How to prioritise sleep

How often do you feel like you’ve had a crappy night’s sleep, feel sluggish when your alarm goes off, are tired all day, and then want an afternoon nap?

That was how I felt most days before I started eating paleo.

Now, when I stick to paleo about 90% of the time – allowing for a nice dinner and bottle of wine once or twice a week – I sleep really soundly and feel so energetic during the day. And when my alarm goes off two mornings a week at 5.20am to go to a 6am CrossFit class, I feel wide awake and don’t need to hit the snooze button.

And while I’ve been sleeping soundly lately – as in, falling asleep easily, not tossing and turning, and not waking up until my alarm goes off (or even waking up on my own before my alarm goes off, which is the ultimate goal), which was all previously very rare –  I haven’t been getting enough sleep. I’ve been averaging 6 hours a night, which is really not fun.

So my goal for this week is to make sure I get a minimum of eight hours a night, every night. FOR SEVEN WHOLE DAYS. How glorious does that sound?

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While getting that much sleep may seem indulgent, it’s something that the paleo/Primal lifestyle highly prioritises. Especially as there’s so much evidence about the benefits of sleeping on the body, notably helping resistance to weight gain and increasing your appetite-regulating hormones. Mark Sisson also says sleep is more important than exercise, if you have to choose; plus sleep deprivation causes increased insulin sensitivity and can worsen your posture.

So this week I’m going to prioritise sleep over everything else – over household jobs like ironing and the dishes; over staying up for hours poring over my favourite health blogs; over writing long blog posts; over socialising and drinking wine. Luxurious? Yes. Selfish? Perhaps it could be perceived that way, I don’t think that’s the right way to describe it.

I figure I’m not just doing something good for myself; by me being well-rested, it helps everyone around me. I’m a better employee (I’m more focused and can stay on-task better, meaning I’m more productive) and a better friend/girlfriend (I can get very whiny when I don’t get at least 7.5 hours). I have the energy to put in a better performance at the gym, and it encourages me to make better food and drink choices – it’s easier to say no to coffee and wine when I know they’ll make my quality of sleep worse.

In “12 Healthy Ways to End the Day” on Mark’s Daily Apple, these tips are recommended:

Fast: Food intake, like light and sound, can trip (or trick) our circadian rhythms. Finish dinner and call it a day food-wise. Your body will benefit from the longer stretch without metabolic stress, and you’ll likely sleep better.” I LOVE late-night snacking, so this will probably be the hardest to implement. But to be honest, I need to stop my routine of eating a tablespoon of almond butter after dinner – as well as being expensive (about $7 a jar!), I eat plenty of nuts during the day and don’t really need to have any more at night.

Create Order for the Next Day: A few minutes tonight will allow you to begin the next morning without undue stress and turmoil. Take care of business, write your to-do list, and you’ll sleep better knowing you’re ready for the day.” Makes sense.

Power Down: Blue light throws off our circadian rhythms. Your health is more important than some late night show. Turn off the electrical equipment (including the smart phone) as early as possible in the evening, and dim the lights at least an hour before turning in.” Another hard one… let’s see if I can replace late night TV and copious amount of Instagramming with reading.

Follow a Ritual: We Homo Sapiens are complicated and all, but we’re just about as trainable as Pavlov’s dog. Use this inherent simplicity to your advantage. Create a regimen for the last half an hour before bed.” Good idea. My ritual will be: shower, cup of chamomile tea, read, bed.

Apart from those and the others listed on the site, the other things I’ll have to work towards are cutting out alcohol and limiting caffeine during the day. (Green tea acceptable but coffee and chocolate definitely out.) Hard, but not impossible.