The most Important Investment to Enhance your Sleep

In this time poor world, our time is the greatest commodity! It is greater than money because money without time is seemingly shallow and pointless, well at least in my opinion. Anything I spend a significant time doing, I take pretty seriously.

Already this month we have discussed some key factors that impact your sleep. We have talked about effects of; technology, stress, nutrition, exercise, air quality and along with a lot more. Now it is time to talk about one of the most important investments you can make towards your sleep.

YOUR MATTRESS!

Do you know you spend a ⅓ of your life asleep?

Well now you know that you will spend the majority of your life laying on it, I would suggest you make sure you select the right mattress for yourself and possibly your partner as well.

This is never an easy decision and at times can be quite painful as you jump from one bed to the next within a big show room, in the hope that you find one that feels good. From coil springs to intellisprings the shop assistant bombards you with confusing branding lingo. At the end of the day a lot of it means the exact same thing, just brands calling it different names. You often leave the store more confused than when you first went in.  If you are anything like me I find it near impossible to really identify the best bed without having a few good nights sleeping on it.

 

So where to start? What is important?

Sleep Position:

Before we can talk about mattress and pillows we must first discuss sleep positions. As with anything there are ideal positions to sleep in but everybody is different and what might work for one person will not be the same for the next person. I am not one to preach that everyone should sleep in a similar fashion and only recommend a change of sleep position when required. With each sleep position there are ways in which to improve the quality of the position to enhance your sleep. When it comes to positions there are endless variations but for purpose of this article I want to focus on the 3 main variations and give you a quick overview:

 

 

Back Sleeper:  

Positives: Provides optimal spinal alignment

Negatives: If you are a snorer this will exacerbate it and is the worst position for this.

Sleep Hack for Back Sleepers: Place pillow under the back of knees to decrease lower back load

 

 

Side sleeper:

Positives: Often the most comfortable as it mimics being in the womb. It is the next best for spinal alignment. Better position if you snore when you are on your back. Recently been highlighted as optimal position for clearing cellular waste while sleeping through glymphatic pathway.

Negatives: Can aggravate shoulder instability, neck and lower back if you don’t have a supportive mattress and pillow

Sleep Hack for Side Sleepers: Place a pillow between knees to neutralise pelvis and again reduce lower back load.

 

 

Front Sleeper:

Positives: Great for reducing snoring

Negatives: Worst for spinal alignment with the arch in the lower back and the head twisted to the side especially if you use a pillow.

Sleep Hack for Front Sleepers: Ditch the pillow that is lifting your head up. Instead place the pillow under your hips to support your lower back and where possible bend one knee up towards chest to deload the spine.

 

 

Mattress and Pillow Considerations

Trial Period

You need to sleep on it, literally.

When investing in a new bed, mattress or pillow, you really want the ability to sleep on it for at least a couple of weeks and have the ability to return it if needed. Most places will offer a service similar to this with varying time frames. However, a lot of these periods will only be possible if you also buy a mattress protector from them at same time.

 

Firmness

Firmness is the next most important thing to get right.

Soft, Medium, Firm??

Truth is it depends on the individual and sleeping style, which for most people greatly varies depending on lifestyles factors e.g. injury, sickness etc. For optimal spinal alignment you will be a back sleeper and ideally should choose a firm mattress to support this position. A firm mattress won’t support your spinal health if you are a side or front sleeper, as the firmness of the mattress will force your body into misalignment. So if you are a side or front sleeper then a less firm mattress will be best to maintain spine alignment.

 

Why is alignment important?

Do you wake up feeling fresh from a good night’s sleep, with no aches and pains?

Well you should! Anything that is misaligned is more prone to injury and is placing unneeded stress on your body. Especially with the time we spend in our beds this is especially important! Poor mattress and sleep position often lead to postural imbalances which greatly increases your potential of developing chronic injuries. If your issue is stemming from your mattress or sleep position, it really doesn’t matter how much physio or rehabilitation you do the imbalance will remain an issue. Even if you are good and see your physio 1-2 x per week (20 min) and are really good and do the exercise homework  (~10 min daily) that equates to less than 2 hrs per week, compared with 50 hrs+ per week sleeping in a bad mattress or position. You stand no chance of getting on top of your issue until you address the chronic load you place on your body (mattress, pillow and or sleep position).

