GET SMART SLEEP WELL
Originally posted on the MYZA-UK website, the UK’s leading online platform for luxury sleep-promoting products and advice.
DETOX, THE NON-DEBUNKABLE
It’s good to start this conversation with a little break down of what the detox process is, and to immediately debunk the idea that it’s a fad or diet. It’s not, detox is simply the combination of real biological processes that our body’s do all day every day (and even more so when we sleep) to keep us alive. Our bodies are detox machines. We take in food, then eliminate the unwanted. We Inhale air, then exhale the unwanted, it’s the never-ending cycle of life; this process of absorption, uptake and subsequent elimination. So when I refer to ‘a detox programme’, I am speaking of the way I personally approach detox and my detox protocols which is to assist the detox systems already in place, the ones working away in your body right now. This means that each organ, each metabolic process gets the overdue attention it deserves. This is done by eliminating the disruptors, toning up the functionality and giving extra support and time to self-regulate and self-heal.
THE FEEDBACK LOOP
When looking at poor sleep quality, brain fog or any other imbalance in the body, it’s helpful to think of the body functioning on either a positive or negative feedback loop. So with the positive feedback loop, something like…better food choices > better functioning digestion > better nutrient uptake > better detoxification processes > better elimination > better mood > deeper, more restorative sleep > more productive days > better food choices and so on. The positive feedback loop is really hundreds of thousands of processes long, right down to our mitochondria.
And then, of course, the negative feedback loop (slightly more familiar for most of us) looks something like…poor food choices > slower digestion > weak nutritional uptake > low energy/energy crashes > brain fog > the stress response > carb/sugar cravings > cortisol surges > adrenal fatigue > more poor food choices > tired but poor sleep quality > low mood and so on. You know, it’s very very hard to have a productive day if you’ve had a bad night sleep and it’s very very hard to make good food choices if you’re stressed or depressed. And equally, and slightly more dauntingly, this negative feedback loop can also be unpacked into thousands of biological processes.
When there is a break in the positive feedback loop, many if not all components suffer.
So if you’re not running on a positive feedback loop and are wanting to remedy any bodily imbalance and find more wellness, then you have to come in from somewhere. But where do you come in from? It is my belief, and that of many, that the detox process is the best way in. This is because a bonafide detox protocol will tune, tone up and replenish all of the processes involved in the feedback loop, restoring homeostasis.
I want to now highlight some of the things I have discovered about how the detox process relates directly to both sleep quality and waking-time cognition. It’s important to understand though that if there is a break in the feedback loop and what is showing up symptomatically is brain fog or disrupted sleep the best approach is a full feedback loop reset. AKA the holistic health approach to wellbeing which is accomplished with a full body detox. You always start there.
CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS + FASTING
Our circadian rhythm, known as the ‘body clock’ is the internal clock that cues us when to sleep, wake up, eat and presides over everything from our mood, body temperature, enzymes, hormones and pretty much all components of homeostasis. It does this via a 24-hour cycle and by coordinating our bodily functions with our environment.
So maybe the paradigm shift is not to simply address poor sleep, but instead go wider in the approach and go directly to the motherboard: your circadian rhythm. Even though the circadian rhythm comes from within, it can be altered from external cues that you can control such as light exposure and the fasting-feeding cycle. If you are not sleeping properly you should consider two things:
YOU CAN INFLUENCE YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM BY CHANGING YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL CUES FOR SLEEP
- Spend time in natural light as early in the day as possible, so a short walk outside as soon as you wake up, as long as there is daylight.
- Use candlelight in the evenings for meals and baths or even read by candlelight if you can. This cues the circadian rhythm for the end of the day and prepares for sleep
- Reducing all exposure to blue light after 6 pm. Blue light (the light emitted from the scene you’re reading this from) is one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths and known circadian rhythm disruptors
- Install apps like lux to bring warm soothing light to your screens
- Invest in blackout blinds and sleep in a dark room
- Use red light bulbs in the bedroom, red light has the least ability to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin
EXPERIMENT WITH FASTING
Fasting is maybe the most accessible of all detox practices and when done correctly, the most effective. Eating requires a lot from our bodies, the entire process of digestion from start to finish is extremely detailed and involves thousands of processes and responses. Fasting provides a period of physiological rest during which time the body can devote all self-healing mechanisms to repairing and strengthening biological functions and damaged organs.
There are many different approaches to fasting: Intermittent fasting, water fasting, extended fasting, spiritual fasting and many more.
