Paleo Sleep: Catch your zzz’s caveman style
As I’ve said before, paleo isn’t just a diet – it’s a lifestyle. That means there are other factors involving your health that you need to pay attention to besides the way you eat. One of those factors that is so important it’s basically comparable to diet is sleep.
Sleeping is an absolutely essential part of overall health, yet it rarely receives the attention it deserves. If you’ve been researching paleo, you’ve heard all about the biological reasons we haven’t adapted to processed foods and grains, etc. But another huge aspect of this biological discussion is sleep. Guess what those same cavemen whose diet we’re trying to mimic had no access to? Besides automobiles and air conditioning and you know, all that stuff. Artificial light! They woke with the sunrise and slept when the sun set. Even in more modern centuries, sleep patterns were much different than they are today, since it wasn’t until the 19th century that the light bulb was introduced. Before that, of course there were alternative ways of creating light, but certainly not in the way we experience it today.
Robb Wolf makes a great analogy between artificial lighting and exercise:
“Indoor lighting is like chronic cardio relative to lifting weights and sprinting: not enough of an acute (hormetic) stimulus, too much of a chronic stress.”
Okay, so artificial lighting does weird things to us. It’s kind of complicated, but basically, our cortisol levels become elevated when we are exposed to artificial light. Our cortisol level is low at night while we’re sleeping. It should be, anyway. However, if we’re exposed to light when we’re trying to sleep, the level spikes. According to Mr. Wolf, “This can absolutely buggar sleep and crack open a host of problems with regards to body-fat levels, insulin resistance and systemic inflammation.”
Oh, no, there’s that inflammation thing AGAIN! Geez, these paleo people seem to be obsessed with the term. Yes, it does come up a lot in the research – for good reason. These problems with our diet and sleep pattern and exercise routine all seem to lead up to this same issue! And the reality of it is simply undeniable, when you look around and see what has become of much of the population.
So we’ve established that our bodies are not designed to function under artificial light. Now, of course we live in a world where there’s not very much we can do to change that. We all work in buildings with artificial light and stare at computer screens for eight hours a day. What we can control, however, are our sleep patterns and habits.
So let’s look at what you can do to do to ensure the best sleep possible:
1. Sleep in the dark! Because of the whole cortisol issue, you’ve got to sleep in a pitch dark room. Don’t have a little lamp on beside your bed, don’t have the curtains drawn so the street light can stream in. And definitely remember to turn off the computer monitor. Those things will prevent you from getting the deepest possible sleep, which is what your body needs to function optimally.
2. Get 8-10 hours. Yes, it’s a lot. You may have to record your favorite show and watch it in the morning, or read ten pages less of your book before bed. Do it. Otherwise nothing else you’re doing to better your health is going to matter much.
3. Establish a routine. Tuck the kids in, take a shower, do the dishes. Oh, it’s 10:00, that’s it for today. Seriously. Facebook stalking, reruns on Netflix or… whatever else you do late at night can wait.
4. Get up on your own. If you’re getting the eight hours you need, your body should eventually be able to wake itself up without an alarm clock. Try your best to get yourself to that point. Cause alarms… you guessed it – they’re not paleo.
I’m going to say something that’s going to make some of you cry a little bit inside, but hear me out. You cannot go to bed at 3 a.m. and wake up at 7 to start your day. You’re asking for trouble. Sleep deprivation is horrible for you – not just as someone trying to stay in great shape, but anyone concerned about overall health in general.
“Sleep deprivation mimics many elements of the aging process. One could make the argument that how you feel when you are sleep deprived is likely how you will feel if you are both diabetic and old (sleep deprivation dramatically impacts insulin sensitivity).” – Robb Wolf’s Blog
Don’t age yourself unnecessarily, guys. Sleep like a caveman. Report back here if it doesn’t change your life.