I wish sleep was optional—not a requirement.
My ideal amount of sleep is 7-hours per night, but this past week, it’s been more like 5 or 6, working later into the night on my computer than usual. While I have been functioning quite alright (ie. Not falling asleep standing up, and able to go about my day), I definitely notice a difference.
There’s no getting around it.
Sleep is one of those things in life that, try as we might, we can’t refrain from doing—otherwise we suffer (even if we feel like we’ve ‘got it’ or we are the exception).
Brain function is slower.
The immune system is depressed.
Cortisol (ie. Hormone levels) get off.
Performance lacks in the gym
Weight management becomes more difficult.
In fact, did you know that a person running on 4-hours of sleep is just the same functioning level as a person with a 0.08% blood alcohol level?
Normal sleep-wake cycles, or circadian rhythms, follow along the same cycle as the sun: Rising in the morning, and dipping in the evening.
The term circadian rhythm refers to the cycle of biological processes that occur within the human body (and indeed all forms of life on Earth) on a 24-hour clock.
Circadian rhythms are how your body intuitively knows what time it is (ie. when it’s time to get up in the morning or go to bed at night). Ultimately, your circadian rhythm gives your body a ‘routine’ or schedule, and in turn, assigns the various functions necessary for maintaining optimal health, based on the time of day. For instance, the body prioritizes tissue (or muscle) repair, while you are sleeping, and prioritizes the need for food, metabolic functions and movement during your waking hours. Your body also secretes various chemicals throughout the day [ie. melatonin in the evenings, higher cortisol in the mornings (arousal), etc.], fluctuates body temperature, undergoes vascular changes, bowel changes and a host of other changes in order to keep you in a regulated, homeostatic, optimal functioning state.
Or…at least it should.
Unfortunately, thanks to our constantly stimulated brain and visual systems, (ie. staring at computer screens, Smart Phones, your favorite Netflix series on your plasma TV, fluorescent lights), coupled with poor sleep patterns, eating and exercise patterns, our circadian rhythms, have gotten a bit out of whack (ie. They don’t know what time of day it is!!).
The statistics on the number of prescription sleeping meds used in the U.S. alone are enough to point to this fact. Nearly 9-million Americans take prescription sleep aids on a regular basis. And moreover, only 1/3 of Americans get the recommended 7-9 hours per night.
That being said, what can YOU do to regulate your circadian rhythm and get it back to the ‘good ol’ days’ (the way your body was meant to THRIVE)? Back to a level of ‘normal’ if you’ve gotten out of balance (like I have!) lately.
A few key points here:
Go to bed on time! No duh, Sherlock. I find when I do make a firm bedtime for myself (say 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.), I never regret it the next day. There will always be work to get done and to-do lists to check off, but remind yourself, in order to function at any of these to the best of your abilities, you have to be well-rested. Some people claim they function fine off of 4-5 hours of sleep…yes you are functioning, but we are no ‘superman.’ If you gave 2-3 hours of extra sleep a try, you’d be amazed at the difference. Similar to how when people who have been eating a primarily sugar rich and processed-food diet—when they start eating fresh fruits, veggies, lean meats, wholesome carbohydrates, essential fats, and lots of water, they are AMAZED at the energy, vibrancy, improved digestion, decreased illness and more. Sleep does a body good.
Sleep in a completely dark room. Sleeping in a completely dark room is crucial for protecting circadian rhythms. Cover up any phone or computer lights, baby monitors, nightlights, or whatever other gadgets you have plugged in in your room. Blackout curtains are great if you have sheerer curtains or lots of windows. As for rising, if you are feeling really adamant in restoring you circadian rhythm, ditch the alarm clock in lieu of a sun lamp (‘natural’ sun light to wake you—how nature intended).
Lower the temp. A cool temperature is a positive trigger to your circadian rhythm. At nighttime, a cool room of around 65-degrees or less is ideal, whereas during the day, the adverse is true (being warmer during the day, around 75-degrees+ supports circadian rhythms).
