Sleep is probably one of the most important habits that everyone does.
There’s not one person on this planet who doesn’t sleep in some form or fashion.
It’s that important.
During sleep, your body recovers. It repairs damage done throughout the day. It resets hormone levels. It even helps regulate glucose.
Good & adequate sleep is strongly correlated to a number of positive health effects, which we’ll talk about in this blog.
Unfortunately, though, sleep is dysregulated & dysfunctional in a LARGE portion of people today. This is probably due to a number of factors ranging from stress to under-eating to having kids and all the way to having some nosy pets who just don’t want to leave you alone...or snuggle too much.
Many of these sleep issues CAN be fixed, or at least worked on. Some of them will be easier than others. You can adjust your nutrition much easier than tell your 2-year-old to not cry during the night. HOWEVER, all that being said, there are still a number of things you can do, regardless of your current conditions to see SOME improvements.
The subject of today’s blog is not only to convince you to sleep more...or better...or to keep doing it, depending on where you’re at in the spectrum! It’s also to talk through some of the most common sleep issues we see in clients & what ways you can work to improve them.
Now we will add a disclaimer. We are not doctors or medical professionals. If you have serious sleep problems, including sleep apnea, night terrors, insomnia, or anything of the sort, while some of our suggestions MIGHT provide some relief, working closely with a medical provider to improve your sleep is highly recommended. From blood work to sleep studies, there are a number of specialized ways to improve your sleep.
SO let’s get into it.
First before we talk about issues...let’s just talk about what’s normal...or at least expected.
How much should you sleep?
Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you get 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal recovery. We like 8-9 hours for most people.
Now before you make the claim that you’re one of those people who just doesn’t need sleep, there’s very little research to back those claims. There IS a very small group of people with a rare genetic mutation who do not require as much sleep. However, this is roughly <1% of the population and not as common as we like to claim.
What is more likely the case is that you’ve adjusted fairly well *arguably* to your sleeping conditions. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sleep more...or better...just that your body is pretty resilient and adaptable to the conditions you’ve set. And just because you’ve adapted well doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for better.
There also is a lot of argument on WHEN you get your sleep...an argument that gets heated for a lot of people. For some reason, we’ve glorified morning people & demonized night owls. While there is SOME research *very little we might add*, the first priority for people just should be getting the basic number of hours. Whether you go to sleep at 8pm or 3am, if you get 8 hours, you’re doin’ just fine.
Last point, naps! While it’s not heavily researched, naps are incredibly effective & something you should consider if 7-9 hours in one sitting is unrealistic. This concept, also combined with the concept of “sleep banking” has some promising research that let’s you “net your sleep” for the week. While it’s not equivalent to an unbroken 7-9, it’s better than nothing & shows optimal recovery.
What is the right environment for sleep?
Sleep environments are very important for a couple of reasons.
First, putting your body in an environment to sleep optimally just makes sense.
Why sleep on a crappy bed in the blistering heat after chugging a ton of caffeine if you don’t have to?
It’s fairly accepted and understood that a cool, dark room is most optimal for sleep conditions. By cool, we mean under 70°F. If you’re a frugal person wanting to save money on AC, maybe consider sacrificing a few dollars over night to bring that temperature down to create that cool environment. Curtains, limiting lights, and minimizing screen time will help create that dark room environment that is necessary for your circadian rhythm to regulate your body’s natural biological clock.
Next, habits and routines to help create an optimal sleep environment have been shown to help tremendously. This doesn’t have to be anything complex, but because of the stress most people live in today’s world, having some sort of routine to trigger your body’s internal system ahead of time to think “okay, we’re going to sleep now” is going to help a lot.
This includes a couple of potential factors: minimizing caffeine intake after 2pm & keeping intake under 2-3 cups/day, minimizing alcohol intake before bed (>2hrs), and establishing a consistent routine that’s easy to do. For many, this routine includes some or all of the following: cleaning up dishes/space, setting out clothes for the morning, packing food ahead of time for the next day, washing face/showering/brushing teeth, meditation/deep breathing, and even a cup of hot tea or a carb-dense snack (we’ll explain later).
Doing something consistent & creating an optimal routine likely can have a huge impact on your sleep!
What is all the sleep hype?
As we mentioned before, sleep is a big deal. You’ve likely heard a LOT of people out there claim that sleep is the “magic fix” we all want. While I don’t think this can be made in a 1000% true blanket statement, a better way to say it is that when you improve your sleep or better yet “good sleep” is strongly correlated with a higher quality of life.
Sleep is one of the best ways your body activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Your PNS is part of your autonomic nervous system, which is essentially the nervous system in your body responsible for all the things that you don’t have to think about. If you’re being chased by a bear, your fight or flight response is automatic. You don’t have to consciously sit there and go “okay, heart beat faster” or “muscles, work harder to run away”. This fight or flight response is the other half of the autonomic nervous system. This is where stress lives and thrives. Cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine are produced. The other side of this is the PNS, where your body recovers from stress. Sleep is a huge driver in PNS activity. Cortisol is reduced. Melatonin & acetylcholine are the two big hormone drivers towards promoting this “rest and digest” system.
The more you sleep & the better you sleep, the more your body is recovered, the less risk of injury, the less inflammation in your body, and ultimately, the better you feel. People who sleep better/longer have been shown to have a higher life expectancy, a more refined metabolism, better cardiovascular health, and more. From a calorie standpoint, we also find that when you sleep longer, your cravings & hunger are more manageable...not only that but you have less time in the day to indulge!
