Pillar 3: Sleep

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Most people would agree that sleep is a fairly important part of health.  However, in today’s society of increased work demands, high levels of school work expectations, and constant connectivity, sleep health continues to decline on average.  In fact, many people brag about how little sleep they get as a badge of honor.  Being able to ‘get away’ with only 4-5 hours of sleep is often seen as a symbol of high achievement.  While this may allow you to work more hours or get more done during a 24-hour time period, it is definitely detrimental to your health.  Some of the common side effects to prolonged sleep deficiency are:

  • Mood disorders, like anxiety and depression
  • Sickness, or reduction in immune function
  • Diabetes
  • Infertility
  • Weight gain
  • Low libido
  • Heart disease
  • Poor brain function

While this list would seemingly make people want to sleep more it doesn’t ever work that way.  The demands of work and life have become so overwhelming that most people feel like they can no longer afford to be asleep for too long.  This means that not only are people more stressed than ever, but they are reducing their body’s number one recovery tool in order to get more work done.  At some point things will break.

Many people have heard that the magic number of hours required to sleep is 8.  While it seems that many experts say that 7-8 hours is a good goal, many times this depends on a few different factors:

#1 Your age

Anyone who has kids or has been around them enough knows that they need much more sleep than adults do.  Bedtime becomes so important for kids because it becomes evident that without enough sleep they become cranky and irritable, both things that parents want to completely avoid.  This is because their bodies are growing at such a rapid rate that they need the sleep for these regeneration and growth processes to happen efficiently.  When we become adults we don’t require quite as much sleep as our bodies are no longer growing and developing at such a rapid rate.  This is one thing that we must pay more attention to as a society as our teenagers in high school are often times getting only 5-6 hours of sleep a night with the demands of school work and sports, when in fact they should be getting 9-10 hours.  In fact, studies have been done in certain counties where the start time of school was pushed later until 9am to see the effect on grades.  Not surprisingly, grades went up across the board when kids were allowed to sleep more.   

#2 Your exercise volume

Since sleep is the main time that your body is recovering, the more recovery you need, the more sleep is probably required.  Those people who exercise at high intensities, durations, and frequencies need to be sure that their sleep is adequate otherwise overtraining and injuries become much more probable.  This is one reason that beginning to exercise helps you sleep better.  Your body needs the recovery and so sleep becomes much more crucial to repair from the days activities on days when you’ve exercised.

#3  Your health status

The healthier you are the less ‘work’ your body is doing to stay healthy.  If your body is constantly fighting infection, pain, or inflammation then more recovery is required each day.  Your body has to do more work just to get back to a normal, healthy balance.  This is one of the reasons that people sleep more when they are sick.  The body needs all hands on deck in the recovery department and sleep is the best time to do it.   This phenomena is also evident when people are in chronic pain.  When pain is constant the nervous system is in overdrive and this takes and exorbitant amount of energy.  This is why people feel exhausted when they are in pain all the time.  They need more recovery time to overcome a poor health status. 

The reason that I want to highlight these various differences is to show you that how much sleep you need may change from time to time.  It is less important to focus on a specific number of hours, but rather on how your body and brain feel.  Don’t hesitate to allow yourself more or less time to sleep as things change in your life.  Now, that being said, it is probably still a good idea to shoot for somewhere in the 7-8 hour range.  The experts have found that his range is acceptable for most people’s bodies to function normally so use that as a starting place and adjust according to your specific situation.

 

Regeneration and Recovery

When you are sleeping your body is recovering and regenerating from the days activities.  The bodies energy sources are somewhat finite and without constant replenishment energy availability becomes scarce for various processes in the body.  Think of it like a bank account.  During the day you are spending your money on many different activities that require money (energy): thinking, walking, exercising, keeping your body at a constant temperature, detoxifying the body, hormone reactions, etc.  Everything in the body requires energy and this slowly depletes the bank account.  Your body can continue to make new energy throughout the day, but eventually you will need some down time to let your bank account fully replenish.  Sleeping does just that.  It replenishes your bank account so that you can spend money the next day to perform at a high level.  Chronically depriving your body of this time does not allow your body to fully replenish the bank account.  This means that they next day you have less money to spend before it runs out.  Do this long enough and certain systems in the body will not longer work efficiently and will begin to get damaged.  This is why there is such a long list of side effects (as stated earlier) with long term sleep deficiency.   

Why do you think the sleep deprivation is one of the worst forms of torture?  It eventually makes multipole systems in the body begin to fail, especially the brain.  This is because the brain uses the most amount of energy, by far.  It is our master computer and if it is not working efficiently, nothing in your body can work efficiently.  Let the body sleep enough and all  systems will bounce back and work better. 

