The Caveman Guide To Finally Fixing Your Sleep

18 min read
What You're About To Get Into
– Why sleep deprivation is destroying your training, diet, and whatever else you’ve got going on
– How the modern lifestyle is likely the reason you’re missing out on shuteye
– The best caveman strategies for pulling you out of this mess

The Sweeping Damages From Sleep Deprivation

You might have reached a point where you can’t remember the last time you bounced out of bed. You may have reluctantly accepted that a well-rested night is just beyond the means of your hectic, stress-magnet lifestyle. There’s even a very real chance that you’ve adjusted to your sleep deprivation, and began to treat it as the norm. Meaning the body doesn’t even notice that it’s starting the morning a goal down. 

The myth of a good night’s sleep may well be the most frustrating, unforgiving code to crack in the fitness lifestyle. But it’s not the sort of challenge you can afford to sidestep, at least not if you want to stack up your chances of reaching whatever summer goals you’ve got mapped out. Insufficient sleep interferes with every process taking place in the body.

The Damaging Effects Of Insomnia
Monkey mind
Increased hunger
Poor decision making
Lack of explosive strength
Insulin resistance
Weakened immune system

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but by this group alone, you’ll start to see how your overarching fitness goals hinge on your naptime skills. And if that’s not big enough, that’s your quality of life also getting spelt out.

And you don’t want to settle for just getting by. If you’re set to lock a third of your lifetime into a task, it’s worth becoming proficient at it. A good night’s sleep resets your ability to be focused and alert through the length of tomorrow. That alone is going to ensure you have the mind to adhere to tasks, and excel at them.

See The Lowdown – An Anxiety-Sparking List Of Ways Sleep Deprivation Cancels Your Gains

Cracking The Sleep Code

The classic theory for getting better at something, is simply by practicing. That’s obviously not enough in the case of sleep, because if you’re old enough to read this, then you’ve already had enough chances. 

There’s no using gritting your teeth and tunnelling forward when there’s a glitch in the system. Something upstream is evidently causing you to have restless nights, and without going back to plug the leak, you’re not solving anything. More than likely, there are several leaks upstream. But in this case, your luck is in, because many of the suspects behind sleep deprivation can be lumped under one umbrella. The modern lifestyle.

We’ve bought in at the cost of our health, by creating an artificial environment well outside our evolutionary means. The body simply has no way of dealing with many modern phenomenons, as our physiology much resembles the hunter roaming the Eurasian steppe 30,000 years ago. 

This isn’t exactly a new theme on this blog, since the entire carnivore diet strategy can be framed as a primal response to the farmer’s cuisine. And as you’ll find out, our digestion hasn’t been the only thing slighted in history’s worst trade deal.

The Modern Lifestyle's Sleep Woes
Nighttime blue light exposure
Lack of morning light exposure
Too many stimulants
Psychosocial stress
Inflammation from the western diet
Evening snacking

Night-Time Bluelight Exposure

The body’s daily swings between wakefulness and slumber are controlled mainly by two mechanisms. Adenosine is a compound that steadily builds over the course of the day, inducing fatigue in the process. This is how caffeine weaves its energy magic, by temporarily blocking the effects of adenosine. But we won’t get into that just yet.

Then there’s the circadian rhythm, which revolves in 24-hour cycles, hence the name. The circadian rhythm is primarily activated by light exposure to the retinal ganglion cells in the retina, signalling the body that its daytime, and causing wakefulness. This is the first in a series of problems resulting from the hustle and bustle of the modern lifestyle. The eyes have the unfortunate habit of becoming more sensitive to light as the day goes on, reaching their peak at night, when you’re most likely to be staring at a screen. 

Electronic screens emit blue light, which the retina reacts to much like it would to sunlight. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is suppressed, and bedtime suddenly doesn’t seem like such an enticing idea.

Throw off the circadian rhythm, and you’re stuck in a situation that gets worse with each passing day. You’re stumbling out of bed in the morning, and feeling tired and wired in the evenings. Over recent millennia, we’ve found ways of artificially extended day time. It just wasn’t too bad at first. Staring at a fire doesn’t cause circadian disruption. We got by with candles and lamps. But electronics have created a glitch in the system. Overhead lighting also causes problems, since they’re perched in the sun’s slot.

The Problem
Blue light causes wakefulness, and happens to be at its most potent right when you’re meant to be in bed. 
The Fix
When possible, turn your screens and overhead lights off after sunset, or within two hours of bedtime. If that’s a bridge too far, then you can do the following.

  • Dim the screens, and switch to dimmable lamps.
  • Use apps like flux and twilight that can add a darker tint to your screens
  • Wear blue-light blocking glasses in the evenings

Lack Of Morning Light

Whereas playing call of duty till 2 am can hurt you by artificially extending wakefulness and suppressing the natural sleep urge, missing out on the sunrise can result in a morning fog that no amount of caffeine can fix. 

