The Tao of Paleo: Finding Your Path to Health and Harmony

CHAPTER SEVEN: SLEEP

“Sleep is the best meditation.” ~ Dalai Lama

JG: Homegirl is late.

JS: It’s cool, let’s start without her.

JG: Ok. Let’s talk about the importance of sleep.

JS: I bet everyone reading this knows from her/his own personal experiences how important sleep is.

JG: Right. But what they may not know are all the negative repercussions of not getting enough - it’s actually totally alarming when you look at the research. Short sleep is most un-paleo. It can seriously interfere with your journey toward getting healthy. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t have that terrific reserve of energy that comes with the paleo lifestyle. You won’t burn fat and add muscle efficiently. You’ll also risk some serious long-term health consequences. And after a while you’ll start to feel worse than Theon Greyjoy.

Getting proper sleep is absolutely a requirement for living the paleo way, and learning to get enough quality sleep might be one of the toughest parts of your journey.

JS: Most people are probably unfamiliar with all the things that interfere with sleep, all the consequences of not getting it and, most importantly, all that can be done to help improve sleep.

JG: So that’s why we are doing this chapter, to fill you in on sleep, and to help you understand where sleep fits in, both in following the paleo template and, eventually, finding your own Tao. Oops. There she is. I’ll get the door.

WW: HI! I’M WILMA WIRED!

JG: You’re late.

WW: YEAH, SORRY ABOUT THAT JARRON! I HAD TO GO BY PEET’S AND GET SOME OF THEIR AMAZING DELICIOUS KENYA AUCTION LOT BLEND!! MY COFFEE MAKER BROKE THIS MORNING, TOTAL NIGHTMARE!

JG: Peet’s?

JS: It’s a West Coast thing. You wouldn’t understand.

JG: It’s cool Wilma. We were just talking about sleep. My name, by the way, is Jason.

WW: GREAT! I LOVE SLEEP! SORRY JARRON! I SEEM TO DO GREAT WITH 4-6 HOURS A NIGHT EVERY NIGHT. I HAVE A ROUTINE I DO BEFORE BED TO HELP ME SLEEP - FIRST I WORKOUT IN THE EVENING, THEN DRINK A GLASS OF WINE, THEN WATCH THE LIVING DEAD OFF MY DVR TO GET MY MIND OFF OF MY BUSY WORK DAY, PLAY ON FACEBOOK FOR 30 MINUTES, THEN POP A MELATONIN AND I SLEEP LIKE A BABY UNTIL MY ALARM GOES OFF! THEN, ONE OR TWO CUPS OF COFFEE LATER, I AM BACK IN THE ZONE!

JS: Uh, well…

JG: This is going to be interesting.

WW: WHAT?!? YOU PREFER TWITTER OVER FACEBOOK?!? OR INSTAGRAM??? OR MAYBE YOU LIKE PINTEREST!! I LOVE PINTEREST!!

JG: Sigh. If I may. Every human requires a good solid 7-8 hours of sleep, minimum, every night in order to function properly. So I doubt you’re doing great, unless you’re actually a lemur, or something. Let’s start with your memory. Insufficient sleep negatively affects short-term memory.

WW: MY MEMORY IS SPOT ON JARRON!

JS: Again, his name is Jason.

WW: YES! JARRON! THAT’S WHAT I SAID JOVE!!

JS: And long-term sleep deprivation can hurt your long-term memory, too.

JG: Lack of sleep can have a profound effect on mental health. It can make existing emotional disorders worse, and lead to depression.

WW: ALL OF A SUDDEN I FEEL LIKE THERE’S A HOLE IN MY SOUL LEAKING….BUT, YOU KNOW, EVERY WEEK OR SO I CRASH HARD FOR LIKE 12 HOURS, SO IT ALL EVENS OUT I GUESS!

JS: No, actually it doesn’t. Which brings us to general brain function, which encompasses things like coordination, reaction time, and judgement. Just one or two suboptimal sleep nights can impair your normal brain function in these areas.

WW: OOOOUCH!

JS: She just walked into a wall. That must have hurt.

JG: Sleeplessness can dull your perceptions by impairing your senses as well.

WW: WHAT DID YOU SAY?!? WHY DOES EVERYONE THINK I’M SCREAMING?!?!

JG: Because you are screaming. That’s why we’re putting everything you say in caps.

JS: Lack of sleep can even lead to damage on a cellular level and cause systemic inflammation…by systemic inflammation I mean it can cause your organs to swell and become irritated, causing a host of physical problems.

WW: AAAAAAAAAA!!!! I’M REALLLLY IRRITATED!

JS: It appears she has checked that box too.

JG: Lack of sleep can stall fat loss by altering your hormonal balance. For example, the amount of cortisol that your body retains if you don’t sleep properly can make it harder to lose fat - yes, losing sleep can easily contribute to a metabolic problem, and of course excess fat retention can cause a whole mess of illnesses.

WW: I’M NOT OVERWEIGHT!

