Evan Brand is a Nutritional Therapist and Personal Trainer specializing in whole-foods nutrition, blood sugar regulation, digestive health, cognitive enhancement and stress management.
Sleep issues and insomnia are epidemic. It doesn’t take statistics to figure this out. Just look at the grocery store shelves. There is a whole category of products geared towards “boosting energy”. Whether you’re talking about energy drinks, energy chews, energy bars, energy snacks or energy supplements, we’re clearly exhausted and fatigued. How did we end up this way?
I struggled with attaining quality sleep for over 5 years. It started while working third-shift at UPS to pay for college. The shift would start at midnight and usually end by 5 in the morning. Going to bed with the sunrise was a quite depressing and confusing experience to say the least. My energy levels were subpar, my depression was getting worse and I was numb to the normal world. Those that also worked third shift became my only attachment to some form of normal social interaction. They understood the struggles of living this way. But, just because working third-shift in college was popular, that doesn’t mean it’s normal.
Each day, the lack of quality sleep was making it harder to focus on the exams and it took more effort to get out of bed than the days prior. I was sleeping long enough, but it wasn’t at the right times. Like many hormones, our circadian rhythm runs on a 24 hour cycle. Any disruption or attempt to restructure this rhythm long-term leads to decreased immunity and proper hormone regulation.
Women participating in a seven-month weight-loss intervention study discovered that their amount of weight loss was directly correlated to the amount of times they woke through the night. Quantified as “sleep fragmentation”, the less the women woke, the more weight they loss. The more they woke, the less weight loss they had.
I wasn’t struggling with weight loss, but I couldn’t build muscle to save my life. My appetite was raging and no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t get satiated.
When you lack quality sleep, especially when your sleep duration is shortened, your appetite regulation hormones leptin and ghrelin go haywire. Sleeping 5 hours versus 8 hours has been proven to decrease leptin levels by over 15%. Leptin is the satiety hormone that helps to regulate fat stores. If you’re leptin resistant, or simply low on leptin, your weight loss efforts will be severely impaired.
The hunger hormone ghrelin was found to increase over 15% when subjects were sleeping 5 hours versus 8 hours. This study links the obesity epidemic in the western world to multiple factors including this sleep deficit along with the food intake that results from the hormonal disruption.
If you’re not sleeping long enough or well enough, you’re going to be hungrier and are more likely to binge on sugar and other foods that will add to the problem. This is just a fact!
Eventually I quit my night-shift job to pursue a day shift. My brain fog was immediately improved, my energy levels rose and my muscle building attempts began to work! Eventually I had to help others solve this program and I created one of the best-selling sleep guides in the Paleosphere called REM Rehab. It was created out of desperation to help others achieve the best sleep possible by creating an environment for success. The praise has been unreal.
Using MELT for better sleep
I love ayryonyms and am always trying to find a way to incorporate them into my health practice. When I offer 15 minute complimentary health consultations, I have a limited time to offer some quick-fix advice before sending clients on their way.
MELT is an acronym that stands for techniques I’ve used in my clients and personal sleep improvement journey.
Magnesium is a mineral with hundreds of metabolic roles in the body. Due to chronic stress, coffee and dietary deficiencies of magnesium from a lack of quality greens consumption or soil depletion, low magnesium levels are epidemic.
If you’re low in magnesium you can experience muscle cramps, fatigue, anxiety and poor sleep. There are hundreds of other symptoms, but these are the most common in my practice. Getting adequate magnesium levels is essential for attaining quality sleep as well.
A study noted that sleep deprivation itself could cause magnesium deficiencies from the stressful nature of it. The study went on to test 320mg of magnesium citrate supplementation in sleep deprived individuals and found that plasma magnesium levels did not increase in the 7 weeks of testing. They concluded that the link between magnesium and sleep quality needed more research.
In my own health practice I’ve discovered that attaining adequate levels of magnesium through magnesium lotion application, epsom salt baths and consuming more cooked, leafy green vegetables such as spinach can be extremely beneficial for overall health and especially sleep and sleep-related anxiety.
Listen up Mom. Just because you’re physical around the house with all of the chores doesn’t mean you’re going to experience better sleep. A study looked at mid-life women and found that consistently high levels of recreational physical activity, but not lifestyle or household-activity, is associated with better sleep.
So, although the chores may fall onto your shoulders, you still need the outdoor exercise and leisure time. Whether you’d like to take a walk, do yoga (Sarah talks about her love for yoga on my podcast), or Crossfit, the importance of an enjoyable exercise routine is paramount to your sanity and sleep success.
Cortisol is a hormone that is highly dependent on light exposure. A study found that exposing yourself to 800 lux, a measurement of light, could increase morning cortisol levels by 35%. Cortisol is supposed to be highest in the morning so that you have enough energy and drive to tackle the days tasks.
Expose yourself to bright light when you first wake up. This will reset and align your circadian rhythm which will help all other hormones downstream. If you live somewhere dark and dreary all the time, you can still benefit from the amount of light emitted on a cloudy day. If you just don’t want to go outside, you should consider using a light therapy box that emits 10,000 lux. Light therapy is one of the best ways to regulate your sleep/wake cycle and has even been found in a study to improve borderline personality disorder. I use this one.
The body adjusts temperature on a 24 cycle as well. We usually hit our lowest body temperature in the middle of the night, since melatonin levels play a role in temperature regulation. Something that you have more control over is the ambient temperature in your sleep environment. If your temperature is too low, or too high, your sleep quality is impaired. Finding a happy medium between what you and your spouse want can be a struggle, but you must help each other out here! It’s for your health!
A study looked at patients with sleep apnea and found that patients had better sleep efficiency and were more alert in the morning when the ambient temperature was 16˚C (60.8˚F) compared to 24˚C (75.2˚F). I think 60 is a little too cold and usually recommend my clients to keep their bedroom temperature anywhere from 66-72 degrees. Any more or less than that and I’ve heard reports of sleeplessness. Experiment with your thermostat and discover the optimal temperature for you!
Sleep is complex
Using MELT for better sleep is one of the most effective and easy protocols to implement. But, there’s much more to sleep that will have to be saved for another article. The importance of proper blood sugar regulation is another pillar of success that can be attained by continuing to follow a Paleo-style diet with enough quality fats and proteins to keep you satiated and stable throughout the night.
Of course, artificial light at night has been a huge topic on my podcast for the implications of disease and increased cancer risks caused from the suppression of melatonin.
The important thing to remember is that we have to focus on what we can control and let the other stuff go. Excessive worrying and rumination can be a roadblock to quality sleep. Your racing mind isn’t abnormal, but it can be problematic for many.
Taking a warm epsom salt bath and journaling out your thoughts can be a helpful way to reduce the mental chatter before you head to bed. You can also remove yourself from the computer at least 30 minutes before laying down too. The mental stimulation from social media and the internet itself is highly stimulating.
These are just a couple other avenues of action for you to take. But, I am highly confident that you’re on the path to achieving better sleep!
What has been most helpful for you? Let us know how the MELT protocol helps you. Comment below!