Tag Archives: sleep

Why could I not get to sleep last night?

Not a super evergreen topic this evening, but last night I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I had that wired feeling where you almost can feel your muscles churning in place.

I did eventually get to sleep sometime after midnight following some water and an old stand-by: My ice pack. I wasn’t hurting or anything, but being a bit warm I felt that adding in some quite-cold stimulus would normalize me a bit quicker. It did, and I was out soon after introducing it.

I didn’t have more than a cup of coffee in the morning or any other sort of stimulant. I had eaten well, so I don’t think I was hungry. And I wasn’t drowning myself in blue light like others do.

But I can see in hindsight a few other factors that led to a restless night.

Yesterday was an active one:

  • I walked several miles on an errand excursion to Bucktown and back home through Lincoln Park.
  • Later towards sunset I went on a planned 45 minute circuit run that ended with a hard 8K-effort finish. It felt great at the time, but revving the motor that hard around 6:30pm might have left me too wired to drift off comfortably at 10-11 pm.

So basically it wasn’t exactly taper madness. In fact, I probably was a lot more active than I ought to have been, after having run over 12 miles the day before. Physically I felt okay, a tad sore but definitely up for all that effort. Even today (now well into more of a taper-like workload, after a day of sitting at a desk) I don’t feel too bad.

Soon after dinner I will probably sleep more soundly, but sometimes despite your best efforts you can’t quite get to sleep.

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Feeling tired? It’s probably one of these things

I can’t tell you how many years in Seattle I battled lethargy despite a busy schedule full of theatre commitments I was very into. I definitely became one of those guys who pounded coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon or evening, to try and keep the motor going for that night’s action.

Needless to say, I’ve since figured out how terri-bad that approach was for my health. I still indulge in the occasional afternoon cup of coffee (decaf if it’s around), or a caffeine-free vitamin/energy drink like FitAid (which they sell at Whole Foods in Chicago).

But generally the only stimulant you’ll see me take anymore is a morning cup of coffee.


Of course, the problem of lacking energy goes well beyond what stimulation you’re giving yourself. Pretty much everyone struggles with low energy and feeling tired, and I’m still to this day no exception.

The difference between the 2011 Me, who would pound a 5 Hour Energy before a show performance to keep from falling over, and the 2018 Me… is that 2018 Me knows the reason for feeling tired comes down to one of these four things:

Lack of sleep:

The most obvious one. If you’re not sleeping well in general, let alone haven’t slept well the night before, you’re probably going to flatline at some point in the day.

A good general rule is that, for every 1 hour of sleep, you get 2 hours of not wanting to fall asleep. If you get 8 hours of sleep, you should be able to get through the other 16 hours of the day reasonably alert before heading to bed.

But… if you only get 4 hours sleep, then you may be okay until about 8 hours after you awake. For example: If you stay up until 3 am, then wake up at 7 am… even if you seem okay to go to work that morning… things will probably feel manageable until about 3pm, at which point you should crash hard enough that no energy stimulant can really save you. Get home and get to bed ASAP.

I’ve noticed this is pretty much what happens to me after a night of short sleep, to the hour. And of course, even before that crash moment, a lack of sleep can leave you feeling worse for wear even after a cup of morning coffee.

Sleep is not overrated! It is in fact very underrated, especially as you get older.

Lack of nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet:

In the past, whenever I felt like garbage, I often looked back at what I had recently eaten and notice a lot of crappy processed food: Pizza, instant meals, fried foods, etc. I clean up and eat healthier for the next meal… and I feel better over the next few days. In some cases, I may even feel better as soon as the next nutritious meal.

You are definitely what you eat, and I would suspect a lot of people who feel down and lethargic all the time, let alone get sick a lot, probably don’t eat good food in its whole natural form. They probably ate nothing but stuff out of packaging.

Lack of water:

It’s more than a song by The Why Store. It’s more than a detriment to exercise. It’s often a key reason people feel lethargic.

And it’s one of my basic initial tests, not to mention one of my quickest remedies, when I suddenly find myself low on energy. If I drink a few ounces of water and suddenly feel more alert and ready to go, I know my low energy was due to slight dehydration. I’m surprised at how often this is the cure to low energy.

People tend to fall into two polarized camps with water. There are the people who carry a water bottle and drink water religiously throughout the day. And there are people who don’t really think about water at all and only drink when it occurs to them.

Many of the latter probably drink a lot of processed drinks and even alcohol instead. I imagine they feel terrible a lot (except when they first get drunk).

Your blood viscosity increases when you’re dehydrated, and slower blood means slower energy production for your body. Of course you’re going to feel tired.

Water also helps flush waste byproducts from your body, as well as bacteria, viruses and whatever else. When your blood is thicker and dehydrated, those byproducts sit in your system and induce some degree of response from your body. And then you feel like crap, at best. Sometimes, you begin to feel sick. It’s possible you could exercise and sweat it out, but either way you could use some more water.