JG: Sorry, didn’t mean to suggest you were. Nevertheless, the science is pretty clear - if you don’t get adequate sleep, you gain weight, typically in the form of excess body fat. A 2013 University of Colorado study found that a sample group restricted to five hours of sleep per night for just a week gained an average of two pounds. Although their metabolisms actually increased due to the sleeplessness, they chose to eat large amounts of sugary carbs and consumed hundreds of more calories than the control group that got eight hours of sleep.

JS: Another recent study at the University of California Berkeley, published in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrated that subjects deprived of sleep show increased activity in a primitive region of the brain called the amygdala, which stimulates cravings, as well as decreased control of the amygdala from the frontal lobe regions that regulate restraint. The sleep-restricted subjects also showed elevated levels of adenosine, a byproduct of our metabolism that can interrupt judgement and higher cognitive function.

JG: The upshot of this study is that the suboptimal sleepers craved more high-calorie carbohydrates and sugary treats and were less able to resist these cravings than the normal sleepers.

JS: Finally, there’s the landmark Wisconsin Sleep Cohort study, which followed a group of state employees over the course of many years. This study showed a direct link between sleeplessness and hormonal imbalances that result in added body fat. Subjects who slept less than 8 hours per night also showed higher body mass indices, typically as a result of additional body fat.

We’ve touched on some of the ways that poor sleeping habits can get in the way of optimal health. Joe, let’s mention some of the ways that you can improve the quality of your sleep.

JS: Sure. Biologically, your body is programmed to follow the natural rhythm of the day. Our circadian rhythms are based substantially on the kind of light to which our bodies are exposed. Blue frequencies can increase wakefulness and inhibit deep sleep, and unfortunately, most modern electronics like computers, cellphones, and televisions, emit blue light.

When it is dark you need to stop using electronics in order to sleep soundly. There are even special red-orange glasses you can get to cut out the amount of blue light you absorb after dark to keep it from interfering with your sleep patterns.

WW: HOW DOES BLUE LIGHT AFFECT YOUR ABILITY TO SLEEP?!?

JS: Blue light causes the stress response hormone cortisol to rise. Of course, abnormally elevated cortisol will cause you to retain abdominal fat. It also inhibits your body’s ability to generate melatonin naturally. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you wind down to sleep.

Blue light is not the only factor that negatively affects our sleep, but it is one of the biggest culprits in today’s electronic-obsessed age.

JG: Here’s an interesting factoid - even though the most important factor is to prevent blue light from getting to your eyes, shining blue light on your body can increase your cortisol levels.

WW: SO CUT TO THE CHASE GUYS!! WHAT DO I DO?!?

JS: Stay away from the electronics for a few hours prior to sleeping, even as early as sunset if possible. Get your bedroom, or wherever you go to sleep, as dark as possible. Get out of the habit of falling asleep to the TV or the computer or with your cell phone shining light on your face.

WW: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?? DESTROY MY LIFE?

JS: Nope. More like save it. Jason, let’s talk about some of the hormones that are affected by inadequate sleep and the negative effects that can occur when you don’t sleep enough.

JG: Well, there’s leptin, which regulates your sense of fullness and your metabolism, too. Leptin levels rise during the night to suppress appetite while sleeping. Poor sleep results in a reduction of leptin levels at night and lower leptin levels in during the day - this, in turn, results in down-regulated insulin sensitivity and an increased craving for carbohydrates.

JS: So poor sleep results in a desire to eat more, and to eat excessive sugary carbs, while at the same time, increasing the likelihood that those carbs are stored as fat. Excessive body fat actually lowers leptin levels AND decreases leptin sensitivity, which can create a vicious cycle.

If the problem is chronic, it can take a long period of normal sleep to restore normal leptin levels and sensitivity. Because normal leptin levels also contribute to a general sense of well being, low leptin levels can also result in depression and anxiety.

WW: MY HEAD IS SPINNING!!

JG: There’s also the hormone ghrelin.

WW: GREMLINS?!?

JS: Ghrelin is the counterpart to leptin. It stimulates appetite. When you don’t sleep enough, your body responds by producing higher levels of grehlin.

JG: So losing sleep not only makes your sense of fullness/ leptin decrease, but your appetite/ghrelin increase. Result: unnatural eating, eating in the middle of the night, and fat gain.

WW: NO FEEDING THE GREMLINS AFTER MIDNIGHT, GOT IT!

JS: It all goes back to evolution, our biochemical programming, and our circadian rhythms.

WW: SIR KADIAN? WHO’S THAT?!? IS HE ON GAME OF THRONES?

JG: Our body comes equipped with several internal 24-hour biochemical clocks. The clocks’ rhythms need to be in sync with our environment and the light around us in order for us sleep effectively. Which means when you travel a lot, work night shifts, play video games, or watch TV long after the sun goes down…

JS: You are unwittingly sabotaging your circadian rhythms, negatively affecting your quality of sleep, and causing damage to your body. Evolution doesn’t understand that you’ve got to stay up till 2 a.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. to finish that presentation, or kill the boss on Level 31 of Zombie Zapper.

