Sleep and the AIP – My tips from the trenches
YOU COULD BE EATING THE BEST DIET IN THE WORLD. YOU MAY BE A NINJA ABOUT STRESS MANAGEMENT. YOU MIGHT EVEN REGULARLY GET JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF EXERCISE (NOT TOO LITTLE AND NOT TOO MUCH). BUT IF YOU AREN’T GETTING ENOUGH QUALITY AND QUANTITY SLEEP IT COULD PLAY HAVOC WITH YOUR HEALTH.
When I was younger, I slept like the dead.
Now, not quite so much. Although I am so much better at this sleep caper than when I first started my AIP way of life. Back then, my sleep was seriously compromised. And, I had no idea how bad it was until I started paying my sleep caper more attention. And actually working on it.
About 15 years ago, I had a home invasion which involved waking up to find three men in balaclavas in my living room. Fortunately, they were more interested in my wallet and laptop than in me, but it affected my ability to sleep for a long time. In a massive way.
For a number of years, I woke at the first unusual sound. And, that wasn’t good.
I know that you are well aware the AIP is about so more than just the eating bit. There are a number of other factors that need to be addressed while you are living an AIP way of life. And if you fail to address these, you’re kind of missing the point of the whole thing – which is to heal your gut, regulate your hormones, and hopefully improve your autoimmune symptoms by identifying any food triggers.
For AIPERS, getting a handle on sleep can be one of the more challenging aspects of the AIP. And it is arguably one of the most important.
Studies that evaluate the physiological changes caused by not sleeping or even not getting enough sleep have shown just how critically important sleep is. And for those of us with autoimmune issues, it is especially critical. Sleep plays a crucial role in managing inflammation, stimulating the immune system, and regulating hormones – all of which are problems when the immune system is compromised.
And, even if you don’t have any autoimmune issues, while it may seem like losing sleep isn’t such a big deal, sleep deprivation has a huge range of negative effects that go way beyond feeling a little tired. Lack of sleep affects your judgement, coordination, and reaction times. It can also affect your waistline. There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness (ghrelin and leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin levels go up – which stimulates your appetite, and your leptin levels go down – so you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave.
As a Kiwi living in hot and humid Sydney, one of my issues is that I find it hard to sleep when it’s too hot. I still struggle with this.
And early in my AIP caper, when I got to sleep I’d have trouble staying asleep. I’d wake up for whatever reason and have difficulty dropping off again. My brain likes talking to me, especially in the wee hours. About all sorts of things. Most of these things can wait until daylight, but my brain didn’t seem to get that bit for the longest time.
So, I have made a few changes in my ‘sleep department.’ These are things I have successfully implemented to increase the quantity of time I am asleep and also to improve the quality of my sleep.
Tips from the trenches
If you ask Dr Google for advice on how to get better sleep, you’ll have bazillions of options. But, as with most things AIP-related, knowing isn’t doing. So, I’m sharing some of the things that have worked for me. Because when you see how simple some of them are, you may like to try them.
1. Develop an evening ritual
The thing about any ritual is that it lets your brain settle down. There’s comfort in the familiarity of a routine – and when it comes to sleep, this is key.
A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful message to your brain that it’s time to slow down and let go of the day’s ‘stuff’. Early in my health caper, I implemented what I affectionately refer to as ‘operation sleepy time’. It was the pre-curser to my evening ritual.
Establish a regular bedtime – If I had to name the one thing that has helped my sleep, having a regular bedtime and sticking to it is it. I am unashamedly a complete nana about my bedtime. My sleep is sacred. At 9.30 pm, I head to bed. And my lights are out before 10 pm. Yes – even on the weekend.
Now, I’m not saying you need to go to bed at 9.30 pm. Necessarily. To be honest, it kind of depends on when you get up in the morning. Have a look at this handy wee infograph for all the deets on how to go about setting your bedtime –>
Reduce blue light – You want to send a clear message to your brain that sleepytime is approaching. Way back in the olden days, pre-electricity even, this was easy. The sun went down, there wasn’t much to do. Candle-light may be romantic, but not very practical for doing much other than star-gazing or relaxing.
