The yearly call for everyone to read Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival
Go to bed. Well, maybe not right this minute, but sooner rather than later. It is fall, heading in to winter, and the days are getting short, the nights are cool and some of you may be feel¬ing a bit squirrelly with the changes. Especially if you are up late, lacking sleep or some horrid combination of the two. If you have hung around the CrossFit message board for a while, you will know that I make a yearly call for people to read Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival.
This is that call and a synopsis of the key points for the book. Dan John reads this book every fall. I do to. So should you.
The Big Idea
Lights out is written by T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby, the dynamic duo who between them have PhDs in Medical Anthropology, Biophysics and Biochemistry. They are bright people who do a pretty amazing job of wedding evolutionary bi¬ology, modern medicine and even some aspects of alternative medicine such as acupuncture into a coherent message: Eat, Sleep and Live with na¬ture, not against it. How does one do that?
Eat meat vegetables and seasonal fruits. Avoid sugar and processed foods like the plague. Enter ketosis for a period of the year, just like our an¬cestors did. Specifically they recommend that be¬tween June and September one can consume all the naturally occurring carbohydrates one likes. From October through May, however, a lower carbohydrate, ketogenic diet is the recommenda¬tion. This is an interesting point that is perhaps worth a moment of digression. Most people fol¬lowing a CrossFit style training regime will not be able to recover or sustain the level of intensity AND frequency they are accustomed to with this relatively limited carb intake. Training will need to shift towards heavy low rep training with am¬ple rest and slower walks and hikes. Metabolic conditioning can still happen but the workouts themselves will likely have to be shorter than some of the longer CF-style death marches and, as mentioned previously, less frequent. This sounds like an interesting way to allow food intake to dictate periodization. Stated another way: Olym¬pic lifting and gymnastics in the fall and winter; metabolic conditioning and generally running wild in the spring and summer.
Another approach is Intermittent Fasting. Let’s back up for a moment before we dig into that. Wiley and Formby make the point that one must have a period of “fasting” or “starvation” to avoid the scourge of metabolic disease. Their approach, as mentioned above, is to undertake a ketogenic diet for several months of the year. This creates an environment of low insulin levels and ketone bodies, both of which have far reaching effects on the expression of genes central to aging and degenerative disease. Intermittent fasting also reduces insulin levels AND creates ketosis even when carbohydrate is NOT a limiting factor. This punctuated stressor appears to enhance DNA re¬pair, apoptosis (programmed cell death, typically in cells which may be heading down the road to¬wards cancer) and nitrogen retention to name a few benefits. Intermittent Fasting can provide all this and will accommodate any activity level.
To recap, Lights Out recommends that we have period of “fasting” in which we eat a ketogenic diet. If one follows this recommendation some modifications may be necessary with regards to training to accommodate lower muscle glycogen levels. Another approach is Intermittent Fasting, which meets the recommendations of Wiley and Formby while allowing a high activity level.
Sorry, one more digression. What about people eating a standard Zone or Athletes Zone? Well… I’m not sure. The AZ is quite high in fat at the 3-5X levels and may create a state of Ketosis simi¬lar to that seen in IF. It is, however, static. This may matter a little, a lot, or not at all. What we have planned to answer this question is a small study looking at some people on the Zone and some people doing IF. We will look at amounts and ratios of food consumed, sleep, activity lev¬els, etc. We will then look at fasting levels of in¬sulin, blood glucose, glycated Hemoglobin (A1c), triglycerides, aploprotien A, C-reactive protein and beta hydroxy butyrate. This will give us some direct comparisons between these two nutrition¬al plans and what types of effects they have on these complex but very interesting mechanisms.
So we have a very good idea of what Wiley and Formby had in mind when they were talking about eating. I may in fact have beat that horse so badly that the recommendation to sleep might be a little late as most readers drifted into a coma several paragraphs earlier. If you are an insomni¬ac, a nerd or my mom, you are possibly still read¬ing this, so let’s talk about sleep. The Lights Out perspective on sleep focuses on two key points: One, get a bunch; two, do it in the dark.
Let the Excuses Begin
How much is a bunch? About 9.5 hours. Yes…9.5 HOURS. How do you fit that into work, school, kids, training and watching “Lost”? I have no idea; you just need to do it. We need about 6 hours of dark before we release prolactin which has effects on melatonin and a whole slew of oth¬er goodies. The 9.5 hours allows for melatonin production and complete restoration of our im¬mune system and neurotransmitters.
This brings us to the second point about sleep. Absolute, complete total—no light peeking through—dark. Think it’s a crock? Black out your bedroom completely, such that you cannot see your hand in front of your eyes anywhere. Cover the alarm clocks and fire alarm LEDs. Do this for a week and tell me you are not sleeping better, are better recovered and generally more sane and happy. Just to completely belabor this point, I will use an analogy. Roger Harrell, when coaching gymnastics, frequently says, “Straight is straight. A little bent is NOT straight.” Similarly, dark is dark. A little light is NOT dark. If the preceding has become annoying I am just starting to make some progress. If you need convincing, find Dan John’s experiment of sleeping 10 hrs per day and the results he obtained.
So our sleep recap is short and sweet. 9-10 hours per night of blissful sleep in a completely dark room. Easy-Peezy.
La Vida Loca
The final portion of the Lights Out prescription involves exercise and a few supplements. I am as¬suming our readers participate in CrossFit, Olym¬pic lifting, gymnastics, strongman or something along these lines. If so, you need not worry about exercise: you are indeed PERFECT. The Lights Out supplement list is mercifully short. We may do a more in depth supplement review at some point; if we do, these will top the list again.
Fish Oil Unless you have been hiding in a cave for many years, you are likely already using some fish oil. I love the Costco Kirkland brand, as it is inexpensive and good quality. If you are sick, have insulin/blood sugar issues, depression or some other serious ailment, you likely need 10-20 grams of fish oil per day. That is a lot of capsules and it may be easier to go for the more expensive but very convenient liquid fish oil. Keep all fish oil in the freezer.
Alpha Lipoic Acid This is a common constituent in grass-fed meat but it is completely missing in grain-fed meat. It acts as both a fat- and water-soluble antioxidant and improves insulin sensi¬tivity. 500-1000 mg per day should do it. Jarrow formulas (http://www.jarrow.com/
) has a very good quality product that is inexpensive.
Acidophilus Our guts are inhabited with symbi¬otic microorganisms. Lots of them. They play an amazing role in a surprising number of processes far removed from digestion. They act as our first immune system protecting us from pathogenic gut organisms and even influence neurotransmit¬ter status in the brain. Cool, huh? Jarrow has a good product but most health food stores have decent options. Make sure you buy something that is refrigerated and is far from its expiration date.
That’s it! This is your primer for navigating the change of seasons more gracefully. Please do make it a priority to read all of Lights Out. For some the tabloid type writing style and frequent conspiracy theories make for tough reading, but from my experience it is one of the most amazing books written; I’m just not sure people are ready for the implications of its message.