In my opinion, the best way to use fasting for the purpose of better sleep is Time Restricted Eating (TRE) which is just a way of saying more time between meals by altering the fasting-feeding cycle. The fasting-feeding cycle refers to the number of hours in a 24-hour period where you are consuming food (feeding) and the number of hours in a 24-hour period where you are not consuming food (fasting). Once your body has digested the last meal, this cues the body to prepare to shut down for the night. When we change the feeding-fasting pattern, this external cue can greatly influence the circadian rhythm and sleep. Some believe this is because our circadian rhythms shift to match food availability: an ancestral genetic trait brought forth from our hunter-gatherer days.
So Time Restricted Eating for most people falls under the 16:8 breakdown meaning 16 hours of fasting and then 8 hours of feeding, where food can be consumed. To make your schedule for TRE, simply decide how late can you comfortably wait until breakfast and then subtract 16 hours, which is your last meal of the day. For example, if you wake up hungry and can only wait until 8:00 am for your breakfast, you must be finished your dinner by 4:00 pm to complete the 8-hour eating cycle. From 4:00 pm to 8:00 am the following morning (16 hours) you fast. So no food, but certainly you keep your liquid intake up. And as another example, if you can wait until 11:00 am for breakfast, you must finish your last meal by 7:00 pm, 8 hours later.
Eating dinner early and at the same time, every night is good for our digestive system, all detoxification systems and resetting circadian rhythms. Remember when doctors were telling everyone to not eat after 6:00 pm? Well, it’s now slightly more structured and called Time-Restricted Eating.
The title here said experiment and that is key. This is so personal and you will need to experiment to see how you feel, but absolutely it’s worth a try because improved sleep is just the beginning of the benefits for the body when it comes to periodic fasting. For more motivation, just google ‘Eat less live longer’.
FASTING AND COGNITION
The way fasting affects cognition is blatantly obvious to anyone who has ever fasted for several days. There is a very specific period of time during a fast when you can bask in a state of heightened mental clarity, more focus and greater receptivity. You just feel clear, like you can speak better, write better and listen better. For me, and for many, this is the holy grail, the ultimate achievement: a total bliss state. BRAIN ALIVE- AMEN! It’s so nice to be smarter, even if it’s not permanent.
I have had countless clients contact me during this exciting period saying things like “wow, I just got so much done, what’s going on?” Or “I feel so clear and open like I’m on plant drugs, what is in these?” and my most favourite all time comment was while on retreat when a lovely guest told me she felt like she was ‘on ecstasy’. I get it, it’s wonderful to feel your brain, fully optimized.
THE EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE
Think back to the last time you ate a huge meal (Christmas as a great example) or just completely overdid it. Did you feel mentally alert? Or did you feel sleepy and a little dopey and might only be capable of watching a rom-com? When we overeat, blood is sent to the digestive system to cope with the huge influx of food, leaving less blood going to the brain resulting in a “food coma”.
When we humans were hunter-gatherers, for more than fifty thousand years or so, before the industrial revolution, we functioned exactly this way; feast and famine. When there is no food, the body switches into hunter-mode, needing all its faculties to hunt and kill animals and forage edible plants in lush forests filled with predators, this was not passive work, these were our ‘do or die’ days. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense your brain should be functioning well when you haven’t been able to obtain food for a while. Many believe this is why neuron growth and cognition is boosted during a fast.
It’s important to recognize that scientific studies and cited research papers on the effects of fasting on cognition is somewhat limited as there is no real money to be made from the healing modality of fasting, and therefore very little money to fund the research. That said, Mark Mattson, a professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins has written, spoken and Ted-talked a lot on the topic of fasting and its effects on the brain and is leading the conversation in this arena. Some highlights from his work:
⠀‘Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and your brain responds to that challenge by adapting stress response pathways that help your brain COPE WITH STRESS and disease risk’.
‘Fasting increases the production of protein in the brain (neurotrophic factors), which in turn promotes the growth of neurons, the connection between neurons, and the strength of synapses.’ (Meaning THE WIRES FIRE BETTER).
‘Fasting can stimulate the production of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus’.
‘Fasting increases the number of mitochondria in nerve cells…improving learning and memory ability’.
‘Fasting enhances the ability of nerve cells to repair DNA.
From my personal experience of guiding hundreds of people through liquid fasts, this blissful state usually hits on day-3. Many of my past participants, who were initially daunted by the thought of a 3-day foodless period call me on day-3 and say they don’t want to stop, that they don’t want to go back to being weighed down by food. For anyone who has to be constantly producing content or needs endless laser-sharp focus to do their job well or who wants to explore the idea of moving beyond lateral thinking, this is about as juicy as it gets.
Please get in touch to find out how I can assist you in experiencing the myriad benefits of fasting for yourself.