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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.

Man up and lift like a lady

Alright, ladies, this one’s for you.

Photo by Greg Westfall

Photo by Greg Westfall

Let me start off by saying I completely understand the apprehension you might feel about even the idea of starting a rigorous training program like Crossfit. Whether you’re intimidated by the heavy looking weights, the sweaty – often loud – men, or the women who look like they could beat you up, I understand your anxiety; I have been there. In fact, we’ve all been there, because we all had to start somewhere.

Before I started Crossfit, I had a million reasons why I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like the idea of people watching me attempt to do things I thought my body was incapable of doing. I was afraid of hurting myself, of looking stupid, of doing something wrong, of breathing too hard and everybody hearing – of everything, basically. So I get it.

But if Crossfit has taught me anything it has been to question my assumptions – assumptions about myself and about other people. It has taught me that I can’t know my limits if I don’t test them. It has forced me to reevaluate my ideas about my own strength and my capability to improve, as well as challenged me to question my assumptions about the capability of others. Before Crossfit, when someone I’d never seen work out before would walk into the gym, I would look them up and down and make a quick judgment about what I figured they’d be capable of doing. Not anymore. In the box, we’re all equal. By that I don’t mean that we can are all capable of the same level of work. But we are all capable.

Now, I don’t expect to have won you all over with my attempt at being inspirational, so I’ll try to address some common concerns that seem to exist for most women nervous about starting Crossfit.

“I don’t want to get bulky.”

The truth is you most likely have years of training before you even have to think about becoming “too bulky.” What’s more, it’s basically genetically impossible for you to get unreasonably large without performance-enhancing drugs. You’re not going to look like a female body-builder unless you juice like one, or you’re a direct descendant of Goliath.

“I can’t lift that cause I’m a girl.”

Pish posh. You must lift that cause you’re a girl. That’s right – weight-resistant activity is essential for your health as a woman. It will improve your bone density, cardiac health, and – the best part – will help you lose weight because you will burn a greater amount of calories at rest. Women who lift greatly reduce their risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and even diabetes.

“I just want to be skinny.”

Unless you want to develop an eating disorder, this probably isn’t going to happen, nor should you want it to. Just dropping a lot of weight with a nasty calorie-counting fad diet and doing obscene amounts of cardio is not a healthy way to become fit. In fact, you are far more likely to gain the weight back if you try this because you’re depriving your body of nutrients, and you’re basically guaranteed to crash and burn after you quit. The art of fitness is making a change in your lifestyle, not cycling through various 30-day starvation diets. Don’t worry about being skinny; worry about being healthy, and you will see results. Your body will take care of you if you take care of it.

“I’ve had kids.”

Cool, me too. Next?

“I’m worried about people watching me work out.”

My number one problem before I joined Crossfit. I was the kind of girl who would hang out on the elliptical until the weight room was free because I just felt so uncomfortable knowing people could see me. And I think the main reason for this was because I thought they might think I was doing something wrong.

Crossfit eliminates this problem because it teaches you the right way to lift. You don’t have to worry about people thinking you don’t know what you’re doing, because you will be taught how to lift properly before your first class. As far as having other people watch you goes… yes, they will see you, but I can almost guarantee no one will be focused on watching you. Why? Because everyone is doing the same high intensity workout as you are. Do you really think that while they are busy trying to complete 150 wall-balls for time they are going to be assessing what you are doing? Yeah right. Most of them won’t be able to see you through the sweat dripping into their eyes.

I hope this is helpful to you ladies who are thinking about joining Crossfit. Just know that you are not alone in your anxiety, but also understand that we have all had to start from somewhere. As always, if you have other issues you would like me to address, questions, comments, pictures of you using your kid as a kettlebell, etc., please do not hesitate to respond.

Photo Credit: Greg Westfall, flickr