 

Brain detox

Detoxification is a normal process in our bodies and without it we would quickly become sick.  The liver is the main organ in our body that deals with detoxification processes.  Each day we accumulate various toxins in the body, but luckily we were designed to handle these with ease as long as the body is working well and the toxins don’t become excessive.  The body’s lymphatic system is a network of vessels and organs (including the liver) that has one primary function: rid the body of toxins.  This is obviously important, but it does not extend to the brain.  Or at least we thought until recent studies proved otherwise.

Not long ago, scientists discovered a lymphatic system in the brain.  The amazing thing is that is doesn’t go into effect until we are are sleeping!  This means that the only time the brain detoxifies is when we are sleeping!  So, in effect, a deficiency in sleep means that your brain does not have enough time to detoxify, and harmful toxins can remain in the vessels that surround the brain.  Not a good thing.  So if you want to have a healthy brain you need to get enough sleep.

 

3 Factors of Good Sleep

This is a good time to discuss the different factors that are important in a good night’s sleep.  It is much more than how many hours you are lying in bed.  There are three main areas that need to be considered.

Quantity

This is the obvious one.  This means the amount of time that you are asleep, NOT in bed.  If you are in bed for 8 hours, but it takes you one hour to fall asleep then you are only really sleeping 7 hours.  While this seems obvious it becomes an important point as many people have difficulties falling asleep which is drastically harming their sleep.

Quality

This refers to the quality of sleep while you are asleep.  If you toss and turn all night, wake periodically, or get up in the middle of the night you are greatly affecting the quality of your sleep.  There are many sleep tracking devices available now and most will track the different phases of sleep and how long you are in deep sleep versus superficial sleep.  Many layers of sleep are important, but the more that you are disturbed during the night, the less chance your body has to hit each stage of sleep.  This becomes very important because many people consistently get the magic 8 hours of sleep, but the quality is not very good at all.  In fact, many times I will be happier if my clients get less hours of sleep, but of a high quality, versus longer hours but constantly interrupted. 

Timing

Sometimes the timing of sleep is highly variable for people.  Timing refers to the cycle of time when you go to sleep and wake in the morning.  Your body sets many processes in the body by a circadian rhythm.  Hormone function is one thing that is highly dependent on this rhythm so it is important to try and normalize as much as possible.  This means going to bed and waking at approximately the same time each night.  And in a perfect world this would be closely related to the rise and fall of the sun.  Having to work night shifts can be highly detrimental to health because it drastically affects the body’s circadian rhythms and makes it difficult for many things in the body to work efficiently.  So aim to normalize your sleep/wake cycle and you will be improving the health benefits of sleep.

 

Sleep Hygiene

Another thing that is important to note is that proper sleep hygiene can help to improve the quality of your sleep.  Sleep hygiene is all about getting your sleeping environment conducive to high quality sleep.  There are many things that we know affect your body’s ability to sleep so removing those from the equation will naturally give you better results.  For more information on this you can refer to a previous blog article (https://momentumfunctionalhealth.com/top-5-tips-to-better-sleep/) but for a quick summary these are some things that you can focus on to help your sleep improves:

  1. Cool room temperature: between 60-67 degrees
  2. Darkness: the more the better
  3. No EMF’s (wireless routers, phones, bluetooth, etc) near your bed
  4. No caffeine after lunch
  5. Limiting alcohol intake
  6. No screens (phone, tv, iPads, etc) within one hour prior to bed
  7. Meditate prior to bed to help stop incessant worrying/thinking

Some of these things seem obvious, but I have had numerous clients make some small changes in their sleep hygiene and experience fantastic results.  The key is to really appreciate how important your sleep is so that you can do everything in your power to improve it.

The best thing you can start to do is honestly assess your sleep habits and how it makes you feel during the day.  If you are using exogenous substance to help keep you awake and give you energy, you are probably not sleeping well enough.  This means using sleeping aids to help you fall or stay asleep, or products like caffeine to help get your through the day.  This doesn’t mean that coffee is evil, it just shouldn’t be used long term as a main source of your energy.  So beware, in your self-assessment of fatigue and energy levels, that you truly appreciate whether these things are falsely elevated due to outside substances like sleeping aids and caffeine.  This will only hide the fact that your body is lacking in proper sleep that is necessary for proper regeneration, recovery, and brain detoxification. 

