Lack of sleep is a common problem for so many people, but few learn to tackle it like they do nutrition; they barely give the time of day. The importance of adequate nightly rest is vastly underrated, but it’s a vital component of keeping yourself healthy. Sleep is the body’s time to perform routine maintenance and set up the endocrine system up for the next day. It’s also a valuable fat burning window. Unfortunately, people waste years of their lives lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering why they can’t catch some shut-eye. From crying babies (or cats, let us not forget about cats) to stressing out over work the next day, sleep disturbances make a huge impact on the quality of your sleep. On top of this, real sleep disorders like apnea (a condition where you stop breathing during sleep) exist that make every night a living hell.
No one should have the spend the night tossing and turning only to sneak in 15 minute naps during their lunch break when they should be eating. You quickly reach a point where naps and caffeine don’t make a dent in your energy levels. You become more and more stressed and fat starts hanging around your midsection. You begin to look like a raccoon preparing for hibernation and walking to the other end of the office is a chore. If mid-day fatigue, morning restlessness and a carton of 5 hour energy is your idea of making it through life, then you’re probably not going to look or feel very good. Something must be done!
Stress & Sleep
A lack of sleep directly affects your stress levels, which are already elevated due to the demands of modern living. We shouldn’t have to panic over our jobs, but we do. We shouldn’t spend hours each night surrounding by lights, listening to cars racing in the distance, but we do. As our stress response becomes overwhelmed, it becomes more and more difficult to function normally.
To make things better, we need to get back to a natural sleep cycle and tone down some of the stressors in our environment. We need to learn to relax, without depending upon prescription sleep aides.
Hit The Lights
Circadian rhythm, the natural cycle of waking and sleeping, is impacted by light. Normally, we’d get up in the morning when the sun rose, and go to bed when it got dark but thanks to electricity and working late, that just doesn’t happen for everybody. We need to get back to that.
When you get up in the morning, immediately getting some sunlight is crucial to alerting your brain that its day time. The same goes for bedtime; as the sun sets, you need to start turning lights down and turning electronics off. If you don’t set up an environment that mimics our natural sleep and wake cycles, then it will be that much more difficult to establish a healthy sleep pattern. A blackout curtain can be a huuuge help here.
That doesn’t mean living every day of the rest of your life in darkness from 6 p.m. onward, but until you get a handle on your sleep, you need to follow a routine. It may seem boring going to bed early, but you’ll thank yourself later. In the morning, open the windows and let the sun in.
Don’t Go To Bed Hungry!
You’re making your life a lot harder if you’re avoiding food (and particularly carbs) at night so you can lose weight. A hungry brain is a never ending brain of revolving thoughts.
During the day, demands for energy are pretty high and for the most part, we want fast digesting sources of food. At bed time, you’ll be winding down, so a slow release of energy is better. Fat can assist in regulating blood sugar levels throughout the night, and a slow digesting carbohydrate source will allow serotonin to level up with dopamine in the brain. A sweet potato with butter is a surefire win here.
This is an update from what I previously wrote. In May of 2013 I started using Progenex Cocoon, it’s a slow acting casein protein with L-tryptophan. If you can afford it I would HIGHLY recommend this product.
Start your nightly routine; wash your face, brush your teeth and dim the lights. No distractions, no electronic devices. This is the perfect time to look out the window at the stars, stretch, meditate, or read a book by candle light. Make falling asleep at least as big of a priority as your favorite television show and give it one hour nightly.
Spend some quality time with your family or roommates. It’s likely that if your children were asked whether they’d like to spend the last 30 minutes of the day with mom and dad, or watch an all new episode of a hit Disney show, they’d want the television. Tough cookies though, they also need to eat their vegetables regardless of the fuss. This works the same way. My wife will often read poems from Shel Silverstein. Sometimes, we have the kids read to us. It is optional activity though; you have to want to be there and they do too.
Bedtime Means Lights Out!
I mean complete darkness. That little light blinking in the corner or your DVD player? Get rid of it. Get new curtains if the street lights are shining in. Darkness tells your brain to produce natural melatonin. When first starting the routine, you may feel uncomfortable and squirmy in bed and melatonin supplementation can help. Still, it takes the body and mind a little bit of time to synchronize. Don’t expect everything to resolve itself over night. Instead of being anxious about getting to sleep, think of this as “me time”. This is where you can clear your thoughts, close your eyes and just enjoy the cozy comforts of your bed.
If You Still Can’t Sleep
If none of this stuff works, it might be time to see a doctor and ask for a 24 hour cortisol saliva reading. A greater degree of hormonal derangement may require assistance from a sleep specialist. You can put a band aid on the sore, but since sleep is such a big deal, you’re better off covering all your bases and getting sleep help from someone who helps people for a living.
Too Much Caffeine? My Trial
I gave up coffee for 30 days when I started this; I just needed to know if coffee was the problem. I slept better and it seemed, at the time, that coffee was indeed to blame. It was uncomfortable for a while, but I adjusted after a week or so and I was getting nine hours of sleep regularly. I eventually re-introduced coffee and found that I was okay now. In the long run, everyone is different. I definitely believe that reducing my caffeine intake played a role in reducing my cortisol levels overall, and that was a good thing.
- Sleep is one of the most underlooked aspects of achieving health and recovering from stress. The importance of a good night’s sleep in regulating hormone function cannot be disregarded. It’s also a great time to burn fat!
- Dysfunctional sleep can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels, insulin resistance, and low levels of growth hormone, resulting in poor body composition and overall health.
- Exposure to light and dark can help you establish a more natural sleep cycle. Get some sun during the day and try to spend less time on the computer at night.
- Eat protein and good fats during the day to keep insulin levels low, your blood sugar stable, and growth hormone up.
- Eat carbohydrates at night to maximize fat burning and anabolic signaling during sleep. Don’t go to bed hungry!
- Once you’ve developed a routine, stick to it and eventually it will become second nature.
- Cut back on stimulants (like caffeine and energy drinks) when you’re trying to regulate your sleep cycles. Excessive use can really aggravate the problem. In general, try to avoid coffee after the morning is over and make sure you drink plenty of water.