Well…today is the first day back in the gym training folks in almost 2 weeks. We took the past 11 days off due to the holidays and upwards of 50% of my time off was spent sleeping! Left to my own devices I will sleep for 9hrs per night and I think that creeps up closer to 10hrs during the winter, especially if I am training hard. Our normal schedule however allows for 7-8hrs of sleep most nights and the mere knowledge that I have an alarm set for 5 or 6 am the following day is enough to make that already too-short-sleep lower quality. This leads to a chronic sleep debt that I realize after some time off, really decreases my quality of life, productivity, happiness and health.
Over the past 11 days I naturally followed an intermittent fasting schedule of 16-20 hrs and I felt GREAT. My training was solid, digestion good, mental outlook fantastic. On my normal sleep deprived schedule intermittent fasting tends to make me feel like ass. I drop it in on the weekends a bit but as I get more and more tired the duration of fasting I can TOLERATE tends to get shorter. The key point there is tolerate…once I am sleep deprived I’m not so sure that fasting is helping all that much if at all, whereas if I am rested I have no doubts that the episodic periods of fasting improve my health and well-being.
If you are familiar with the book Lights Out! Sleep, Sugar and Survival you will likely understand the importance of not only adequate sleep but also periods of fasting (ketosis) and living in a accordance with our genetics if you want to avoid fun stuff like premature aging, cancer and insulin resistance. Some people like Lights Out, others hate it but the information Wiley and Formby presented continues to be validated and occasionally implemented. A quick google search of Sleep+ Cancer yields some interesting finds. Recently shift work was added to the list of “probable cancer causes” along side smoking, car exhaust and UV radiation.
Perhaps I’m naive, but I find it interesting that some of the most potent anti-cancer “interventions” known include sleep, ketosis, intermittent fasting and…happiness. I find it interesting because this seems to be our default mode. Loads of sleep, episodes of ketosis and fasting among an extended network of friends and family. Now I’m NOT saying our ancestors had a perfect paradise and I don’t want to overly romanticize what was obviously a hard and dangerous way to live, but if we can take the best elements of our understanding of evolutionary medicine and graft that onto our 21st century technology we have some amazing potential. The most important element of this understanding may involve retro-engineering disease. Pick a disease, figure out what lifestyle elements may be at odds with our genetics, then fix it! This could be an amazingly powerful tool, but it does have heavy implications for how we live our modern lives.
So back to sleep and intermittent fasting. A great question is “how do I implement intermittent fasting?” to which I would respond: Implement it to the degree it makes you feel better and improves your life. Two things you MUST do: remove refined carbs from your diet AND get adequate sleep. If you let one slide you really need to tighten up the other. I’ve thought about which one to prioritize but this is a bit like asking if you want your heart or lungs to work. Screw one or the other up and you will have very serious problems.
Once you have food and sleep dialed, get your stress under control. Find ways to minimize bull-shit in your life.
Get some exercise. Do CrossFit, swing a Kettle bell, take a walk. Do some yoga if you want to, just don’t turn into a hippy.
Got all that fixed? NOW you might think about dropping in a few days of intermittent fasting. You want your stressors to be pulsatile and FAVORABLE as a whole. Dropping intermittent fasting onto a sleep-deprived-bad-diet-life willed with conflict is not a good idea!
I’m going to go take a nap before my next client gets here.