Sleep Yourself Healthy
Sleeping is an essential part of our overall health; yet it rarely receives the attention it deserves. Some people don’t even associate sleep with fitness, but it really is on the same level of importance as nutrition and exercise. The truth is that having a poor sleep regimen is detrimental to your health. Sleep deprivation leads to impaired alertness and concentration, memory loss, weight gain, depression and anxiety, impaired judgment, an increased likelihood of accidents and injuries and—seriously!—loss of sex drive. (Camille Peri, WebMD)
To understand how we should approach our sleeping habits, we need to go back a bit. Like, oh, 10,000 years or so. Let’s take a look at our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their sleep patterns were dictated entirely by nature—they woke with the sunrise and slept when the sun set. Even in more modern centuries, sleep patterns were much different than they are today, since it wasn’t until the 19th century that the light bulb was introduced. Before that, of course there were alternative ways of creating light, but certainly not in the way we experience it today—through the constant availability of artificial light.
So what does this have to do with our sleeping habits today? Basically, artificial lighting does weird things to us. It’s kind of complicated, but essentially, our cortisol levels become elevated when we are exposed to artificial light. This is problematic because high levels of cortisol lead to trouble with metabolism, so our bodies end up storing more fat. That’s why it’s so important to get a good night’s sleep and to get this sleep away from artificial light.
With that in mind, here are a few easy things you can do to do to ensure you’re getting the best sleep possible:
1. Sleep in the dark! Because of the whole cortisol issue, you must sleep in a pitch dark room. Don’t have a little lamp on beside your bed, don’t have the curtains drawn so the street light can stream in. And definitely remember to turn off the computer monitor. Those things will prevent you from getting the deepest possible sleep, which is what your body needs to function optimally.
“This [artificial light] can absolutely buggar sleep and crack open a host of problems with regards to body-fat levels, insulin resistance and systemic inflammation.” —Robb Wolf, The Paleolithic Solution
2. Get 8–10 hours. Yes, it’s a lot. You may have to record your favorite show and watch it in the morning or read 10 pages less of your book before bed. Do it. Otherwise nothing else you’re doing to better your health is going to matter much.
3. Establish a routine. Tuck the kids in, take a shower, do the dishes. It’s 10:00? Then that’s it for today! Seriously—Facebook stalking, reruns on Netflix or… whatever else you do to kill time late at night can wait.
4. Get up on your own. If you’re getting the eight hours you need, your body should eventually be able to wake itself up without an alarm clock. You should eventually be able to get yourself to that point by following the first three tips.