Sleep is one of the most important factors for maintaining our health and not becoming another statistic of heart disease, diabetes, or any of the other common ailments most 20th century Americans have grown to accept. It’s also how we repair our body and mind and adapt to a training stimulus to get jacked and lean.
How we go about battling our environment for our survival and health is a multi-faceted question with many possible deficits and potential solutions. We must dig a little deeper and look into the seemingly unrelated aspects of life both inside and outside of our bodies.
Get Your Mind Right
When sleep is poor and or “perceived” negative stress is high, we begin to read our very own “bad” genes. “DNA is simply a blue print it’s either on nor off, it is either read, or not read” (1). When we perceive the stressors in our lives as bad instead of potential learning experiences to help us become better, we start to trigger a cascade of stress hormones. If our sleep is high quality sleep and we experience all the phases including light, REM and deep sleep, the body and mind heal themselves. That’s right they heal themselves.
Second, have a positive attitude and welcome the stress. Greet it with a warm smile and say bring it on! Make me better! As my old high school wrestling coach would say “Iron sharpens iron.” With no adversity, we cannot grow. The conscious and subconscious mind must be on board and practices like meditation, hypnotism, repetition and other tools known as energy psychology such as “Psych-K, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Theta Healing, Holosync” can help you get your subconscious mind fully on board. This must be a priority as the subconscious mind is on 24/7 and the conscious mind is only active when we are purposefully thinking about something. (1)
Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic
If you’ve heard me speak before I almost always touch on the topic of sympathetic vs parasympathetic state. Both states can have a profound impact on our physiology, health and performance. We need to be able to scale in and out of each as needed and not wind up being trapped in one of them. Mainly we speak about being too sympathetic aka too much fight, too much adrenaline, too much cortisol release, too much restlessness and not enough rest, sex and digest ( parasympathetic). This is paramount when it comes to sleep. If we are always in our defensive mode, then our bodies are “prepared” for the “next attack” which could come from the monthly bills, the boss, traffic, or even missing our next meal. Our mind and body are treating each of these perceived threats as a real threat to our survival right here and now. Now we can’t sleep well and it becomes a snowball effect of bad days and nights which stress you out even more. We must CALM DOWN!!! Woosah, as I like to say (Bad Boys II). Use your ability to change your perception and be more mindful of your thoughts. A positive state of mind can help any situation. A bad state of mind can hurt any situation, even a seemingly good one.
Physically improving sleep is the next step in our two pronged attack on improving quality of life and performance. We have a few tools, supplements and lifestyle factors to play with here. If you suffer from sleep apnea the number one quick fix is purchase a CPAP. If you snore, momentarily stop breathing (sleep apnea), kick your leg a ton (restless leg syndrome) or just generally feel groggy and never experience a refreshed feeling after a full night’s sleep, then ideally we would like you to get a sleep study before purchasing a CPAP to see what the exact cause is for why you’re not sleeping well. If you’re positive you suffer from sleep apnea then purchasing an “autoset” CPAP out of pocket will get a jump start on improving how you feel immediately. I personally use a nasal pillow mask (nasal breathing has benefits over mouth breathing we will discuss at another time). If your sleep study shows you are experiencing apnea, buy a CPAP out of pocket or through your insurance. Bam!
If you are not getting into REM and deep sleep, but don’t suffer from sleep apnea, we can look at blood labs (if apneic still do this as well). Specifically, we will use Dr. Stasha Gominak’s 10 years of experience through the patients at her practice and the reference ranges she has provided for us. She has found that our modern lifestyles (indoor AC and limited sunlight) have allowed our “bad” genes to sky rocket since the 1970 . Why is this so? We have a vital hormone that is only produced via our skin receiving UVB light from the sun. This hormone is D3. Otherwise wrongfully name vitamin D3. It is a hormone and an extremely powerful one. We need our D3 ranges to be 60-80 ng/mL optimally. The normal range is 30-100 ng/mL but this is too large of a range. Too low or too high and you will experience negative side effects including disruption of mood, sleep and physical pain. (2)
If vitamin D3 is low enough for long enough, it then affects the gut microbiome and vitamin B’s status. Dr. Gominak pays particular attention to vitamin B12 and B5 specifically. She says B12 needs to be over 500 pg/ml to experience normal sleep. The normal low range number is 225 which is too low in her experience. B12 can be easily tested through labs however B5 has some issues with testing due to the way the body stores and reserves from what I understand. Her recommendations are as follows. First, supplement all of the above until D3 is in range. That means to begin supplementing with D3, B12 and B50 or B100. Sleep should improve but may take months or years to heal, depending on the extent of prior damage. Most healthy readers should not take this long. Then, as soon as sleep begins to deteriorate, you begin having muscle aches and pain, or you are irritable and cannot sleep, drop the B50 immediately and within 1-2 days the side effects will cease. You have now allowed your microbiome to produce its own correct intestinal bacteria and supplementing B 50 or B100 is no longer needed. As D3 increases up to a healthy range, our sleep becomes deeper and our ability to heal increases meaning the B vitamins must be up and ready at bat. If you’ve been supplementing with D3 for awhile without also supplementing with B vitamins, this can cause additional problems including “pain and stiffness in the morning”. The two generally need to be supplemented together for optimal health. (2)
Night time routines are the icing on the cake once the mind and body are right.
Night time routines and habits are the icing on the cake once the mind and body are right. We have some tricks and tips that I have used for years now being a fireman with a wonky schedule.
Try and get off your phone and electronics 2 hours prior to bed. I know this is a challenge for all of us especially those that are hard workers and want to take extra advantage of every hour provided during our day. I get it. But ideally this allows the mind to settle down and physiologically allows the body to begin producing melatonin when light is dim and it slowly becomes darker and cooler. This signals our body that it is time to start preparing for a deep sleep. Plus read a damn book.
If you have no option and must be on your tech devices at night turn the brightness down and place them on night mode if you have that option. This technology is still up for debate as for if it works effectively or not as the screen is still emitting blue light. But it’s better than nothing. If you have lights in the house with dimmers utilize them and or red light bulbs. If you want to be really cool like me you can wear blue light blocking safety glasses which block basically all visible blue light. Blue is the easiest color for our eyes to detect in the visible spectrum so it is of vital importance that we lower the amount our eyes receive at night.
Supplementing melatonin if you do not have a regular sleep-wake cycle can help you go to sleep and reset you clock hormones. Melatonin should be taken 1-2 hours prior to bed the closer to bedtime the smaller the dose taken as to not allow the timed release to peak too late at night and cause drowsiness upon waking. Dr. Parsley recommends .3 to .5 MG but I have personally done 3 MG right before bed and not noted any problems. I also sleep for 7-10 hours depending on the day so that’s my N=1 study. (3)
I hope these tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years provide you with more than enough resources to begin experimenting with yourself to help optimize your sleep. The resources I have learned from I highly recommend and encourage you to seek out more knowledge from them.
Cites and Resources
Dr. Lipton Interview- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCG1zj3mxOw&t=2261s
Dr. Lipton Subconscious Mind- https://upliftconnect.com/reprogram-subconscious-mind/
Dr. Gominak interview- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74F22bjBmqE&t=185s
Dr. Gominak and Vitamin D Supplementation- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5541280/
Dr. Gominak Healthy Gut Bacteria- https://drgominak.com/2017/12/16/healthy-bacteria-healthy-sleep/
Dr. Parsley Interview- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Akw0zGlaIT4
Blue Light Harvard Study- https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
Written By: TeamLoCoFit Training Director Ryan Conley