Now, we’re surrounded by technology. So turn down the lights.
- got dimmer switches on your lights? Use them
- create a ritual of turning off your devices at least an hour before bed (make it part of your evening routine)
- Did you know that you can set a ‘downtime’ on your iPhone? You can limit your contacts and apps available during this time
- Go into your iPhone settings. Now, go into Screentime. Set a Downtime that works for you. My apps are now greyed out from 8.30 pm to 7 am. It’s great – and it’s a very visual reminder to switch off.
- While you’re there if you need to, set some App Limits. If you choose to limit yourself to an hour on Instagram, this will remind you you have 5 minutes left. You’ll be amazed at how much time you save with this simple tool. What if you do something mindful for yourself instead?
- Consider some amber-tinted glasses – if you don’t have dimmer switches, or you absolutely have to be on your device at night, invest in some amber-tinted glasses. They may not be sexy, but they definitely help in sending your brain the right message.
Calm your fajizzle down – ‘Calm the fajizzle down’ is my term for calming the f*ck down. Because I needed sn expression that encompassed the need to turn down the volume on ALL the noise that my brain experiences – both externally and internally. The idea of calming your fajizzle will look different to mine.
For me, it means:
- Choosing not to watch the news of the day immediately before bedtime (It inevitably gets me worked up.)
- A preference for non-violent dramas and ‘lighter’ fare on the gogglebox – especially in the hour before bed, or reading
- Setting myself up for sleepytime success with my evening ritual and eating at least 3 hours before bed.
2. Make Your Bedroom the ultimate sleepytime place
When I facilitate AIP Reset, I’m fond of saying that your bed should only be used for two things – sleep and special cuddles. I *might* stretch that to include a third thing – reading. But that’s it. If you still have a television in your bedroom, well – that’s the first thing that should go. I mean it. No excuses. That television is a stimulant and an anti-sleep contraption!
It should be cool – Sleeping in a cooler room not only improves the quality of your sleep, but it can also get you nodding off faster. Your body temperature naturally drops before sleep. When your bedroom temperature is lower – ideally around 18°C /64°F – you’re reinforcing your body’s natural instinct to sleep.
Make your bedroom quiet and dark – I live in an apartment on a reasonably busy road and my bedroom faces the street. I love my white noise app for covering up annoying traffic noise. It works by tricking my brain into thinking I’m slumbering near the ocean with the waves crashing (at a volume I choose) on the shore.
Similarly, my often replaced, cheap-as-chips silk eye mask helps to completely blackout any light. This ensures I maximise my asleep time.
3. Create a morning ritual
You know how much I love me a morning ritual! But, you may well ask, “What you talking ’bout, Willis?” How can a morning ritual help improve your sleep? Well, Arnold – it’s all about light exposure.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by your body’s exposure to light. It is this that helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. In theory, your brain should secrete more melatonin in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s lighter. So many aspects of our everyday modern life can disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin. You want to give yourself every opportunity to regulate this helpful hormone.
Going for an early morning walk as part of my morning ritual jump-starts my ‘awake’ cycle. I make a point of going for an early morning walk. First thing.
And the benefits are two-fold:
First, walking directly into the rising sun helps to regulate my Circadian rhythms. These are the physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow my natural daily cycle and they respond primarily to the light and darkness in my environment.
Second, you already know that regular movement is good for you. Studies show that exercise impacts your sleep quality by raising your body temperature a few degrees. As your internal thermostat drops back to its normal range, it triggers feelings of drowsiness and helps you drop off to sleep a little more easily. Exercising outdoors exposes you to natural light – another important factor in helping your body establish a good sleep-wake cycle.
Have I convinced you to work on that morning ritual of yours?