Those retinal ganglion receptors may be less responsive to light in the morning, but there’ll be plenty to go round when you’re outdoors. The morning sun is critical in regulating a healthy circadian rhythm, nudging the body to start secreting serotonin, which eventually leads to more melatonin in the evening. All this biochemistry essentially means lack of morning light can be what’s causing you to feel frustratingly wired at bedtime.

But things aren’t always that simple, and when work starts at 7 during the British winter, you’ll be stuck mid-shift when the sun finally decides to creep over the horizon. This is exactly the sort of situation I’d recommend keeping a SAD lamp around for. These lamps emit 10,000 lux worth of light, which is close enough to the sun to trick the body into action.

SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a depressive state that can envelop people during the dark winters. A blast of the lamp in the morning won’t just help you sleep better at night, it can be a potent mood booster. 

Mornings aside, you should be looking to get doses of sunshine throughout the day. Staring at the sky from your bedroom window doesn’t actually provide much light. Even under cloud cover, which can be the norm rather than the exception in some parts of the world, there are plenty of light rays bouncing around.

The Problem
Lack of bright light exposure in the morning fails to activate the circadian rhythm, resulting in too much wakefulness in the evening.
The Fix
Get at least a 5 minute dose of outdoor sunshine in the morning hours, or use a SAD lamp to spark the body into action.

Too Many Stimulants

These are the various elixirs and tablets you take to make up for last night’s lack of sleep. A temporary surge of energy can just end up stealing hours from your future, and things often get more insidious from there. Forcing the body to compensate can cause mechanisms to go out of balance and misfire, which is why it’s always preferable to do the work upstream. A stimulant like caffeine should be used sparingly, and as a minimal effective dose.

Sleep is one of the processes that can get thrown out of whack by stimulants. Caffeine, as I’ve mentioned earlier, does its work by blocking out adenosine for a few hours. But adenosine is a good thing when you’re trying to nod off for the night. 

Caffeine also spikes noradrenaline, a stress hormone that nudges you to fight rather than sleep. And the effects don’t magic away an hour after a strong brew, because the half-life is eight hours. Meaning it would take that long from 200mg of caffeine to reach 100mg, still more than enough to disrupt sleep. 

The half-lives of stimulants can vary from a few hours to half a day, so you should do your homework on whatever you’re taking from the emergency drawer. But the general rule is to try and keep a solid stimulant-free window before bedtime. For example, it may be worth cutting off your coffee after midday. That way you’re ensuring you don’t end up tired-and-wired in the evening.

The Problem
Stimulants like caffeine can raise stress levels when you’re meant to be winding down.
The Fix
Cut out stimulant use after midday, potentially altogether if you’re sensitive enough.

Psychosocial Stress

This is when you worry about what is at stake, and whether you can do anything about it. So really, that’s the kind of threat that hounds you through the media. Stress is a perfectly natural phenomenon. It’s a surge of energy to help you survive a gnarly situation. In primal times, this would have been a tiger jumping into your peripheral vision from a nearby bush. 

Today, it’s when you pull up your instagram feed and notice that your ex is living his best life. It’s that time you scrolled down into the comments of your latest post, and saw a sarcastic reply. When you found out that the weekend festival had been cancelled. Stress is normal enough, but we’ve grown to see hazards in our modern environment, where there are none. We’re constantly whipped into a fight-or-flight panic, and there’s more stress flowing around the body than it’s equipped to handle.

The effect isn’t too different from that of excessive or badly timed stimulants. Cortisol, the stress hormone, lingers on into the evening, when it’s naturally designed to dip. With elevated levels of evening cortisol, you’re trying to sleep while your heart is happily pounding away. Fluttering eyelids, anxious thoughts, restless limbs, and you’ve got the whole insomniac set. 

With potential triggers everywhere you turn, it’s not exactly the easiest one to solve. But keeping a policy of stress management going forward can do wonders for mitigating its effects. Here are a few choice ways of approaching this, and for the stress-prone folk, I’d recommend going through all of them.

Mindful practices like meditation, reading, and exercise for the matter, do their work by allowing you to quieten the narrator that’s usually following your every move and giving them a lick of emotional paint. Honing your focus on the task in front of you means there’s less opportunity for your mind to tail off elsewhere and dream up more danger.

Put your phone on flight mode and create a blackout period around bedtime. Looking at your phone while tucked under the covers may be your favourite pastime, but you also stand a good chance of getting another surge of cortisol when you flick through the feed one last time. For that matter, cutting down on your social media use overall is going to have a ton of upside, not just in saved hours. Spending less time in other people’s worlds, and more in your own, makes for a quieter mind.

The Problem
Everything is a stress these days, and that’s creating heightened levels of cortisol that disrupts your sleep.
The Fix
Keep daily mindful practices, an blackout before bedtime, and try to step outside the online social bubble.