 

Partner disturbance

There is nothing worse than a restless partner, keeping you awake all night. This is one thing you should not share!

Last thing you want is your partner’s bad sleep to affect your sleep. It is a recipe for disaster with short tempers eventually boling upto fighting. At least if one partner is well rested they can diffuse the situation…well hopefully.

Even if you don’t have a partner now, this is something you may want to consider for the future. You want to select a bed that absorbs movements so that your sleep is not affected. On average a person changes sleeping positions 12 times per night, unless you want to wake up 12 times per night this is absolutely something to consider. However, not something that I really need to highlight as I am sure most have dealt with this first hand at one point or another.

 

Breathability:

A commonly overlooked factor is the mattress breathability.

When it comes to breathability the first thing most people consider is body temperature regulation, something that can greatly dictate your sleep quality. A mattress that does not breath will play havoc with your body temperature as you just get warmer and warmer throughout the night making it difficult for your body to regulate your temperature.

Beyond temperature control mattresses and pillows can become a petri dish of bacteria if they do not breath. As we discussed in our previous post, the bedrooms air quality has been estimated to be 16 times worse that the rest of the house, this is something you need to consider.

Breathability as you can imagine is even more important when it comes to your pillow, as your face is in direct contact with it. Plus with the moisture created during a deep sleep drool you better make sure your pillow doesn’t absorb that moisture. If your mattress or pillow doesn’t have technology to breathe you will restrict your body’s temperature. If it doesn’t breath it will collect and grow bacteria and mould, leading to endless the health and performance concerns

 

Pillow

Once you got the mattress the pillow is the next key consideration. Most of the points highlighted above for the mattress will also apply to your pillow selection

The pillow is extremely important when it comes to a good night’s sleep. I am sure many of us at one point or another have faced the effect of a bad nights sleep on a pillow that doesn’t match your needs.

 

Support: Cervical spine alignments

Pillow height is everything! The last thing you want is a pillow / pillows that crank your head up too high and out of alignment. You probably also want to avoid the opposite with your head dropping to low. You want a pillow that supports and promotes alignment in the neck.

If you place your arm under your pillow is a sign that your pillow is not high enough to support your neck, this is not a good sign as you move around in the night.

 

Mattress & Pillow Recommendation

Time for a change in set up?

Look no further than ECOSA!

After doing my research and doing the painful store to store testing. I choose to go with ECOSA and I have now been on my new mattress and pillows for just over a month. I could not recommend anything better that ticks all the boxes I look for in a good mattress and pillow set up. For years I have struggled to find a mattress I could recommend but the ECOSA is a mattress and pillow that is designed for the masses that offers so much adjustability to suit all sleeping styles and body types.

Let’s discuss some of my favorite features:

Trial period: 100 nights! Plus if you return it you get your money back and it gets sent to Salvation Army. This significantly more nights than most stores. Plus they come with 15 year warranty.

Mattress Firmness: No longer the need to stress over what firmness works for you. It has 3 levels of firmness to shift between. This offers great interchangeability as your body evolves. Plus a great chance to identify your prefered firmness to match your sleeping style, keeping your spine aligned.

Adjustable Pillow: Just like adjustability in mattress so does the pillow as comes with 3 height adjustable levels to suit every sleep position and body type.

Partner Disturbance: None! it is amazing if you go online you will see videos of people jumping on it with full wine glasses stacked on top not even falling with the impact. Plus even if it did spill it is waterproof!

Breathability: The ECOSA mattress and pillows have extra cool layers and built-in air circulation system that allow free flowing air, keeping you from getting too hot. Not only is it breathable but has activated charcoal to absorb moisture, that is a feature highlight of mine!

Waterproof lining: German micro-filament technology keeping the mattress waterproof and dust mite-free. Not only is it breathable but it is waterproof so that it protects against any build up of sweat, oils or moisture that can cause mold.

No Base, No Problem: Built to work with any base even floor so what you put the mattress on is up to you.

Cost: With all these features you are most likely preparing yourself for a big price point. Well that is one of the best features of all. Due to no storefront overheads etc they are able to bring a mattress to your door significantly cheaper than any store. Plus if your prefer interest free payment/finance option, they offer them as well!

