In my last article I focused on PTSD, how it physically affects your brain and things you can eat to help minimize the damage and start the healing process. The third bullet point I had wanted to get at was “sleep”, which is such a wide-spread problem that it warrants its own article. So here you go! I’ll scratch the surface here, but understand that the ability to get a good, solid night’s sleep has so many variables that I’m going to have to skip a large amount of information.
Proper sleep is extremely difficult for most people. The amount of sleep you get, the quality of your sleep, and even when and where you sleep all have an impact on its effectiveness. Not getting enough quality sleep can have all kinds of effects that most people don’t associate with sleep at all. Fatigue, of course, is very common. It can also affect your emotional stability, thinking processes (“brain fog”), healing/regenerating ability, stress levels, even fighting bacterial or fungal infections, and virus attacks due to a compromised immune system – caused by exhaustion (translation: you get sick more because you spend all your energy on movement and work).
Fatigue being the most common, so let’s start there. We wake up, go to work, come home and deal with whatever family/home/kid issues that came up that particular day (we aim for “none”, but how often does THAT happen?), attempt to de-stress, then go to sleep. Wake-up and do it all over again. If you don’t get enough, quality sleep you tend to wake up tired. Obvious, right? So you grab a stimulant for some quick energy, such as coffee, an energy drink, a breakfast consisting mostly of sugar, or a cigarette and go about your business. Maybe all of the above, like I did for years before I knew better. The problem is this: Your adrenal glands (responsible for filling “fuel-related” energy gaps) are taking a beating. In the United States (sorry guys, statistically, we’re the worst about this), the average adult burns their adrenals out by the time they are THIRTY. I typed that out to stress the age. THIRTY. That’s NOT OLD. Until your adrenals are toast, they can, and will, compensate for your lack of proper sleep. You can get 3-4 hours of sleep, wake-up, and take care of business (usually with the help of a stimulant, but not necessarily.) After they’re fried, you get 3-4 hours of sleep and act a bit like a zombie for a little while regardless of what stimulants you try, until your body breaks down some fuel from breakfast.
So let’s talk about your body’s fuel. Sugars burn easy and fast, which gives you a quick energy boost, and they taste good. That is why a lot of people (and all cereal companies) lean towards a sugary breakfast. Unfortunately, sugars are basically the tinder to your body’s bonfire. They are easily broken down and used, but burn up so fast that you have to ingest more within the hour. (Side note, you’re killing your pancreas if you rely on sugar consistently – Hello, Diabetes!) Carbohydrates (such as potatoes) are akin to the sticks the tinder is meant to ignite: they take a little longer to break down but they burn hot and for a longer period of time. Protein is the logs on top of the fire. They take a while to get going, but once they’re burning they stay burning for a good period of time. Therefore, build your breakfast like you would a fire. A bit of sugar (and I mean FRUIT sugar! Not choco-covered-sugar-bombs!), a bit more carbs, and a fair amount of protein (an egg or three, for instance). Lunch is up to you. I recommend mainly carbs and proteins. Dinner, however, most Americans do wrong. What did we just learn about how stuff breaks down? Protein burns for a long time. Sugars (dessert?) give you an energy boost. Do you need that just before you try going to sleep? Nope. Keep your carb portion small, focus on veggies and protein for dinner. That should give you supplies for your body to use on repairs while you’re asleep, without keeping you up half the night. Managing your energy levels, that is the importance of having “balanced meals.” Another side note, I have heard that pork has been linked to nightmares or violent dreams. I have no basis for saying if that is correct or not, and I don’t feel like researching it right now, but it’s worth a mention.
So there is some “food” advice as pertains to sleep. I’ll go over what your body is (or should be) doing while it’s asleep next time, an added incentive to get your 8 (or so) hours. Cheers!