn này của người khác.

Đi trễ làm cản trở trải nghiệm của người khác. Sự lề mề của bạn không chỉ đánh cắp thời gian của người khác mà cả sự tập trung họ dành cho những trải nghiệm của mình. Đó có thể là cậu sinh viên bước vào lớp khi bài giảng cúa giáo sư đã đi được một nửa, một gia đình đi qua mặt bạn để tìm ghế giữa lúc bộ phim đang đến đoạn cao trào hay một anh bạn kéo cánh cửa xập xệ khi cả khán phòng đang chìm trong im lặng. Khi một ông cụ được hỏi tại sao ông luôn đến nhà thờ làm lễ đúng giờ suốt hàng chục năm trời, ông đã trả lời: “Đức tin của tôi là không làm cản trở đức tin của người khác.”

Đi trễ khiến các mối quan hệ của bạn trở nên căng thẳng. Khi bạn trễ hẹn, đối phương sẽ nghĩ bạn không coi trọng họ. Những việc níu kéo bạn thì quan trọng hơn và họ không đủ ảnh hưởng để bạn sắp xếp những khoảng thời gian hợp lý trong lịch trình bộn bề. Vị khách bay một quãng đường dài để gặp bạn cảm thấy mình như một kẻ ngốc đứng trơ trọi giữa sân bay; người yêu bạn khó xử vì cô ấy phải ngồi một mình trong nhà hàng và con bạn cảm thấy bị bỏ rơi khi con bé cùng cô giáo ngồi hàng tiếng đợi bạn đến đón trong khi các bạn đã được bố mẹ đón hết ngay khi tan trường.

Đi trễ gây cản trở cho sự nghiệp của bạn. Dù bạn là người đi làm thuê hay bạn tự khởi nghiệp, trễ giờ luôn là hòn đá cản đường thành công của bạn. Rất nhiều công ty đặt ra những quy định khắt khe về việc đúng giờ – thử đi trễ vài lần xem, bạn sẽ bị cho thôi việc. Tất nhiên, nếu bạn đi trễ ngay từ buổi phỏng vấn, bạn sẽ không bao giờ được nhận vào vị trí bạn đã ứng tuyển. Nếu bạn đang cố thuyết phục một khách hàng tiềm năng mà bạn đến muộn giờ hẹn 10 phút, công việc khó có thể diễn ra suôn sẻ. Kết quả tương tự nếu bạn hẹn khách hoàn thành một phần việc nào đó trước thời hạn nhất định và bạn thất bại, nhiều khả năng khách sẽ tìm kiếm dịch vụ bạn đang cung cấp ở một nơi khác.

Đi trễ gây thiệt hại cho đời sống của bạn. Lúc nào cũng đi sau người khác gây thiệt hại trong mọi mặt đời sống. Nhiều cơ hội mất đi: lỡ chuyến bay, vắng mặt trong cuộc họp, lỡ một phần quan trọng trong bài học, lỡ mất đám cưới của đứa bạn thân. Không chỉ thế, nó còn gây ra căng thẳng, có thể cả tai nạn dọc đường. Trễ giờ đẩy bạn vào nhiều pha “mất mặt” và buộc bạn phải nghĩ ra đủ loại lý do bao biện cho việc bạn đi muộn, ảnh hưởng xấu đến sự thành thật cũng nwh danh dự của bạn.

Tóm lại, đi trễ giờ khiến cuộc sống của bạn phức tạp hơn. Nếu bạn muốn sống một cuộc đời đơn giản, trước hết hãy tập cho mình thói quen đúng giờ.

Phương Thảo – Theo Trí Thức Thẻ

Collection – Now Is Now

There is a beautiful passage on the last page of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, The Little House in the Big Woods. She writes of an evening in the cabin with her family, her father playing the fiddle, her mom knitting in a rocking chair.

“She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

It’s a passage that has resonated with millions of people over the last 86 years, including the writer Gretchen Rubin who ends her book Happier At Home with a meditation on how it has inspired her for most of her life.

But what does it mean? It means the same thing that the Stoics have always talked about. That you have to live in the very now, even when it is ordinary and quiet, because the now is very special. It is the only thing that is true. What has passed is past, and our memories of it gradually degrade and betray us. What has yet to pass is future, and as we should know by now is never guaranteed. Now is all that is real.

“Give yourself a gift,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “the present moment.”

Yet too many of us reject that gift. We continue to think of long ago. We dream of or fear a distant future. We are distracted or preoccupied and miss what is happening around us. It’s the quiet evenings at home with family that we should be present for. It’s the ordinary present that we should cherish.

Because it’s all we have.

Collection – When Science Journalism Becomes Dangerous

As research is simplified to suit a mainstream audience, some things get lost in translation

As a molecular biologist, I laugh alongside my colleagues in the lab when we read stories in magazines or hear breaking news reports about the latest “cure” for cancer. We understand that scientific research can be a little dull. And publications in scientific journals can be virtually inaccessible to the general public, both in terms of their jargon and their exorbitant pricing. To sell a scientific story, research findings get spiced up, simplified, over-extrapolated, and even distorted.

For example, I feel like I read a headline about a new “cure” for cancer every week. If I had to meet only the scientific standards of a news corporation, I would have personally “discovered” 57 new anti-tumor drugs during the course of my PhD studies alone.

Ultimately, there isn’t a great deal of danger to stories like these. Sure, they may get people’s hopes up prematurely. But chemotherapy drugs take years of clinical testing, millions of dollars, and pages of legal documentation before they reach the market. We start to approach a gray area, however, when the media promotes unregulated products or makes unclear, and unproven, suggestions about the ways our bodies work.

People shouldn’t be basing their health decisions on an article they read online or something they saw on TV. Health choices should be governed by the best possible scientific understanding available and that’s not something that’s going to be gleaned from sound bites in mainstream media.


BBC recently published a story titled “Skinny genes the ‘secret to staying slim,’” which seems to push the idea that being skinny or fat is largely the result of genetic composition. The story opens with: “Scientists say they have discovered the secret behind why some people are skinny while others pile on the pounds easily.” The problem is that when you dig into the details of the article, this isn’t true. The original research doesn’t assign genes as a causeof obesity but, rather, as a heritable risk factor.

Association does not mean causation.

I write a lot about diet, exercise, weight loss, and body composition. I’ve also worked for almost two years in a mitochondrial bioenergetics laboratory that investigates the molecular processes behind the development of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Yet, I still think of myself as possessing only a basic knowledge of obesity genetics. So, how did a journalist and their editor handle the task of analyzing the significance of a genome-wide investigation into the heritable risk factors for a lifestyle disease? But, of course, the purpose of the story doesn’t seem to have been to educate; it’s more about drawing in readers.

Science journalism takes some liberties in writing “scientists say” and “researchers concluded,” even when this is not necessarily the case. People trust scientists and doctors and, really, any trained professional in a given field. It’s much easier to sell a story if you put the words in the mouth of a scientist.

Although I disagree with the way science news hits the mainstream, we do need a way to educate people about the latest findings in health science research. Time and again, science journalism takes published research and repackages it into something marketable. And while it’s promising that the general public has taken such an interest in science, to the media, it’s just another product to push.

The BBC article was based on an original scientific article published in PLOS Genetics that suggests the findings are “a valuable resource on which to study resistance to obesity in an increasingly obesogenic environment.” When examining the “genetic architecture” of body weight, there is “evidence of association.” But here’s the problem: Association does not mean causation.

The researchers examined the genetic composition of thousands of people who represent the entire spectrum of human body shapes. This included both obese people and “healthy thin” people, as well as people who fall into the normal range of body weights in between.

The major finding of the study was that certain genes are more common among naturally skinny people, much like there are certain genes more common among overweight and obese people. Based on these results, genetic composition can be used to assign a statistical probability of being skinny and a statistical probability of being fat.

Your genes, however, do not cause you to become fat or thin. A person’s actions, and other physiological factors, are still a major determinant of the outcome. It’s just that certain people will find it easier to stay slim than others.

It’s like getting a tan. Some people have fair skin and have to spend several days in the sun for their skin to noticeably darken. Others, however, can spend 30 minutes outside and come back a shade of bronze. Genetic makeup determines how easily a body produces melanin, but genes do not cause skin to tan—exposure to UV radiation causes that.