Free Delivery: Yup it comes in a box and they deliver it to your door for FREE! As it is in a box no difficulty getting it up stairs or through doorways just roll it in and around on its wheels.

                  

If you don’t believe me the reviews on their website say it all with close to 8000, 5 Star Reviews and if that is not enough try it for 100 nights yourself and you will be convinced and stoked as I am.

 

Air Quality & Sleep

Air quality is too often looked, yet it is such a vital component when it comes to health. As we have stated previously anything that affects your health will affect your ability to sleep well.

Toxic Mold

If your home is not well ventilated, it can be a breeding ground for mold, leading to poor air quality. Mold is the silent killer that is not getting enough attention. It is making more people weak, fat, and tired than ever before. It is largely invisible and can have a huge impact on your energy and stress levels, not to mention how long you’ll live.

Symptoms of Mold Exposure & Mold Poisoning:

Fatigue + Weakness + Aches + Muscle Cramps + Unusual Pain + Ice Pick Pain + Headache + Light Sensitivity + Red Eyes + Blurred Vision + Tearing + Sinus Problems + Cough + Shortness of Breath + Abdominal Pain + Diarrhea + Joint Pain + Morning Stiffness + Memory Issues + Focus/Concentration Issues + Word Recollection Issues + Decreased Learning of New Knowledge + Confusion + Disorientation + Skin Sensitivity + Mood Swings + Appetite Swings + Sweats (especially night sweats) + Temperature Regulation or Dysregulation Problems + Excessive Thirst + Increased Urination + Static Shocks + Numbness + Tingling + Vertigo + Metallic Taste + Tremors

Exposure to mold and it effects are more common than you may realise. Dampness and mold exposures ranges from 18% to 50% in buildings. The bad news doesn’t stop there sadly, in America over 25% (could assume similar numbers in NZ) of people are believed to carry the HLA-DRBQ gene. This gene promotes hypersensitivity towards mold. Essentially there bodies are unable to recognise mold as a toxin to eliminate it and instead they store the toxic mold within their bodies.

Mold toxins are lipophilic, in other words, their molecular structure is made up of fatty acid molecules. As the brain is the fattiest organ (60% fat) the mold toxins migrate and cross the blood brain barrier and deposit themselves within the brain. Once mold toxins enter the brain, they start to destroy neurons,  they can alter hormone production, and eventually this can lead to many chronic health issues including:

  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Hashimoto’s Disease
  • Graves Disease
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • ADD/ADHD and more

 

Air Quality & Sleep:

Now that you have some background around mold and air quality, lets discuss how air quality can be affecting your sleep.

You spend ⅓ of your life in your bedroom, therefore bad air quality in the bedroom is a recipe for disaster! Some stats suggest that exposure to poor air quality can be 16 time higher in some people bedrooms. Poor air quality affects sleep and as a result has been shown to impact next day cognitive performance and increase perceived feelings of poor concentration and increased sleepiness. In rooms with poor circulating air comes and increased moisture and the development of bacteria and mold will not only impact your sleep but may cause a whole host of serious health concerns.

Want to Learn More:

Dave Asprey from Bulletproof, is a leader in this space after struggling personally with mold intoxication. He is leading the charge globally and highlighting the impact of mold on individuals health.  He has developed a lot of content around mold including a documentary on toxic mold (Moldy Movie), and even discusses the topic it in his book Headstrong.

Naturally cleanse the Air

Plants

Beyond toxic mold removal there are a few other ways to improve air quality within your bedroom. Research at NASA has found that a number of house plants go beyond just looking good, they actually possess the ability to double as a natural air purifiers. Improving air quality by absorbing and filtering out toxic agents from our indoor air. The NASA study listed a number of plants that have beneficial effects for air purification including Aloe vera, English Ivy and Sansevieria trifasciata (commonly known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue). I personally own the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue due to it being very low maintenance and have found it extremely powerful.

  

Ever wondered why you sleep better in nature  especially if you are close to water?

Water, air, sunlight and the earth’s inherent radiation produce what is called negative ions (oxygen molecule charged with an extra electron). These negatively charged ions are most prevalent in a natural place particularly around moving water (waterfalls, ocean, thunderstorms etc). The taste and feeling of that “Fresh Air” when near a beach, waterfall or storm is your body receiving and influx in the beneficial negative ions.

