March 27, 2012.   Last week, I attended the Paleo FX in Austin, Texas. This was a conference for anyone who likes to geek out on paleo/primal nutrition and lifestyle. The single biggest take away for me actually had nothing to do with nutrition. It was the simple concept that we control our environment. We often ignore our circadian rhythms by hitting the gym for a 6am Spin Class and then stay up late to watch TV with all of the lights on in our homes.

Our ancestors got up with the sun and went to sleep when the sun set. They didn’t have the technology and luxury items like televisions and computers that take up so much of our financial resources and time. Many of us are walking around sleep deprived because we are too distracted to get to bed on time.

Sleep is the single most important component of optimal health. You can go for days without food but try going one day without sleep. Our mental faculties and motor coordination are noticeably impaired if we go without sleep for too long. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Lack of sleep is a form of stress and too much stress causes our cortisol levels to rise. Cortisol signals your fat cells to shift into storage mode. That spare tire around your middle is linked to the amount of stress in your life and the amount of good quality sleep you are getting. You can eat high quality food in the correct amounts for your body and activity level and you won’t be able to lose that excess body fat you are carrying around.

What can we do?

We control our environment so that means we can limit the amount of time we spend watching television and surfing the web at night. Stop doing stimulating activities at least 2 hours before climbing into bed. Stimulating activities are things like exercise, watching TV, surfing the web and snacking. Find other ways to relax like light stretching, taking a bath, reading a book or spending time with your family. Make sure your bedroom is completely dark and free of non-essential electronics.  Don’t put your cell phone on the night stand close to your head.  Your bedroom is for sleeping and sex only. Turn down your thermostat in the evening and dim your lights. Turn off your overhead lights at the very least. All of these things help signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep.

How much sleep do we need?

Everybody is different but experts in the field suggest 7-9 hours for an average adult. If you are under a lot of stress you might need more. If you are able to wake up in the morning without an alarm clock and feel rested, you have your number.

Now get out there and book a vacation and throw out your alarm clock. Be prepared to feel like a new person!

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