What about sleep?
May 22, 2011 3 Comments
Travis Schefcik of Uncommon Wellness, asked me what I do to get good sleep. I began to answer, but I realized this is a huge topic for me, and warranted more than just a couple of sentences. It’s my chance to speak up for all the unsung non-nine-to-fivers out there. Maybe I can reassure some of you that this is indeed a manageable issue.
When I started my Paleo journey, I read Robb Wolf’s Paleo Soloution book. It had some interesting points in it, but his chapter on sleep hit a little hard. Things like shiftwork and sleep deprivation will give you cancer, your biorhythms and endocrine secretion will be permanently impaired, and if you don’t commit to a regular sleep routine, your chances for success are pretty much nil. He implies that one should find other employment rather than put ones body under such dire stress. I felt deflated after reading this. I have worked “day shift” for only 2 years out of 24 years of employment. It has always been nights or swings. Currently, I work 48 hour call. I love my job and there is no way I’m going to quit just because some guy says its killing me. Was I about to exchange job satisfaction for a life of continued fatness and increased cortisol levels?
Due to my cynical nature, I decided to move forward. I have a secret belief that many of these sleep manifestos have been written by people who have never experienced a night shift lifestyle.For every stack of scientific data that supports an idea, there are 10 more stacks that discount it. There are many studies to support alternative sleep patterns.I have done night shift all my life, and know plenty of dynamic, healthy, well adjusted, professional people on these shifts that by all accounts seem to be thriving. We are not all moon-faced, sluggish, pill-popping zombies. What gives? I chose to look inward, identify unhealthy sleep habits, determine how they got that way, and chart a course for improvement. Here are some things I have learned. Strangely, they are very similar to the things I learned when it came to eating Paleo…
1. Prioritize at all costs.
I have given sleep the image of a newborn baby girl. Helpless, pink, and smelling of preciousness and hope. When I know it is time to sleep, there is no negotiation. Who would dare rob me of attending to this helpless infant? How can their needs come before hers? What kind of person would I be to neglect her?
2. Combat fatigue with….sleep.
Go figure. I have spent most of my night-shift life combating my fatigue with snacks, sugar, carbs, and caffeine. Now, when I’m thick and stupid with fatigue, I take a little nap. Just a little one. 20-30 minutes. In case you think you will get fired for sleeping on your break, this is not true. Your break is your time. They may be a little testy about you sleeping in the breakroom, so I solve this by perfecting the car nap. I have my neck pillow, blanket and earplugs. 20-30 minutes is better than gallons of caffeine. Wake up, drink a large glass of water and take a couple of laps around the building or up and down the stairs. You will be amazed at how good this feels. Better than doughnuts. Better than Red Bull.
3. Watch the caffeine
In my Paleo journey, I have found that using caffeine as a wake up is the most useful. That’s it. Right when I wake up. If I use it to try to STAY awake, it just doesn’t take. I end up being fatigued, but with the shakes and a heart rate of 140. Then I’m not able to sleep when it is time, which means I’m neglecting my fragile little baby. Caffeine will not take priority over my tiny perfect girl.
I used to function on the “sleep tank” idea. I would wake up naturally, then not get up. I would sleep a couple more hours thinking I was filling my tank. Then, when I was exhausted, I wouldn’t sleep, because I knew I had a positive balance in the tank and I was just being a whiner by feeling tired. I have decided that this is not true. In the spirit of being mindful, there is only NOW. You can’t bank sleep. It either is or isn’t. You are either tired or not. Listen to your body. Listen to the cries of that little baby that needs you. Sleep when you’re tired, wake up when you’re done. Don’t force it either way.
There are a multitude of times when I do need to pre-sleep. For example: I get informed at 4pm that I will need to be at work at 8pm, but I have been up since 6am. Nap on demand? I’m not really tired. I don’t spontaneously fall asleep at 4pm ever. So I give myself an hour, go into a darkened room, put in my earplugs, close my eyes and just slowly breathe in and out. I force myself to relax every muscle from the top of my head and work all the way down to my toes. It sounds like BS, I know. But it really works. The sweet little baby thrives on the attention. And sometimes I actually do doze off.
I would be interested in feedback from Paleo night-shifters. Anyone have other suggestions? We are not all doomed. I believe a Paleo lifestyle can fit into non-traditional schedules despite Robb Wolf’s findings!