Get BRIGHT light in during the day. Simply put: Soak up the rays during the day, and be in the dark at night. This helps your body’s circadian rhythm really know ‘what’s up.’ Sunlight (also known as ‘Blue light’) communicates to your circadian clock that it’s daytime NOW. The photoreceptors in your eyes and your skin are sensitive to this blue light, and, in turn, send this signal to the brain. As little as 15-minutes of natural sunlight exposure, or 30-minutes on a cloudy day (sans sunglasses), does a body good.
Be active. The human body was meant to MOVE! Global studies reveal that most people sit an average of 8 to upwards of 15 hours per day, and more than 85% of Americans sit all day at work. (More facts HERE). On the sleep front, in clinical trials, getting some sort of activity during the day has been shown to support melatonin production (helps you sleep). Aim to move at least 30-60 minutes most days of the week. There are a couple of exceptions: intense activity later in the day has been shown to impede your melatonin production, as well as working out in a really bright environment in the evenings. If these are your times to train, heed caution that it may take your body a little longer to calm at night.
Change with the seasons. By design, the human body was wired to sleep more in the winter months, and less in the summer months (crazy huh?!). Unfortunately, indoor lighting has robbed us of the seasonal variations in not only the amount of sleep we get, but also our activity levels, our appetites, and our daily schedules in general. While we certainly are not cave people here, it’s kind of cool to think about caring for your body in relation to the season (think: eating fruits and veggies that are in season during certain months; adjusting your indoor temperature to reflect the outdoors a bit more—not super hot in the winter, or extremely cold in the summer; getting outdoors for movement more in the summer; and tucking in perhaps a bit earlier in the winter months as the sun sets earlier).
On a side note today, I wanted to touch on the ever-increasing popular drink: Bulletproof Coffee.
Coffee and a blog post on circadian rhythms? What’s the deal?
Stick with me.
If you haven’t heard of Bulletproof Coffee, come to Austin.
It’s all the rage in the coffee world, and in essence, it is a drink, coined by Dave Asprey—an entrepreneur, life hacker, and former Silicon Valley investor—who stumbled upon the combination of:
–“Low-mold” coffee from high quality coffee beans sourced from Ecuador
-Butter from grass-fed cows
-And a coconut oil extract made from medium-chain triglycerides (improves brain function)
Mix them all together and you have “Bulletproof” coffee.
The claims about the coffee state that one cup in the morning, typically instead of breakfast, keeps them satisfied, energized, and alert well into the afternoon, while training the body to burn fat for energy, and in some cases, leading to weight loss for those needing to lose weight.
When I first heard about the coffee (particularly as a ‘non-coffee drinker’), I thought it sounded disgusting. Who would drink that?
But then I tried it at the local real-foods food truck here in Austin—Picnick—and my eyes (and taste buds) were opened.
If you are a coffee drinker, and yet hate the idea of a straight up cup of joe, black and simple, then Bulletproof coffee could be for you (particularly if sugar, artificial sweeteners, milk and other fru-fru things make it into your drink most days).
That being said, however, if you are on board for restoring your circadian rhythms, practicing good nutrition habits is a must.
Whole, nutrient-dense foods are part of that equation, and unfortunately, straight-up coffee for breakfast is not going to give you the same nutritionally dense punch that say, 3-4 pasture-raised eggs, a heaping handful of spinach or other greens sautéed in ghee or grassfed butter, and perhaps a couple slices of nitrate free bacon, a handful of berries or ½ an avocado can give you.
Even if you are not a breakfast person, a nutrient-dense smoothie prepared with 4-8 oz. unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk, a heaping handful of spinach, a handful of frozen berries or ½ banana, a scoop or two of cold pressed protein isolate (or collagen—I like this one), and a tablespoon of coconut oil, 1/2 an avocado or raw nutbutter, for a little bit of extra healthy fats, will give you a 1-2-punch! Vitamin and Mineral heaven!!
If you’re used to eating 3 meals per day, then replacing breakfast with bulletproof coffee will reduce the total nutrient load of your diet by a third. And if you think a multivitamin can solve this problem, try again. No tablet can replace the thousands of trace nutrients, both known and unknown, that are present in real food.
You can have your coffee and eat it too—meaning, drink a cup of Joe if you must, with perhaps a bit of grassfed butter or MCT oil in it, but focus on eating real whole foods as opposed to less nutritious coffee beans as your main meal most days.