Negative ions are good but positive ions are not and the most dangerous levels of harmful positive ions occur in the polluted, large industrial and heavily populated cities. Exhaust fumes from cars, trucks and buses, factory smoke, cigarette smoke, dust and soot, electromagnetic pollution and overall atmospheric pollution caused by air and sea crafts; all act to develop a mixture of harmful positive ions. In doing so reduce the production of the beneficial negative ions in our surroundings and subsequently affecting our overall health, lungs and may be the cause of general lack of energy and depression.

 

Strategies

Prevent, Identify & Repair

Prevent:

  • Avoid moist environments that lack airflow (stuffy environments). As these environments act as the perfect breeding ground for toxic mold.
  • Avoid Water Damaged Buildings:

Water soaked buildings are the perfect breeding ground for toxic mold. You should want to avoid living, working or attending school in any building that have been damaged by water whether from a flood, broken pipes, condensation, or water leaks of any kind. Signs would include; Water stains on walls and ceilings & a funky smell

  • Allow natural airflow as much as possible, sleep with window open as has been shown to greatly impact air quality.
  • Live close to nature, obviously where possible.
  • Get some nature into your bedroom, add some natural air purifying plants such as: Aloe vera, English Ivy, & Sansevieria trifasciata (commonly known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)
  • Remove any condensation 
  • Purify and Negatively ionise your air within your bedroom and home with a Ioniser

 

  • Identify:

  • Ensure you have no leaks or mold present in your house.

Check baseboards, ceilings, and walls in your home, office, and school frequently looking for soft spots, stains, or other signs of water damage. If you have any serious concerns or even just for peace of mind get the building inspected by a professional. Additionally, ensure you have a properly installed AC or HVAC system especially in hot humid climates as this can be a red flag and could make the problem worse.

  • Take the Test: The Biotoxin Test can help determine if you are affected by mold. Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker developed a formula to determine if you are presenting with the symptoms associated with exposure to toxic mold.

 

Repair:

  • Outsource: If testing deems your house to have mold. Remove yourself from the environment & work with a remediation specialist to develop a cleanup plan. You don’t want to skip corners on this.

Hopefully in reading this I have been able to shed some light on the invisible killer that doesn’t get enough attention. This is something I have dealt with personally and was ignorant to the impact it played as I became sicker and sicker as the mold grew thicker and thicker. It is not something you avoid and hope it goes away you need to take action otherwise you will end up with serious health concerns. Just watch the moldy movie for some good case studies.

Potent Sleep Affecting Potions  

Let’s discuss key drinks that are detrimental towards your sleep. You will probably be aware of the two drinks we will discuss, but our goal is to inform you of HOW they affect you and then give strategies that will allow you to enjoy them without compromising your sleep.

Caffeine:

Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the World. Approximately 90% of Americans consume caffeine in one form or another, every single day. It is a stimulant that is often utilised to mitigate the effects of bad sleep as it blocks the sleep-inducing chemicals (eg. Adenosine) in the brain. Normally, adenosine would accumulate throughout the day and is then reduced when you are at sleep and your body regenerates. Adenosine affects chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain including dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine and noradrenaline. Caffeine has a similar molecular structure to adenosine and competes with the adenosine receptors in the brain, and if caffeine is present it will always beat adenosine to the binding site. As a result it blocks adenosine from carrying out its effects and causes the reverse effects to occur. So instead of feeling tired, you now feel energised and alert. The caffeine is acting to mask the natural sleepiness you may have had.

Caffeine is well established with a wide range of positive benefits and is probably one of the most widely studied stimulants, if not the most studied. There is no debating its benefits. However, we must keep in mind that it is a stimulant, and while it can be beneficial in some 

instances, if we rely on stimulates then they can greatly affect us long term. Many people today are hooked on this drug and require it daily to function. This in itself is a negative cycle as the caffeine is probably what is reducing your sleep and then you require more caffeine the next day to work and concentrate which becomes a vicious cycle.

When it comes to sleep, it is important to consider the effects caffeine has on your circadian rhythm. Habitual caffeine intake has been shown to affect sleep quality, increased daytime dysfunction, and increased levels of night-time disturbance. One study showed that caffeine abstinence significantly lengthened sleep duration and improved sleep quality. In fact they showed that individuals had less difficulty falling asleep on days when they drank decaffeinated coffee.  

