You cannot be healthy without adequate sleep. Period.
The body understands the importance of sleep. It is an essential component of 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. This increases immune cytokine function and helps protect against infection.
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 wellness imbalances and psychiatric disorders
- Cognitive decline
- Increased cardiovascular risk
- Weight gain
- Systemic inflammation
- Increased risk of death
There is no disease or medical condition that is not impacted and exacerbated 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 your resolution of getting your sleep in check stays on track.
Tips For Better Sleep
Reduce your exposure to artificial light
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 gasses(which blocks out blue light) for the last 2-3 hours before bed.
- Use a sleep mask.
Incorporate 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.
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.
Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
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 wi8th the flicker from those LED lights. Masking tape is still a little see-though which is useful for alarm clocks.
Incorporate daily stress management routines
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. Also eating a moderate-carbohydrate paleo diet. A diet too low or too high in carbohydrates can both be problematic and if 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 mitigate your stress response too.
Manage your nutrition
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.
When good sleep hygiene isn’t enough
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 insufficient you may want to rather try
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.
Resolving to improve your sleep quality and quantity will set as great foundation for optimizing your Paleo lifestyle. Appropriate sleep hygiene is important even for people who 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. Lack of good sleep could be just as dangerous to your weight and metabolic health as sleep deprivation.