Science journalism has been following a dangerous trend of insinuating that people are less responsible for our health than we think.

The root cause of an increase in obesity worldwide is an increased prevalence of sedentary living and changes in eating patterns globally. At the population level, the idea that genes are the primary cause of obesity is not scientifically valid. Of course genetic makeup contributes to individual health. But there is also overwhelming scientific and clinical evidence to support the idea that diet composition and physical activity levels can be used to drive or combat obesity. Although it may not be exciting news, reporters should be focusing on the impact of changing lifestyle habits on global health.


Science journalism has been following a dangerous trend of insinuating that people are less responsible for our health than we think. This idea draws in readers because humans love stories that shift the blame somewhere else. But to combat obesity related health problems, we need to accept responsibility for our own health. Both as a society and through individual choices. Society is responsible for creating a supportive platform and we are responsible for acting wisely on our opportunities.

Rising global obesity rates are the result of a classic case of systemic failure. Individuals are not entirely to blame; the global community is at fault. It’s no secret that we live in an obesogenic world. In order to create a more supportive system, we need to better promote healthy lifestyles by 1) refining educational measures that empower us to make informed decisions about diet and exercise, 2) creating work environments that enable us to act on our health choices freely, and 3) revising institutional policies that deny us the opportunity to act in our best health interests.

While society needs to do a much better job of supporting healthy lifestyle choices, we’re all responsible for the choices we make individually.

When globally renowned news outlets suggest we are not responsible for our health, it is not only misleading but dangerous. It negates personal responsibility and, ultimately, does not create a supportive platform where we can make better choices. If anything, it creates a sensation of helplessness, justifying our decision to not act at all.

By Jeremy Braude, Ph.D.

Full link: https://medium.com/s/story/when-science-journalism-becomes-dangerous-5726220bcdd9

Collection – The Complete Guide to Curing Insomnia

Solutions to every symptom so that you get the sleep you deserve.

The thing about sleep is that it’s highly prone to the “nod and shrug effect.” That is, it’s the kind of thing that everyone agrees is important, but when you tell people about it, they tend to agree, then do nothing. It’s easy to think of sleep as only a small factor in our overall health, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, sleeping well is one of the biggest factors that impacts our life expectancy. Just as we spend one-third of our lives asleep (hopefully), so we should probably be thinking of sleep as about one-third of what makes us healthy.

I’ve worked through my own issues with insomnia. Additionally, as a personal trainer and online health coach, I’ve helped other people tackle their sleep issues. Some have had trouble getting to sleep, some have had trouble staying asleep, and some just haven’t been finding enough time to sleep.

Regardless, all of them have been unhappy, low on energy, falling out of shape, and having trouble focusing during the day due to problems related to both quantity and quality of sleep.

Treating insomnia requires a lot of knowledge and a systematic process. In this article I’m going to walk you through some of the science of sleep, the three types of insomnia, and fifteen of the most common causes of those three types—along with at least one solution for each of those fifteen causes. At the end, I’ll lay out a systematic process for finding your own personal insomnia solution.

Table of Contents
- The Neurochemistry of Sleep
- Types of Insomnia: Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening
- Cause 1: Stimulants (Onset & Sleep Maintenance)
- Cause 2: Anxiety (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
- Cause 3: Light and Noise (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
- Cause 4: Nighttime Feels Like Daytime (Onset)
- Cause 5: Excessive Melatonin Usage (Onset, Early Awakening)
- Cause 6: Alcohol (Maintenance)
- Cause 7: Lack of Physical Activity (Onset)
- Cause 8: Anticipatory Awakening (Early Awakening)
- Cause 9: Jet Lag (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
- Cause 10: GABA Deficiency (Maintenance, Early Awakening)
- Cause 11: Hunger (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
- Cause 12: Sleeping Partner (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
- Cause 13: Lack of Time (Onset)
- Cause 14: Shift Work or Irregular Schedule (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
- Cause 15: Napping Late in the Day (Onset)
- How to Systematically Treat Your Insomnia

The Neurochemistry of Sleep

The brain produces hundreds of neurotransmitters, but for our purposes, there are four major ones that you should know about. Two are responsible for making you sleep, and two can prevent sleep if your brain produces too much of them at night. We’ll cover how to manipulate these hormones in some of the insomnia solutions later in this article.

Melatonin is the primary neurotransmitter responsible for sleep onset. The brain synthesizes melatonin from serotonin, which in turn is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan.

Melatonin is normally produced by the brain in the evenings, once the ambient light level drops below a certain threshold. Light — particularly blue light — suppresses melatonin production. The use of electric lighting at night is therefore one of the biggest causes of onset insomnia.

The stimulant hormone norepinephrine, which can be boosted by exercise and some antidepressants, also suppresses melatonin production. On the other hand, eating carbohydrates and foods rich in tryptophan can stimulate the brain to produce more melatonin.

GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human brain. It relaxes the brain by reducing neuronal excitability. It is synthesized from the amino acids glutamine and glutamate.

GABA is also the main neurotransmitter responsible for sleep maintenance. Where melatonin puts you to sleep, GABA keeps you asleep, and an insufficient quantity of it is often responsible for early awakening.

Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter and the main neurotransmitter responsible for producing motivation and reward-seeking behavior. It is synthesized from the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine. It tends to rise in response to pleasurable or rewarding activities and experiences or the prospect of such experiences.

Stimulants like caffeine increase production of dopamine, as do stimulating or inherently enjoyable activities like sex* and video games. Because dopamine is both stimulatory and motivating in nature, excess dopamine at night will both cause you to have too much energy and make you want to get up and do something other than sleep. On the other hand, some dopamine is necessary for REM sleep — so you want dopamine to be on the low side when you sleep, but this isn’t a case of “less is better.”

*To be clear—dopamine rises before and during sex but falls after orgasm. Having sex before bed won’t cause insomnia, at least so long as you reach orgasm.

Cortisol is another excitatory neurotransmitter. It’s known as the body’s main “stress hormone” and tends to rise in response to stress and anxiety. However, cortisol also plays a crucial role in energy metabolism and helping you wake up in the morning. Levels of cortisol are at their highest first thing in the morning and then normally fall as the day goes on.

An excess of cortisol will inhibit sleep and is normally caused by stress and anxiety. However, because cortisol rises after sleeping, excess cortisol can also be caused by napping.


Types of Insomnia: Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening

Insomnia is often thought of as difficulty getting to sleep, but its definition is actually much broader than that. Insomnia is better thought of as difficulty getting a full night’s sleep, regardless of whether that stems from issues with getting to sleep or those related to staying asleep.

By that definition, insomnia can be thought of as falling into three types. Note that there’s a lot of overlap between these three types of insomnia; many people suffer from two or even all three, and often more than one type of insomnia will stem from the same cause.

Onset Insomnia

Onset insomnia is what most people think of when they think about insomnia—the inability to easily fall asleep when you need to. It can stem from a wide variety of causes, including anxiety, caffeine usage, ambient light and noise, and jet lag.

As mentioned above, melatonin is the main neurotransmitter responsible for sleep onset, so onset insomnia frequently — though by no means always — stems from a lack of sufficient melatonin. On the other hand, it can also occur when other chemicals, like cortisol and dopamine, block or counteract the effects of melatonin.

Sleep Maintenance Insomnia

Simply put, sleep maintenance insomnia is when you get to sleep but can’t stay asleep. If you regularly find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble getting back to sleep, you have sleep maintenance insomnia.

Note that this is only a problem if it keeps you awake for a long time and prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep; it’s perfectly normal to wake up briefly once a night. In fact, there’s substantial evidence that this used to be the normal human sleeping pattern before the advent of modern lighting and coffee.

Early Awakening Insomnia

The final type of insomnia is the one that leads you to wake up too early in the morning, perhaps an hour or two ahead of your planned wake time. Early awakening insomnia somewhat resembles sleep maintenance insomnia; the main difference is that in this case, you wake up late enough that it’s impractical to get back to sleep. This is sometimes also called terminal insomnia, since it comes at the end of the night, but that name isn’t commonly used since it sounds misleadingly dire.

Early awakening puts you between a rock and a hard place. Because you’ve slept most of the night, your brain is starting to produce cortisol, which starts to wake you up. And since sleep occurs in roughly 90-minute cycles, you may not have time to get back to sleep and actually get through another full cycle.