Unfortunately there is no magic cure for poor sleep.  There are so many factors that are in play in helping people sleep well.  Sometimes all you need to do is start improving all of the other Pillars of Health and sleep will indirectly improve.  Working on your stress levels, nutrition, exercise, and hormone efficiency will help improve your overall health status and many times the byproduct will be great sleep.  If you are still having a difficult time sleeping find a qualified health practitioner to you assess the different areas of your health.  Hopefully by now you can see how important sleep is for your health.

Pillar 2: Nutrition

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  You are what you eat!

Everyone has heard this phrase, but most don’t really pay attention to how true it really is. What you put in your mouth probably has the greatest overall impact on your health. I tell my clients that what they put in their mouth can either support their health or hurt it.  It is really that simple.  This is a really good way to start looking at food.  It is something that can either help fuel your health or hinder your health.  Now, some foods can actually do both as many things are loaded with multiple ingredients.  A good example would be protein bars.  They have high levels of protein which is good for your body and helps you build muscle for a strong and sturdy frame.  However, most of them also have high amounts of sugar and preservatives in them.  These things can create inflammation in the body and create a situation where the body is trying to put out fires.  In this instance, the food of choice is both helping and hurting you.  Thinking of foods in this context can help you to make better choices.  The goal is not to be perfect, but rather to fully understand what choice you are making.  Over 2400 years ago a wise man said:

“Let food be they medicine and let medicine be thy food.”

                  • Hippocrates

It is shame we didn’t follow this advice and create a healthcare system based upon the foods we eat.  The point is that we’ve known that foods were crucial to health for a very long time. Most people understand that nutrition is a key component to optimized health. However, the marketing machines of the food industry are experts at confusing people. They spend millions of dollars every year to sell you their products and have no real intention of supporting your health. In fact, most advertised foods are processed foods and those are the last thing that you should be eating! However, as I stated before, most people’s nutritional education comes from commercials,

billboards, newspapers, etc., and you are brainwashed into thinking that many foods are healthy for you when in fact they are not. One specific example is the gluten free marketing angle. While going gluten-free is a great goal for many people (especially in the United States since we alter the protein structure significantly), most foods that are ‘gluten-free’ are loaded with sugar and/or other things that are just as equally bad for your health. As I tell my clients, don’t ever pay attention to the claims on the packages of food. Unless you can fully understand and read the ingredients list you have no business paying attention to the marketing claims of the manufacturers. This leads us directly into my 2 key nutrition tips:

#1 Always, always read ingredients labels before buying foods

If you do not know how to read food labels then you absolutely need to learn this ASAP.  This is something I ensure all my clients know how to do and can do without any issues. If someone at a restaurant just handed you a drink and said “Drink this you’ll like it”, there is no way you would drink it before first finding out what was in it. However, most people just blindly buy packaged food without ever taking the time to figure out what is in it. You would probably be shocked to learn what was in many foods that you consume regularly. And it is not enough to just briefly look at the calories and sugar content. The food companies have learned all the tricks and know how to make the food labels look as innocent as possible. However, they cannot mess with the ingredient list and must put exactly what ingredients are contained in their products. While they don’t have to include the amounts of each ingredient, they do have to list them in order from most to least. The only way to really understand what you are consuming is to read the ingredients label. It’s not difficult. Just take the time to learn or have someone who knows teach you. It will take less than an hour, but will benefit your health for the rest of your life. If you can’t understand what all the ingredients are, or there are an insane amount of ingredients, then it probably isn’t good for you anyways.

#2 Buy and consume only (or mainly) whole foods

One way to make reading ingredients labels easier is to buy foods that just don’t have them! The simple truth is that we would all be healthier if we just ate foods that came from the earth and didn’t need to be packaged and processed. If you shop at grocery stores, then do most of your shopping on the perimeter. That is where the real food is contained and usually needs to be refrigerated or kept cool. That’s because it is living! I know that we all want the convenience of the foods that stay fresh for weeks, but that just doesn’t jive with health. If you move away from processed foods and move towards whole foods, you will inevitably get healthier. Now, this does have some rules to it. This doesn’t mean that you can just eat grains all day long, avoid vegetables, and suck down fruits whenever you want. You still need to eat lots of vegetables (and a wide variety) and make sure that you are getting plenty of well rounded protein sources on board. But a general over-arching rule is that the more whole foods you eat, and the less processed foods you eat the better!

While these 2 tips seem very simplistic you would be surprised how many people get better just by focusing on these simple things. Going back to the basics is something we all have to do and there is a reason they were the basics in the first place!

