Aside from avoiding certain foods and eating as nutritiously as possible, the Autoimmune Protocol stresses reducing lifestyle stress and getting a lot of really good sleep. I’ve prided myself in being good about sleep, at least moreso than my peers. But after the cocoa incident, I thought it might be a good time to reevaluate that as well as everything else.
As I mentioned, I not only had a flush of skin symptoms, but I started waking up in the middle of the night, my whole body electrified and ready to do something, anything but sleep. I usually wake up sometime in the middle of the night, but it’s easy to fall back asleep. Not these times. Even worse, I started waking up multiple times, getting charlie horses, and generally just having a difficult time of it.
Knowing how important good sleep is to staying healthy, I began researching what I could do to improve those nightly wake-ups. I already had magnesium, exercise, and going to bed on time down pat. Both of my computers have f.lux installed. I usually eat light in the evenings. I usually get sun during the day. I usually don’t have caffeine in the afternoon. Usually.
The internet suggested I set up a pre-sleep routine and I agreed that that was a good idea. So for a week I decided I would really focus on getting good sleep. I would do all those “usually” things every day with military precision and to those I would add a thirty minute wind-down time. No computer allowed in bed. Sleepy time tea and reading encouraged. Add to that five minutes of stretching and I’d see how it all went.
So for a week I made sure to go outside and get some sun every day. I didn’t have an afternoon tea. I made lunch my biggest and heaviest meal of the day. If I snacked after dinner, it was light carbs, like dried fruit. I set my phone alarm to remind myself to stretch. I stopped computing thirty minutes before bedtime and took my magnesium. No alcohol was allowed within two hours of sleeptime. I went to bed at the same time every day and woke up eight to nine hours later – whenever my body was ready. No alarm.
And it worked! That very first night and every night I made certain to hit all those notes after. I can’t put my finger on any one of the changes or focuses being the culprit, but the cumulative effect was a better night’s sleep. I woke up the first night but was able to go right back to sleep, and since then I’ve had a few nights where I didn’t wake up at all – at least, not until I was supposed to.
I hit all those things for a week, then slacked off to see what happened. The only things I continued to hit consistently were some amount of sun exposure every day, no computer in bed, and no afternoon caffeine. I think I can safely narrow it down to one – or all – of those three factors. But sleep is about so many variables throughout the day coming together just right, so I can’t really narrow it down. I can only tweak variables to make my sleep better in the long run.
What did I learn from this weeklong experiment? Well, for one, dialing in good sleep requires additional focus. There are things you do or don’t do throughout the day that can have an effect, as well as things immediately prior to bedtime. Having a routine helped a little, but it’s difficult to fit into my current lifestyle.
I also really, really love ditching the alarm. Before this experiment I was beginning to struggle with waking up more than usual. I had my alarm set thirty minutes after I usually wake up, as sort of a last ditch emergency measure, and I was constantly being woken up by it. So not only was I interrupting my sleep, but I was also truncating my morning considerably and having to rush a lot more than I liked. Now I consistently wake up right before 5am, and way before my alarm.
I also suspect daily sun exposure might be a whole lot more important than I’d previously suspected. It’s sometimes difficult to remember to take the time to go outside, especially when I work in an office environment, and especially when I prefer to use all my breaks to write, but it’s important.
Stretching, while nice, may not have helped much. I’m going to try to keep going with that anyway, because I am very bad at stretching, ever. I actually have harbored a not-so-secret dislike for yoga for years now, but I’m beginning to come around and understand how it might have a beneficial place in my life. Grudgingly. 😉
That said, there are a lot of factors which affect sleep, and so many of them individual. I’m going to try to keep a focus on sleep going as I progress through the AIP reintroduction period and figure out exactly what I need for some decent Zzz’s. It’s all just one big N=1 experiment, isn’t it?