Insomnia can have many, many different causes. What follows are fifteen of the most common, best-documented causes of insomnia. Some of them cause only one of the three types of insomnia, while others can cause two or even all three.

Read through them and take note of which factors you think may be causing your insomnia—and then read the final section for my advice on how to go about systematically treating your insomnia.


Cause 1: Stimulants (Mainly Caffeine)

Can cause: Onset and sleep maintenance insomnia

The most obvious and well-known cause of insomnia is caffeine consumption. Yes, caffeine is a major cause of insomnia. Yes, the solution is to consume less of it and stop earlier in the day. The thing is, caffeine is actually much more harmful to sleep — and for a longer period of time — than most people realize.

Even if it doesn’t stop you from getting to sleep, caffeine can still reduce the quality of your sleep—or make you wake up in the middle of the night. Limiting yourself to two cups of coffee a day and stopping your consumption before noon may not be enough.

Solution 1: Consume less, stop earlier

A single heavily caffeinated drink consumed first thing in the morning—16 hours before going to bed—is still enough to measurably impair sleep qualityby reducing the time you spend in the deeper stages of sleep. In addition to its physically stimulating effects, 150 mg of caffeine is enough to induce anxiety.

The solution here is to get even stricter about restricting caffeine. Limit yourself to just one cup of tea or coffee, early in the morning—either with or ideally before breakfast. Which leads us to …

Solution 2: Consume caffeine on an empty stomach

Like most ingested drugs, caffeine will be absorbed faster when consumed on an empty stomach. That means that a smaller dose will be able to kick in faster, exert a stronger effect, and then be cleared out of your system faster.

By combining these two solutions — consuming less caffeine earlier in the day and consuming it before breakfast — you can consume one caffeinated beverage a day without inducing insomnia or caffeine dependency. You can sometimes even have two a day, although you probably don’t want to do that every morning.


Cause 2: Anxiety

Can cause: Onset, sleep maintenance, and early awakening insomnia

No surprise here — anxiety can cause insomnia. While it most commonly causes onset insomnia, anxiety can also contribute to the other two types of insomnia. It’s debatable how much anxiety can cause you to wake up in the first place — my belief is that it can — but what’s less debatable is that anxiety makes it harder to get back to sleep once you’ve woken up.

Solution 1: Meditation

Meditation is a time-tested strategy for reducing anxiety. Thankfully, you don’t need to become a monk or a hippie, attend a silent meditation retreat, or even meditate for all that long. Meditating for as little as two minutes a day can be beneficial, as long as you do it every day—and once you make meditation a daily habit, it’s easy to gradually extend the length of time you spend on it.

This article provides more information on how to build a daily meditation habit. Many of you may also already have a guided meditation app that you love, such as Calm or Headspace. However, if you’ve never tried guided meditation before and want to try it without having to download an app and make an account, try this YouTube video from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Solution 2: Keep a To-do List or Journal

This solution is mainly for people whose anxiety stems from thinking about what they need to do the next day. If you find yourself dwelling on all the work and chores you need to get done, your anxiety can be exacerbated by not having a clear plan. You can greatly mitigate this feeling by always having a to-do list for the next day.

Sometimes this list can be as simple as an entry in a journal kept next to your bed. Once you’ve written down the anxiety that’s keeping you awake, you can relax, knowing that the chore or task is captured and out of your head.

However, some people may need to journal quite a bit more, including details like a schedule for when tasks will get done.

Other times there may be dozens of anxieties bumping around in your head. In that case, some therapists and coaches recommend journaling out a “Fear Inventory,” which is simply a list of each of those anxieties.

In all cases, your goal should be to experiment with getting the thoughts that are keeping you awake into a journal in the hopes that your mind will be able to let go of them.

Solution 3: Cognitive Overwriting

For onset insomnia only

If anxiety keeps you from getting to sleep in the first place, one solution is to fill your mind with other thoughts to “push out” your anxieties — a technique called cognitive overwriting.

The way you do this is by doing something else that’s moderately mentally stimulating for at least ten minutes immediately before bed. The two most common and effective activities are to read a novel or play Tetris, Sudoku, or a similarly simple puzzle game.

Note that Tetris breaks the “no screens” guidance that we’ll explore later. That goes to show that these aren’t hard rules — rather, they are some strategies that may be more or less effective for you than they are for other people.

Cognitive overwriting truly needs to be done immediately before bed, after doing everything else like brushing your teeth and getting into your pajamas, so that when you lay in bed, your mind is filled with thoughts about the book you just read or the game you just played.

Solution 4: Your Bed Is for Sleeping

Never do work in bed. In fact, never use a phone or computer in bed. Don’t even watch TV in bed. This is accepted and common advice, which I’ve also tested on myself and with clients. However, I’ve never been able to find a scientific study that explains the rationale behind this advice.

What I and other people think is going on is that these activities condition your mind for alertness. If instead you use your bed only for sleeping, sex, and fiction reading, this will condition your mind to start relaxing.

Solution 5: Lifestyle Change

This is going to be vague, but it needs to be said. The above techniques are ways of tolerating anxiety, not eliminating it. The best way to deal with anxiety is to eliminate it at the source wherever possible. That might mean handling your finances better, or getting a less stressful job, or leaving an unhappy relationship. Things like meditation and cognitive overwriting are great, but at some point it behooves you to actually solve your problems. As a middle ground, consider therapy also. Many health plans cover therapy sessions, and you can start to investigate this possibility by looking into coverage for generalized anxiety disorder.


Cause 3: Light and Noise During Sleep

Can cause: Onset, sleep maintenance, or early awakening insomnia

Like caffeine, this is an issue that everyone is aware of but many people still ignore. Almost any amount of light and noise in your bedroom at night is a problem, even the running light on your fan. The only exception here is “white noise,” like the sound of a fan.

Solution 1: Remove Light and Noise

Install blackout curtains over your bedroom windows. Unplug or cover up any devices in your room that emit light. For instance, I have a router in my room with a small running light, so I throw a black t-shirt over it. However, a small bit of black electrical tape would probably work better for you (and me). If noise is coming in from another room, stop it if possible. Otherwise, shove a towel into the crack under your door to muffle it.

Solution 2: White Noise

If there’s any amount of noise you can’t get rid of, use white noise to cover it up. There are white noise generators you can buy for this purpose. For example, this model is $39 at the time of writing, well-reviewed by The Wirecutter, and recommended by my editor. But a fan will do just fine for most people. In fact, many fans have a “white noise” setting for this purpose.

Solution 3: Mask and Earplugs

If the above solutions aren’t enough to eliminate all of the light and noise in your bedroom , wear a sleep mask and/or earplugs to bed. If you’re able to see around your bedroom once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, that means there’s light in it, and you need a mask.


Cause 4: Nighttime Feels Like Daytime

Can cause: Onset insomnia

As I explained earlier, your brain starts producing melatonin once it receives cues that tell it that it’s nighttime. Darkness is the main cue your brain looks for, but relaxation is part of it too. If you’re keeping the lights on and doing high-energy or mentally stimulating activities at night, you may be delaying the onset of melatonin production.

Solution 1: Dim the Lights at Night

Start dimming the lights at least two hours before bed.

Since melatonin production is blocked by blue light in particular, you can encourage production by blocking out blue wavelengths of light. When you do so, the remaining light will appear reddish or orange in color. Install f.lux on all of your devices to dim and redden the screens at night. Turn on NightShift mode if you own an iPhone. To block out blue light from other sources, you can wear red, orange, or amber-tinted goggles for the last hour or two before bed to increase melatonin production.

Here’s what Consumer Reports found when it tested Blue Blocking glasses:

We tested three pairs of glasses in our labs for their ability to block blue light, measuring light intensity at all wavelengths to find out how much each lens absorbed. Of the three, only one — the Uvex Skyper safety eyewear (orange tinted), $8 — cut out almost all blue light.

The Gunnar Intercept gaming glasses (medium yellow), $58, cut blue light by about half.

However, none of these approaches are an invitation to indulge in continuous screen time before bed. Reducing blue light isn’t always the same as eliminating it.

Solution 2: Have a Relaxing Evening Routine

Spend the last two hours before bed doing things that relax you. These will be different for everyone — common choices include reading, yoga, and watching TV. However, because TV emits blue light, you should wear blue-blocking goggles while watching it in the evening.

