If you care about the finer points of human health, functional endocrinology, maximal performance, and sleep science then keep reading.
If not, you can bury your head in the sand and continue to pretend that IIFYM, 5x5, and Fitbits are the solution to all the world’s health and fitness problems.
Either way, I’m here to help you think critically. But, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to take the road less traveled…
1. Altered Circadian Rhythms
When was the last time you went to bed before 10pm? High school?
Everyone wants to jump on the “I’m an adult, I can do what I want!” train but then they can’t seem to figure out why their health suffers and they lack energy 24/7. Listen, I’m not here to play the role of an overzealous helicopter parent, you’ve got to live your life as you see fit.
However, have you ever considered that perhaps there is much more to good sleep than simply going to bed and waking up after 8 hours?
Most notably, you have a wonderful biological clock which runs effortlessly in the background and provides your internal systems with structural integrity and rhythm. It is primarily driven by the influence of light and secretes two main hormones (melatonin and cortisol) depending upon the time of day coupled with the wavelength and intensity of light.
If you work under fluorescent lights during the day or blast yourself with blue light at night (e.g. any electronic screen), you can effortlessly jack up your circadian rhythms seemingly overnight. This can lead to autonomic dysregulation, altered immune system responses, impaired tissue turnover, and a whole host of other issues.
Don’t lie, you’re probably reading this article on your phone in bed before you go to sleep. Smash your retinas with crappy light long enough and you’ll end up in an endless sympathetic cycle that’s tough to break.
How do you mitigate the issue?
Get sunlight on your skin for at least 20-30 minutes daily.
- The earlier, the better.
- As your tolerance improves (aka you get tan), slowly increase duration.
Buy blue blockers.
- Remember those “dumb” glasses I talked about in Sleep Science: Nature's Most Effective Performance Enhancer? You should get some.
- These, these, or these are all excellent options.
Turns out they work really, really well. A recent study showed blue blockers can increase melatonin secretion by nearly SIXTY percent in only two weeks.1
- However, do note that subjects wore the glasses for 3-5 hours each night. So, don’t try to convince yourself that you’ll magically fix your diurnal hormonal secretions by popping these bad boys on for 10 minutes while scrolling through the ‘gram on a Friday night.
Avoid social media in the evenings.
In case you missed it, this study just recently dropped, “Social Media Use before Bed and Sleep Disturbance among Young Adults in the United States: A Nationally-Representative Study”
- “SM use in the 30 minutes before bed is independently associated with disturbed sleep among young adults.”2
- In case you missed it, this study just recently dropped, “Social Media Use before Bed and Sleep Disturbance among Young Adults in the United States: A Nationally-Representative Study”
Surprising? Not even slightly. Social media is the new late night television. Trust me bro, your ex still doesn’t care and sliding into her DMs won’t help anything. Just relax and go to bed.
“If you wouldn’t get up early to do it, you shouldn’t stay up late to do it. If it’s important enough, you’d do either, so get after it. But how many people would wake up an hour early to watch a TV show before they start their day?” – Kirk Parsley
Americans love data and metrics.
How many steps did I take today?
How many minutes did I sleep last night?
How many Game of Thrones episodes are left?
How many calories are in this Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato?
Honestly, I have no idea what that is but it sounds like a highly-caffeinated blood sugar bomb sooo…a lot?
Needless to say, numbers can create a minefield of analytical paralysis. We want progress. We must get better. We need to feel important.
However, have you ever stopped to consider what this incessant insufficiency fuels? Perhaps one could argue an increased desire for improvement. But, more often than not, I’d say it breeds inadequacy. This in and of itself drives a sympathetic, emotional rollercoaster fueled by data, graphs, and endless excel sheets.
Most would agree, stress is deleterious in a chronic sense and should be mitigated whenever possible. But, what happens in a world without stress?
Adaptation requires stress. Stress serves a purpose. Allostatic load shifts homeostasis and as a result, your body changes its chemical and cellular makeup in order to survive. A world without stress breeds fragility and weakness.
So perhaps the question is not, how can we completely eliminate stress? The real question is, how can we deal with it?
- Start with Headspace or Calm.
Crush 10 minutes every day.
- As soon as you wake up OR right before you go to sleep. If you don’t, odds are, it won’t get done.
Don’t like either of those? Cool, that’s fine.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Lay down, close your eyes, and count your breaths.
- When you get to 10, repeat.
- Simply relax for 10 minutes and pay attention to your body without any distractions.
Get off your phone.
I challenge you to go for a 30-45 minute walk daily without your phone.
- Turn off iOS completely and pay attention to your surroundings: sights, sounds, smells, terrain, textures, colors, etc.
- No Spotify.
- No Instagram.
- No Bumble.
- No iMessage.
- Get comfortable with yourself and the environment around you.
- I challenge you to go for a 30-45 minute walk daily without your phone.
Choose your training stimulus carefully.
- “Training load is the difference between a blister and a callous. Too much too soon and you get pain and injury, but little and often and you get resilient tissue.” – Kris Borthwick
- Choose your training stimulus carefully.
“To better manage stress, we must train. Training is a progressive desensitization of threatening input to allow an athlete to perform at adaptive potential with optimal variability and without fatigue. The higher the performance level required, the more difficult it becomes to get neutral.
This is what happens during functional overreaching. You gain higher performance output during this timeframe because the sympathetic nervous system and HPA axis are on overdrive.” – Zac Cupples
3. Ignoring Intuitive Signals
In 2016, the wearable technology company Jawbone compiled more than 1.4 million data points on sleep from tens of thousands of college students.
Interestingly enough (though not surprising), most college males weren’t getting to bed until 1am on weeknights. Females weren’t much better as they clocked out around 12:30pm. Weekends were even worse as both parties shifted their normal bed times almost an hour later.3
It seems that despite the large amount of technology and data afforded to the user, there is still a very clear disconnect. I can lecture on the influence of circadian rhythms on diurnal hormone variations, glycemic control, and immune system function all day. But, it’s quite clear that the message isn’t getting through.
Is this sheer ignorance or are we merely distracted by such a wide variety of time consuming, visual stimuli that we lose touch with our personal intuition? Has social media become such a large construct in our lives that we can’t pull away long enough to realize that we’re actually tired and we should go to bed?
Intuition begins with awareness. But awareness must grow through a conscious decision to reflect and interact with our environment. Here’s a few simple ways to start:
Don’t eat your meals in front of a screen.
- Get outside, enjoy the weather and get some sunshine.
- Eat with others whenever possible, find your tribe.
- Focus on your food. Learn to truly savor and appreciate the flavors, textures, and colors that are presented to your palate.
Don’t disassociate your environment from physiological symptoms.
- Constantly struggling with heartburn or indigestion? Maybe it’s time to take a look at when, where, and how you’re eating your meals. Breath slowly, chew thoroughly, and take some time for yourself.
- Environment includes both physical and psychological components. Stress can be actual or perceived. Interpret wisely.
Take note of your digestion both during and after meals.
- GI symptoms don’t just randomly pop up. Bloating, flatulence, stool irregularity, etc. are normally part of a much larger puzzle. Dig deep.
Old Habits Die Hard
Have you noticed the trend yet? Each habit builds upon the next, they are simplistically synergistic by nature. However, they are only as effective as you allow them to be.
Remember, priorities take precedence and action reveals intention.
Think critically, challenge everything.