Strategy Bedtime and Caffeine:

I am not saying give up coffee or go ‘cold turkey’, but try stay clear of caffeine ~6 hrs before bedtime. The closer you ingest caffeine to bed the greater the impact on your sleep quality. This rule is not only for coffee but also includes your teas (kombucha included). Select a sleep enhancing tea like chamomile or rooibos as they are caffeine free. Caffeine is not necessarily stopping you from getting to sleep but it is affecting your quality of sleep! Keep in mind everyone has varied ability to metabolise caffeine. This can be tested through genetic testing like 23andme. Even if you are a quick metaboliser I would still not be having it much closer than 6 hours before sleep!

Some new research done here in New Zealand will be looking at two genes involved in caffeine metabolism. These genes are; CYP1A2 (determines how quickly you break down drugs in your liver) and the ADORA2A (role in caffeine induced anxiety). Knowing what your genetic description of these two genes are will give you information on how fast or slow you metabolise/breakdown caffeine and your sensitivity to caffeine. This will allow you to tailor your caffeine intake to your genetic makeup to get the greatest effects for your work and performance. The research in genetics and caffeine is new but is a growing field of science and one that holds a lot of potential for high performers. If you want to become apart of this study I can link you with the researches to see if you meet their requirements.

Coffee Detox

Yup I said the dreaded words detox! If you are heavily reliant on your morning cup of Joe it may be time to say goodbye!

As I mentioned above you should never be reliant on a stimulant, if you are you are, then you are most likely not functioning at your full potential. You are also not getting the caffeine hit you used to love. As with any stimulant abuse or addiction, we end up with a resistance to the initial level we were providing our body. Gradually over time we have to ingest more and more of the stimulate in order to achieve the same response.

The best thing you can do for yourself in this case is have a coffee break, with the aim of removing coffee for 1-2 weeks. Caution if you are regularly having 3+cups per day, I suggest gradually cutting down before detox. Caffeine is addictive, going cold turkey could be to big a shock on the system. The first few days will be hard, trust me! You will get mind numbing headaches, you may lack motivation and energy but stick it out! By the end of the two weeks you will be asking yourself why I didn’t do this sooner. You will no longer be held hostage by your morning coffee, instead you will already be full of energy and ready to go. Now when you require that extra boost of energy coffee will be there to help, but you will receive the full effects of your coffee! (Learn more: OPTIMISE YOUR COFFEE BREAK)

 

Alcohol:

Is it time for a night cap?

Nothing better than relaxing post work and getting that extra bit of help to fall asleep, right?

In fact, 20% of all Americans would agree (American Sleep Foundation), and think that alcohol is beneficial for sleep. While it has been shown to get you you to sleep quicker, what is it doing to the quality of your sleep?

Did you know you get smarter as you sleep this is due to your bodies ability to process memories. This is where short term memories get transferred into long term memories. Memory processing is predominantly affected by varying stages of REM sleep. If you are getting optimal sleep then all is well, but if your sleep is disrupted your health and memories will suffer.

 

Don’t mistake sleep quantity for sleep quality

Alcohol does get you to sleep faster but at the cost of reducing your REM sleep. With alcohol in your system you won’t be able to fall into deep consistent levels of REM sleep, therefore your brain and body will lack the ability to fully regenerate and to process memories. Hence, the feeling you have when you wake up from a alcohol ladened sleep.

 

Strategies for Alcohol and Sleep:

I am not here to say give up the bottle, although it would be extremely powerful for your health, longevity and performance if you did…. Instead I want to make you aware of what is occurring in your body when you choose to drink and hopefully help guide you through the times you choose to drink.

While I have just previously said you don’t have to give up the bottle,  if you are utilising alcohol in a similar manner to a caffeine (daily or most days) then I would say the same principles apply. In this case: it is time for a detox! You will often find it is not so much about the drink itself instead it is more the habit you need to break. When undergoing a detox it is therefore essential that you find another winding down method to fill this time. Any of the methods mentioned in our previous post around mental and emotional stress are great strategies that could be utilised.

Aim not to drink within a few hours before bed and stay hydrated with electrolytes to combat the electrolyte imbalance as your body retains sodium and expels potassium created with drinking.