WW: OK, SO NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP IS REALLY MESSING MY SYSTEM UP. AND TV BEFORE BED IS NOT HELPING…GOT IT. BUT IT’S OK TO DRINK A BEER TO CHILL MYSELF OUT RIGHT? ALCOHOL RELAXES THE BODY, RIGHT?!?

JG: Beer contains gluten, and that’s not good at all. But even if you switched to wine…

JS: Or tequila…

JG: Da dum da da da da dum dum, da da da da da da da…

JS: …alcohol hurts your ability to sleep soundly. Yeah, if you drink enough to lose consciousness, that might work, although that wouldn’t be very restorative sleep. Alcohol - like tobacco - increases the cortisol in your body and the quality of sleep you get will suffer as a consequence.

WW: SO NO DRINKING BEFORE BED. I HAVE MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS BLUE LIGHT THINGY. ALL MY ELECTRONICS EMIT BLUE LIGHT?!?

JS: Yep. TV, computer, video gaming console, even your cell phone screen.

JG: There are some fixes. You can install software like F.lux on your computer to make the blue light level that your screen emits go down with the sun. I wish someone would make an app for cell phones to do the same. Hint hint.

WW: OTHER THAN CUTTING BLUE LIGHT AND NOT BOOZING IT UP OR SMOKING, WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE SLEEP?!?

JS: Get as much sunlight as possible while the sun is up. If you supplement with Vitamin D to compensate for inadequate sunlight, take it when the sun is up, in the morning or early in the afternoon.

JG: Also, eat earlier so your stomach isn’t full when your head hits the pillow. And don’t work out within three hours of bedtime.

WW: BUT WORKING OUT MAKES ME TIRED!!

JS: Listening to you scream makes me tired. Working out is a controlled way of stressing the body and doing it right before bed will prevent your body from relaxing enough afterward to let you get good quality sleep. You want to sleep because you are relaxed, not exhausted and over-stimulated.

JG: And as we said before sleep in a dark room - as dark as possible.

JS: That goes without saying.

JG: Too late.

WW: BUT HOW DO I GET MY MIND OFF MY DAY IF I DON’T WATCH THE LIVING DEAD, OR PLAY ZOMBIE ZAPPER, OR HAVE A GLASS OF CHARDONNAY BEFORE BED??? WINTER IS COMING!!

JS: Read a book by candlelight before you go to bed, or listen to some soothing music. That will distract your mind. The night should be dark, but not full of terrors.

JG: From a nutritional point of view, make sure you are getting lots of taurine, magnesium, zinc, and thiamine in your diet - leafy greens, shellfish and organ meat are great sources, but feel free to supplement if necessary. All of these have been linked to healthy circadian function.

WW: HOW ABOUT MY COFFEE??? I ALWAYS HAVE A NICE CUP OF COFFEE OR SEVEN AFTER DINNER!!

JS: That’s not a good idea. Caffeine is a strong stimulant and of course, any stimulant will negatively affect sleep. If you must drink coffee, cut yourself off at 1pm. Seriously.

JG: Another important point: Try to leave work at work as much as possible - both physically and emotionally - sleep in a different room from your computer, and charge your cell phone in a different room overnight so they aren’t creating light in your sleep environment. You also don’t want to be tempted by those late-night Facebook binges or Candy Crush sessions.

JS: Decide now that you want to improve the quality of your personal life and set limits both on electronics and on stress from work.

WW: I AM SO STRESSED AT THE IDEA OF NO ELECTRONICS, NO COFFEE, NO DRINK, NO WORKOUT, AND ALL THESE NO’S I AM NEVER GONNA SLEEP!!!

JG: It doesn’t look like we did her much good, Joe.

JS: Nope.

JG: Any bright ideas?

JS: Too much blue light involved in those.

JG: Horrendous, horrendous joke. You better do something, because she is actually chewing on the curtains now in panic.

WW: I AM LITERALLY CHEWING ON THE CURTAINS IN PANIC!!

JG: Yes. I just said that.

JS: Sorry. Well, maybe I do have an idea.

JG: Better make it snappy. She’s eyeing the coffee-flavored schnapps over in the liquor cabinet, and I think she just grabbed a DVD.

JS: Hey Wilma!

WW: WHAT!???!

JS: Listen up for a minute.

WW: OK!!!

JS: Goodnight Moon…Goodnight room…Goodnight moon… Good night cow jumping over the moon…

WW: WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT JOVE?

JS: It’s Joe. Goodnight light and the red balloon…Goodnight bears…Goodnight chairs…

WW: JOVE THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT GOING TO WORK AT ALL I AM WIDE AWAKE ZZZZZZzzzzzzzz……

JG: Nice work, Joe. I never would have thought of reading that to her.

JS: Always worked for my kids.

JG: Should we celebrate with a cigar and a nice snifter of that coffee-flavored schnapps?

JS: Are you kidding? It’s time to go to sleep!

JG: Ok, ok. Can you read me a story, Jovester?

JS: Ummm…no.

JG: (sigh) Can you at least tell me about the old lady rabbit who is whispering “Hush”? I love the old lady rabbit.

JS: How about I just tell you to hush?!?

JG: Sigh.



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