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(Image from here, Graphic by TSL)

(Image from here, Graphic by TSL)

I’m currently on the Autoimmune Protocol, a nutrient-rich elimination diet that removes foods that irritate the gut, cause gut imbalance and activate the immune system. You can read more about the protocol and why I’m doing this here.

Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. (Thomas Dekker)

So, by now you know about the elimination-style diet that is the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) that LM and I are currently undergoing here. And, the diet is fairly restrictive, at least to someone who is not used to the idea of removing so many tasty, more-ish, addictive, convenient foods from their day-to-day lives!

But, the protocol is about more than just the eating bit. There are a number of other factors that need to be addressed while you are on the protocol. And if you fail to address these, you’re kind of missing the point of the whole thing – which is to heal the gut, regulate hormones, and hopefully put autoimmune issues into remission by identifying any food triggers.

And, one of these extras factors is sleep…

We all know that sleep is important for our health.  Studies that evaluate the physiological changes caused by not sleeping or not getting enough sleep have shown just how critically important sleep is.  And for those of us with autoimmune issues, it is especially important. Sleep plays a critical role in managing inflammation, stimulating the immune system, and regulating hormones – all of which are problems when the immune system is compromised.

And, even if you don’t have any autoimmune issues, while it may seem like losing sleep isn’t such a big deal, sleep deprivation has a huge range of negative effects that go way beyond feeling a little tired. It affects your judgment, coordination, and reaction times. It can also affect your waistline.  There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness (ghrelin and leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin levels go up which stimulates your appetite, and your leptin levels go down, so you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave. 

The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep. (W. C. Fields)

I used to sleep like the dead. Not any more. About ten years ago, I had a home invasion which involved waking up to find three men in balaclavas in my living room. Fortunately, they were more interested in my wallet and laptop than in me, but it affected my ability to sleep. In a massive way. I no longer sleep like the dead. In fact, I wake at the first unusual sound. And, that’s not good.

I’m finding achieving quality sleep is the most difficult aspect of the AIP 

One of the issues has been the heat wave that Sydney has been experiencing recently. It’s hard to sleep when it’s too hot. And then, I get to sleep, but I have trouble staying asleep.  I wake up for whatever reason and have difficulty dropping off again. My brain likes talking to me. About all sorts of things. Most of them can wait until daylight, but my brain doesn’t seem to get that bit.

So, I have made a few changes in the ‘sleep preparation department’ in an attempt to get both more sleep AND better quality sleep.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule – According to the experts, getting your body’s natural sleep/awake cycle in sync is one of the most important strategies for getting consistently good sleep. That means going to bed and waking up around the same time every day. For me, that means doing my best to be in bed by 10pm each night. SUCH a party animal, me!

Trying (hard!) to regulate my sleep-wake cycle – Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. In theory, your brain should secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light. However, so many aspects of our modern life can disrupt the body’s natural production of melatonin. In particular, bright lights at night — in front of the TV or computer screen — can suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep.

I’m spending more time outside during daylight. Bella is loving it! We go for a walk first thing to jump-start my ‘awake’ cycle.

And then, at night, I’m trying to steer clear of my computer.

Creating a bedtime routine – Apparently, a peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful message to your brain that it’s time to slow down and let go of the day’s ‘stuff’. So, we’ve implemented ‘operation sleepy time’ here at Casa TSL. LM makes me a mug of herbal tea in the evening. As silly as it sounds, I now look forward to it.

Eating right and getting regular exercise – what you eat and how you exercise plays a role in how well you sleep. I know this is true – I’ve had three weeks with no caffeine or alcohol! We try to eat early here at Casa TSL (at least two hours before bedtime). And, while it’s definitely not my natural inclination, I’m doing some form of exercise every day.

Getting anxiety and stress in check – Residual stress and worry can affect your ability to sleep well. This certainly applies to me. I’m a bit of a stress-head – my brain is a chatterbox! I’ve really struggled to find a relaxation method that works for me in an effort to manage this. I seem to be one of those terribly ‘un-cool’ people for whom yoga is not the nirvana state it is for others. So, four weeks ago I started Tai Chi. I found a great (and wonderfully quirky) teacher. And, even better, my sister comes with me to class.

I’m already practising some of the techniques I’ve learnt to help me relax back into sleep when I wake during the night.

So, it’s a bit of a work in progress, this sleep project. But, I have to tell you I’m pretty committed to improving my quality of sleep. When you start reading about all the health issues that are exacerbated by lack of sleep, it’s pretty scary. Enough to keep you awake at night, even…