So, if you haven’t bought in yet, let’s just say sleep is darn essential.
Now for the fun part, let’s break down some common sleep issues we see...and obviously ways to improve them!
The Frequent Riser
This person wakes up multiple times during the night but often can go back to sleep.
This is likely a person overtraining and/or under-eating and likely experiencing daily stress in life. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is likely the main culprit here. Cortisol should be high in the morning (to wake you up) and then taper off during the day, with its lowest expression before bed. If cortisol is too high, especially as you sleep, you will have that wired and tired feeling. In this situation, not all hope is lost because you CAN go back to sleep somewhat easily.
So what to do?
We suggest a couple of options.
Increasing overall intake and/or specifically carb intake. This doesn’t have to be drastic. We suggest starting with 20-30g increase + 10g incremental increases in carbs until relief OR 100 calorie incremental increases.
Managing stress via mindfulness, meditation, therapy, and other lifestyle practices will help bring stress levels down. Most common stressors include money, relationships, overtraining, undereating, career/job stress, and family stress. Finding your triggered areas & addressing them is important.
Post-workout nutrition optimization by making sure you’re recovering nutritionally from your workouts is important to bring post-workout cortisol down & help your body recover. Make sure you’re eating a minimum of 30-40g carbs post-workout within 1-3 hours.
Potential adaptogenic supplementation like ashwaganda, CBD, even sleepy time teas, etc. will help to decrease cortisol.
The Gotta Go
This is probably the most common person we see...the person who wakes up to pee anywhere from 2 to 6, even 7, times a night.
Contrary to popular belief, but your body is kind of designed to NOT have to pee while you sleep. However, due to a couple of factors, ranging from hydration, to stress, and to just plain ole habit, we’ve really normalized waking up to pee during the night.
Like our first scenario, overtraining and undereating definitely can and likely are playing a role. You will want to make sure that you’re fueling your body & not overtraining. If you’re not sure here, apply for a free consultation or purchase a diet audit with a Clar-e-ty coach today to see if you’re undereating and/or overtraining.
After, this solution requires a couple of things that doesn’t require just not drinking water. First, and most important, is increasing carbs and/or electrolytes either during the day or within 1-3 hours before bed. Glucose and electrolytes are absolutely essential to bring water from your bloodstream INTO your cells. You could be dehydrated & be drinking 6 gallons of water if you don’t have electrolytes &/or glucose. We recommend a 20-30g of a slower digesting carb or a fat/carb snack 1-2 hours before bed and adding an electrolyte supplement (like LMNT electrolytes).
Secondly, addressing life stress is a big important step...that will remain consistent here.
Thirdly...and most frustratingly...is you just have to break the habit. There will be times you will need to just try going back to sleep & seeing what happens. Chances are you’ll get back to bed & won’t pee yourself! But that’s going to take a lot of self-talk. We’d recommend utilizing a sleep app like Calm or Balance or Headspace to assist here.
The Early Bird
This is the person who wakes up before their alarm wide awake.
While this isn’t a huuuuuge problem & can just happen naturally, it’s not ideal especially if you’re waking up 60+ minutes before your alarm.
This usually comes down to either a glucose issue (likely if you’re waking up hungry) or an intentional or unintentional prolonged calorie deficit.
First, assess whether you’re in a calorie deficit and consider taking a diet break or bringing your intake up to maintenance until your sleep improves. If you think it’s a glucose or cortisol issue, consider blood work or a saliva timed test to measure your levels. Eating a slow-digesting carb or a carb/fat meal before bed (perfect if you love to snack at night anyways!!).
The Toss & Turn
This is the person who not only wakes up frequently but also can’t go back to sleep. You just toss and turn.
This is essentially a more severe version of our first person.
Stress, overtraining &/or undereating, and likely some severe cortisol dysregulation is to blame here and the areas to address first and foremost.
Like the previous situations, eating more, doing less, bringing yourself out of a calorie deficit, and managing your stress are the biggest priorities.
Because this is more severe, these solutions will likely take longer and require more patience.
If you’re super concerned, work with your PCP on doing a time-point saliva cortisol test to see what your cortisol looks like during the day (likely is low in the AM, high in the evening or just high all day).
Here, adaptogens and supplements are likely going to provide some immediate relief!
The Wide Awake
This is the person who just can’t go to sleep.
This probably has very little to do with nutrition and exclusively to do with stress...either via overtraining or just general life stress.
Taking some time to prioritize your mental health and improving your lifestyle and stress levels is important. You may want to consider and evaluate your caffeine intake and/or alcohol intake before bed. Limiting blue light exposure, perfecting your bedtime routine and sleep environment, and trying some deep breathing and/or meditation before bed is going to all be very helpful. The biggest priority is going to be bringing your stress levels dooowwwwnnnn most importantly.
As you can see, STRESS and CORTISOL play a huge role. Manage stress and you’re likely going to see improvement.
As with anything, it’s not that you or your sleep is broken or need fixing. There’s no magic solution to any of these things, but as you can likely tell, stress management, eating enough, and monitoring your activity is a huge piece of the puzzle in every single situation. They all go together hand in hand. What works for you might not work for your best friend.
If you are interested in improving your sleep, apply to work with us below!
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