Solution 3: Make Daytime Brighter

Instead of, or in addition to, darkening your nights, you can expose yourself to more bright light during the daytime to make the nighttime feel darker by comparison. Again, sky-blue light is particularly effective. For maximal effectiveness, this light exposure should come as early in the morning as possible.

Solution 4: Melatonin

You can also make this task a lot easier on yourself by taking a melatonin supplement before bed.

The optimal dosage for most people is about 1 mg, or less, thirty to sixty minutes before bed. However, it’s hard to find supplements in anything smaller than 3 mg, so be prepared to break the pill up. Too much supplemental melatonin actually keeps you awake, so be prepared to experiment on yourself, starting with a low dose.


Cause 5: Excessive Melatonin Usage

Can cause: Acute early awakening insomnia, onset insomnia if melatonin is discontinued.

The brain normally produces less than a tenth of a milligram of melatonin per night. Granted, not all of the melatonin you ingest will be absorbed into your brain, but even still, taking 5 or even 10 mg is excessive. And yet many over-the-counter melatonin supplements are produced in those dosages.

Using too much melatonin can hurt you in two ways. First, it can cause psychological dependency, making it harder to sleep without melatonin. Second, excess melatonin can fast-forward your sleep cycle, causing you to wake up earlier by tricking the brain into thinking it’s later in the morning than it really is.

Solution 1: Use 0.3 to 1 mg Per Night

Studies have shown that 0.3 mg of melatonin is enough for most people to be able to sleep throughout the night. Taking up to 1 mg doesn’t seem to be harmful, but taking more than that is rarely helpful. If 1 mg of melatonin doesn’t work, you have other problems. The best time to take melatonin is about thirty to sixty minutes before bed.

Solution 2: Switch to CBD Oil

Many people find that CBD oil helps them to fall asleep and sleep more deeply throughout the night. The research on CBD is a bit mixed—not all studies show that it improves sleep depth or latency, but it has been demonstrated to be anxiolytic, meaning anxiety reducing. So there may be other reasons to replace melatonin supplements with CBD.

The optimal timing for CBD use is the same as for melatonin: thirty to sixty minutes before bed. The optimal dosing is less clear and seemingly more variable. Start with as low a dose as you can and slowly increase it until you find your minimum effective dose. CBD oil can be combined with melatonin, but you should probably not use it every night to avoid tolerance buildup.

If you go down this route, you may run into a subtle difference between CBD oil, which contains trace amounts of THC, and hemp oil, which theoretically does not. If marijuana is legal in your area, you’ll be able to purchase CBD oil. If not, then go ahead and purchase hemp oil. My recommendation is to treat insomnia as a series of experiments, and CBD and hemp oils are worth experimenting with, whichever one is available.


Cause 6: Alcohol

Can cause: Sleep maintenance insomnia

As a depressant, alcohol seems like it would help you sleep. In fact, it often does help people get to sleep. However, alcohol reduces the depth of sleep, both due to its direct effects and because it gets metabolized into sugar as it breaks down. It some cases, this can make people wake up in the middle of the night, but even if it doesn’t, it will make sleep less restful and restorative.

Solution: Drink Less, Stop Earlier

Don’t drink at all most nights. When you do, limit yourself to two drinks and stop drinking two hours before bed.

The UK’s NHS guideline is that it takes one hour for your body to process one unit of alcohol. That’s where the above advice is coming from. But that guideline is very dependent on your body weight, metabolism, and even what you ate that day. In other words, you should be giving yourself a pretty wide margin of error.

Your experience is much more important than the guideline in this article. Are you going to bed feeling even a little bit buzzed? Try giving that up. I know a lot of people believe in a glass of wine at night, but that’s often not a good tradeoff. Sure, the wine may relax you and help you get to sleep earlier, but often at the cost of the quality of your sleep.

As with caffeine, you can also fast-forward through the process of clearing alcohol from your system if you drink on an empty stomach, at least for the first drink of the night.

This recommendation is probably the opposite of what you’re used to hearing. But what I’m saying is: get buzzed for a shorter period of time, not get sloppy drunk. You know your own drinking patterns, and if drinking without eating leads to even more drinking, then don’t do it (obviously).


Cause 7: Lack of Physical Activity

Can cause: Onset insomnia

It’s widely believed that tiring yourself out via exercise is a good way to help yourself get to sleep. While it can definitely be harder to sleep if you’ve been sitting down all day, in practice, working out doesn’t always seem to help people sleep. Even a very hard gym session of more than an hour often fails to move the needle.

There seems to be a specific type of physical activity that helps people sleep: activity that taxes your nervous system and your sense of balance. While the exact mechanism behind this relationship isn’t clear, the following two methods seem to work consistently for many people.

Solution 1: Stand/Walk Throughout the Day

Spending more time on your feet throughout the day is a reliable way to help you sleep more. The effective dose for most people seems to be about eight or nine hours of standing or three to five hours of walking. However, spending this much time on your feet can be inconvenient and often makes your feet sore; for those who can tolerate it, the best way to work it into your day is to use a standing desk. For everyone else, see option 2.

Solution 2: Iso-Lateral Workouts

Instead of standing all day, you can trade time for intensity by doing a short workout that taxes your balance. There are actually two ways to do this. First, you can do a gym session centered around iso-lateral movements. These are exercises that work one side of the body at a time, like lunges, split squats, one-armed rows, and one-armed dumbbell presses. Around forty to sixty minutes of exercise, or twenty to thirty sets, is usually enough.

On days you’re not planning to work out, you can stand on one leg to exhaustion, a few times per leg. You can reach exhaustion faster by slightly bending the leg you’re standing on.


Cause 8: Anticipatory Awakening

Can cause: Early awakening insomnia

Entrainment is a psychological phenomenon in which the body starts to react to the anticipation of something that normally happens at a certain time of day. You start to get hungry before your usual lunchtime, or you start to have more energy shortly before the time of day when you normally work out.

Entrainment can sometimes cause early awakening, as the body gets energized — and the brain produces dopamine — in anticipation of something that normally happens shortly after you get out of bed. These cues can be any number of things, but there are a few usual suspects to check for first.

Solution 1: Skip or Delay Breakfast

Anticipation of breakfast is one potential cause of anticipatory awakening. If you normally eat breakfast shortly after waking, try delaying it by an hour or two for a week and see if that helps you sleep in later.

Solution 2: Delay Morning Caffeine

As with breakfast, caffeine consumption can produce an entrainment effect, causing your brain to start producing dopamine in anticipation of your morning coffee. Try skipping your morning coffee or tea for a week and see if that helps.

Solution 3: No Alarm Clock

Some people wake up early in anticipation of their alarm clock going off. Unlike breakfast and caffeine, in this case the effect is caused not by a positive sense of anticipation, but by an anxiety over the alarm clock or a desire to avoid being jarred awake by it. If possible, try turning off your alarm clock for a few days. If that can’t be done because you need to get up at a specific time, try the techniques listed under Cause 2: Anxiety.

Solution 4: Self-Experimentation

If none of the above work, try eliminating or delaying other aspects of your morning routine, such as TV watching or listening to music. Try each change for at least three days—it may take as long as a week to break the entrainment, but some result will usually be seen after three days if it’s going to work at all. If none of this works, your early awakening may not be a case of anticipatory awakening after all.


Cause 9: Jet Lag

Can cause: Onset, sleep maintenance, or early awakening insomnia

Jet lag can throw off your circadian rhythm badly enough to keep you tired and groggy for several days at a time. Obviously you’ll know if and when jet lag is an issue for you, and there are two ways to solve it: you can fix it ASAP, or you can prevent it from happening in the first place.

Solution 1: Melatonin and Caffeine

This is the one case in which it can be beneficial to use higher doses of melatonin and caffeine, if only for a few days at a time. Because jet lag is a short-term problem, you can use higher doses of caffeine and melatonin for two or three days to reset your circadian rhythm but stop short of developing an addiction to either of them.

For the first night at your destination, you can take around 3 mg of melatonin. The next morning, consume 200 mg of caffeine (two to three cups of coffee) first thing in the morning. Cut these dosages in half every subsequent day. So on the second night you’ll take about 1.5 mg of melatonin, and the morning after that you’ll have 100 mg of caffeine (a cup of strong coffee or two cups of tea). Then the third night you’ll have 1 mg of melatonin and little or no caffeine the morning after. At that point you should be over your jet lag.

This solution is only recommended if you’re traveling no more than once a month, meaning you suffer from jet lag no more than twice a month, once at either end of the trip. More frequent travelers should master the next solution.

Solution 2: Split Sleep

A more elegant solution to jet lag is to prevent it altogether by starting the adjustment process before you travel. The way to do this is to split your last night of sleep before you fly out in half. Sleep for three or four hours at a time that corresponds to a normal sleep or wake time in the time zone you’re leaving, then stay awake for a while, and then sleep four more hours at a time that corresponds to a normal wake time at your destination.

For example, suppose you’re flying from Los Angeles to London, leaving at 4 p.m. PST and arriving at 11 a.m. GMT. You would sleep from 3 to 7 a.m. the night before your flight. After getting on your flight, you would wait four more hours and then sleep for four hours, from 4 to 8 a.m. London time. Upon waking you’d have some caffeine to help reset your internal clock.

Three hours later you would arrive at your destination, relatively well-rested because you would have had eight hours of sleep in the past day, the second half of which would have been on London time. The next day you’d be completely jet lag–free.


Cause 10: GABA Deficiency

Can cause: Sleep maintenance and early awakening insomnia

Because GABA is the main hormone responsible for sleep maintenance, some sleep issues may be as simple as your brain not producing enough of it. This issue can sometimes be fixed through improved diet or lifestyle, but if that fails, you can address it more directly with supplementation.

GABA itself doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier except in minute quantities, so supplementing it is rarely effective for insomnia, but there are a couple of other options you can try to effectively raise your GABA levels. Note that supplements aren’t the first thing you should try. Experiment with other options first and come back to them if nothing else works.

Solution 1: Phenibut

Phenibut is a modified form of GABA that was developed in the Soviet Union to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Structurally, it’s GABA, but with a phenyl ring attached that allows it to be absorbed into the brain. It is only mildly effective at treating onset insomnia, and even high doses won’t really knock you out. However, it is highly effective at helping people stay asleep and sleep more deeply. It’s so effective that cosmonauts use it to help them sleep in space, where it’s hard to maintain a normal circadian rhythm.

Phenibut does come with the downside of rapid tolerance and addiction, however. As a result, usage should be limited to 250 mg a day no more than five days a week. It takes a while to kick in, so it’s best taken several hours before bed. If you’re the kind of person who easily gets addicted to even mild drugs like caffeine or alcohol, it’s probably best not to use phenibut.

Also, many of you will probably find it alarming that this supplement can’t just be found at your local pharmacy or on Amazon. It’s the kind of thing that you have to get from a nootropics dealer online and where you might find yourself browsing Reddit for recommendations on the best supplier.

Solution 2: Glutamine Plus B6

A less direct approach is to give your brain more of the chemicals that your body uses to make GABA. Glutamine, an amino acid, is the main building block of GABA, while vitamin B6 is used as a cofactor in GABA synthesis. Glutamine can also be processed into glutamate, another amino acid with neurostimulatory effects, which itself can be processed into GABA. Glutamine supplementation often produces a stimulatory effect at first and a sedative effect later, so timing is important here.

As a starting dosage try 10 g of glutamine and 100 mg of B6, taken three to four hours before bed. If this still feels stimulating, try taking it earlier.


Cause 11: Hunger

Can cause: Onset, sleep maintenance, or early awakening insomnia

Hunger is rarely the sole cause of insomnia, but it can exacerbate an existing case of insomnia, either via the sensation of hunger or because a lack of essential nutrients limits the brain’s ability to produce GABA and melatonin. A small pre-bed meal can help. But don’t just give yourself any meal — it should be one that supports the optimal neurotransmitter mix for sleep.

Solution: Small Second Dinner with Animal Fat and Sugar

Based on a few scientific studies and widespread anecdotal experience, the optimal meal for sleep seems to be a small meal (300–600 calories) eaten an hour or so before bed. The meal should be high-carb, with some animal-based saturated fat, like cheese or sausage.

This strategy works on a couple of different levels. Eating in general activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes the mind and body, sending it into “rest and digest” mode. Sugar in particular helps the brain produce melatonin, while animal fat helps the brain produce hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. Of course, you don’t want to use this as an excuse to overeat, which is why I recommend limiting this meal to 600 calories unless you’re trying to gain weight.

The type of carbohydrates used also seems to matter. Unprocessed starches like rice and potatoes have been shown to aid sleep, while processed starches like bread and noodles may not be helpful and may even impair sleep quality. In my experience, natural sugars like fruit and honey also seem to work well.

As a final note, while protein is great, this meal doesn’t need to be very high in protein. It should have some, but any animal-based food will have enough for this purpose—don’t go out of your way to make this meal high in protein.


Cause 12: Sleeping Partner

Can cause: Onset, sleep maintenance, and early awakening insomnia

Sleeping with a partner can be fun and romantic, but it can also make it hard to sleep. I’m not talking about your partner making noise, keeping the lights on, or watching TV in bed. I assume you can figure those problems out for yourself. I’m talking about the problems inherent in the mere act of sleeping with someone else. Namely, bedmates can jostle each other while they’re sleeping or indirectly disturb each other by shifting the bed.

This is one area in which people’s subjective feelings about sleep quality are dead wrong. Most people report that they feel like they sleep better with a partner, but objective measurements show that quite the opposite is true.

Solution 1: Don’t Touch Each Other

That is, don’t touch or hold each other while sleeping. Keep to your own side of the bed so you don’t bother each other. It’s less romantic, but you’ll probably sleep better.

A king-size bed with a nice mattress can easily run you a few thousand dollars, but it’s an investment that easily pays off in terms of improved productivity and health from better sleeping.

Solution 2: Address Snoring

If your partner snores and that snoring keeps you from falling asleep, wakes you up, or keeps you from falling back asleep, then you absolutely should do something about it.

Unfortunately, getting a partner to stop snoring is a very complicated tasks. What I would recommend is to go through the following steps:

  1. Try earplugs for yourself.
  2. Have your partner talk to his or her doctor.
  3. Try a Nora. I’ve never tried this device, but the Better Humans editors love it. It’s $300, so not cheap, but if it works, it’s a great investment in your health. The way it works is that it places an insert into your partner’s pillow and then listens for signs that your partner has started snoring and responds by inflating the insert. The result is that the device tips your partner’s head a little bit each time he or she starts snoring.

Cause 13: Lack of Time

Can cause: Onset insomnia

Some people just don’t get to bed on time because they have too much to do in the evening. This is arguably not insomnia so much as poor planning, but there isn’t always a clear dividing line between the two, so I’ll address it here.

Solution 1: Keep a Schedule

As above, it’s important to keep not just a to-do list, but an actual schedule of what you’re doing and when. This can substantially cut down on wasted time at night by giving you a schedule to follow rather than encouraging you to think of the evening as “free time,” even though you have stuff you’re set on doing.

Also, look at your weekends. Many people try to cram too many activities into their evenings — especially weekday evenings — when their weekends are full of time spent lying around doing nothing. Consider shifting some of your nighttime activities to Saturday and Sunday during the day.

Solution 2: Protect the Last Hour Before Bed

Be strict about what you do for the last hour before your scheduled bedtime. At minimum, you shouldn’t be doing any working, and ideally, there should be no TV or computer usage either. Force yourself to start winding down an hour before bedtime, no matter what other things you wanted to do that evening.

Solution 3: Cut Things Out

If all else fails, give yourself permission to eliminate things from your daily routine. Start with the things you least want to do. Could you hire a maid to come once a month instead of cleaning your own apartment? Are you watching TV shows you’re not even really that into?

The first thing I would look at, however, is commuting. Often you can save yourself an hour a day just by changing when you commute. For instance, a client of mine recently switched from working out at home to exercising in a gym after work, and it has saved him a half hour a day because he drives home after rush hour instead of in the middle of it.


Cause 14: Shift Work or Irregular Schedule

Can cause: Onset insomnia, sleep maintenance and early awakening insomnia

Rule number one of sleeping well is to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Some people are unable to do that due to an irregular work schedule — they work the afternoon shift some days and evening shift on other days, and then on their days off they abandon all pretense of a schedule to catch up on sleep. This is … not healthy, to put it mildly.

Solution 1: Work the Same Shift Every Time

Try to get yourself permanently assigned to the same shift or maintain a regular work schedule even if it means compromising on something else. Do this even if it means sticking to a shift you don’t like. Even if you hate the night shift, it’s better to work the night shift every time than to switch back and forth between the night and morning shifts every few days. By keeping the lights bright at night and keeping your home dark during the day, you can entrain yourself to work nights — as long as you have a consistent schedule.

Solution 2: Protect Four Hours of Core Sleep Time

If you alternate between two or more work schedules, find a four-hour period that doesn’t overlap with either of them and always sleep during that time. For example, if you sometimes work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and sometimes from 4 p.m. to midnight, make 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. your core sleep time. You’ll sleep from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. some nights, and from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. other nights, but you’ll always sleep from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. That will give you a decent amount of consistency, as your sleep time will only vary by a few hours either way, rather than being all over the map.

Solution 3: Split Sleep

If you tend to change shifts less than once a week and stick to a given shift for at least a week at a time, the same split-sleep strategy I described for beating jet lag can be used to adjust to shift changes. For instance, many police officers work the day shift for six weeks and then the night shift for six weeks—they could easily use this strategy. This doesn’t work so well if there’s no regularity to your shift changes, however, or if they come up without warning.

Solution 4: Change Jobs

If all else fails, look for a job that offers more regular hours. This may require you to commute a little further or take a small pay cut, but it’s almost always worth it. You’ll be healthier, will have more energy to put into your career in the long run, and will probably save money by cooking at home more often rather than resorting to fast food because you’re too tired to cook.


Cause 15: Napping Late in the Day

Can cause: Onset insomnia

As mentioned earlier, your cortisol levels peak after waking and then slowly drop throughout the day. Normally, cortisol levels reach a nadir at bedtime, so cortisol doesn’t interfere with sleep.

Naps can disrupt this rhythm by resetting cortisol to a higher level. This isn’t usually a problem if you nap earlier in the day, but the later in the day you nap, the more likely your cortisol levels will still be elevated at bedtime.

Solution: No Naps in the Evening (and Maybe the Afternoon)

Just as with caffeine, the solution here is to set a limit on how late in the day you’re allowed to nap and then gradually push that limit earlier and earlier in the day until you find a time when it no longer causes problems.

At the very least, you should refrain from napping fewer than four hours before bedtime. If that isn’t enough, stop napping six hours before bedtime. If that doesn’t do it, avoid napping fewer than eight hours before bedtime. That should be strict enough for most people; taking a nap at, say, noon is unlikely to make it harder to sleep at night, provided the nap doesn’t drag on for two hours or more.


How to Systematically Treat Your Insomnia

Below is a checklist of the fifteen causes of insomnia along with their suggested solutions. In order to tackle insomnia systematically, you need to be willing to try many solutions. To start, go through the checklist below and check each potential cause that you think is likely to be contributing to your insomnia. Then, for each cause, check all of the recommended solutions that you’re able to try. Don’t second-guess whether you think a solution will work for you; if it’s something you can try, write it down.

_ Cause 1: Stimulants (Onset & Sleep Maintenance)
_ Consume less, stop earlier
_ Consume caffeine on an empty stomach
_ Cause 2: Anxiety (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
_ Meditation
_ Keep a To-do List or Journal
_ Cognitive Overwriting
_ Your Bed Is for Sleeping
_ Lifestyle Change
_ Cause 3: Light and Noise. (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
_ Remove Light and Noise
_ White Noise
_ Mask and Earplugs
_ Cause 4: Nighttime Feels Like Daytime (Onset)
_ Dim the Lights at Night
_ Have a Relaxing Evening Routine
_ Make Daytime Brighter
_ Melatonin
_ Cause 5: Excessive Melatonin Usage (Onset, Early Awakening)
_ Use 0.3 to 1 mg Per Night
_ Switch to CBD Oil
_ Cause 6: Alcohol (Maintenance)
_ Drink Less, Stop Earlier
_ Cause 7: Lack of Physical Activity (Onset)
_ Stand/Walk Throughout the Day
_ Iso-Lateral Workouts
_ Cause 8: Anticipatory Awakening (Early Awakening)
_ Skip or Delay Breakfast
_ Delay Morning Caffeine
_ No Alarm Clock
_ Self-Experimentation
_ Cause 9: Jet Lag (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
_ Melatonin and Caffeine
_ Split Sleep
_ Cause 10: GABA Deficiency (Maintenance, Early Awakening)
_ Phenibut
_ Glutamine Plus B6
_ Cause 11: Hunger (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
_ Small Second Dinner with Animal Fat and Sugar
_ Cause 12: Sleeping Partner (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
_ Don’t Touch Each Other
_ Address Snoring
_ Cause 13: Lack of Time (Onset)
_ Keep a Schedule
_ Protect the Last Hour Before Bed
_ Cut Things Out
_ Cause 14: Shift Work or Irregular Schedule (Onset, Maintenance, Early Awakening)
_ Work the Same Shift Every Time
_ Protect Four Hours of Core Sleep Time
_ Split Sleep
_ Change Jobs
_ Cause 15: Napping Late in the Day (Onset)
_ No Naps in the Evening (and Maybe the Afternoon)

Now, ideally I would have liked to write all of these strategies in the order I would recommend trying them, but the reality is that some solutions are easy for some people to try and very difficult for others. Some workers can easily move to a different shift, while others can’t change shifts at all. Americans can buy melatonin over the counter, but in many countries, it requires a prescription.

So it’s up to you to decide which treatments to try first. Out of all the treatments you’ve written down, arrange them in order of how easily you could try them, from easiest to hardest. For instance, trying melatonin, if it’s available over the counter, should be near the top of your list, while changing jobs or completely changing your lifestyle should be near the bottom.

Now try the solutions you’ve written down, one at a time, in the order you’ve written them. Allow at least a few days for each. Many will require a week of trial to see if they work for you. The whole process is likely to take a month or two, but it’s worth the time to fix your insomnia once and for all. As with anything really important in life, you’ll get better results by going about it systematically rather than applying slapdash solutions in an uncontrolled manner.

By John Fawkes

Full link: https://betterhumans.coach.me/how-to-recognize-and-cure-any-insomnia-symptom-661ebfd119f9

Collection – The Dalai Lama Has Been the Face of Buddhism for 60 Years. China Wants to Change That

Morning has broken on the cedar-strewn foothills of the Himalayas. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama sits in meditation in his private chapel in Dharamsala, a ramshackle town perched on the upper reaches of North India’s Kangra Valley. Rousing slowly, he unfolds his legs with remarkable agility for a man of 83, finds the red felt slippers placed neatly beneath his seat and heads outside to where a crowd has already gathered.

Around 300 people brave the February chill to offer white khata scarves and receive the Dalai Lama’s blessing. There’s a group from Bhutan in traditional checkered dress. A man from Thailand has brought his Liverpool F.C. scarf, seeking divine benediction for the U.K. soccer team’s title bid. Two women lose all control as they approach the Dalai Lama’s throne and are carried away shaking in rapture, clutching prayer beads and muttering incantations.

The Dalai Lama engages each visitor like a big kid: slapping bald pates, grabbing onto one devotee’s single braid, waggling another’s nose. Every conversation is peppered with giggles and guffaws. “We 7 billion human beings — emotionally, mentally, physically — are the same,” he tells TIME in a 90-minute interview. “Everyone wants a joyful life.”

Ruven Afanador for TIME

His own has reached a critical point. The Dalai Lama is considered a living Buddha of compassion, a reincarnation of the bodhisattva Chenrezig, who renounced Nirvana in order to help mankind. The title originally only signified the preeminent Buddhist monk in Tibet, a remote land about twice the size of Texas that sits veiled behind the Himalayas. But starting in the 17th century, the Dalai Lama also wielded full political authority over the secretive kingdom. That changed with Mao Zedong’s conquest of Tibet, which brought the rule of the current Dalai Lama to an end. On March 17, 1959, he was forced to escape to India.

In the six decades since, the leader of the world’s most secluded people has become the most recognizable face of a religion practiced by nearly 500 million people worldwide. But his prominence extends beyond the borders of his own faith, with many practices endorsed by Buddhists, like mindfulness and meditation, permeating the lives of millions more around the world. What’s more, the lowly farmer’s son named as a “God-King” in his childhood has been embraced by the West since his exile. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and was heralded in Martin Scorcese’s 1997 biopic. The cause of Tibetan self-rule remains alive in Western minds thanks to admirers ranging from Richard Gere to the Beastie Boys to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who calls him a “messenger of hope for millions of people around the world.”

Yet as old age makes travel more difficult, and as China’s political clout has grown, the Dalai Lama’s influence has waned. Today the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that drove him out of Tibet is working to co-opt Buddhist principles — as well as the succession process itself. Officially atheist, the party has proved as adaptive to religion as it is to capitalism, claiming a home for faith in the nationalism Beijing has activated under Xi Jinping. In January, the CCP announced it would “Sinicize” Buddhism over the next five years, completing a multimillion-dollar rebranding of the faith as an ancient Chinese religion.

The Dalai Lama delivers a lecture from his throne on Feb. 18 to mark Losar, the Tibetan new year.

The Dalai Lama delivers a lecture from his throne on Feb. 18 to mark Losar, the Tibetan new year.
Ruven Afanador for TIME

From Pakistan to Myanmar, Chinese money has rejuvenated ancient Buddhist sites and promoted Buddhist studies. Beijing has spent $3 billion transforming the Nepalese town of Lumbini, birthplace of Lord Buddha, into a luxury pilgrimage site, boasting an airport, hotels, convention center, temples and a university. China has hosted World Buddhist Forums since 2006, inviting monks from all over the world.

Although not, of course, the world’s most famous. Beijing still sees the Dalai Lama as a dangerous threat and swiftly rebukes any nation that entertains him. That appears to be working too. Once the toast of capitals around the world, the Dalai Lama has not met a world leader since 2016. Even India, which has granted asylum to him as well as to about 100,000 other Tibetans, is not sending senior representatives to the diaspora’s commemoration of his 60th year in exile, citing a “very sensitive time” for bilateral relations with Beijing. Every U.S. President since George H.W. Bush has made a point of meeting the Dalai Lama until Donald Trump, who is in negotiations with China over reforming its state-controlled economy.

Still, the Dalai Lama holds out hope for a return to his birthplace. Despite his renown and celebrity friends, he remains a man aching for home and a leader removed from his people. Having retired from “political responsibility” within the exiled community in 2011, he merely wants “the opportunity to visit some holy places in China for pilgrimage,” he tells TIME. “I sincerely just want to serve Chinese Buddhists.”

Despite that, the CCP still regards the Dalai Lama as a “wolf in monk’s robes” and a dangerous “splittist,” as Chinese officials call him. He has rejected calls for Tibetan independence since 1974 — acknowledging the geopolitical reality that any settlement must keep Tibet within the People’s Republic of China. He instead advocates for greater autonomy and religious and cultural freedom for his people. It matters little.

“It’s hard to believe a return would happen at this point,” says Gray Tuttle, a professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia. “China holds all the cards.”

The boy born Lhamo Thondup was identified as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama at just 2 years old, when a retinue of top lamas, or senior Buddhist Tibetan monks, followed a series of oracles and prophecies to his village in northeastern Tibet. The precocious toddler seemed to recognize objects belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama, prompting the lamas to proclaim him the celestial heir. At age 4, he was carried on a golden palanquin into the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and ensconced in its resplendent Potala Palace. A daily routine of spiritual teaching by top religious scholars followed.

“Sometimes my tutor kept a whip to threaten me,” the Dalai Lama recalls, smiling. “The whip was yellow in color, as it was for a holy person, the Dalai Lama. But I knew that if the whip was used, it made no difference — holy pain!”

It was a lonely childhood. The Dalai Lama rarely saw his parents and had no contact with peers of his own age, save his elder brother Lobsang Samden, who served as head of household. Despite his tutors’ focus on spiritual matters, or perhaps because of it, he was fascinated by science and technology. He would gaze from the Potala’s roof at Lhasa street life through a telescope. He took apart and reassembled a projector and camera to see how they functioned. “He continually astonished me by his powers of comprehension, his pertinacity and his industry,” wrote the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, who became the Dalai Lama’s tutor and was one of six Europeans permitted to live in Lhasa at the time. Today the Dalai Lama proudly describes himself as “half Buddhist monk, half scientist.”

The Dalai Lama was only supposed to assume a political role on his 18th birthday, with a regent ruling until then. But the arrival of Mao’s troops to reclaim dominion over Tibet in 1950 caused the Tibetan government to give him full authority at just 15. With no political experience or knowledge of the outside world, he was thrust into negotiations with an invading army while trying to calm his fervent but poorly armed subjects.

Conditions worsened over the next nine years of occupation. Chinese proclamations calling Lord Buddha a “reactionary” enraged a pious populace of 2.7 million. By March 1959, rumors spread that the Dalai Lama would be abducted or assassinated, fomenting a doomed popular uprising that looked likely to spill into serious bloodshed. “Just in front of the Potala [Palace], on the other side of the river, there was a Chinese artillery division,” the Dalai Lama recalls. “Previously all the guns were covered, but around the 15th or 16th, all the covers were removed. So then we knew it was very serious. On the 17th morning, I decided to escape.”

The two-week journey to India was fraught, as Chinese troops hunted the party across some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain. The Dalai Lama reached India incognito atop a dzo, a cross between a yak and a cow. Every building in which he slept en route was immediately consecrated as a chapel, but the land he left behind was ravaged by Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of thousands died. By some reckonings, 99.9% of the country’s 6,400 monasteries were destroyed.

Tibet’s desire to remain isolated and undisturbed had served it poorly. The kingdom had no useful allies, the government of Lhasa having declined to establish official diplomatic relations with any other nation or join international organizations. The Dalai Lama’s supplications were thus easy to ignore. Tibet had remained staunchly neutral during World War II, and the U.S. was already mired in a fresh conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

“[First Indian Prime Minister] Pandit Nehru told me, ‘America will not fight the Chinese communists in order to liberate Tibet, so sooner or later you have to talk with the Chinese government,’” the Dalai Lama recalls.

Around 300 devotees line up early at Tsuglagkhang temple to offer the Dalai Lama traditional khata scarves and to receive his blessing.

Around 300 devotees line up early at Tsuglagkhang temple to offer the Dalai Lama traditional khata scarves and to receive his blessing.
Ruven Afanador for TIME

When Tibetans first followed the Dalai Lama into India, they lived with bags packed and did not build proper houses, believing a glorious return would come at a moment’s notice. It never did.

Four decades of conversations between China and exiled Tibetan leadership have led nowhere. Consolatory talks began in the 1970s between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and reformist Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and continued under Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin. The talks stipulated that Tibetan independence was off the table, but even so, the drawn-out process was suspended in 1994 and after briefly resuming in the 2000s is again at a standstill.

Meanwhile, Tibet remains firmly under the thumb of Beijing. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has lamented that conditions are “fast deteriorating” in the region. In May, Tibetan businessman Tashi Wangchuk was jailed for five years merely for promoting the Tibetan language. In December, the government issued a directive to stop Tibetan language and culture from being taught in monasteries. Once known as the “abode of the gods,” Lhasa has become a warren of neon and concrete like any other Chinese city. Although the U.S. officially recognizes Tibet as part of China, Vice President Mike Pence said in July that the Tibetan people “have been brutally repressed by the Chinese government.”

Many allege their cultural and religious freedom is under attack by the Beijing government. Some in Tibet resort to extreme measures to protest their treatment. Since 2009, more than 150 Tibetans — monks, nuns and ordinary civilians — have set themselves ablaze in protest. Often self-immolators exalt the Dalai Lama with their final breaths. Despite his message of nonviolence, the Dalai Lama has been criticized for refusing to condemn the practice. “It’s a very difficult situation,” he says. “If I criticize [self-immolators], then their family members may feel very sad.” He adds, however, that their sacrifice has “no effect and creates more problems.”

Beijing vehemently refutes accusations of human-rights violations in Tibet, insisting that it fully respects the religious and cultural rights of the Tibetan people, and highlights how development has raised living standards in the previously isolated and impoverished land. China has spent more than $450 million renovating Tibet’s major monasteries and religious sites since the 1980s, according to official figures, with $290 million more budgeted through 2023. The world’s No. 2 economy has also greenlighted massive infrastructure projects worth $97 billion, with new airports and highways carving through the world’s highest mountains, nominally to boost the prosperity of the 6 million ethnic Tibetans.

This level of investment presents a dilemma to Tibetans stranded in exile. The majority live in India, under a special “guest” arrangement by which they can work and receive an education but, crucially, not buy property. Many toil as roadside laborers or make trinkets to sell to tourists. And so large numbers of young Tibetans are making the choice to return, lured to a homeland they have never known. “If you want a safe and secure future for your children, then either you go back to Tibet or some other country where you can get citizenship,” says Dorji Kyi, director of the Lha NGO in Dharamsala, which supports Tibetan exiles.

At 83, the Buddhist leader reflects on a life spent away from his native Tibet.

At 83, the Buddhist leader reflects on a life spent away from his native Tibet.
Ruven Afanador for TIME

Many of the returnees are armed with better education and world experience than their peers who grew up in Tibet. “Some of them do well,” says Thupten Dorjee, president of Tibetan Children’s Village, a network of five orphanages and eight schools that has cared for 52,000 young Tibetans in India. “But if they get involved in political things then they land into trouble.”

Tibet still has a government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala, but it is dogged by infighting and scandal. Exiles are instead forging their own path. Last September, the Dalai Lama himself was filmed at his temple telling young Tibetans that it was better to live under Beijing’s rule than stay as “beggars” in exile. Speaking to TIME, he said it was “no problem” if exiled Tibetans chose to return to China.

Even those who have achieved prosperity elsewhere are opting to return. Songtsen Gyalzur, 45, sold his real estate business in Switzerland, where his Tibet-born parents immigrated after first fleeing to India, to start China’s Shangri-La Highland Craft Brewery in 2014. Today his award-winning brewery has an annual capacity of 2.6 million gallons of lagers, ales and porters. He recruits 80% of the staff from orphanages his mother set up in Tibetan areas in the 1990s. “Tibet has so many well-educated, well-trained professionals abroad who could have a real impact on people’s lives here,” he says.

Despite the “Lost Horizon” legend, the kingdom was never a spiritual and agrarian utopia. Most residents lived a Hobbesian existence. Nobles were strictly ranked in seven classes, with only the Dalai Lama belonging to the first. Few commoners had any sort of education. Modern medicine was forbidden, especially surgery, meaning even minor ailments were fatal. The sick were typically treated with a gruel of barley meal, butter and the urine of a holy monk. Life expectancy was 36 years. Criminals had limbs amputated and cauterized in boiling butter. Even the wheel wasn’t commonly employed, given the dearth of passable roads.

The Dalai Lama has admitted that Tibet was “very, very backward” and insists he would have enacted reforms. But he also emphasizes that traditional Tibetan life was more in communion with nature than the present. Tibet hosts the largest store of fresh water outside the Arctic and Antarctic, leading some environmentalists to term its frozen plateau the “third pole,” and especially vulnerable to the choking development unleashed by the Beijing government.

“Global warming does not make any sort of exception — just this continent or that continent, or this nation or that nation,” the Dalai Lama says. Asked who is responsible for fixing the crisis, he points not to Beijing but to Washington. “America, as a leading nation of the free world, should take more serious consideration about global issues.”

The Dalai Lama meditates in his private chapel inside his residence on Feb. 18.

The Dalai Lama meditates in his private chapel inside his residence on Feb. 18.
Ruven Afanador for TIME

The Dalai Lama is a refreshingly unabashed figure in person. His frequent laughter and protuberant ears make him seem cuddly and inoffensive, and it’s difficult to overstate how tactile he is. He appears equally at home with both the physical and the spiritual, tradition and modernity. He meditated within reach of an iPad tuned to an image of a babbling brook and mountains and a few minutes later turned to Tibetan scriptures written on wide, single sheets, unbound. He retires at 6 p.m. and rises at 4 a.m. and spends the first hours of his day in meditation.

“Western civilization, including America, is very much oriented toward materialistic life,” he says. “But that culture generates too much stress, anxiety and jealousy, all these things. So my No. 1 commitment is to try to promote awareness of our inner values.” From kindergarten onward, he says, children should be taught about “taking care of emotion.”

“Whether religious or not, as a human being we should learn more about our system of emotion so that we can tackle destructive emotion, in order to become more calm, have more inner peace.”

The Dalai Lama said his second commitment is to religious harmony. Conflicts in the Middle East tend to involve sectarian strife within Islam. “Iran is mainly Shi‘ite. Saudi Arabia, plus their money, is Sunni. So this is a problem,” he says, lamenting “too much narrow-mindedness” and urging people of all faiths to “broaden” their thinking.

Buddhism has its own extremists. The themes of Buddhism, as a nontheistic religion with no single creator deity, are more accessible to followers of other faiths and even ardent atheists, emphasizing harmony and mental cleanliness. But the Dalai Lama says he is “very sad” about the situation in Myanmar, where firebrand Buddhist monks have incited the genocide of Rohingya Muslims. “All religions have within them a tradition of human loving kindness,” he says, “but instead are causing violence, division.”

He keeps a sharp eye on global affairs and is happy to weigh in. Trump’s “America first” foreign policy and obsession with a wall on the southern U.S. border make him feel “uncomfortable,” he says, calling Mexico “a good neighbor” of the U.S. Britain’s impending exit from the European Union also warrants a rebuke, as he has “always admired” the E.U.

Six decades on, the Dalai Lama still hopes he will visit his birthplace again.

Six decades on, the Dalai Lama still hopes he will visit his birthplace again.
Ruven Afanador for TIME

In his ninth decade and moving with the help of assistants, the Dalai Lama continues to explore human consciousness and question long-held shibboleths. During a series of lectures in February to mark the Tibetan new year, he pontificates on everything from artificial intelligence — it can never compete with the human mind, he says — to blind deference to religious dogma. “Buddha himself told us, ‘Do not believe my teaching on faith, but rather through thorough investigation and experiment,’” he says. “So if some teaching goes against reason, we should not accept it.”

This includes the institution of the Dalai Lama itself. Even as a young boy, his scientific mind led him to question the idea that he was the 14th incarnation of a deity king. His former tutor recalled that he found it odd that the prior Dalai Lama “was so fond of horses and that they mean so little to me.” Today the Dalai Lama says the institution he embodies appears “feudal” in nature. Leaving the spiritual element aside, he says he doesn’t believe any political authority should be conferred when he dies. “On one occasion the Dalai Lama institution started,” he says. “That means there must be one occasion when the institution is no longer relevant. Stop. No problem. This is not my concern. China’s communists, I think, are showing more concern.”

Indeed they are. In a blow to the Tibetan exile community, China has set about bringing the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism into the party fold. When the Dalai Lama named a Tibetan child as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama in 1995 — the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism after himself — China put the boy into “protective custody” and installed a more pliant figure instead. The whereabouts of the Dalai Lama’s choice remain unknown.

So when the Dalai Lama leaves this plane of existence, it’s highly likely a 15th incarnation will be chosen by the godless CCP. “It’s pretty obvious the Chinese state is preparing for it, which is absurd,” Tuttle says. Tibetan Buddhists will be forced to choose between the party’s Dalai Lama and the selection of Tibetan exiles. On this point, at least, the incumbent is very clear. Any decision on the next Dalai Lama, he says, should be “up to the Tibetan people.”

No doubt the party’s desire to name a Dalai Lama stems from the fact that there are 244 million Buddhists in China — a cohort that dwarfs the CCP membership by 3 to 1. The party craves legitimizing its power above all else and believes yoking it to the institution of the Dalai Lama will provide that. But Beijing clearly also hopes it will be a symbolic final nail in the coffin of Tibetan self-rule, completing the absorption of Tibet into the People’s Republic of China that began seven decades ago.

So in a twist of irony, it seems the incumbent God-King’s wish will eventually be granted. One day a Dalai Lama will return to China — in this body or the next, with his blessing or without.

Correction, Mar. 7

A photo caption in the original version of this story misidentified a group of people waiting to see the Dalai Lama. They are devotees, not Buddhist monks.

By Charlie Campbell

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