The Cheapest Health Hack, Part 1

Magic Pill.jpg

By Coach KB

How much would you pay for a magic pill that:

  • Made you smarter, more creative, more decisive, and more productive?
  • Improved your memory, your physical health and strength, and boosted your immune system?
  • Gave you more energy, balanced your hormones, and curbed your food cravings?

Would you pay even more knowing that NOT taking it could result in:

  • Increased stress, depression, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings?
  • Weight gain, disease, high blood pressure, infertility, and physical clumsiness?
  • Lack of impulse control, motivation, and memory?

What if you your insurance covered this pill for the rest of your life FOR FREE? Raise your hand if you would take it!

I will assume that all of you raised your hands. There is just a tiny hitch, though, that might change your minds (why is there always a hitch?!!)...

What if I told you that in order for the pill to work you had to spend a little time outside throughout the day and you couldn’t check your email or scroll through Facebook or Instagram, or watch your favorite show at night? Would you still take it? It seems like a no-brainer but if you honestly reflect on your lifestyle, would it be logistically possible to fit in at least 60 minutes outdoors (ideally more) during the day - regardless of the weather - and would it be possible to shut off all screens in the evening? Think back to the lists above… Would you do it?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the magic pill is (quality) sleep. The word quality is emphasized here for good reason. Many of us allot enough time for sleep at night but wake up often or early or just never feel fully rested because our bodies don’t go through the appropriate sleep cycles when we are sleeping. So let’s just assume that you all allot at least seven hours for sleep (eight or nine is better but I’ll give you the minimum… and don’t even start with the argument that you are special and only need five). Given that we have all committed to ENOUGH sleep, I will outline here three of the most important factors and some lifestyle hacks for each to getting the magic-pill benefits of QUALITY sleep:

  1. RESET YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM:

The term “Circadian” comes from the Latin Circa, meaning “around” and diem, meaning “day.” The Rhythm part comes from the typical habits that occur each day around the same time. Plants, animals, fungi, and even some bacteria have natural Circadian Rhythms. The word natural here should not be overlooked; each species has its inherent cycle that dictates waking and sleeping hours; some creatures need more and some less; some are nocturnal and some are diurnal (and others crepuscular, matutinal, or vespertine). Like it or not, humans are diurnal, which means we are wired to be active during the day and sleep at night.

You see, exposure to light (or lack thereof) affects the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. The simple explanation is that light exposure suppresses melatonin production and darkness encourages it. It’s crazy that light would be enough to drive our hormones, but think about it: Evolutionarily, humans had constant light exposure and activity when we lived outside. When it got dark, we went to sleep, or maybe hung out by the fire for a bit and then went to sleep. Then we started all over when the sun came up. If that was our cycle for millions of years before the invention of the lightbulb just 142 years ago, then it is pretty safe to say that our bodies are pretty well regulated this way.

The type of light is important. Although the sun appears yellow-orange, most of the sunlight we receive is blue light. Fun Fact: The short wavelengths of light (the blue ones) from the sun are scattered by the atmosphere and the longer ones (the yellow and red ones) are left behind. This is why the sky appears to be blue! Since most of us spend the majority of time indoors now, we developed lightbulbs that emit blue light to mimic sunlight. Compact fluorescent and LED bulbs have even more blue light than regular incandescent lightbulbs.

It is likely that after the sun goes down you keep the lights on in your house so you can see what you are doing and keep being productive until you decide to go to sleep. Even if you turn the lights off it is likely that you are watching TV or on the computer or checking your phone. Bad news - all screens emit blue light. Even if you are one of the “enlightened” people (see what I did there?!) that doesn’t have a TV or Facebook account, my guess is you are reading your latest biography under a lamp that emits blue light.

All of this light exposure disrupts your body’s natural urge to go to bed when the sun has set because, as we learned before, the blue light suppresses your melatonin production. If you find yourself saying, “I want to go to bed earlier but I’m just not tired yet,” blue light might be the culprit. If you have become accustomed to staying up late (excluding people who work night shifts) or you just generally feel like you aren’t well rested after sleep, you might benefit from experimenting with a few of these life-hacks to help reset your Circadian Rhythm and get quality sleep that will contribute to your health and happiness.

  • First and foremost, take regular outside breaks for natural light exposure and activity. It seems crazy, but smokers actually have the right idea here. If you are inside all day for work, and especially if you don’t have the luxury of a window by your workstation, take a break every couple hours to go outside and walk around the block. Hopefully you are entitled to breaks, but if not, surely no one will notice if you are gone for just 5 minutes… if they ask just tell them you were pooping and see if they keep asking.
     
  • Install f.lux on your computer if you “must” use it after sunset. This is a filter that blocks some of the blue light that your screen emits; you can set it to turn on and off at designated times or it can automatically adjust based on the sunset and sunrise in your region. Most smartphones also have a blue light filter that operates similarly to f.lux.
     
  • If you want to take your commitment to the next level I highly recommend buying (and actually wearing!) a pair of blue light blocking glasses at night when you are home. Let’s get real - we all know it is unrealistic to live by candlelight. Using these glasses helps trick your pineal gland into thinking the blue light is gone for the day and it is time to produce melatonin. These are especially good in addition to f.lux because, while f.lux helps with your screens, it doesn’t block the blue light from your lightbulbs. This is an easy (and admittedly nerdy) solution. The Uvex brand is cheapest (currently $9.00 on Amazon), but has been tested to block the most blue light. The Gamma Ray glasses (pictured) are slightly more expensive (currently $14.99) but are more fashionable if you have company or want to wear them out of the house. I personally use and love both. There are many more expensive options but, given there is no way around these looking supremely dorky, save your pennies for something cooler.
     
  • Make sure your bedroom is completely dark when you sleep and invest in blackout curtains or just hang some dark sheets over the windows if light gets through your blinds right now. Much like our eyes, our skin also has photoreceptors so even if we wear an eye mask to block out light, our skin can also sense it, leading to sleep disruption. If you use an alarm clock, point it away from you, especially if the numbers glow blue or green.

We’ll start with those four tricks in terms of ease and efficacy. Here is a list of other lifestyle hacks you can incorporate to maximize your sleep success:

  • Be sure to exercise and use your brain during the day to ensure your body is tired and in need of rest each night. As you might deduce, evening activity and mental stimulation can negatively affect sleep so avoid exercising and calculus right before bed.
  • Have a bedtime routine that gives the body additional signals that sleep is coming. This includes going to bed around the same time each night.
  • Turn your heat down as the evening goes on. We sleep much better in a cool room, ideally 60-65 degrees.
  • Finally, there are two other factors that play a huge role in sleep. If you take all the steps I listed to reset your Circadian Rhythm and you are still not sleeping, it is likely one or both of these is the culprit. I will address them in Parts 2 and 3 of this series so stay tuned to find out what they are!

    Until then, comment with the tips you are going to try and report back! Bonus points if you snap a selfie in your sweet Uvex or Gamma Ray glasses and tag us on Instagram @point_gym_kitchen.