Of course, what kind of water you drink matters too. If your tap water quality is garbage, maybe use a good filter or even get distilled water. Vegas tap water was awful, and may have also caused my kidney stone in high school. I have my suspicions about the effects of Chicago tap water on the psychology of the locals, and thus I make sure to drink distilled water as much as possible.

But that’s icing on the cake of the main point: You probably could use more water. Drinking any water typically is better than drinking little to none.

Lack of outdoor activity:

Rampant depression in Seattle is often blamed on the weather. The fallacy goes that cloudy weather equals sadness.

As someone who enjoyed cloudy weather, I don’t get that at all. Or actually, now I do:

People in Seattle use the rainy weather as an excuse to not go out and do anything. They sit at home a lot like hermits, let it be a mental barrier to their engaging the world, and then wonder why they’re depressed.

Meanwhile, I went outside and did something every single day, rain or shine, whether or not I had to work that day. I never let the weather stop me from going outside.

Believe it or not, the clouds do not stop the Sun’s UV rays from reaching Earth. Clouds do filter some of it, but you still get Vitamin D from the sun if you walk outside during cloudy weather. People are depriving themselves of Vitamin D as well as fresh air and exercise… just because it’s not sunny.

(Also, given the weather is such a factor for them, I wonder why many of these people didn’t just move south, where cloudy weather isn’t as present)

Now, some depression has a deeper root cause, some of it more within our control than others, and we can get into that some other time.

But for many people who claim seasonal depression, they probably live their lives with a forced habitual inertia. And they’d probably be surprised at how much better they felt if they got outside and took a long walk every day, no matter what the weather was like.

If they’re up for more than a walk, they may also be surprised at what running, sports, etc., can do for their outlook and their general energy… not to mention their overall health.

There’s plenty of time to indulge in indoor hobbies and other activities. Make some time to get outside, especially if you feel tired and/or emotionally down, and you might find you have more energy than before.


Okay, that last bit got a bit preachy. I have heard the “I’m tired” song and dance a few too many times, from people that probably could have put the above ideas to use.

But seriously I find that whenever I feel tired, even over a long stretch, it often comes down to deficiencies in one or more of those four things.

  1. Sleep
  2. Food quality
  3. Water
  4. Outdoor activity

I’m not claiming any of this will cure cancer or anything like that (… though, if it does, drop me a line and let me know where to pick up my upcoming Nobel Prize).

But you might be surprised at what it does to your chronic fatigue syndrome, or to a lesser extent your overall low-energy.

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Recovery, sleep, diet: It’s all connected

One of the biggest problems I’ve had over time with recovery from hard/long runs and races hasn’t been soreness or lingeirng fatigue. It’s been sleep before and after the run.

Before the run, anxiety can mess with your state of mind and lead to keeping you awake, which obviously impacts the run itself and everything beyond. After the run, you can be so revved up long after you’ve relaxed that it can keep you awake.

This is obviously a huge recovery problem, because sleep is just as if not more important than your nutrition and rest patterns. If you get poor sleep, it messes with just about everything else you do from that night until you get caught up… if you do.

Obviously, a hard or long run revs your heart rate up and taxes your body to a point where following the run it may not totally come down before going to bed that night, even if you lay out all day. What probably happened in a lot of those cases was that I went to bed with a heart rate and state still close to activity-level. Even if I got to sleep, I usually didn’t stay asleep for suitably long.

My game plan yesterday went beyond my route and in-run fueling. I also had food ready with big meals planned for the afternoon and evening. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of going to bed hungry, especially after a 20 mile run.

For lunch I ate about a pound of baked chicken, with four cut+baked potatoes in olive oil, a pretty large meal. I probably drank about a gallon of water between the end of the run and the end of the night. Even after indulging in too many veggie chips around sunset, I made sure to bake and eat three chicken thighs with some more potatoes that evening. I hit the hay around 10:30 and slept pretty well this past night.

This will be important after the Chicago Marathon for one key reason: I have to go back to work the next morning. I can’t afford to be so revved up after a marathon that I sleep 3 hours, and then work all the next day at a gig I can’t take a sick day from.

If I can set a routine to house a big post-race meal, then house two other big meals during the day, with the last meal being an hour or two before bed, plus make sure not to go and do anything else… I think I can calm the motor enough to get to sleep and stay there until morning.

We forget that our bodies are ecosystems, and the different elements of recovery (rest, nutrition and sleep) are all connected.

  • Rest periods can’t do their work if you don’t get suitable nutrition and enough sleep.
  • Nutrition can only do its work if you get needed sleep, and you give your body the inactivity to allow rebuilding.
  • Sleep can’t happen if you’re not effectively fed, and you cannot slow the motor enough to allow yourself to get there.