My nutrition synopsis is that about 80% of healthy nutrition is the same for most people, and the other 20% needs to be customized to each individuals needs. For instance, some people do better with limited protein while others need a larger amount. Some people can handle moderate levels of gluten-free grains, while others need to severely limit this. Some people do well with eating eggs, while others have reactions to the protein found in eggs. My goal is to uncover each clients specific nutritional needs while educating them to be able to make wise decisions and decipher the food labeling chaos. Food sensitivities and allergies are becoming exceedingly more common and without the correct information many people are continually causing damage to themselves simply by eating certain things everyday. Unless you can uncover what works best for YOUR SPECIFIC BODY it can become difficult to reach health and stay there.  There are many ways to do this, from food sensitivity testing to elimination/provocation diets. Whatever way you decide to do it is fine, but it is something that you should eventually learn. Remember, these specific nuances of your health will be with you forever, so the sooner you learn them the better.

The other problem with nutrition is that the information changes at a rapid rate and without the proper mentoring it can be very difficult for the average person to stay well informed. Many times this is because it takes years, sometimes decades, for government agencies to change what they are telling people. The food pyramid was outdated decades ago, but was just recently changed. Other reasons for this rapid evolution is that the research and science behind foods is growing very fast. Not only that, but the ways in which the food companies are altering the foods continues to change and evolve as well. Which is why eating organic and locally sourced is always the best way to go. My goal is to give you the absolute best nutrition for YOU, so that you can make the best, informed decisions on nutrition for the rest of your life!

Nutrition Strategies

What some people call diets I like to call nutrition strategies.  The reason for this is that many of them can be beneficial if applied to the correct situation.  The problem becomes when we take these strategies and start applying them to every human being on the planet.  While it would be nice to have the one exact strategy that worked for everyone, it never really works that way. Nutrition can sometimes be a moving target.  While there is typically a generalized strategy for eating healthy, the many popular diets, or eating strategies, can be used as targeted protocols to achieve a specific goal.  Very few of them prove to be strategies that work for everyone.  In my opinion, the closest one that seems to work for most people is the Evolutionary Paleo approach.  This theory of this dietary strategy is that we should be eating only things that grow or live on the earth, and in direct relation to how our genetics have evolved over time to handle them.  So, for instance, any food that has only been recently introduced to the human gut can have a higher chance of irritating our gut environment.  This is because our gut has not evolved to recognize or process these ‘new foods’.  However, I still believe that even this approach has variances depending on the person.  While paleo states that things like grains are not approved, I believe that non-gluten grains can be good for certain people.  The only way to figure that out is to either doing advanced testing or comprehensively assess your diet and how it affects you.

Another reason that dietary strategies can be a moving target is because sometimes we need to utilize a specific strategy to help improve or overcome a certain health condition. For example, someone who has a condition called SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) will need to eat a specific way in order to help heal and overcome that situation.  This FODMAP diet that they need to follow it by no means a long term plan, but without implementing this strategy there is no way to get better.  There are many other instances where this can come into play, with the full understanding that it is a temporary strategy to meet a specific goal.

Another example would be intermittent fasting.  While this has become the hot new dietary fad it is not for everyone as the popular media would have you believe.  The benefits can be many and everyone seems to be jumping on board.  However, there are many situations when even this strategy can be the absolute wrong choice.  For more information on intermittent fasting, its benefits, and when it might not be the best approach you can read more on one of my previous blog articles. (https://momentumfunctionalhealth.com/intermittent-fasting/)

In a nutshell, someone who may be trying to improve a situation of insulin resistance (pre-diabetes or diabetes) may benefit highly from this dietary strategy.  However, someone who is tall and skinny and has tendencies toward hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) would do very poorly with this strategy.  We must start educating people more about each strategy and when they are best to apply.

The easiest way to approach this is to use the following guidelines:

  1. Eat only whole, real foods
  2. Eat a wide variety of vegetables
  3. Have your plate be at least half vegetables
  4. Limit grains and ideally make them gluten-free
  5. Eat lean meats and source them appropriately (i.e. organic, grass-fed, etc.)
  6. Limit fruit intake and ideally eat them with either protein or fat to minimize insulin spikes
  7. Consume healthy fats
  8. Eat enough calories to match your activity level