 

Key takeaways:

  • Caffeine and Alcohol both affect sleep quality not necessarily sleep quantity
  • If you are reliant on a stimulant like caffeine or alcohol it is time for a detox
  • People poses varied abilities to metabolise caffeine based on their genetics (watch this space in science)
  • Don’t drink Caffeine with 6 hours before sleep
  • Don’t drink Alcohol few hours before sleep and stay hydrated and maintain electrolyte balance

 

What is Impacting your Sleep

In the previous article we discussed the mechanisms and the impact that stress can have on your sleep. In the next couple of articles we will discuss what the key stressors in your life are and how they impacting your sleep.

 

  • Mental & Emotional:

Mental and emotional stress is the most common stressor, so it makes sense to start here. This is a common issue when trying to get to sleep, especially if you are a ‘Worrier’ or you are a A-Type personality who is always on the go and unable to sit still.  I like to call this group “tired and wired”. When they lie down at night their minds are wired with endless thoughts with an inability to shut these down (this used to be me…) making it extremely difficult to get to sleep.

But did you know, this is more than just the cognitive load keeping you awake, there is an associated hormonal response. Towards the end of our previous post we discussed the stress related increase in cortisol and how it is preventing the secretion of your sleep hormone melatonin (the inverse relationship discussed in stressed out about sleep)

Strategies to overcome emotional and mental stress:

Implement a 1 hour cut off of all technology before sleep. Instead replace the time on your mobile device with a down regulation technique. Some examples include:

  • Mindfulness Practice: I use Headspace a guided practice
  • Breathing Practice: My favorite downregulation technique: Breath in for 4 sec – Hold 7 sec – Exhale for 8 sec and repeat as many cycles as needed
  • Mediation Practice: Find a technique that works for you
  • Light exercise: Yoga / Mobility / Walking
  • Exposure to Nature & Grounding: Get outside away from light where possible
  • Read a book: Leasure reading, Non cognitive or stimulating
  • Cold Shower the effect on decreasing body temperature increases the parasympathetic nervous system encouraging you to relax.

 

  1. Exercise:

Sleep is the best performance hack for physical performance, so don’t compromise your sleep for training. However the timing of this training does matter.

Exercise can cause a potent circadian shift, almost to an equivalent level of bright lights.

Strategies to use exercise to encourage sleep:

Including some form of light exercise (eg. 10-45 min) prior to breakfast to really help to kick start your day. A tip is to keep it relatively short and not too intense as you may wish to avoid amplifying the natural elevation in cortisol that occurs in the morning. Something like yoga, mobility, walk, recovery session are perfect options, for an added benefit try linking this session with exposure to natural light (sun) to improve awakeness. Simply put get outside early and move. Where possible try leave your longers volume based sessions for the early afternoon. Sessions (up to 2.5 hours long) between 2:00-6:00 pm at 50-80% VO2max can drastically improve sleep. The most positive 

effects have been seen within a 4-8hr window prior to bedtime. If you have a short 30 min high intensity session (85–90% of max HR to exhaustion) save this for 3-4 hrs before bed as it can actually result in better sleep, increased sleep efficiency and lower sleep latency.

Obviously lifestyle demands and work schedules don’t allow us to truly match up our training to ideal times, instead most people will squeeze in their training wherever possible. However, hopefully by arming you with this knowledge, it can help guide your training schedule to optimise your sleep quality. 

 

 

  1. Fueling your Sleep (Nutrition & Snacking):

 Increased body mass index (BMI) has been linked to short sleep duration. In one study, the researchers sought to identify why this effect of BMI and sleep occurred. The results indicated that shorter sleep duration decreased Leptin (the appetite suppressing hormone secreted by adipose/fat tissue) and increased Ghrelin (appetite stimulating hormone secreted from the stomach). These results provide evidence that sleep quality has a part to play with increased BMI. So lack of sleep can be increasing your hunger and be increasing your BMI, so your change in body weight may not be fully due to a lack of willpower but triggered by a hormonal responses.

Let’s get to know our hormonal responses:

Note: This is a little more technical for the science geeks like me, who want to understand the physiological mechanisms at play.

