How to Hack Your Sleep

If you’ve ever had insomnia then you know the desperation of wanting to get some quality sleep.

Sleep can be an elusive, fickle friend if you aren’t familiar with the most basic reasons why our sleep cycles get disrupted so easily. In this post I’ll share some quick ideas that may help you determine why you’re unable to sleep and what you may want to try.

Check the infographic below for an easy-to-follow quick reference!

Workout Timing

Naturally, your cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and gradually taper-off by night time. If your cortisol is too high at bedtime, your melatonin production will be blocked. Not only will your melatonin production be blocked, but your body won’t be able to utilize melatonin taken exogenously in supplement form, either.

Working out raises your cortisol, temporarily. It takes a few hours after your workout for your cortisol levels to return to baseline. Therefore, try not to workout too close to bedtime. If you can’t wake up in time to workout before your day begins, try a lunchtime workout. Studies have shown that between 1:00 – 5:00 pm your coordination, endurance, and strength are at their peak, so lunch break or after work are both great times to get in your workout.

At the very least, try not to workout within 3 hours of bedtime.

Lack of Recovery

Elizabeth used to teach barre several times per week and attend barre classes on every off day. Elizabeth never had time to recover. Elizabeth’s adrenals were burned out from it. Elizabeth was dumb. Don’t be like Elizabeth.

You may think that just because your muscles aren’t unbearably sore that you’ve recovered. Muscle soreness is not the only nor is it the best measure of recovery, post-workout. Make sure you’ve had enough rest in between workouts.

If you’re taking more than one fitness class per day or doing more than one workout per day and your sleep is “off”, STAAAAHHP. Stop it.

Light Exposure

Getting bright sunlight first thing in the morning can be great for normalizing your body’s internal clock. However, the blue light from indoor lighting and electronic screens is not going to do you any favors, especially not close to bed.

Blue light signals to your brain that it’s day time and orange or red light signals that its time to start producing the hormones that help you sleep, like melatonin. If you can’t turn your screens to “night mode” (or better yet, avoid screens at night), then invest in a cheap pair of blue light blocking glasses to wear once the sun goes down.

Biochemical Imbalance

Undermethylation plays a big role in at least 1/4 of the population’s insomnia. Undermethylation is relatively common, but much more common among those who consider themselves night owls. Methylation is the single carbon transfer process that takes place within our bodies to produce DNA, RNA, neurotransmitters, glutathione, and urea.

Some people were just born undermethylators due to genetic variants that inhibit the body’s ability to methylate compounds within the methylation pathway. Some chemical exposures inhibit methylation, as well, though. It’s impossible to tell from genetic testing, alone, if you are an undermethylator.

The best way to determine your methylation status is not to test your MTHFR gene. There are several genes involved in the methylation pathway, and the genetic variation of each one contributes to more of a net result on methylation than one gene, alone. Therefore, the best way to test for undermethylation is whole blood histamine. If you have high whole blood histamine, you may want to work with a skilled practitioner to increase your methylation.

Other signs that point to undermethylation include: sneezing in bright light, experiencing urticaria/unexplained rashes your whole life, hearing your heartbeat in your ear when you lay your head down on your pillow, and producing more saliva, stomach acid, tears, and mucus than your average person (I know, that’s a weird one).

There are foods that contain amino acids and other components that will donate methyl groups to your pathway. Red meat and dark poultry meat contain l-carnitine and l-methionine which are methyl donors. I do not recommend taking methyl folate to increase methylation, as many practitioners do.

In order to regenerate itself, folate actually uses up 4 methyl groups. Therefore, even though methyl folate donates 1 methyl group to the pathway, it robs it of 4 in order to make its way through the pathway again. Also, undermethylation is a methyl deficiency not a folate deficiency. Folate actually has an inverse relationship to methyl within the methylation pathway.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I diagnosis, but I do have a solid background in biochemistry. I am just providing you with the information I wish I had before taking high-dose methylfolate and methylcobalamin after having my MTHFR gene tested.

Dehydration

There are plenty of great ways to stay hydrated. This trace mineral blend is my favorite. It makes your water taste better and it just feels good going down. It’s a naturally sourced, ideal blend of trace minerals that keep me hydrated better than anything else.

Coconut water is another favorite of mine, if you prefer something with a little more flavor.

Carbohydrate Intake/Timing

As I touched on a little earlier in this post, your body needs to produce certain hormones at bedtime in order for you to achieve quality sleep. Your body also regenerates other hormones, enzymes, and proteins while you sleep.

To give your body the right materials to use as precursors in the regeneration process, eating some high-quality carbs at night isn’t a bad idea. In fact, it’s a great idea if you’ve been having difficulty sleeping. Even if you live a ketogenic lifestyle, it’s not a big deal to cycle out of ketosis every now and then.

It’s important to choose your carbs wisely, though. I wouldn’t recommend any difficult to digest grains like brown rice, highly processed crackers or whole wheat bread. Sweet potatoes or white rice are most people’s go-to choice for digestibility.

One last point: the amount of carbohydrate is important too. If you have issues with blood sugar, do not eat a huge meal before bed. Blood sugar fluctuations during sleep can be scary business if you have diabetes. Use your common sense, don’t overdo it, and work with your doctor to manage your diabetes if applicable.

And… that’s a wrap. Drop a comment below if you have some helpful feedback or questions. I have references for all of the factual info available upon request.

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