Read My Guide – The Apex Brain

Inflammation From The Western Diet

Finally, we have the primal agenda I’ve been pushing across the stretch of this website’s youthful existence. It’s a straightforward enough concept to put forward. We spent millions of year adapting around the hunter lifestyle before the agricultural revolution, and the few thousand years that’s passed since then hasn’t been nearly enough to change that. 

We’re ill-equipped to digest modern foods, and that’s not just the processed and packaged variety. Each meal brings its own brand of inflammation, whether that’s sugar, vegetable oils, lectins, oxalates, and a host of other plant toxins

Couple that with the fact that we’ve also created a trend of rampant snacking that stretches into the late evening, and you’ve got a persistent stress trigger that never really lets up. Digestion is a long process, so inflammatory foods will be causing chaos hours after your last meal. Even worse, many of these toxins end up being stored in the body, where they can continue to cause inflammation from their new hideout. That means more cortisol, and the insomnia that comes with it.

With the western diet, we have an injection of low-grade poison that steadily builds up to bring the body to a breaking point, with sleep being just one of the inevitable casualties.

The fix is naturally in removing the perpetrators on your plate, but I’m not necessarily saying you need to grab your club and embark on a full-blown carnivore diet. Chances are you’ll see an improvement in sleep simply by removing processed foods and vegetable oils, which provide a lion’s share of that daily inflammation. They have no part belonging on any diet, being essentially unfit for human consumption. 

The Problem
The western diet contains many toxic and inflammatory foods that stress the digestive system, causing an influx of stress that hampers sleep.
The Fix
Cut out the most toxic foods, with the main culprits being processed foods, vegetable oils, and excess sugar. 

Related Guide For Removing Dietary Inflammation – The Apex Diet

Evening Snacks

This is a thread that I’ve touched on in the diet talk, but meal timing is a different beast entirely, and worthy of its own slot. If you’re getting set for dinner with an hour to go before bed, then regardless of how healthy the meal is, you’re better off going away hungry. Digestion is intensive, and so is the recovery process taking place during sleep. The body can’t effectively allocate resources to both sides, so you’re better off going with one.

Late night meals may have the effect of putting you in a stupor, but that’s not going to help you if you proceed to have your deep sleep slashed in half. This would explain why you’d often wake up feeling grumpy, even after you ticked off the 8-hour target.

One of the best things anyone can do in a healthy lifestyle, is keeping some sort of fasting window around bedtime. It doesn’t have to be 16 hours, it just needs to keep a few food-free hours to buffer your evening.

The Problem
Late night meals put more resources towards digestion, and less towards sleep.
The Fix
Keep at least three food-less hours before your appointed bedtime.

Related Guide For Choosing The Right Window – How Long Should You Fast?

The Outside The Box Insomnia Triggers

Sleep Apnea – This is a reasonably common condition where there’s something blocking your airway, causing you to momentarily stop breathing. That’s enough to ruin any chance of a decent night of sleep. In this case, you’re best off consulting your doc, with the potential addition of a CPAP machine.

Mouth Breathing – Your airway isn’t physically blocked here, but you like to do a lot of snoring and drooling overnight. This has terrible implications for sleep quality, because the mouth isn’t designed for breathing. It does a completely inadequate job of pulling oxygen in, meaning you’re going through periods of hypoxia at night. Taping your mouth can go along way towards helping you switch to nose breathing.

Light Obstruction – Ideally you want the bedroom to be sent into pitch blackness at night, just so we can accurately simulate our cave-dwelling lifestyle. Getting yourself a sleep mask can be a workaround for a sun that’s rising too early, or citylight seeping in through the curtains.

Sound Pollution – Random sounds are bound to pique your curiosity even if you’re half-asleep. Keeping a fan at bedside can fix that with a bit of white noise, or you can try out earplugs.

Summing Up – It’s All About The Routine

With those aside, we should really knuckle down on finding a solution to the stress-magnet modern lifestyle. We could abandon civilisation and retreat back to the caves, but that may be a bridge too far for most. The best option, in my mind, would be in creating some breathing room away from the digital bubble. But the nutritional side can’t be understated, and that’s where we’d be best off prioritising evolutionary foods, while restricting the obesogenic processed options. 

The important thing here is to restrain yourself from expecting overnight changes. Sleep is a complicated process, with a huge variety of factors at play. The body’s going to take some time to settle into the new status quo. 

Bring in those new habits, and you’ll have a fresh bedtime template on your hands. That’s where the money is. Repeat the actions often enough, get the positive feedback in a well-rested morning, and a loop inevitably starts to form. Eventually, these practices become automatic impulses. You’re no longer fighting the urges to scroll through instagram one last time while you’re tucked under the covers. The brain can slowly start to associate the bed with sleeping. 

With all these stress-purging circadian-friendly habits in play, sleep tends to just get better and better. That’s going to place you in a far stronger position to take on your fitness goals. 

Ready My Guide On The Importance Of The Routine – Train For The Process Not The Outcome

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments