Our modern society values productivity and activity above all else, and is almost scornful of rest and relaxation. For so many, ‘resting’ has come to mean watching TV, browsing the internet or engaging with another electronic device that is anything but restful for the brain and the body. Humans, it seems, have both forgotten the value of rest along with how to do it.
You cannot be healthy without adequate sleep.
This means that despite adopting a Paleo diet – removing processed foods, sugars, grains and bad fats and moving more and better - it may be difficult to find that missing vitality. The vitality that can only come when continually well rested.
Sleep is absolutely essential for basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal and digestive systems. The hormone melatonin naturally increases after sundown and during the night in a normal circadian rhythm, which increases immune cytokine function and helps protect against infection (a likely reason you may end up feeling unwell after a few nights of poor sleep).
Among other things, getting adequate, high quality sleep
- enhances memory and mental clarity
- improves athletic performance
- boosts mood and overall energy
- improves immune function
- increases stress tolerance
Sleep deprivation destroys health. Fewer than 6 hours of sleep per day is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation and worsening insulin resistance, as well as increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Most adults are getting less than this amount.
Inadequate rest has numerous damaging effects including:
- Impaired ability to think
- Reduced stress mitigation
- Mood and mental wellnessimbalances and psychiatric disorders
- Cognitive decline
- Increased cardiovascular risk
- Weight gain
- Systemic inflammation
- Increased risk of death
Most illnesses and medical conditions are impacted by sleep deprivation. Even a perfect Paleo diet and exercise routine cannot mitigate the effects of lack of sleep.
There are, however, many small changes you can make to improve on both your sleep quality and quantity and ensure that you get on track with optimizing your sleep!
8 Tips To Sleep Better
Go To Bed Earlier
In the early part of the night (11pm – 3am), the majority of your REM and non-REM sleep cycles are composed of deep non-REM sleep and very little REM sleep. In the second half of the night (3am – 7am) this balance changes, such that the 90-minute cycles are comprised of more REM sleep (the stage associated with dreaming) as well as a lighter form of non-REM sleep.
This is important because it is during the very deep stages of sleep (experienced earlier in the night) are the times when your body regenerates and repairs tissue and engages in other restorative processes. When this deep sleep is compromised, you are unable to fully rejuvenate and heal.
Create A Wind Down Routine
Read, solve a cross-word, cuddle with a loved-one, do some yoga stretches or listen to music. This is not the time to watch TV or even listen to the news or economic forecast. It is important to have a routine that cues your body that you are getting ready to sleep.
Reduce Artificial Light Exposure
Artificial light disrupts your circadian rhythm and throws off your sleep. Even a single pulse can disrupt your sleep/wake cycle and the blue light emitted from digital devices suppresses melatonin (your sleep hormone) production.
To minimize your artificial light exposure
- Avoid computer and digital device use 2 hours before going to bed. No staying up late on Facebook and Twitter!
- Use blackout shades to make your bedroom pitch black.
- Cover your digital alarm clock or get an analog clock.
- Turn off all digital devices that glow or give off any type of light.
- Keep lights dim in the evening and by wearing amber-tinted glasses (which block out blue light) for the last 2-3 hours before bed.
- Use a sleep mask.
Sleep In your Bedroom
The next easy solution is resting or sleeping in your bed, in your bedroom. Falling asleep in front of the TV or on your couch is simply poor sleep hygiene and terrible for your body and your health. And, make sure your mattress and pillows are super comfortable and great for your body. Keep your bedroom a safe space for two activities only and make sure when you are choosing to sleep, it is in your bed. This will support your body in setting and maintaining its sleep rhythms and ensure that you begin to prioritize the sanctity of your sleep ritual.
You could invest in a white noise generator if your bedroom is not particularly soundproofed. Dark means REALLY dark: black-out curtains, no alarm clock light (turn it so it faces away from you), no little LED lights from phone chargers etc. Duct tape can really help with the flicker from those LED lights. Masking tape is still a little see-though which is useful for alarm clocks.
To support your metabolism slowing down while you are sleeping (and thus preventing you from waking)
- Avoid sugars in the evening (even from fruit).
- Avoid alcohol altogether
- Avoid caffeine after late morning.
- Eat a larger meal about 4 hours before bed. Research shows that eating a meal that contains dense carbohydrate sources (like starchy vegetables) about 4 hours before bed improves sleep.
- Do not eat for at least 2 hours before going to bed. When you do, you initiate the release of some growth hormones and boost your metabolism right when these things are supposed to be slowing down.
Give yourself some extra time to rest and get this week's meals delivered right to you - no shopping, chopping or cooking required.
Manage Your Stress
Stress increases cortisol, which decreases sleep quality, which increases cortisol. One of the sneaky ways you can tell if high cortisol levels are a problem for you is whether or not wake up multiple times during the night to urinate. High cortisol levels could mean the kidneys are not slowing down at night the way they are supposed to. Waking up once is probably normal, but more than that is indicative of the need to better manage stress.
If stress is a problem, try getting more low-strain exercise, like walking or yoga. A diet too low or too high in carbohydrates can both be problematic and physiologically stressful. If you are unsure, measuring your blood glucose levels with a glucometer may provide some guidance. Limiting caffeine especially coffee, getting sufficient vitamin D3, and getting a large amount of dietary omega-3 fats (lots of cold water, fatty fish!) will help dampen your stress response too.
Get Outside Early.
Get outside and be in the daylight as soon as possible after you wake up each morning. Morning sunlight has a bigger effect on sleep than almost any other variable. In the morning, bright light exposure, is a trigger for the brain to begin its daytime activities, and neurological sequences that not only set you up for a productive day, but for a good deep refreshing sleep cycle that upcoming evening. The magic amount seems to be about a half an hour of exposure within an hour of waking. Simply being outside, even if it's overcast provides sufficient light intensity.
In our modern world it is common to be mentally and/or physically occupied for the majority of the day. It is no wonder that many struggle to slow down and fall asleep when they decide to go to bed. If your nervous system has been in overdrive for 16 hours, it is probably unrealistic to assume that it can switch into low gear in a matter of minutes simply because it is ‘bedtime’. This is one of the reasons that sleep medications are continually growing in popularity.
When your sleep hygiene and wind down routines are not working as well as they could be, you may want to consider:
Take a magnesium supplement before bed. Choose a high quality glycinate or citrate. The more highly processed (and cheaper) the magnesium supplement, typically the less absorbable it is. This is why it can upset some people’s stomachs or cause diarrhea as any unabsorbed magnesium acts like a stool softener. You can find magnesium in dark leafy greens and plantains.
Melatonin is the hormone normally produced by your pineal gland that is the dominant player in regulating your circadian rhythms. It normally peaks at night, but taking a little extra (choose a low dose, 0.25-1mg) will help you sleep more soundly. It is important to check with your health care professional before supplementing with melatonin. Choose sub-lingual varieties over extended release capsules when you start your wind-down time (less than 30 minutes before bed). Exposure to bright light after you take it will be very confusing for your body. It can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months to reset your circadian rhythms. Once you feel your sleep patterns have been re-established, you can begin to wean yourself off the melatonin.
Getting the sleep your body needs is as important as it is difficult. Working on improving your sleep quality and quantity will support you in getting the best results from your Paleo lifestyle. Sleep hygiene is important for the quality and restfulness of you sleep, even if you reliably sleep through the night. Lack of consciousness for a number of hours a night does not necessarily imply that your sleep quality is high. Failing to address your sleep could ultimately be just as dangerous to your weight and metabolic health as other poor food and lifestyle choices.