We’re in the midst of an epidemic and it’s gradually killing us.
One of the biggest contributors to overall health has little to do with how well you adhere to “eating every color in the rainbow,” how many acres of pasture the meat you eat has roamed on, how dedicated you are to your fitness regimen, how many steps you take throughout a day, the number of hours you don’t spend sitting at your desk, or even the amount of time you spend practicing gratitude. Yes, all those factors are indeed important components of a well-rounded approach to optimal health and wellness — but each of them would amount to little if you are not consistently getting deep, restorative sleep.
Boomer Anderson is creator and podcast host at Decoding Superhuman, which uses performance analysis, behavior change, and technology to help clients optimize their health. After nine years in the investment banking industry, Boomer left his successful career to pursue his obsession with maximizing performance. Unsatisfied with broad health generalizations, Boomer developed the Decoding Superhuman methodology to provide an individualized approach to performance backed by science and data.
What are circadian rhythms and why are they so important?
We fall asleep due to the gifts of the pineal gland, a small ant-sized lobe near the middle of our skull in the interbrain. Following our circadian rhythm, the pineal gland secretes a neurotransmitter and hormone called melatonin. Melatonin suppresses the activity of other neurotransmitters and helps to calm the brain (in part by countering the stress hormone cortisol from our adrenal gland). And as we become drowsier, the brain slowly begins to turn off our voluntary skeletal muscle functions, so we do not move around too much and try to act out our dreams or disrupt the body’s internal revitalization work. (Note this is also why it is so hard to move your limbs or shout out in response to a nightmare.) For ideal sleep, melatonin should be rising steadily, and cortisol should be rock-bottom low at bedtime. But there is a catch: the pineal gland secretes melatonin largely in response to darkness. And our evening cortisol levels are lowest in environments with low noise. With our addictions to TV, video games, and email in the evening, however, our choices can get in the way of these natural pro-sleep chemical shifts.
How do you train yourself for better sleep?
The first thing you want to do to regulate your sleep rhythm is get your light cues on track. In the morning try to give yourself exposure to blue light, ideally sunlight. This helps raise cortisol in the morning and get your body into a logarithmic curve. Meditating during the morning can also help you to regulate stress for the rest of your day. Your evening routine is also incredibly important. Look at your light and make sure you are transitioning into mostly red light in the evening. Ease into less stressful activities such as a casual TV show and then a book — avoid thrillers, though. Set up a good sleep environment and keep electronics out of the bedroom.
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Disclaimer: The activities and research discussed in these podcasts are suggestions only and are only advised to be undertaken following prior consultation with a health or medical professional. Fitness training, nutrition, and other physical pursuits should be tailored to the individual based upon an assessment of their personal needs.