#14: Re-prioritizing sleep SAVED ME this week

This week has been a weird one. It has been the first week in a long time that I felt… not well. Not only did I physically feel like crap I also felt like I had no motivation to do… anything. On the last big week of training before the Boston marathon, this couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. Amongst me blaming my body and environment for all of my woes I listened to the most recent Rich Roll podcast, as per usual, which was How to Sleep Smarter with Shawn Stevenson.

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Let me just say, GAME CHANGER.

This podcast totally shifted my focus from I’m sick and/or I’m getting lazy to maybe I’m just overtired. Maybe it’s time to realize that all of my “productive” evening activities are actually now making me less productive because I have almost no energy/motivation to do any of them at all.

We all know about the benefits of a great night sleep. We are more efficient, can manage our stress better, interact with our world differently, on and on and on. But, we often sacrifice it first when our plate is starting to get full, knowing very well that at some point, we will pay the piper.

I really encourage you to listen to this podcast yourself, it is jam packed with good info. Rich Roll, my all-time favorite podcaster, interviews sleep expert Shawn Stevenson, who is on his way to becoming one of my top favorites as well. Shawn’s podcast, The Model Health Show, is also a must listen (Episode 148: Estrogen Dominance is super interesting and the content is even more surprising than the title).

My main takeaway's from this podcast...

 

If sleep wasn't necessary, we would have evolved out of it.

When we are awake, we are in what is called a catabolic state or a state of breaking down. When we are sleeping, we are in an anabolic state which builds us up. Sleep is responsible for rejuvenating the immune, skeletal, and muscular systems. It keeps us youthful, in balance (hormones, metabolism, energy), and increases the function of our brain.

Muscle-up without dumb bells? Increase memory and IQ without doing endless Sudoku and crosswords? Sign me up.

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It's about the QUALITY not QUANTITY

Amen. There are times when I will sleep 8 hours and for some reason wind up not feeling well rested. What the deuce is that all about? Well melatonin, which I have always just thought of as the sleep hormone, is actually responsible for making sure that we get GOOD sleep. We can fall sleep without it, but when we have the right amount at the right time we get into that REM and deep sleep which forms memories, repairs, and rejuvenates our bodies.

Poor cortisol gets a bad rap for making us chub-bay, but it is actually a regulatory hormone responsible for providing us energy when it is needed most (fight or flight, in the AM, or when we are stressed, etc.). Cortisol production is also inversely proportional to melatonin. When we are not secreting cortisol, we produce melatonin. These hormones are produced with the earth’s circadian rhythm. We like to mess with that though, don’t we? When we tamper with that rhythm, we throw off the times that our peak levels of cortisol and melatonin are secreted, which leads to decreased sleep quality.

Moral of the story, follow the circadian rhythm! If you are staying up too late, you are having your cortisol and melatonin peak at improper times leaving you with the energy hormone (cortisol) peaked when you want to be resting and the sleep hormone when you want to be awake! Or for most of us, somewhere in between.

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Sleep is a force multiplier

I love how Shawn says this. Sleep has the power to make our lives exponentially better and when we do not have it, has the power to make our lives exponentially worse.

You actually have more arguments when you are sleep deprived. There was a 4 week study done on couples when they were sleep deprived and when they were not. It found that they had a 14% greater chance of having arguments and not reaching resolutions when they were sleep deprived. I would not play the odds here.

Why is this? When they looked at an fMRI, the part of our brain responsible for survival (amygdala) is more lit up when we are sleep deprived. So pretty much, we are no better than primal animals. But when we are well rested the prefrontal cortex has increased activity, which is responsible for decision making, distinguishing between right and wrong, and even higher cognitive functions like compassion and empathy.

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Light is a HUGE factor in determining how restful of sleep we get

Light is indirectly proportional to melatonin production (more light, less melatonin, less light, more melatonin)

Our device screens emit this artificial blue light which triggers our body to produce daytime hormones (like cortisol). It is recommended not to look at screens for a full hour before bed. I know that this is very difficult, but luckily, there are apps like Twilight (downloaded on my phone) and f.lux (downloaded on my computer) which strip these blues out of the image and change the color temperature of your screen. These bad boys work with your location so from sunset to sunrise your screen will look sepia-esque.

Of course, completely off an hour before is ideal. It is definitely on my list of goals.

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Create a sleep sanctuary 

This means making sure that you bedroom and bed are used for SLEEPING. When we work in bed, watch TV, eat, etc. we create associations for our brain. It will not see our bedroom environment as a place to turn off, relax, and prepare for some regeneration.

While we think of TV as mindless, on an fMRI our brain activity is actually lighting up all over the place. Try to read a book instead! Especially reading fiction allows us to turn off that analytical side of our brain and allow that creative side to turn on. It also has way less stimuli than sound, blue light, etc.

Another fun fact about TVs in the bedroom, which we are all aware of, is that couples who have this (let me preface by saying generally) have 50% less sex than those who do not. Oxytocin and prolactin are both hormones released when we have orgasms. Oxytocin can be produced from intimate connections, like hugging or child rearing. These hormones are like sedatives for most of us (ahem, which means you will have more restful sleep!). You do not need to be in a relationship to get these kinds of benefits. Intimate connections and, excuse me for saying this, helping yourself can produce similar effects.

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Wrapping it up...

I feel like sleep deprivation in our culture has become somewhat of a badge of honor. In college, it was “cool” to “pull all-nighters”, popular Young Jeezy songs boast “sleep when I die”, and it is considered a characteristic of a hard worker. But sleep literally makes us our best selves. If we think that we are doing okay now, and getting average sleep, imagine how amazing we could be with more efficient, restful sleep?!

After I had this weird spell of zero motivation and just overall blahness, I listened to this podcast and decided to go to bed between 7:30pm-8:00pm and sleeping until 4:00am (to get up for work). After just 2 days of this I started to feel drastically different.

A new awareness on sleep this past week has done marvels for both my physical health and mental/emotional morale. Without getting a grip on this, I have no doubt that my last long run before Boston wouldn’t have happened.

So there you have it folks, it is as simple as sleeping, aka, doing nothing. After listening to this podcast and reading this article, I have completely re-prioritized sleep and I hope that you consider doing the same too!

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Products/services that I am or will be using as a result of listening to this podcast:

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  • EASE Magnesium spray ($29.95)
    • Interested and eager to try this. Did not want to gift this bad boy just in case. I got the lavender vanilla scent… Excited, I mean sleepy… just thinking about it!
    • The packaging is a b&%ch to get off.

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