So in the past I’d struggle with sleep and focus on why I can’t sleep, instead of doing the right thing and looking at how my eating patterns and other habits contribute to my ability to get to sleep and stay asleep that night.

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Cleaning up my lifestyle (further)

With a career change came a shift in my lifestyle. I had also re-gained about 5-10 of the pounds I had previously lost during the last few months at my old job, despite a high volume of regular running. The resulting self-reflection led me to make wholesale improvements to my lifestyle.

Granted, my habits weren’t terrible to begin with: My diet and lifestyle at the start of 2018 was dramatically improved over 2015, let alone 2010-2014, let alone further back etc. But you don’t gain weight randomly. Even though I logged my food and found I was about even with my estimated calorie burn, I apparently was storing more than I could use. Along with my career situation, something clearly wasn’t right.


 

I cleaned up my diet in varying stages over the years, but over the past few months have really simplified it. At this point I’m challenging myself to eat as much whole food (cuts of whole meat, raw fruit, vegetables, rice) as possible. There are a lot of reasons for this.

  • It’s easier to track whole food items in Fitbit, and a lot harder when you eat something complex/processed, especially from a restaurant where you’re not privy to the ingredients let alone.
  • Processed food typically costs more per serving than its whole food counterparts. You’re paying for, among other things, satiety combined with immediacy. Sometimes I need that for whatever reason (it’s convenient at the end of a tiring day with few prior meals to house an Eastside Cafe frozen pizza and immediately get that 80-95 grams of protein, plus a bunch of calcium etc from all that fatty cheese). But usually I can find the space to prepare a fulfilling meal from whole food myself at home.
  • Processed food lacks key nutrients… especially dietary fiber, protein, and the underrated potassium. Plus, there’s far too much inflammatory and water-retaining sodium in processed food, and in many cases far too much fat. Since I run every day and am active in general, I need all the nutrients and as little garbage I can get.
  • You have no idea what 90% of processed food’s ingredients are, what they come from, what it does to your body long-term, etc etc. To get into the nuances of this would probably send us both into seizures, so let’s leave it at that.
  • Processed food is engineered to generate cravings to eat more food, which defeats a key reason to eat food (satiety i.e. not feeling the need to eat more food).
  • Hormonal balance and healthy hormone production is predicated largely on getting enough nutrients. Processed food is nutrient poor and disruptive. Whole foods closest to their natural state are nutrient rich.
  • I’ve found more ways to efficiently prepare and port whole, natural foods. I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with canned sardines, and now that I’ve found I can combine them with white rice prepared at home, they’ve become a lunch staple at work.

One problem that emerged at my prior job is that I started buying lunch more often. Previously I had brought food and eaten that every day, but even eating that food I was also sneaking out for hot bar meals. Granted, as I ran at a higher volume leading up to Vancouver I needed the extra nutrition. But that nutrition was also highly processed and was probably a key factor in my weight gain… not just for insidious extra calories, but the processed food probably wreaked havoc on my biology with inflammation and compromised hormonal function.

Changing careers coupled with a break from marathon training allowed me space to experiment with my eating habits, with different food choices (which granted were limited based on what I was doing for work and when: you have more freedom in some work situations than others).

Currently I’m on work assignment in an area close to two supermarkets with hot bars. Of course, hot bar food is not only partially processed, but expensive.


 

I wasn’t getting as much sleep as before. I woke up more during the night, woke up earlier, went to bed no earlier. I had plenty of time to sleep, yet my sleep was being disrupted.

This is something I still work on, granted. It’s a matter of forming the needed habits to eliminate the habits and sources compromising my sleep:

  • Remember to shut off all electronics, as well as disconnect power sources to those electronics, before bed. When I shut down my mobile and turn off the power to the modem and router (my laptop is already shut completely down at the end of every night), I find I sleep better. And while the evidence is disputed, there is evidence that electronics do interfere with sleep even when they’re off.
  • Call it a night during the 10pm hour. If I let my attention span drift and keep me awake through 11pm, that’s when sleep becomes a problem. Not only does it limit the hours I can sleep but it means more blue light later in the night, which is known to interfere with sleep.
  • Eating a satisfying meal within a couple hours of bed that doesn’t leave me wanting once I do lay down to sleep, since I know that hunger keeps me awake and can wake me up during the night.
  • Using my window A/C to keep the room reasonably cool during the night, as summer warmth does interfere with my sleep.
  • Making sure I get in solid exercise, usually at least a run, because I notice that on days I don’t exercise much I also tend not to sleep well.

