‘Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together’. Thomas Dekker.
Are you getting enough sleep? This is one of the most important aspects to living a Paleo lifestyle yet for many people; it could be one of the hardest. Good sleep is critical. It is on par with food in terms of its importance. You may have the best Paleo nutrition in the world, but consistent lack of sleep will seriously impede you. See the Sleep pages for more on this.
For most people life is busy and stressful and despite all good intentions sleep inevitably suffers. Obviously there are situations when a good night’s sleep is just out of the question – babies, air travel, lambing, night shifts, any other important event in our lives, the list goes on and on… However, if in time we do get the opportunity to improve our sleep, then it is surely one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health. Sometimes you just have to stop, take a step back and focus on the area that you want to improve really, really hard…
I’ve always been an early riser as mornings are my favourite time of the day and I’ve never been one for staying up late at night (save the odd night out!). On the whole, I would say that my body clock naturally follows the sunrise and sunset and I have always been like that. I just love the sunrise and the birdsong and the stillness of the mornings. Richard is the opposite and through most of the time we have been together he has preferred later nights and later mornings. Years in the media industry did not help as Richard inevitably ended up working until all hours of the morning, so our sleeping patterns were almost polar opposites.
It is only since being Paleo – and particularly in the last month or so when we have really focused on ways to improve sleep – that we are moving to similar patterns. I still go to bed usually an hour before Richard and wake about an hour or two before him at the weekend but during the week we are more in sync. One of the things that I heard Dr Parsley say at his excellent talk on sleep at Paleo f(x) – see notes here – is that it is best to stick to roughly the same times each day rather than stay up later at the weekend. I seem to do this naturally and find it very hard to stay up past my usual bedtime.
Here are some things we have found helpful:
We turn all computers and hand-held devices off a couple of hours before we go to bed.
We installed f.lux on our computers which is free. This turns down the blue spectrum on the screen in line with the sunset and increases it in line with sunrise, timed according to your location. If for whatever reason we do need to look at a screen, it is suitably dimmed.
Richard has bought some orange-tinted glasses for work. As he looks at computer screens for most of the day, he finds it much easier on the eye with the tinted glasses. They also help to mitigate the effects of the fluorescent strip lighting in his office, which tends to make his eyes sore. Richard bought this brand and also wears them around the house before bedtime if he needs to. However, these seem to get very good reviews and you can pick them up on E-bay quite cheaply.
We have changed the lamps in our living room, kitchen and bedroom to red bulbs and make sure that we avoid switching all blue-spectrum light on in the hours before bedtime. This takes a bit of getting used to but I am certain that it is making me sleepier. We just popped into Homebase and bought some red light bulbs that I think are supposed to go in electric fires. I don’t know if they are the recommended type but they seem to be doing the trick. At 40 watts though, we are thinking about getting dimmers.
We checked the colour content of the light using an app called Luxmeter Pro. If you are using this as a light meter then it needs to be correctly calibrated first. However, for approximate colour content readings, it works fine. Other software may be available.
I have heard some people on forum discussions recommend the new generation of oil lamps but have not tried them. Anyone out there have one?
We have been making a real effort to go to bed at roughly the same time each night.
We have been monitoring our sleep patterns on a programme called Sleep Time from Azumio. This is a free app for the iPhone – see here. It allows you to check how much light sleep and deep sleep you have and coordinates your alarm with a light sleep cycle if possible. The iPhone is switched to Airplane Mode and is placed face-down on the bed near to you. It is so interesting to look at your sleep patterns (ok – I’m sad!). I find that having a visual representation of my sleep quality in front of me makes me even more determined to do everything I can to ensure a good night’s sleep.
I bought an eye mask to wear as we do not have blackout lining on the curtains upstairs. I looked at all sorts of eye-masks including some quite expensive versions but this one looked the best value by far. I’ve got to say that it is so comfortable and I can’t fault it! Complete value for money.
As well as that, I wear ear-plugs which I have always worn as a hangover from days in London. Again, I have tried so many brands but I find these from RS Components to be the best for both noise reduction and comfort. Much better than the average ear plugs in the high street that cost a fortune in comparison and that fall out!
Recently, a lady I met was telling me that each night she sprays her bedclothes with lavender spray as this is a well-known aid to a restful night’s sleep. I had heard about this many years ago but never tried it. You can get various sprays that incorporate lavender but they often have other strange things added or if not, are extremely expensive. Instead I have ordered some lavender essential oil and will let you know how I get on.
Of course, no amount of tricks can compensate for an over-active mind and a stressful life. Sometimes you just have too much on your mind and sleep is difficult. I will be writing about stress reduction techniques in the coming months but in the meantime we are trying as hard as we can to make the little improvements that are within our control.
Reading about the importance of sleep, I realise that it is about reconnecting with who we are at the very core of our being. We are inextricably linked to the cycles of the earth but we have forgotten this. We conduct our lives as if we are somehow distinct from every other living creature whose existence is governed by their environment. We think that we can ‘cheat’ sleep, that we can make up for it’s absence at some vague point in the future and everything will even out and be fine. Unfortunately for us, it just doesn’t work like that. However, we can do everything in our power to mimic the way our ancestors slept. It may not be perfect and some of the methods may seem ridiculous, but all we can do is try. Sweet dreams…
For further information, please see the Sleep page.