In the evening, leptin is released from your fat stores, well that is if your circadian rhythm is not dysregulated. This hormone is important as it controls any late night food cravings you may experience. Anything that throws your circadian rhythm off eg. exposure to blue light or an excessively big meal (spiking that insulin response) can limit your bodies ability to produce leptin. Another key hormone; adiponectin also tends to rise during this time and assists with fatty-acid metabolism and breakdown. 

High levels of insulin have been shown to dampen adiponectin production. Constantly high circulating levels of insulin from a high calorie evening meal or lack of activity in the late afternoon or early evening, can suppress your night time fatty acid utilisation. Then around 10 pm a protein called agouti peaks, it appears to act in similar fashion to ghrelin and can stimulate your appetite. That is unless leptin is there to mitigate the effects and keep hunger at bay. Constant snacking from sunset to bedtime promotes an elevated blood glucose response and inturn high insulin levels which causes a subsequent suppression in leptin and inability to counteract the effects of agouti protein.

Normally at midnight, your melatonin peaks and that’s when leptin is able to enter an area of the brain called the hypothalamus, or  the ‘god-father’ of the endocrine system. The hypothalamus is a key regulator of all metabolic processes and therefore has a role in weight-control or fat-loss. Leptin can interact with the hypothalamus, as a result of this interaction signals are sent from the hypothalamus to the thyroid and an increase in thyroid hormones is observed. The increase in thyroid hormone activity induces a change in your mitochondria (intracellular powerhouses) to produce heat, this is important as our body’s core temperature drops throughout the night. In a healthy individual this would mobilise and burn fat stores to maintain a set point of warmth.

 

Why are we fat?

You are probably starting to see the vicious cycle of poor sleep; there is fat gain and night time cravings. It all seemingly stems from hormonal responses, and once you understand these physiological mechanisms it becomes a lot easier to combat and overcome.

In this discussion gut health can not be forgotten, as obviously poor gut health can be a key contributor to stress. An, interesting fact we now know is that 90% of your feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin is produced in the gut.  This is just another reason to prioritise your gut health. The Pineal Gland is located near center of the brain and is also known as the ‘third eye’ due to the organs ability to sense light. It was named due to the shape and size of the gland as it resemble a Pine Nut and secretes melatonin. However, it has now been discovered that 400 x more melatonin is produced in the gut. Even if your pineal gland is removed, your body is still able to maintain the same levels of melatonin. So it is key to ensure you have optimal gut bacterial balance and should avoid damaging your gut in any way to ensure optimal sleep.

Strategies based on the timing of eating to improve sleep quality:

When looking at the evidence, further research is required but my interpretation and what I practice personally is to ditch the carbohydrates, or at least minimise them especially your highly processed carbohydrates (i.e. your high sugar high GI foods). Shift your diet towards higher fat which will nourish and stabilise your hormones resulting in less spikes and crashes in insulin and energy which will inturn improve circadian rhythm and your sleep and help keep your cravings at bay. (for more information around high fat diet all last month was focused around this area with 8 blog posts to help you gain a greater understanding)

I need to snack options!

As mentioned we want to limit snacks especially on carbohydrates in the evening. Incidentally, if you need something there are many great options, such as coconut oil, MCT oil, nut butters, seeds and nuts. Even fructose from a source such as raw honey in moderation will not actually spike insulin significantly and would be an acceptable evening calorie source.

 

Summary

Hopefully loaded with new information about lifestyle stressors will allow you to become more aware of the factors in your life that will be impacting your sleep. Being able to identify what is a key stressor in your life is critical to improving sleep and will allow you to select and implement the right strategy. There will always be an individual approach and may require some trial and error until you find the strategy that works best for you.

 

Key takeaways:

  • Develop Evening Routine that removes technology 1hr before bed that involves a downegulation technique in replacement
  • Develop Morning Routine light movement 10-45min (Yoga, Mobility, walk) with sun exposure
  • Schedule Longer Training Sessions (up to 2.5 hours long) between 2:00-6:00 pm at 50-80% VO2max
  • No Snacking Before Bed to maintain hormone balance but if required select High Fat sources eg coconut oil, MCT oil, nut butters, raw honey, seeds and nuts

References:

Banno, M., Harada, Y., Taniguchi, M., & Tobita, R. (2018). Exercise can improve sleep quality : a systematic review and meta-analysis. PeerJ. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.5172

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Connor, H. O., & Chow, C. (2007). High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset 1 – 3. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ·, (March), 2–7. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.2.426

Halson, S. L. (2014). Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep. Sports Medicine, 44, 13–23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0147-0

Hu, W., Li, J., Colwell, C. S., & Zhou, Q. (2011). Decreased REM Sleep and Altered Circadian Sleep Regulation in Mice Lacking Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide. Sleep.