 

Even though I avoided it because I run and need plenty of calories, I started intermittent fasting again. Basically, I skip breakfast and my first meal of the day is lunch, usually around 12:00 noon or 1:00pm. Along with the obvious tendency to eat less since I’m eating one fewer meal a day, going 12-16 hours between dinner and this 1st meal also improves fat burning during that time while helping to reset hormonal function. I definitely feel a difference, more so than hunger pangs. I’ll have black coffee and water in the morning at work, and that’s usually it.

This also improves the digestion and utilization of that 1st lunch meal, since your body is primed to get after whatever food you finally give it. At my current work assignment, it sets the metabolic table well for that 5pm run home from work. And that sets the table well for effective digestion of dinner later than evening. I definitely eat fewer calories, but I don’t feel at all broken down as I worried I would before if I ever went back to fasting. Quite the opposite.

There’s more I can say about Intermittent Fasting but I’ll save that for another time. Basically, I’m now at a place where it works well for me.


 

Since getting my act further together, my weight has gone back down to about 163-164 lbs, about 5 pounds down from where it had re-peaked during the end of my last career. My body fat has receded from 17-18% to a better 15-16%.

More to come on that front, but it’s looking good for now.

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On sleeping in summer, and sleeping after night workouts

A couple good not-so-known nuggets in here on why we don’t sleep well, and some not-so-known ideas for how to sleep better.

– This points to why I usually haven’t slept as well in summer, and it’s not neighbors blasting music at parties: My core body temperature was often too high to sleep effectively. The hot bath idea is a good trick to attempt.
– According to my Fitbit tracker I also have a lower resting heart rate during warmer months, and my weight tends to be lower during those months (regardless of how I eat). While I definitely want to make sure I work on getting better sleep in summer, it’ll be interesting to see if my resting heart rate and weight take the corresponding turn anyway.
– Though I currently follow a better sleep schedule than I have before, and have been getting decent sleep, I’m still prone to waking up super early, occasionally being unable to get to sleep, or waking up having logged little REM or deep sleep. This trick may be worth a shot:

If you’re only able to sleep 6 hours a night, then restrict yourself to 5. You’ll feel like poop the next day and crash hard…

But then only let yourself sleep 5 hours and 15 minutes. Now you feel like double poop and will be out before your head hits the pillow. So go to 5 hours and 30 minutes… And as long as you meet your designated quota, incrementally increase the amount of sleep you allow yourself. No naps.

You’ll be a zombie for a while but this is actually a core part of what is now quickly becoming the first-line treatment for chronic insomnia: CBT-I. The application of cognitive behavioral therapy to sleep issues.

One of the more paradoxical CBT-I methods used to help insomniacs sleep is to restrict their time spent in bed, perhaps even to just six hours of sleep or less to begin with. By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure—a greater abundance of adenosine. Under this heavier weight of sleep pressure, patients fall asleep faster, and achieve a more stable, solid form of sleep across the night. In this way, a patient can regain their psychological confidence in being able to self-generate and sustain healthy, rapid, and sound sleep, night after night: something that has eluded them for months if not years. Upon reestablishing a patient’s confidence in this regard, time in bed is gradually increased.

 

Though on most weeknights I finish my running no later than 7pm… I do log group workouts on Monday and Wednesday later than is ideal, ending around 8pm. By the general rule, you want to get to sleep at least 3 hours after your last workout or you’ll have trouble sleeping well. This is probably more of an issue for older people, but guess who’s pushing 40? 😉

So, let’s say instead of trying to go to bed after a racing team workout or a Monday group run at 9-10 pm and hoping for the best, only to end up with screwed up sleep… I actively short my sleep on those nights by turning in three hours after the end of the run, then afford myself the option of turning in 15 minutes earlier than last night’s time, such as:

Wed: 11:00pm
Thu: 10:45pm
Fri: 10:30pm
Sat: 10:15pm
Sun: 10:00pm

If on Thursday or afterward I’m definitely tired enough to pass out at 9pm, then great I’ll do that. Unless of course I keep waking up early, in which case I’ll make myself stay up until the listed time and then pass out. Note that my typical shut-down time these days is somewhere between 9:00-10:00pm, so by Sunday I would in theory be back to my “normal” schedule.

If I skip the Monday run I would just turn in for bed normally until Wednesday. But if I do the Monday run, which due to a cooldown run home usually concludes my running around 7:45pm or so, then I would turn in per the following schedule.

Mon: 10:45pm
Tue: 10:30pm

Then once Wednesday comes, I once again turn in later per the above Wed-Sun schedule, and repeat. Obviously, if I skip the Wednesday workout and don’t do a later run, then I can follow my normal sleep schedule as usual.

———-

Thinking about this with such a level of detail may seem excessive to many, but this is the depths to which I’ve gone to fine tune my day to day habits and life to improve my training and recovery. It’s not only paid dividends over time, but it’s been vital to keeping me upright, let alone in good health.

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