Like any dieter, people who take up the Paleo regimen do so to stay healthy. Based on the concept of complementing our hunter-gatherer genetics, the diet satisfies all the body’s nutritional needs. However, what sets the Paleo Diet apart from others is that it tends to be more of a lifestyle than a diet. Eating right, it turns out, is only part of the battle. The other part is greatly orchestrated by the way you sleep. If you aren’t getting the right kind of rest, then you aren’t getting the most out of your diet. Sleep affects the way our body reacts to what we eat—so if we should “eat like a caveman,” it is just as important that we learn how to sleep like one too.
How Did The Cavemen Sleep?
Approximately 4 million years ago, our early hominin ancestors climbed down from the trees and began sleeping on the ground (most likely due to our mastery over fire). Some say that this period was fundamental for our cognitive development as a species, as it allowed us to spend more of the night in REM sleep (important for memory consolidation and cognition), which causes muscle paralysis and makes tree-sleeping dangerous.
Once on the ground, they slept in any number of places—ranging from caves to forests to manmade huts. The main thing they had in common? Total darkness. This makes sense, as our bodies produce melatonin, the hormone that induces drowsiness, when we are away from light. When the sun went up or went down, so did man. For thousands of years, we napped in cool, dark silence for up to twelve hours every night—hammering this type of sleep deep into our genes.
So What Changed?
The Paleo Diet is based on the idea that our genetics haven’t had time to catch up with our sudden dietary changes. Sleep is also an element deeply engrained in our body’s chemistry. Not only did the agricultural revolution popularize grains, dairy and other processed goods, but it also popularized the practice of getting up before the sun. To make matters worse, it was even more recently that the Second Industrial Revolution introduced electrification: thus disturbing our sleep patterns with artificial light.
Today, we find ourselves ignoring the sunset and stretching out our wakeful hours deep into the night with the aid of electric lights and the dim glow of TV, iPod and computer screens. And once we do go to bed, we’re often disturbed by outdoor illumination—streetlights, business signs and the headlights of passing cars—streaming through our bedroom windows.
This irregular and often inadequate pattern of sleep makes us prone to depreciating cardiovascular health, hormonal shifts, increased risk of accidents, increased risk of depression, obesity, premature aging, and a weakened immune system.
How To Fix It?
1. Follow The Sun
Go to bed when the sun goes down, and get out of bed when it comes up. Our body has light sensors that react to natural light and trigger hormonal regulation, so let your skin experience the morning rays.
2. Sleep In Total Darkness
Make sure your bedroom is pitch black. That means investing in blackout curtains or shutting off the lights outside your window.
Know what time you want to be in bed, and prepare accordingly—dimming the lights and covering windows as the sun sets. Let the melatonin send you to sleep, not the videos on your phone.
4. Sleep A Lot
Granted, our ancestors exerted much more energy than us, and didn’t have any appointments to meet, but getting as much sleep as you can is vital to getting the best results from the Paleo lifestyle.