Kadowaki, T., Yamauchi, T., Kubota, N., Hara, K., Ueki, K., & Tobe, K. (2006). Review series Adiponectin and adiponectin receptors in insulin resistance , diabetes , and the metabolic syndrome. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 116(7). https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI29126.1784

Markaki, A., Kyriazis, J., Stylianou, K., Fragkiadakis, G. A., Perakis, K., Margioris, A. N., … Daphnis, E. (2012). The role of serum magnesium and calcium on the association between adiponectin levels and all-cause mortality in end-stage renal disease patients. PloS One, 7(12), e52350. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0052350

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Stressed out about Sleep

Stressed out?

Stress is wreaking havoc on your sleep!

Sleep

Sleep is a complex physiological process involving the restoration and renewal of the body. I feel from my many conversations with people and clients that the concept of sleep and good sleep is commonly misunderstood. Many view sleep as a passive shutdown process, however, while we sleep our bodies are actually active. During sleep our bodies are cleaning up cellular garbage, repairing your body, processing of experiences and the consolidation of memories. Your sleep is dictated by what we call our circadian rhythm, it is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It is a mechanism that can be greatly altered due to a number of lifestyle factors. Anything that dysregulates your circadian rhythm will in turn be detrimental towards sleep quality.

 

What is stress and how does it affect your sleep?

If we are going to discuss good sleep and how to achieve it, one of the first things we will need to cover is stress and the major effect that the various forms of stress can have on your sleep.

Stress can be considered anything that places additional load on the human body. Stress is commonly discussed in the context of mental and emotional stressors, for example, “I am stressed out with my massive workload” or “ I am feeling very worried about my mothers health”. However, we also need to acknowledge other factors such as diet, injury, alcohol that can add additional stress. These are factors that are typically not identified or discussed but are all equally associated as stressors on our bodies.

 

Adrenal Fatigue Bell Curve:

In the early phase, when your body is exposed to chronic stress you may find it hard to fall asleep and often will wake up early before your alarm. On the other side of the bell curve, on that slippery downward slope, when you are severely and chronically stressed, you may fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow and wake up feeling groggy (bit like a good hangover feeling) and want to sleep past your alarm. This is because the body is now in a deep state of chronic adrenal dysregulation and your cortisol and melatonin are not functioning well, and as a result your circadian rhythm is muddled up. While I have discussed adrenal function and fatigue in a previous post there is one important concept I would like you to remember with regards to the effect of stress on sleep. The concept is: cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin (sleep hormone). Therefore when cortisol is high your melatonin is low and when low this will decrease ability to get to sleep and most of all quality of sleep (as seen in this diagram below)

Stress can be derived from four main factors:

  1. Lifestyle: Negative habits such as going to bed late or something as simple as not drinking enough water.
  2. Metabolism: Your current diet & digestion
  3. Environmental: Electromagnetic radiation from devices (mobile phones, laptops, ipads)
  4. Mental & Emotional: Excessive mental and emotional load.

 

All of these have a similar effect on your body and induce the upregulation of your stress hormone cortisol. I have discussed  cortisol and it impact when dysregulated in previous posts.

It is vital to be able to regulate your stressors to allow the body to regain a natural sleep cycle. To do this you must first identify your lifestyle stressors. These will vary greatly from person to person. In the context of this article it is difficult to offer you a detailed approach, as an individualised approach is needed for each person. As general rule of thumb if you are dealing with stress your need to find a way that will allow you to down regulate the stress in your life, or preferably remove the stressors all together.

 

What you need to keep in mind is that there is an endless number of stressors that may be affecting your sleep In the last article we discussed the environmental stressors from technology. In the next article we will aim to dive deeper into other key stressors, including mental, emotional and lifestyle factors. As we discuss them what you will notice is that there is a lot of overlap across them.