So I’m still on my paleo kick. I even had to turn down an amazing wedding cake last weekend in order to stay pure to my gut. That was really hard.
And it was worth it. I’m still experiencing excellent gastro-intestinal health. I’m still steadily losing body fat as I continue to eat delicious, fresh foods that happen to not include most processed grains. I now know the difference between hunger and craving. And my dream life continues to be on hyper drive.
This got me thinking about the maligned status of sleep as the third pillar of health in the modern world. We can’t expect to be lean and have glowing skin and a great libido if we don’t get our beauty sleep, no matter what we eat and how often we exercise.
I am a great fan of modern technology helping solve old problems (after all, “the best of the old and the new” is practically my motto), but many of our sleep problems also are due to technology getting in the way.
So, as a fun thought experiment, let’s strip away the tech (OK, most of the tech) and look at 5 reasons why our ancestors slept better than we did.
Our ancestors spent a lot of time outdoors. They got plenty of sunlight in the mornings, and didn’t stare into bright objects at night. Like we do. Campfires and even house hold lighting are fine, but your iPad, TV, computer monitor all produce enough light to suppress melatonin production in the brain.
What can we do? We can take a walk in the morning to get at least 15 minutes of sunlight before heading into work. This practice cements the circadian rhythm. Then, at dusk and beyond, limit blue-spectrum lights. For late night computer work, use f.lux, a free app that makes monitors more paleo-friendly.
Our ancestors went to sleep after the sun went down. And sometimes, they awoke in the middle of the night to hang out around the campfire for a while, before turning in again to sleep till dawn. This polyphasic sleep cycle may have been the norm before the industrialized era. Sleep was more fluid, social, and everyday was not the same.
What this means for us? Alertness in the middle of the night isn’t necessarily a problem. If you find yourself staring at the ceiling at 2am, get out of bed and do some reading or another favorite quiet craft (but not Minecraft…this won’t help). Also, take naps in the afternoon when you can. Short ones.
Our ancestors slept in cool spaces with good ventilation. I’m not talking about caves. I’m talking about simple huts, longhouses, and adobe structures. These spaces, when equipped with furs and blankets of course, allowed our ancestors to moderate their sleeping environment for the optimal conditions that increase sleep quality and reduce sleep fragmentation (unnecessary awakenings).
What can we do? Open a window, or turn down the dial on the AC. I personally like 73 degrees F, but everyone has got their own perfect sleep temperature roughly in between 65-75 F.Also, choose your sleep fabrics with care. There’s also some really awesome synthetic fibers out there for pajamas that wick heat and moisture away.
Our ancestors ate fresh, minimally-processed foods. They probably didn’t actually eat what is called the Paleo Diet today, but they definitely didn’t eat cheap, sugary snacks that were squeezed out of a 500 gallon vat and run along a conveyer belt before making it into our bellies.
What can we do? When it comes to snacking at night, the basics for a sleep-promoting diet are to eat if you’re hungry, but make sure to resist high sugar snacks and simple carbs. Avoiding simple carbs at night is key because they spike and crash blood sugar levels, and affect the delicate balance of the sleep-wake hormone cycle. A 200 calorie snack with some complex carbs and a little protein is ideal. For paleo-enthusiasts, this could be almond butter on some apple slices, or a small serving of sardines. For lacto ovo vegetarians or grain-enthusiasts, a bowl of cottage cheese or cheese toast fits the bill.
Lastly, our ancestors led active lives. While they “struggled to survive,” they were also having a tremendous amount of fun scampering about. When we exercise, we sleep better. And when we sleep better, our athletic and mental performance improves, and we start making healthier food choices too. It’s a pretty sweet feedback system.
What can we do? For starters, take walks in the morning, and park at the far side of the parking lot at the grocery store. Take the stairs. Take a hike. Go wandering. Do stuff that’s fun, not a chore. And mix it up regularly.
Do we need a Paleo Sleep Diet? Lordy no. I’m not trying to convince anyone to eat more Paleo. Diet is a personal thing. And life in the paleolithic era isn’t really something I’d actually want to recreate. I like watching sci-fi late at night, and I like modern dentistry too. But what we do need is to remember the basics of a good night’s sleep so we can get on with livin.’
Want more helpful info about how to sleep better, dream more, and wake up to what matters most? Check out my ebook Dream Like a Boss (Book One).
First Image by Dave Dugdale, 2011.