While this does seem to be very general advice, it can solve many of the health issues people are facing today.  In light of this, the absolute best thing you can do is start to learn more about nutrition.  The biggest thing that you can do for you health is make wise decisions about what you eat and when you eat it.  Learning more about the basics of nutrition can help you make better choices everyday and over the long term can drastically improve the trajectory of your health.  Many people are doing their best to make good food choices, but have actually never been taught the basics about nutrition and how to choose foods properly.  While this should be part of our education as we grow up, sadly it is not.  I can’t tell you how many times people tell me about their attempt to make good decisions only to be sabotaged by something that they just weren’t aware of.  When I work with my clients I make a conscious effort to teach them all I can so that they are empowered to make proper, healthy decisions.  In order to help more people learn these crucial things I have created a very simple, educational series that can teach you these basics once and for all.  It was designed to be completed in as little as 20 minutes each week for a 6-week time span.  Each step will explain the basics of reading food labels, understanding sugar, healthy fats and oils, macros (protein, carbs, and fats) and calories, meal planning basics, and gut health. You can learn more about the education series by clicking here.  Learn it once and apply it for the rest of your life.  If this is something that you still have not learned I encourage you to invest this small amount of time each week to your health. 

Beyond the basics of the nutrition there can be many ways to really try and uncover the best foods for you.  One of the best ways to start paying attention to the foods you eat is to keep a food journal.  Not only will you probably eat healthier (because you don’t want to write down bad foods), but you will also begin to learn about your eating habits and how you feel when you eat certain things.  There are many apps that can help you track this and make your life easier.  Two of the best ones are MyFitnessPal and Chronometer.  They can help you get a better understanding of how many calories you are eating and what ratios or protein, fat, and carbohydrates you consume.  Many people will notice that they feel better when they eat a specific way or in specific amounts, but would never otherwise know this unless they were keeping a journal.  It is not something that you do forever, but just long enough to help you understand more about what things you are eating and why.  Of course, it is always best to have a professional help make suggestions and improvements in your dietary journal, but if not you can still learn quite a bit just from the process.

Another thing that can be very helpful is figuring out if you are sensitive to any foods.  Basically this means that your body negatively responds to foods.  There are two main ways to do this.  One is called the elimination and provocation protocol.  In simple terms, this means removing a food from your diet for a particular time and then reintroducing it later to see if you react negatively.  Removing a food for 4 weeks is typically a good period of time.  You would then want to reintroduce that food daily (ideally twice per day) for the next 3-5 days to see if you have any reactions such as upset stomach, diarrhea, lethargy, skin irritations, headaches, joint pain, or any other noticeable effect.  If this occurs it may be due to a food sensitivity.  While this testing method is not 100% accurate, it can help you figure out how your body responds to certain foods.  The only tricky part is that you must keep everything else in your diet consistent while you are testing specific foods.  This way you can really know if a certain food is in fact what is causing you problems.  A very common instance where people notice this is with dairy.   Removing dairy for a period of time and then reintroducing it will often time give people upset stomach, diarrhea, sinus congestion, and/or headaches.

Food Sensitivity Testing

The other, and more reliable, method to look for food sensitivities is lab testing.  There are specific tests that can assess whether or not your immune system is responding (attacking) to various foods.  This leaves less guesswork as you can see exactly how your immune system is responding to various foods.  The best lab for this (by far) is Cyrex labs.  Many people have had versions of food sensitivity testing done, but by different labs and methods of testing that are just not very accurate.  Cyrex labs testing methods and purity make them the leader in the field and give people results that can be trusted.  One special thing to note is that food sensitivity testing and food allergy testing are completely different.  Food allergy testing is done many times by medical doctors and is looking for severe reactions to foods that can cause dangerous, sometimes life threatening, symptoms.  Food sensitivity testing is looking for similar reactions in the body, but at a lower severity. This doesn’t mean that they are not of consequence, it just means that the reactions are not as blatantly obvious.  However, if you are having a small, inflammatory reaction to a food and eat that food many times each day, over the long term you could be causing low level inflammation of the gut that will eventually lead to massive problems.  So my suggestions is that if your gut health is not ideal and has been like that for a long time, you need to take the time to figure out why that is happening so that you can restore your gut health.  Numerous studies now show that gut health is crucial to overall health and its importance has led to the creation of its new nickname, ‘the second brain’.  Start with a basic food journal or professional nutrition analysis, and if that doesn’t suffice you can order some labs from Cyrex to get a detailed picture and roadmap.

Nutrition is by far one of the most important pillars of health, because it effects every single thing that occurs in your body.  Giving your body the proper ingredients to run efficiently should be a priority.  Many people underestimate how much food affects their overall health.  I have seem numerous conditions resolve just by helping someone figure out the best ways to eat.  While this seems over-simplistic, it proves to be true every time.  If we just would have listened to Hippocrates we probably wouldn’t have so many prevalent, chronic health conditions in our society.  Start treating your food as medicine and watch your health soar!